5 Years On: Hitler and Guns Still Reign Supreme

Hitler with gun

It’s now been five years since I began this blog, with the purpose of ferreting out, exposing and correcting myths, misinformation and disinformation in a variety of fields. In many ways, it’s been a productive five years. I’m pleased with the work I’ve done, and of all that I myself have learned in the process. And I’m pleased to see that I have a steadily growing following, and that I have received some wonderful feedback from readers. Equally telling, I’ve received my share of nay-saying and nasty attacks from those whose ideological feathers I’ve ruffled. The readership is not as large as I’d like, but considering that I’ve done next to nothing to promote it (I’m a very busy man, and not very tech savvy), it’s rather impressive.

These investigations have turned out to involve, much more frequently than I ever imagined, debunking the talking points of right-wing extremists. Which inevitably has prompted the accusation that I’m just here to promote a “liberal agenda”. Which is, alas, far from being the looniest thing right-wing extremists have said.

Which brings me to a fact that really bothers me. Out of 162 posts that I have written to date, the most popular by far is the one titled The Myth Of Hitler’s Gun Ban. And when I say by far, I mean really, really by far. More precisely, it receives more than twice as many views as all the others combined.  That’s right: more than twice as many as all the others combined. In one day alone, right after being linked in a commentary by pundit Randi Rhodes, it was viewed more than 23,000 times. It also has elicited about a third of the total comments.

I mentioned all of this to my wife and she said, “Well, maybe reading that post will make people want to read your other posts as well.” But the evidence indicates that this is not the case.  The blog is averaging barely more than one page view per visit. Most people come here to read just one thing. And most of the time, it’s the same one thing.

And it is far from being the best of my articles. Oh, there’s really nothing wrong with it, except that it’s rather cursory. Which is why I wrote two sequels that explore the topic in greater depth. But guess what? Those two posts are no more popular than any of the others. It’s bad enough that people consider this subject of such vital importance — I actually wrote the first post to show that it’s a bullshit question, and really not very important except as a historical footnote. What’s even worse is that so many readers don’t want to know the ifs, ands or buts. They just want a simple answer: did he or didn’t he?

They believe this question is vital because they have been duped into believing it’s vital by a relatively small cadre of gun culture propagandists who keep hammering away at one of their favorite little formulas: (a) Hitler banned guns and (b) therefore, any attempt to regulate guns is superlatively evil. Not only are both premises patently false, they are by no means interdependent, as the propagandists insistently suggest.

The irony is that, far from shunning firearms, Nazis embraced them with a white-hot passion. And it’s hard to imagine that anyone who knows anything about history at all doesn’t realize this. Thus, it’s hard not to suspect that the gun fanatics who conjure up the specter of Der Fuhrer are doing so not out of revulsion, but out of some level of admiration. Not for the man himself, or his policies or evil deeds. But for the way he and his followers fashioned such a powerful and influential movement — aided and abetted by guns.

In any case, there are numerous subjects I’ve written about that deserve far more attention, especially from American readers. There is, for example, the Christian Right’s Nazi-flavored campaign to marginalize gays. (No, “Nazi-flavored” is not an exaggeration.) There’s the way a shamelessly partisan media cartel colluded with Republicans in the hijacking of the 2000 presidential election. Or, if we must talk about guns, there is the way the gun lobby manipulates statistics to make it appear that guns make us safer; and in particular, there’s the frequent naive reliance on bogus “statistics” that grossly inflate the frequency of defensive gun use, giving gun owners a dangerous false sense of security and coincidentally swelling the coffers of gun merchants. Instead, many readers just zero in on a bit of minor marginalia in the history of Twentieth-Century Europe.

But there is a bright spot. I omitted something from the stats I referred to (and one reason I did so is to illustrate how incomplete information can be misleading). The counts do not include visits to the home page, which presumably reflect readers checking out the latest post without actually clicking on it. That count is on average nearly as high as that of the Hitler-gun post; in fact, for the past couple of weeks, it’s actually been considerably higher almost every day. If this continues, it certainly offers some encouragement.

Still, I’m glad that this blog is geared toward those who have a sincere interest in learning the truth. If it had been designed for the edification of the general public, one would have to conclude that it’s been a dismal failure.

The (Poorly) Armed Assault On “Gun Control”: How the Gun Culture Manipulates Statistics (Part 2)

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In the first installment in this series, we discussed what we have termed The Chicago Gambit, named after the city most often used as an example, at least for the time being. The Chicago Gambit entails cherry picking data to make the case that stricter gun laws cause an increase in crime, or at least in homicide. Now we take a look at the flipside of this tactic: the argument that liberalizing gun laws results in general crime and/or homicide decline. The gun culture also has a favorite target for this approach: a large and very influential city that has been very much  in the crosshairs of the legal battle over firearm legislation. Namely, the nation’s capital.

