[I wrote this in a Google+ post on December 24th, 2012. I am reposting to my blog, for discoverability.] [Since G+ has disappeared, I guess “for persistence” too.]
In the aftermath of tragedy, people reach out for solutions. Sometimes the obvious approach is very wrong for reasons which are not immediately obvious. When you're upset, taking the time to understand those reasons can be difficult. Part of being adult is taking a deep breath and working to understand them anyway before forcing changes on everyone. Unscrupulous people will tell you the solution is easy. Just ban X, where X is currently firearms.
Reality is not so accommodating
We are entering an era of easy item creation by the unskilled, as manufacturing becomes digitized. 3D printing, with schematics that can be flawlessly copied. That copying can be in public where it can be seen, or “underground” with sneakernets of USB sticks.
If your solution is based on restricting access to something digital then you're going to fail. Badly. Just ask the RIAA.
Restricting access to additive manufacturing will kill the economy and just give criminals a new revenue stream, even as the world seems to be moving towards removing their drugs-based revenue through legalization: you don't need to approve of recreational drug use to accept that prohibition doesn't work. Same will happen for 3D printing if outlawed or heavily restricted, more so since there are so many uses that are positive for society.
Prohibition doesn't work, it just creates more criminals. Regulating access to firearms needs to be approached incredibly carefully, to minimize the population percentage that will grow to sympathize with underground gun printers.
It's not (just) that gun extremists think banning any kind of firearm is wrong. We're a couple of decades too late for the approach to have any chance of working.
So we have to work on the underlying problems of mental health instead. It's not just firearms that can be printed.
I support higher taxes to fund a comprehensive overhaul of mental health care in this country.
I don't see a workable alternative.
From my replies in the comments on the original
feedback response #1:
I meant to write something on other things that can be made, without scare-mongering, but apparently forgot. Yes, the things which come later might make guns look like an irrelevance. All the more reason to work on the mental health problems now!
feedback response #2:
What stands out in many of the most horrifying pre-planned atrocities is how the mental health care systems totally failed in dealing with people to whom attention had already been drawn. I'm not talking about someone who suddenly snaps, nor about launching witch hunts which stigmatize some group, but being able to respond adequately when a parent asks for help, keep better track of folks who had been receiving some care but suddenly stopped, having enough funded professionals that too many people just get given pills (until they're 18, the pills are stopped and folks who'd never learnt to deal adequately with the stress that most people learn to handle during puberty suddenly have to, and snap).
Comments (on blog post)
I think there's a reasonableness criterion as well. Many Americans currently think that it's a perfectly normal and sensible thing to have a loaded gun in their house or car at all times, ready for use. I would be hesitant to describe that as a mental health problem; a societal one, perhaps. But unless you change the attitudes of those people (very few of whom will ever actually contribute to a death) the hardware will be not just 3-D-printable but trivially available to anyone.
In the most recent major incident, health care was apparently available, but wasn't able to regard religious mania (by the mother) as a mental health problem.
The essential problem with guns is that they bypass the escalation protocol. In a bar fight or an ape pack-dominance battle, what you generally see is the two principals squaring up to each other, gradually escalating the threat level, from insults to threats to shoving to fists - and an awful lot of the time, one side or the other will back off. There's an obvious evolutionary advantage to this: the dominance question has been resolved without either killing or seriously wounding either party, so they're both available to help fight off the other pack of primates. Only rarely will someone get seriously injured or killed.
Knives take the physical step into a deadlier space: once things have escalated that far, someone's probably going to get permanently injured (probably both of them). But guns, the whole point of guns according to some enthusiasts, can be used quickly. Something threatens you, you draw and shoot. Because it's not an act that registers as deadly on the instinctive level, it's something that people are entirely willing to do, and the argument that might have ended with shouting now leaves someone dead.