The (Poorly) Armed Assault On “Gun Control”: How the Gun Culture Manipulates Statistics (Part 7)

gun-control-mental-health-cartoon

At long last, we come to the end of this lengthy series on NRA propaganda (though I can’t guarantee there won’t be another series in the future — the gun culture keeps firing plenty of propaganda to go around). In previous installments, we examined what we have termed the Chicago gambit, which consists of cherry picking statistics to make it appear that strict gun laws correlate with higher crime;  the DC gambit, which tries to make the case that looser gun laws cause a drop in crime; the particular case of the latter in Kennesaw, GA; the attempt to corroborate that tenet with national trends in crime and gun sales; and  the comparison gambit, which juxtaposes cherry-picked cities and countries.

As you might have realized, all of these “gambits” are really just variations on a theme. They all involve drawing false equivalence between various sets of gun statistics. But another tactic is to make a false equivalence between guns themselves and various other instruments of harm. Thus we come to:

4. The kitchen sink gambit

The almighty gun has been proclaimed by its devotees as being less harmful than anything and everything else — though maybe not literally the kitchen sink. At least not so far.

Here’s one example that made the rounds on social media not long ago:

Capture

Let’s not even bother dissecting the accuracy of the numbers, although there’s plenty to dissect: that isn’t the primary focus of our discussion here.  The more critical offense, at least for the moment, is comparing apples and giraffes.  Only one of these purported causes of death — the final one on the list, which the gunsters are trying desperately to defend — entails a deliberate harmful action against another person. Yes, that includes the first action listed.

We must assume, based on the (apparently inflated) figure given that “death” from abortion in this case means a terminated fetus. It probably does not refer to the death of a pregnant woman or teenage girl, which has not been a matter of great concern to “pro-life” fanatics — who are often in favor of capital punishment, aggressive warfare and, as in the case here, the unrestricted proliferation of handheld killing machines. In short, this graphic evidently assumes that life begins at conception, or during intercourse, or maybe with the first twinkle in someone’s eye. In any case, it’s based on an arrogant presumption that a personal belief is an inviolable fact that should be mandated into law for everyone.

But even if we grant that belief to be true — even if, in other words, we assume that terminating a fetus is equivalent to killing a breathing viable person — it still would not be true that “abortion is murder”, because there is no intent to kill. The purpose of abortion is not to kill but to end a problem pregnancy, and sometimes even to save a life. Doctors who perform them are not doing so to harm, but to help. No matter what angle you approach it from, abortion does not belong in the same room as “murder by gun”.

And note that the gun deaths include only murder, and not the 20,000 or so gun suicides per year.  (Gunsters tend to omit or downplay suicides when discussing gun deaths, on the apparent assumption that suicide victims are less dead.) Nor, since the list is only about death, does it mention the approximately 70,000 annual nonfatal gun injuries or the 400,000 crimes committed yearly with a gun.

All of the causes of death listed are, to some degree, preventable. But only one is both malicious and utterly inexcusable.

It’s also a common tactic to compare gun homicides to homicides by other means. Sometimes you’ll even hear people claim that gun murders are outnumbered by knife murders or hammer murders, or teaspoon murders or whatever — which isn’t even close to accurate. For 2014 (the most recent year for which such data are available), the numbers are as follows: gun murders, 8124; knife murders 1567; blunt instrument murders, 435.

More important, such comparisons are meaningless because the other objects are designed for practical purposes that do not involve killing, while guns are designed specifically to kill.  When a hammer is used to kill, it’s being misused. When a gun is used to kill, it’s being used “properly”.

Sometimes they will get more specific and say that knives kill more people than rifles do. Which is actually true. But what’s the point? A rifle is not the main type of firearm used in gun violence; but assault rifles/ assault weapons (see previous post for the gun culture’s silly quibbling over labels) have a potential to be deadly on a massive scale. How many more Sandy Hooks are you willing to put up with?

Shortly after that massacre, in which 27 people were slaughtered, a deranged man with a knife attacked school children in China, wounding 22 students. Aha! said the gunsters, why not go after knives instead of the sacred thunderstick. If you really can’t tell the difference between 27 dead and 22 injured, perhaps you should leave the lethal weapons for the big boys to play with.

Inevitably, we get around to the big enchilada: the automobile. Cars kill more people than guns, they say. And furthermore, there are more guns in America than cars. So there.