#2 : The D.C. Gambit

In 1976, Washington, D.C. passed The Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975, which placed severe restrictions on the private ownership of firearms in the city. It did not, as is often claimed, ban guns altogether, though it did make the possession of handguns illegal. Then in 2008, the “conservative” Supreme Court overturned that law by giving the Second Amendment a major overhaul — decreeing among other things that the prefatory clause explaining the purpose of the amendment is really just garnish, and can be ignored. And what happened after that? Well, let’s turn again to JustFacts.com, which has some really handy facts about “gun control” in an easy-to-read visual format. Here is its graph of the homicide trend in D.C., with the point of the court’s ruling marked by the second red dot.

DC homicide

Unfortunately for JustFacts, this chart duplicates the blunder that so many pro-gun propagandists commit: including too much information for their own good, and thus sabotaging their own argument. Yes, the chart shows a sharp murder decline after the strict gun law was overturned. But it shows that the same sharp decline already had been in progress for several years before the ruling.  It started falling off abruptly after an extremely sharp spike during the city’s particularly severe crack epidemic; and neither the spike nor the drop appears to be related to any change in gun laws. Claiming it does is rather like having a boat pull you through the water on a rope for 95 yards, then letting go and coasting for 5 more yards, then asserting you just swam 100 yards. Furthermore, homicide has been falling nationwide in recent years, so D.C. was not bucking a trend.

JustFacts also, like many pro-gun propagandists, omits certain facts that are not supportive of its cause. For example, there is the fact that the city of Washington has undertaken enhanced crime-fighting measures to which officials attribute the drop in homicides.  Or that improved trauma care has helped reduce murder rates across the nation even though far more people are getting shot. Or that the D.C. homicide rate is very much  on the rise again this year. That’s a very short term trend at this point; but the gun culture loves to cite short term trends or isolated quirks as “proof”.

Furthermore, it’s cherry picking to limit the discussion to homicide alone. Because one of the main mantras of the gun culture is “more guns, less crime”. All crime. This is founded on the belief that when citizens are armed, they make a big difference in reducing the crime rate. In other words, there are many instances of defensive gun use (DGU). And here’s where the gunsters really shoot themselves into a corner.

We’ve examined the problem of accurately estimating incidences of defensive gun use several times already in these pages. See previous posts: Make My Day; Mention Gun Defense Statistics; Estimating Defensive Gun Uses Reasonably; More On Defensive Gun UseBut to save you a little time at the moment, here are the Cliff’s Notes.

Gunsters frequently make very extravagant claims about the number of times per year an armed citizen uses a firearm in self defense. The numbers they cite are derived from various “studies” which are really surveys that determine how often gunsters claim such events occur. These surveys, the most frequently touted of which is the deeply flawed Kleck “study” projecting 2.5 million DGUs annually (this has become the very backbone of the Gunster Gospel), are wildly inconsistent not only with each other but with themselves. More to the point, they’re wildly inconsistent with the real world.

Notice that in the story mentioned in a link above (here it is again), the homicide is of a sort that often gets classified as a DGU, even though its defensive nature is, to say the least, highly questionable. Likewise for the homicide Trayvon Martin’s killer committed. It was presumed self-defense in large part because only he survived to tell his side of the story. But it’s quite clear that he initiated the confrontation; and had he not been armed, it’s unlikely that he would have engaged in the cowboy swagger that caused it to turn violent.

Whatever criteria one uses, actual statistics, though they’re almost certainly incomplete, verify only a few hundred DGUs per year, as confirmed by media reports and/or law enforcement records. Gunsters have two handy dandy responses to account for this Grand Canyon of a discrepancy. First, they insist that the vast majority of DGUs are kept secret, even though in an incident that would genuinely warrant resort to a firearm, it would be irresponsible not to report it. Second, they say that most of the incidents that are reported don’t get covered by the media, because the media are all involved in a vast left-wing conspiracy to suppress anything that promotes the gun culture — never mind that violence, crime and sensationalism are the very lifeblood of the media. (This response tends to corroborate a point I’ve made before: that contemporary gun culture dogma is founded on political fanaticism at least as much as putative “gun rights”.) They have no explanation yet for the fact that gun-friendly websites which tally DGUs collected from many sources including submissions by fans still are unable to come up with a total greater than that reported in the media.

As it happens, I used Washington, D.C., for various reasons, as an illustration of the absurdity of the Kleck figure.  A city with the population of Washington, particularly given its crime history, would be expected to experience about 4725 DGUs annually. Yet in scouring the pro-gun websites that collect such anecdotes of such acts, I was unable to find a single one within the previous 17 years! Whereupon some gunsters cried foul. Of course there were no DGUs in D.C., they proclaimed. The gun “ban” meant that law-abiding citizens were left defenseless.

