David Gregory's point about banning large capacity magazines was that such a law might save a life or two.
But would such a ban actually be effective and enforceable? A question for Mr. Gregory - in terms of black market activity and keeping high capacity magazines away from aspiring criminals, does he think that manufacturing a thirty dollar metal box with springs is too complex for a criminal enterprise to undertake?
How would he rank the complexity of manufacturing a magazine with, hmm, distilling whiskey? Growing and harvesting marijuana? Converting opium to heroin? Converting Sudafed to chrystal meth?
My goodness - the drug cartels can make mini-subs. Will we really be able to stop determined criminals from buying steel boxes with springs?
Well. Banning high capacity magazines is a feel-good exercise that will show the world that we have Done Something, so Obama et all will back it. For the "Dumber" entry to this post, let's check out this logically deficient and politically impossible suggestion from a Big Data expert:
How Big Data Can Solve America's Gun Problem
Big data might have stopped the massacres in Newtown, Aurora, and Oak Creek. But it didn't, because there is no national database of gun owners, and no national record-keeping of firearm and ammunition purchases. Most states don't even require a license to buy or keep a gun.
That's a tragedy, because combining simple math and the power of crowds could give us the tools we need to red flag potential killers even without new restrictions on the guns anyone can buy. Privacy advocates may hate the idea, but an open national database of ammunition and gun purchases may be what America needs if we're ever going to get our mass shooting problem under control.
An open natonal database, so we can all peruse it? Yes, I think privacy advocates will hate it.
The power of this idea is illustrated with a flawed example and a non-example:
Just look at the gun-acquiring backgrounds of some of our more recent mass killers to see what I mean. James Holmes, the Aurora shooting suspect, went to three different locations spread out over 30 miles to legally buy his four weapons. All three were reputable outdoors retail chain stores. He then went online, and bought thousands of rounds of ammunition along with assault gear. UPS delivered around 90 packages to Holmes at his medical campus in that short period. It doesn't take a PhD in statistics to see that a quick, massive buildup of arms like this by a private individual -- especially one, like Holmes, who was known in his community for having growing mental health issues -- should raise a red flag.
And a bonus observation - Holmes was a careful planner who knew his purchases weren't being tracked. Unless we can implement this vast open database without actually telling anyone about it, I think we have to assume that killers like Holmes will adjust their purchasing strategy to account for surveillance. Maybe he would have bought fewer weapons and less ammo, or extended his purchasing time frame (which would have been helpful depending on the progression of his unraveling.) Maybe he would have included Molotov cocktails in his arsenal, thereby prompting a call for the monitoring of gasoline sales.
Abd what is the baseline? We have no data as to how unusual such a purchasing pattern might be, or how many false positives such a screen might generate. That, in itself, might not be a reason not to try, but it is surely a reason for tempered optimism.
On to the non-example:
In Newtown, Adam Lanza carried hundreds of rounds -- enough to kill every student in the Sandy Hook Elementary school if he had not been stopped. But he also attempted to destroy his hard drives to cover his pre-rampage digital tracks. Clearly he feared the data he left behind.
Huh? We don't know what data was concealed, but we have little reason to think he was concealing a purchasing pattern that Big Data could have red-flagged.
Author Marc Parrish explains that the science is simple:
I can say based on experience that this kind of record-keeping would be an inconsequential task to set up, and the data science to analyze it trivial. Massive efforts are going into far smaller things, such as which TV program is most engaging for soap buyers who have DVRs, and which pitcher/batter combinations lead to better baseball.
Groan. I am not trying to conceal from Hollywood my interest in "The Walking Dead" or my disdain for the Kardashians. But anyone who knew his gun and ammuition purchases were being monitored might mask his behavior. Join a gun club and buy an amount of ammo suitable for weekend target practice, for example.
We are offered an unconvincing privacy argument:
The NRA's opposing argument will be that it is an invasion of privacy for gun owners. But in our post-9/11 world, we already have ample precedents to do this. Go into any airport and see what happens when you try and buy a ticket with cash on the next flight out. You will not board the flight without security calling you aside for questions.
As an aside, I very much doubt he is speaking from experience on the cash-ticketing question, and Slate says he might be wrong. No matter - this example has nothing to do with data bases and ongoing surveillance. The suspicious act triggers the immediate response; no data base of a person's past travel behavior is necesary.
Go into a pharmacy in dozens of states and buy cold medicine and you will be asked for ID and tracked in the NPLEX database.
Yeah, we need to adopt a regimen as popular and successful as our War on Drugs.
Let me add that I am especially disappointed in this article because the underlying concept is potentially fascinating.
My understanding is that in the last election campaign, Team Obama was very clever in their use of Big Data. They started with their database of declared supporters. They then sifted that database (in conjunction with data purchased from the internet marketing firms) to develop profiles of their voters in terms of books they liked, web sites they visted, items they bought, or whatever else they could track. Then - the key bit - they found other voters who overlapped with the profile in key respects but had not yet gotten behind Obama. These folks were then subjected to targeted marketing of The One, with some success. (Just picture searching for a book at Amazon and learning that people who bought that book also liked three other books, two CDs, a movie, and a Presidential candidate. Why not?)
Would such profiling work on mass murderers? Is sufficient internet history available for those (relatively few) killers, and are there useful overlaps in their profiles? Put another way, could a creative and motivated marketing firm come up with a meaningful way to target mass murderers? That is the article I wanted to read. Oh, well.