This is true as far it goes. So what? It’s another pointless comparison. The automobile is not designed to kill. The gun is. Auto manufacturers improve their products by making them safer and safer. Firearms manufacturers improve their products by making them deadlier and deadlier. The gunsters don’t even seem to realize that in making this comparison they are seriously undermining their own case: “gun control” activists would be tickled as an NRA board member in Jesse James’s hideout if firearms were regulated anywhere nearly as strictly as automobiles.

Furthermore, the numbers mentioned don’t tell the whole story. While there may be more guns than automobiles, they are in fewer hands. (Car owners may own 2 or 3 vehicles, but they rarely have a whole trunk full of them.)  About 9 out of 10 households have access to an automobile, while only about a third have access to firearms. Additionally, automobiles are in constant usage, as you can verify by looking out the window of your own, if not the window of your home. Automobiles often are used for hours at a time; outside of hunting, the same is rarely true of guns.

Using a gun, in the strictest sense, means pulling the trigger. But in all fairness, we also should include aiming it or holding it in such a manner that it readily could be fired. Beyond that, it gets a bit murky. Should gun use also include simply wearing one strapped to your hip in public? That doesn’t make sense any more than having a car parked on a public street constitutes driving. It certainly doesn’t count as gun use simply to have one hanging on your wall. (The so-called “statistics” about defensive gun use often include incidents in which the gun owner simply tells someone he has a gun!)

Despite all this, traffic fatalities have fallen sharply, while gun deaths have risen slightly. Here’s a graph provided by the Violence Policy Center:

gun vs car deaths

The VPC also notes that gun deaths have actually surpassed traffic deaths in 21 states plus the District Of Columbia.

As you might expect, the gun culture cries foul over the VPC’s figures.  Writing for Investors Business Daily, “gun rights” activist John Lott (who is about as responsible with data as Ted Nugent is with rhetoric and Dick Cheney is with a hunting rifle), declares:

Over and over again, the VPC has been caught misreporting numbers. [Like anyone else we know?] It is surprising that anyone, let alone the Associated Press, still takes it seriously…The VPC somehow managed to incorrectly add up the firearm deaths for 20 of the 21 states where firearm deaths supposedly exceeded motor vehicle deaths! The mistakes always made firearm deaths appear much larger than they actually were.

Lott is outraged that the VPC includes in its tally those firearm deaths that are “justifiable” (As we’ve mentioned before, the “justifiable” in such shootings is often questionable). And he states that eliminating them reduces the number of states from 21 to 14. Oh, only 14? Well hey, let’s fire off a few rounds in celebration . Other than that, Lott doesn’t go into any detail about how exactly the VPC figures are wrong, or where one might obtain more accurate figures (except from him, of course).

The one state he singles out is Tennessee, in which he claims there were “only” 978 gun deaths in 2014 as opposed to the VPC’s reported 1020. The VPC figure, however, jibes with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adjusted total of 1016 for that state, which still exceeds the number of vehicular fatalities (994 according to CDC).

Curiously he also presents a graph of “corrected” data that actually makes the gun culture’s tenets look even more dubious — even though he is slyly including only accidental gun deaths:

Traffic vs. Firarm

And once again, he tries to downplay suicide by firearm. Acknowledging that gun suicides have been on the upswing, he hastens to add that suicides in general have been on the upswing, so maybe we should let guns off the hook.  But as we mentioned previously , there is evidence that making a quick and easy method of death more difficult to obtain causes the would-be suicides to reconsider. Which is to say, making gun laws stricter could save a lot of lives. Just don’t expect to hear anything that rational and informed coming from the gun culture anytime soon.

Whether distorting facts, making them up, citing them selectively or ripping them out of context, the NRA and its accomplices seldom shoot straight with figures. Whenever you hear them quote one, it’s a very good bet that it’s either inaccurate,  incomplete or misleading.

 

 

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The (Poorly) Armed Assault On “Gun Control”: How the Gun Culture Manipulates Statistics (Part 6)

McConathy holds a hunting rifle with a short stock at the Cabela's store in Fort Worth

REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

 

In the previous installment, we considered what we have termed The Comparison Gambit, which entails making inappropriate comparisons between the crime and gun statistics of two very different places. In particular, we examined the popular comparison between Chicago (a higher crime city in a state with strict gun laws) and Houston (a supposedly lower crime city in a state with loose gun laws) and explained why the comparison doesn’t work.

It may have occurred to you that these comparisons are not limited to cities. You’ll also see them made between states and entire countries. Here, for example, is another gun meme making the rounds:

 

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What’s wrong with this picture? Several things. First, it doesn’t even get its facts straight. Switzerland, though it has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world, does not have the lowest — some countries (e.g. Japan, Singapore and Iceland) with stricter gun laws have less crime. Furthermore, Switzerland does not “require” citizens to own firearms. Nor does Honduras prohibit them.