One response to this response is to point out that even the NRA, which had been collecting such incidents since 1958 (18 years before the gun law was passed) had assembled only 24 DC DGUs since then — and many of those were quite questionable. But perhaps the best response is five little words: “from these cold, dead hands”. Recognize them? They were the rallying cry of the supposedly oppressed gun culture during the Heston era, and many gunsters still live by them. Never, never, never will they allow the government to “take away” their guns, they declare. But apparently, we’re to believe that this applies only to gun owners who don’t live in the nation’s capital, where gunsters so fully trust the government that they totally comply even with laws they consider an infringement on their “liberty”.

My selection of D.C. as an illustrative example had nothing to do with its gun laws and much to do with its suitability as an American Everycity. Conduct the same thought experiment with any other city and you’re likely to get similar results. Furthermore, if we assume that the absence of DGUs in places with strict gun laws can be attributed to those laws, then we’d also have to assume that places with lax gun laws would have to produce much more than their statistical average in order to result in that total of 2.5 million. Which makes the utter absence of DGUs in those locations all the more striking.

Still, let’s play along. Let’s say that during the time the gun law was in effect, law-abiding gunsters followed it to the letter and totally abstained from their passion for 32 years, and that accounts for the almost total absence of verifiable DGUs during that span. (We’ll just pretend those inconvenient years before the law was passed don’t even exist.) But once the Supreme Court issued its fiat, there was no reason for them not to stock up, eh? (Actually there was, but we’ll get to that in a  moment.) So we should have seen a dramatic increase in DGUs during the past few years. But guess what? We haven’t. From what I can determine, the average yearly total is still just as zero as it’s always been.  It appears that one or more of these things is true, at least for Washington: (a) “law-abiding” gun owners often aren’t exactly so law-abiding, but hoard guns in defiance of the law, and/or (b) the frequency of DGUs has been very, very, very, very, very overstated.

As you can see from this table of crime stats for D.C., the prevailing long-term trend, beginning about 1996, is a sharp decline in overall crime. (The table is not always in precise agreement with the final figures provided by city officials, but it’s close enough to give an accurate indication of the trend.)  Overall, crime dropped from a yearly average of about 65,000 to a yearly average of 35,000 to 40,000. In contrast, crime has risen during 2 of the 4 complete years since the Supreme Court’s edict (not including 2013). The average is still in that 35-40 thousand range, but it’s been ticking steadily upward; and that’s a very far cry from dropping by 4725. Note that the population of the city has increased considerably during that time, so the crime rate really hasn’t increased. But it also hasn’t decreased.

Ironically, by focusing on just the drop in homicides, the gunsters overlook what is perhaps the strongest chance they have to make their case: the steep plunge in overall crime in 2009, the year after the Heller ruling. It’s their best chance, but it’s still not a very good one. The crime drop in 2009 followed a steep crime increase in 2008, the year the ruling was handed down from Mount Scalia.

That was near the end of June, which means that the first half of the year had the gun law in effect and the second half didn’t. While I don’t have a monthly breakdown for general crime in D.C. in 2008, the breakdown for homicide is depicted in this chart from the metropolitan police department’s website:

2008 dc homicide

As you can see, there was an increase in killings of more than 100 percent in July, the month following the ruling. Furthermore, the second half of the year produced 113, compared to 73 during the first half.

But wait a minute. Time out. Isn’t it unfair to focus on such a short-term trend? Bingo, my friend. The following month, and even the following 6 months, is too short a period to expect an accurate judgment about the impact of the ruling. So, for that matter, is the following year, and possibly even the following 6 years. Not that immediate results never can be obtained by changing the laws, but they just can’t be expected — particularly when, as here, there is good reason not to.

Contrary to what the gunsters are suggesting, the Heller ruling had no immediate impact at all. The city of Washington had plenty of other measures up its sleeve to help stem the flow of hot lead in the city. Indeed, more than three years later, The Washington Times — which, as part of the late Rev. Moon’s right-wing media empire, has an interest in protecting the profits of the gun lobby — ran an article bemoaning the fact that purchasing a firearm in the city was still enormously difficult, and residents were doing so at the rate of “only” about 250 per year. Given that, it’s naive and ill-informed to expect that increased gun availability was responsible for reducing crime in 2009, only a few months after the ruling — or for generating the concurrent decline in homicide.

In short, it is impossible to determine from simple crime statistics alone that either the 1976 gun law or its repeal has had an effect, either positive or negative, on the D.C. crime rate or on homicide specifically. For that kind of conclusion we must turn elsewhere.

For example, a 1991 study in the New England Journal of Medicine compared incidences of gun violence 10 years before and 10 years after the 1976 law went into effect, and concluded that the latter years represented a significant decrease in gun homicides and suicides in Washington, even though deaths by other means did not decline, and gun deaths did not decline in the surrounding municipalities. This doesn’t prove that the gun law was effective, but it offers evidence much more solid than the purported evidence that its repeal has been effective.

I probably don’t have to tell you that gunsters have come out against this study with six-guns ablaze. Their main contention is that the  period studied “conveniently” ends just before the city’s tsunami of homicide (which, as we’ve observed, was almost certainly occasioned in large part by the crack plague) even though the authors of the study address that very objection in the study itself. The gunsters’ determination to find fault with this study is hilarious, given that they’re so often eager to swallow the Kleck malarkey wholesale. And that they so often stand on the thinnest slices of cherry-picked statistics.

(More to come on this topic.)

After Aurora: the Good, the Bad and the Predictable

I’d like to propose that a new term be added to the vernacular: The NRA Minute. As you may know, a “New York Minute” is the proverbially brief interval of time between when a stop light turns green and the (allegedly rude and impatient) New York driver behind you honks his or her horn. By the same token, I offer the following definition:

NRA Minute (n) The interval of time between the news of a mass shooting and the gun culture’s response that we shouldn’t “blame the gun”.

Of course, nobody is literally “blaming the gun”; we all know that they don’t just fire themselves. But a lot of people do blame the ready availability of guns. And the gunsters are always eager for an opportunity to shoot down this notion, even on the heels of a massacre like the one in Aurora. (The media always refer to such a massacre, rather euphemistically, as a “tragedy”. Isn’t that a word better reserved for the accidental sinking of a ferry with passengers aboard? As my nephew astutely commented, the tragedy of an incident like Aurora is that nothing will change.) They always insist, while the smoke is still dissipating at the shooting site, that the answer is even more guns. This line of “thinking” is based on three incredibly naive assumptions.

Incredibly Naive Assumption # 1: There is an impermeable line of demarcation between Armed Good Guys and Armed Bad Guys.

The gunsters are quite willing to stake their lives (and yours) on the belief that it’s easy to distinguish one from the other; and that only the latter use their guns for malice, while the former always use them in defense.

Incredibly Naive Assumption # 2: Gun owners will be armed and ready when an attack occurs.

I keep hearing that even in places where concealed carry laws are in effect, many owners often don’t bother, because it’s just so awkward. Do you really want to tote your piece to the beach with you? Or the movie theater? Actually, many people no doubt will be doing the latter for a while, and with any luck none will shoot himself in the foot during a love scene. But it’s a good bet that once the sensation of Aurora fades, the great majority of them will stop babysitting their hardware during a flick.

Incredibly Naive Assumption # 3: The Good Guys will be able to outgun the Bad Guys effectively and efficiently.

The shooting in the movie theater happened quickly and amid a great deal of confusion. Many other shooting incidents happen much more quickly and with even more confusion, leaving little if any time to stop it. Furthermore, there is always the possibility that trying to shoot a gunman will result in shooting innocent people. Just imagine how much worse the scene in a crowded movie theater would have been if, in accordance with NRA objectives, everyone in the theater had been armed! Gunsters seem quite willing to assume that all gun owners (except the bad guys) will be perfectly responsible, perfectly in control, perfectly accurate in their marksmanship, even under the most panicky circumstances. Maybe they’ve spent too much time in movie theaters themselves, watching cops shoot guns out of the hands of criminals — which never, ever happens in real life.

Sure, it’s possible that in some cases an armed citizen can stop an armed criminal without doing more harm than good. Indeed (as no doubt your gun-totin’ friends and relatives have informed you many, many, many times) it happens rather often. But just how often is very much a matter of debate. The million-dollar (or million life) question is whether it happens often enough to justify the consequences of flooding the streets with guns.

If there’s a silver lining to what just happened in Colorado, it’s that at least one news network (MSNBC) made it a policy not to name the shooter except where necessary. And its reporters mentioned that a number of government officials — including President Obama — were following the same policy. I say it’s about time; I’ve been urging this kind of blacklist for years, as I can’t help suspecting that forcing anonymity upon the gunmen would reduce their numbers. And as a bonus, the NRA would bark a little less often.

Of Home Invasion and Halitosis

Having deflated the popular myth of 2.5 million defensive gun uses per year, let’s draw your attention to another popular number associated with it: 3.6 million. That’s the number of alleged home invasions that occur every year in North America -which apparently includes such remote outposts as Canada and Mexico. That works out to about 8000 per day. And that’s often accompanied by the equally stark claim that one out of five houses will be the target of a break-in. Pretty scary stuff, huh? Exactly.

As with the DGU nonsense, there are no real statistics to back up such assertions. Law enforcement agencies keep tallies of neither defensive gun use nor home invasion as such, so the marketers of products are free to seize upon whatever figures sound impressive.  Over and over again, you’ll see these questionable numbers repeated with authority, even on websites that have the best of  intentions and generally offer sound advice on crime prevention.