But perhaps more important, it’s absurd to assume that because these two nations have a comparable population, they are comparable in other ways as well. In the words of Politifact:

There’s really no point in comparing the challenges of Honduras, a lower middle-income country in Central America beleaguered by corruption and violence from the drug trade and gangs, to Switzerland, an affluent country nestled in western Europe…

The post ignores a litany of cultural, political and socioeconomic factors that play into gun violence, or a lack thereof. The gross domestic product per capita, to name one, is $2,435 in Honduras and $84,733 in Switzerland, according to the World Bank.

Additionally, it’s an unwarranted assumption that just because a particular country has a high rate of gun ownership, it must have a low rate of gun regulation. One reason there are so many armed Swiss is that men are required to serve in the military. The government issues them guns when they enter the service, and takes them back when they muster out. And in the meantime, those guns are strictly regulated, as are civilian firearms. Switzerland, in short, has stricter gun laws than the U.S. (Who doesn’t?) And in case you don’t know, the U.S. has a hell of a lot of gun violence compared to most other affluent nations.

 

gun urders per 100.000

 

Of course, that graph doesn’t include every country in the world, so chances are you’ll find a few that buck the trend. Still, the inescapable facts are that (a) the U.S. has both an exceptionally high number of guns and exceptionally lax gun laws, and (b) the U.S. has an exceptionally high level of gun violence. Coincidence?

Two other countries the gun culture has zeroed in on are countries with rather strict gun laws: England and Australia. A viral Facebook post that purports to have been written by an Australian police officer claims that since new firearm regulations were enacted in 1996 following the Port Arthur massacre, crime down under has been escalating. But the figures given are false and misleading; actual crime figures from Australia give a very different picture.

The same kind of narrative applies to England and Wales. It has become an article of faith among the Second Amendment cult that since England adopted stricter gun laws 20 years ago, it has become a much more violent and crime-infested country. In reality, crime in England has been declining rather steadily since about that time. The discrepancy in statistics occurs because the gun culture is relying on figures compiled by British law enforcement authorities; but those figures have been notoriously and horrendously unreliable.

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A list of the 30 U.S. cities with the highest murder rates includes at last 12 in states with loose gun laws, and at least 5 more in close proximity to such states. It’s hard to draw a solid conclusion from that. Somewhat more definitive, but still not conclusive, is the fact that states with the strictest gun laws have the fewest gun-related deaths.

gun ownership states

 

Nearly two-thirds of these deaths are suicides, and so the gun culture cries foul when they are included in the tally of gun deaths, as if suicides are less dead or less violent than homicides. The thing is, even if we did exclude them, the U.S. would still considerably outstrip most other countries in the world in gun deaths.

Speaking of suicide, and speaking of England, the suicide trend in that country provides an illuminating counterpoint to a common gun culture talking point: the idea that if people didn’t have an easy availability of guns, they’d kill just as much via other means, so you may as well make it easy for them by giving them ready access to the real deal.

But in England, it was once trendy (as it has been in many places) for the suicidally inclined to do their deed by sticking their heads into ovens. Because it was a very effective means of doing yourself in back when ovens were heated with coal gas, which produced a high level of carbon monoxide. Then in the Seventies, the nation finished switching over to natural gas, which is much cleaner. Subsequently, there were no more suicides by gas, and the total suicide count fell by one third.

Now it’s possible that certain motivations for suicide disappeared at the same time as old-fashioned ovens. But it’s more likely that, deprived of a handy and effective means of self-destruction, suicidal individuals delayed their big step indefinitely and ultimately changed their minds altogether. By the same token, it’s probable that those who are inclined to commit murder would be less likely to do so if they had to do it with a lawn chair rather than an Uzi.

But again, we can’t really “prove” that with hard statistics. In fact, it’s very difficult to draw positive causal conclusions about the relationship between guns and crime in general. But if we’re going to make any conclusions about probability, we should do so with the largest possible database rather than with cherry-picked comparisons favored by the NRA.

What may be the most comprehensive study ever undertaken on the subject, the study conducted by Santaella-Tenorio et al, actually compared 130 other studies in 10 countries, and concluded that there is a strong correlation between the implementation of stricter gun laws and the reduction in gun-related violence. That may not be the final word, but it’s the best we have at this point. Accordingly, it would be more logical to err on the side of too much “gun control” rather than too little — if indeed it’s even possible to have too much.