One exception is Home Invasion News, which obviously regards the threat as serious enough to generate an entire website to warn people about, but doesn’t want to go into panic mode:

“Finally, there is this breath-taking statistic: “8,000+ home invasions occur in North America every day.” North America? Including Canada? And Mexico? Every day? C’mon, guys. Nobody has these statistics, not even the FBI. Moreover, judging from the nationwide RSS feed posting every day on Home Invasion News, we aren’t seeing even 80 home invasions, let alone 8,000. Outrageous!”

The writer doesn’t say how many stories are posted per day, but even 80 per day would be only about 29,000 per year.  As with the proposition of violent crime or crime in general that might warrant using a gun, the home defense industry has taken a legitimate risk and amplified it so much out of proportion that it morphs into a totally new (and quasi-mythical) creature.

You’ll see this tactic more than occasionally in the world of marketing: first they create (or magnify) a problem, then they offer the solution. The makers of Listerine struck gold by exploiting the nasty-sounding medical term halitosis, which is just a fancy name for bad breath. They didn’t really coin the term, mind you, but they did make it a household word. And it worked wonders; halitosis just sounds so much more dire and ominous than “bad breath”, and much more in need of a medicinal remedy before it leads to drastic consequences.

Nobody is suggesting that you leave your doors unlocked at night or go jogging through Central Park at midnight or suck on a chunk of Limburger before a big job interview.  But if you blow the risks up out of proportion and live in constant fear, your life is not your own. It belongs to Listerine, the NRA and Madison Avenue.

Estimating Defensive Gun Uses Reasonably

By now, we hope to have laid to the rest the absurd notion that there are 2.5 million defensive gun uses (DGUs) annually, or anything even close to it,  in the U.S.  But that still leaves unanswered just how many there really are. Is it possible to make a more reasonable approximation than those suggested by the various “studies” that indicate at least 65,000? Indeed it is; and it possibly could be done using real numbers – i.e. actual statistics – rather than survey results.

As we noted, there are at least 200 DGUs per year; we know this because there has been a rather consistent listing circulated during the past few years, of media accounts of such events. But we also noted that keepandbeararms.com, which has reported between 200 and 300 per year for the past decade or so, has recently shifted gears. In recent weeks, the rate of occurrence has been around 1 or 2 per day. Assuming the trend continues and they’re all genuine and non-duplicated, 2 per day would add up to a whopping 730 annually. Better buy another Uzi, ma.

So does the higher incidence lately indicate  an increase (perhaps temporary) in frequency, or does it just mean that the team of volunteers at keepandbeararms.com has become more diligent in its detective work? There’s reason to believe the latter.

There’s another website called Armed Citizen (not the same as the one affiliated with the NRA) that is currently on hiatus, but which compiled DGU stories from 2003 to 2010. This site was co-founded by Clayton Cramer, who’s connected with the prominent right-wing “think tank” The Cato Institute.  I laughed out loud when I saw the interactive map of DGUs he’s now compiling. Supposedly millions of the suckers every year, and he expects to indicate them all with dots on a map? They’d be layered so thick that even at maximum magnification they’d be spilling out of the computer screen onto the floor.

Actually, he’s a bit more modest than most gun propagandists, averring only “tens of thousands” per year. But even that is going to be hard to pile up on a map, especially since he’s depicting several years’ worth.

This Armed Citizen site does have a rather extensive archive of  “nearly 4000”. Which isn’t quite “tens of thousands”. And oh yes, it’s not just for one year – it’s for the entire period of a little over 6 years. Which comes out to between 600 and 700 per year. Since “tens of thousands” suggests a minimum of 20,000, then Cramer evidently believes that at least 96 percent of these incidents go unreported. The interesting thing is that his estimated total is far lower than the Kleck-Gertz total, yet he is suggesting that a much higher percentage of them slip under the media radar. Go figure. (Somebody certainly needs to.)

Still, it does appear that (assuming these incidents are all genuine non-duplicates) there are 600 or more DGUs reported in the media annually, and keepandbeararms.com is just catching up.

Now according to the Kleck-Gertz figures, 36 percent – roughly a third – of such incidents go unreported. I don’t buy that, of course; one reason is that Kleck and Gertz are extremely loose in their standards for defining a DGU. A defensive gun use means that someone uses a gun to prevent a crime – or, okay, an animal attack. It does not mean a pissing contest that one person settles with a firearm. If a guy breaks into your house and you greet him with a shotgun, that definitely qualifies as a DGU. If you get into an altercation with a guy over a parking space and he becomes disproportionately aggressive to the point of threatening violence and you pull out a gun, chances are that qualifies as well. If you’re arguing with a guy, or even having a fistfight, with more or less equal ferocity and you whip out your Luger just to get the upper hand, that probably does not qualify.

But since we have no other number to use, let’s take it. If there are about 600 reported DGUs, and that’s about two-thirds of the total, that would give us 900 or so. Call it an even grand if you like.  We’re still short of 2.5 million, and we’re still outnumbered by gun crimes at least 400 to 1. But at least we’ve surpassed the frequency of lightning strikes.

We still should allow for the possibility, however, that there are other incidents out there that have been reported, but that these websites have overlooked. So let’s cross-check it.

FBI statistics show that for the five-year period ending in 2010, there was an average of 213 justifiable homicides per year by firearm. (A justifiable homicide is not necessarily a defensive use, but the majority apparently fit that description.) The Kleck-Gertz figures indicate that the defenders wound or kill their assailants only 8.3 percent of the time, but this is surely far too low – especially given that many alleged defensive gun uses involve nothing more than mentioning the existence of a gun! And the figures don’t specify how many are fatal. But if indeed there are 2.5 million DGUs per year, then the fatal shootings would account for only .0085 percent!  So let’s just skip Kleck altogether and stick with real numbers.

In a random selection of 200 DGU stories, I found that at least 69 resulted in the death of an alleged offender. (I say at least because I only read the headlines, which may or may not specify death – which often does not occur immediately in a fatal shooting.) If there are 213 such killings per year, and that represents about a third, then once again we are left with between 600 and 700 annual DGUs. In other words, it appears that there is no significant number being overlooked.

My exercise was not a controlled scientific study, just a suggestion or two about how one might be conducted. My figures may not be precise but they are, if not in the ballpark, at least on the right planet. If I had to wager whether the true DGU tally is closer to (a) 2.5 million, (b) 65,000 or (c) 500 to 1000, I’d bet the deed to the Ponderosa on the latter.

AFTERWORD: (2-22-12) In order to get an accurate estimate of DGUs, there are still three questions that need to be answered: (1) How often do the defenders actually report the incident to police? (2) How often do the police follow up on it? (3) How often do the media report the incident? I’m willing to bet that the answer to each question – for genuine DGUs – is “the great majority of the time”. But whether that’s true or not, researchers would be better served seeking answers to those questions and comparing those answers to the verifiable incidents, than in questioning gun owners about how often they’ve brandished their goodies. Even if the answer to each question is only 50 percent, that would mean no more than about 5000 annual DGUs.

Gun Culture Fires Back – With Blanks

It really isn’t hard to elicit an attack from ideological fanatics; all you have to do is suggest that their particular ideology might not exactly be the cat’s pajamas. Gun addicts can be among the most passionate of ideologues, so it was only a matter of time before my posts on the Second Amendment myth and the twisted logic used to justify gun ownership drew fire from a gun propaganda website.

This article, on the website TheTruthAboutGuns.com, is written by a fellow named Bruce Krafft, who seems to have a great deal of time on his hands, and a willingness to devote it all to promoting his passion (which he deems a matter of “civil rights”). The site is at least more intelligent, more articulate and more adult (despite its haughty dismissal of dissenting voices, even of the most respectful and regularly contributing sort, as “trolls”) than most assemblages of firearm fanatics. It even makes some valid points. If you seek propaganda to quote in support of your gun habit that doesn’t make you sound like a blithering devotee of Beck or Rush, this is the place to get it.  But it’s still quite prone to misinformation, misinterpretation and faulty reasoning.

Now I’m not one to respond to everyone who takes potshots in my direction. That’s mostly a fruitless exercise that only gives them more ammo to twist and distort, and it will go on forever if you let it. I have no desire to engage in a pissing contest, especially with someone totin’ a hogleg. But Mr. Krafft’s remarks do provide some further examples of specious reasoning and other forensic follies, and since that’s partly what this blog is about, it’s worth taking a look.

Racing to Conclusions

The alarm bells start playing a sonata as soon as he mentions the present blog, summarizing its posts about the gun culture thus:

The Propaganda Professor – Gun owners are racist and unrealistic about self-defense.

I suppose the second part is a fair enough conclusion about my commentary. But racist? Where did I ever say that gun owners are racist? Exactly nowhere. The only mention I made of race at all was to note the frequent correlation between paranoia about violent attack with paranoia about illegal immigrants (specifically from south of the border), and how this is reflected in the fabricated Hispanic names in the bogus anecdote I cited. Does this suggest that racism is sometimes a factor in gun addiction? It would appear so. Does it mean that gun owners as a whole are racist? I’d never say so, and to claim that I did is misguided if not misguiding. This type of unwarranted extrapolation is a common way to distort someone else’s words.

He then goes on to accuse ME repeatedly of invoking “straw men”. Seriously. In fact, his “dissection” of my posts is little more than one shell game after another, often with a distinct whiff of straw mingled with the gunsmoke.

Barely Bearing Arms

He takes me to task for describing only one of the bogus incidents I mentioned. What he means is that I described only one of the many variants of the same story I see over and over again. If there really are so meany genuine cases, why is it necessary to keep rehashing the phony ones?

To buttress his implication that defensive gun uses (DGUs, as they’re affectionately called)  are more commonplace than farting, he tosses out a list of 75 of them “from just the last 4 months”. Holy crap – 75 in 4 months. That adds up to…let me see, 225 per year. Almost a fraction as high as your chances of being struck by lightning. (Of course, the estimate that gunsters love to cite manages to bump the decimal point over a few notches, but that’s a story for another day.)

Except that, um, not all of these incidents are exactly bona fide DGUs per se, as such, really and truly. Some mention defense against animal attacks which certainly can be self-defense but not what gunsters normally refer to as DGU; one mentions someone being shot with an arrow, and a few tell of successful defense using knives. Yep, warding off an attacker with a bow or a knife is supposed to prove that guns are necessary for self-defense. That’s only a sampling of the kind of logic that prevails on Planet Heston.

Presumably, the purpose in including those accounts is to suggest that things would have gone down more smoothly in such situations if the defender had been packing. But that’s not how the list is packaged; it’s presented as an enumeration of incidents that did entail self-defense with a gun. And padding the roster in this manner is not exactly dealing from the top of the deck.

Incidentally, if you look at these stories more closely, you see that in many cases there is a nagging doubt, to say the least, that it really was self-defense, or if it was someone being trigger-happy. In one story, a man found another man in bed with his girlfriend, and the interloper (apparently unarmed if not unclothed) allegedly “came at him” so he was shot and killed in “self-defense”. Seriously?

Supreme Arrogance

Mr. Krafft also objects to my observation that the Supreme Court essentially “rewrote” the Second Amendment with a 2008 ruling, and suggests that I only say that because I don’t like their decision. Actually, I say that because they declared that the Second Amendment says something that it just doesn’t say. If that doesn’t have the effect of rewriting it, I don’t know what does. What difference does it make whether I like it or not?

He even pontificates that:

If you don’t bother to actually read the Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller it’s easy to believe the media myth that the Court ruled 5 – 4 that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. If, however, you do read the decision (specifically Justice Stevens’ dissent, with which Justices Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer all concurred) you will discover that the “ruling” was 9 – 0 in favor of the individual rights argument.

That’s an odd decoy, constructed of something distinctly resembling dried grass. Sure, the dissenting opinion concurred that the Second Amendment applies to individuals – but within the context of a “well-regulated militia”. The real issue is whether the presumed “rights” of individuals to keep and bear arms transcend the government’s right to regulate firearms. If you do bother to read the decision, you will see that Justice Stevens says:

The opinion the Court announces today fails to identify any new evidence supporting the view that the Amendment was intended to limit the power of Congress to regulate civilian uses of weapons. [He also notes that “a review of the drafting history of the Amendment demonstrates that its Framers rejected proposals that would have broadened its coverage to include such uses.”] Unable to point to any such evidence, the Court stakes its holding on a strained and unpersuasive reading of the Amendment’s text. [Translation: they rewrote the goddamn thing.]… When each word in the text is given full effect, the Amendment is most naturally read to secure to the people a right to use and possess arms in conjunction with service in a well-regulated militia. So far as appears, no more than that was contemplated by its drafters or is encompassed within its terms. Even if the meaning of the text were genuinely susceptible to more than one interpretation, the burden would remain on those advocating a departure from the purpose identified in the preamble and from settled law to come forward with persuasive new arguments or evidence. The textual analysis offered by respondent and embraced by the Court falls far short of sustaining that heavy burden.

That last point is key. Even if there is a shadow of a doubt about the meaning of the text, the existence of that doubt means that one cannot unequivocally state that the meaning encompasses a  certain application that is in doubt. Which is precisely what the “conservative” justices did. In other words, they rewrote the goddamn thing. Call my evaluation (along with that of the four disinterested justices) subjective if you must, but to claim that it’s “false on its face” is truly false on its face.

Emulating the Duke

He also tries to divert focus to a consideration of my supposed beliefs in discussing my comments about the Nevada IHOP massacre:

John Wayne wet dream? Seriously? The Prof believes we think this way? The sad thing is that he probably does.

AHHH—CHOOO!!! Sorry, my hay fever is really acting up for some reason.

Having never met Mr. Krafft nor (to the best of my knowledge) his followers, I wouldn’t presume to know how “we think”. But I have met many other gunsters. Many, many, many,many, many. I grew up in the heart of redneck gun culture territory, so I’ve had all too much exposure to cocky lead-pumpers chomping at the bit for a chance to put their devices into action. My comments were not a reflection of what I think about how (or whether) they think, but of what they’ve said about how they think.

Naturally, it would be a mistake to conclude that all gunsters are inbred goobers with itchy fingers. But it’s equally mistaken to assume they’re all intelligent, mature and responsible. What they all are is human; and as such, they’re all different.

Since Mr. Krafft seems to bristle at my use of the expression “gun addict”, let me make it clear that I don’t apply this term to all gun owners. (But if the holster fits…) I have known some whom I never would have suspected to be gun owners, because they didn’t make an issue of it. They didn’t conspicuously flash their pieces, they didn’t display issues of Guns and Ammo  on the coffee table or NRA stickers on their pickups, they didn’t rant about their “Second Amendment rights”. They were just healthy adults who happened to own firearms.

And then there are the others. The ones who frequent gun shows and hang out every day on online gun forums. The ones who forward every anecdote that comes down the pike about a granny with a shotgun fending off a gang of rapists. The ones who foam at the mouth about the big bad guvmint wanting to take away their toys.  The ones who fawn like schoolgirls over implements of death and mayhem as if they were Faberge eggs. These are probably prime candidates for a twelve-step program.

Be that as it may, the point is that given a random gathering of, say, a hundred human beings,  you’re certain to have a wide variety of personality types. Give them all guns, and you’re certain to have a wide variety of armed personality types – and levels of shooting skill.  Introduce a sudden threat to their lives (like, say, a guy opening fire on everyone) and the odds of extensive collateral damage are high indeed- my projection of “a dozen or so bodies” might well be conservative.

Yet many gunsters are perfectly willing to assume that in such a scenario, everyone present would behave with perfect poise, restraint and efficiency – not to mention impeccable marksmanship. How naive can you get?

And the Kewpie Doll Goes to…

But of the many silly utterances in Mr. Krafft’s commentary, the silliest has to be this:

There is no such thing as “gun violence.” There are people who do violent things with guns, but they also do violent things with knives, rocks, pointy sticks and fists.

Oh. I’ll try to remember that, and I’ll also try to remember that there’s no such thing as an automobile accident; there are only accidents that happen to involve automobiles. They could instead have involved bicycles, camels or pogo sticks. The fact that they involved automobiles gives us no right to linguistically link a car with a crash. (Is this some of that “political correctness” stuff I’ve heard so much about?)

I suppose this little display of semantic chicanery is meant to foster an Orwellian disconnect between guns and gunshots, and reinforce the gun culture mantra that “guns don’t kill, people do”. But while the role that firearms might play in inciting violence is open to debate, their very presence in shootings is not. I’ve never heard even the most rabid gun fanatic argue that bullets are discharged by bare hands. (At least not yet.)

Pro but conned

Speaking of loaded language, as it were, I notice that the denizens of The Truth (sic) about Guns have a habit of referring to non-gunsters (including, it would appear, yours truly) as “antis”. Normally the prefix anti designates opposition to something, but I’m not clear just what it is that I/we are supposedly against. If anything, one might infer from reading these pages that I am in favor of certain things – e.g., stricter gun laws and a more precise reading of The Constitution.

In any case, the knee-jerk use of this label is a good indicator of how the gun culture, like the culture of right-wing extremism with which it is so closely allied, is fueled by paranoia and divisiveness. There must always be a THEM out there somewhere, intent upon taking away one’s guns and one’s freedom (which are one and the same of course), and destroying one’s country and violating one’s daughters, etc. etc. etc. etc. The gun lobby, a distinct minority that nonetheless enjoys a powerful grip on media and politics, has managed to convince its constituents that it has been brutally marginalized; and it appeals to the very type of mindset that probably shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a loaded anything.

Blossoms among the stubble

Still, I don’t mean to suggest that Mr. Krafft always has his head up his barrel. I commend him for at least recognizing that there is for most people a heavy emotional price tag attached to shooting someone, however justifiably. Many gunsters I’ve encountered seem quite clueless about this, and honestly believe they can just blow away a bad guy and then go have a beer and forget about it. The scary thing is, some of them may be right.

And I give him a standing ovation for refusing to name the shooter at Virginia Tech. I’ve always strongly suspected that if the media didn’t lavish so much attention on mass murderers, there’d be far fewer copycats.  But we’ll never know for certain, will we?

Additionally, his speculations about how crime may have been prevented by armed citizens in other mass shootings, and his follow-up post offering possible solutions to the problem of gun violence (though he denies it exists) are, though presumptuous, at least thoughtful.

On the whole, however, the website is yet another example of the very brand of fear mongering and polarization that the world doesn’t need a lot more of.

(COMING SOON: We’ll examine “gun control” and other nifty phrases, as well as gunster mantras such as “gun control doesn’t work” and “more guns, less crime“. And we’ll turn the microscope on the “statistics” about defensive gun use.)