 

The (Poorly) Armed Assault on “Gun Control”: How the Gun Culture Manipulates Statistics (Part 5)

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In previous installments, we’ve examined what we call The Chicago Gambit, which is cherry picking statistics to make the case that stricter gun laws cause a rise in crime, as well as its counterpart, which we call The D.C. Gambit — which is cherry picking data to argue that looser gun laws cause a drop in crime. Now let’s look at a tactic that allows the gun propagandist to do both simultaneously.

3: The Comparison Gambit

Chances are at some point you’ve seen an Internet meme like this one:

 

Since (as the perpetrators of this propaganda would have you believe) there are no major differences between Chicago and Houston besides climate and gun policy, then the latter must be responsible for the difference in crime.

First of all, the figures listed in this chart aren’t exactly accurate. In fact, some of them are way off. Most glaringly, Chicago experienced about 500 homicides in 2012, not 806. And that was an unusually high year; the average since 2004 has been around 450 per year. Furthermore, the city has shown a steady decline in crime overall. By the way, the figures listed in the table vary considerably from version to version of this meme, as if those circulating it just alter them willy-nilly without bothering with even a modicum of research. One version slyly inserts a 1 before the 806, making 1806 homicides in all!

But as incredible as it may sound, statistical inaccuracy is not the main problem of this and other items like it. The main problem is false equivalence. Even if we take the “facts” listed at face value, there are some boldfaced problems.

First, there is a substantial difference in population between these two cities — Chicago has about 25 percent more residents. And those are just the people living within the city limits. Both cities are part of sprawling metropolitan communities that don’t end where city boundaries do. The population of Houston and environs is 5.6 million, while that of Chicagoland is about 10 million — almost double. Furthermore, the Houston metropolitan area is more centrally placed in the state, and surrounded by more sparsely populated communities. Chicagoland is the heart of an urban sprawl extending into 3 states, with great variation in gun policy — including deep-red, gun-totin’ Indiana.

There is, in other words, a big difference in population density. Chicago’s, at about 11,800 inhabitants per square mile, is more than 3 times that of Houston’s at some 3500 per square mile. Could this be a contributing factor? Quite possibly.

And even the above table acknowledges that there are variations in ethnic composition. Chicago, for instance, is listed as 38.9 percent African-American, as opposed to 24 percent for Houston. Does this suggest that blacks are more violent? Not so fast: Chicago is also listed as 38.7 percent Caucasian, as opposed to Houston’s 26 percent. And it also doesn’t do much for gun culture visions of ethnic superiority that the supposedly much safer Houston has a larger percentage of Hispanics. Still, it’s possible that ethnicity — perhaps in conjunction with other factors — does indeed contribute somehow.

The meme even mentions, albeit facetiously, that climate could play a role. No, there’s no reason to believe that cold weather in itself makes people more violent, but it might make a contribution under certain circumstances. In other words, as far-fetched as it might sound, while cold weather in general does not make people more violent, it might do so in Chicago specifically. At least that possibility can’t be ruled out. And that’s just the point: there are a great many factors, known and unknown, that can’t be ruled out; but those who disseminate this chunk of propaganda focus on only those factors that seem to buttress their cause.

The meme also fails to mention that 2012 was an unusually high year for homicides in Chicago; or that violent crime, as well as crime in general, have been steadily declining in the city. Or that the homicide rate for the past dozen years or so has been substantially lower than it was previously. Or that the 2012 spike in homicides occurred two years after a certain Supreme Court ruling that supposedly restored “constitutional gun rights” to Chicagoans.

The moral of the story is that there is more to life than guns. But as long as we’re playing the comparison game, let’s try two more cities, shall we? How about… oh, Boston and New Orleans.

New Orleans has about 380,000 people, while Boston has about 650,000. That’s a difference of about 70 percent. So, all else being equal, we’d expect Boston to have about 70 percent more homicides and 70 percent more crime than New Orleans, right?

But of course, all is not equal. Massachusetts has very strict gun laws, and Louisiana has very lax gun laws. So then if the “more guns, less crime” folks are correct, then Boston should have way, way more violence, right? But that’s, er, not quite how things are.

New Orleans has the seventh highest homicide rate in the nation, with a homicide rate last year of 42.7, compared to Boston’s 6.1. In 2014, Boston’s overall violent crime rate was 725.7, compared to 973.9 in New Orleans. The property crime rate for Boston was 2,638.9 with a burglary rate of 409.5; for New Orleans these figures were 4,231.8 and 893.3.

You can cherry pick statistics to “prove” just about anything. But to get a more accurate picture of an overall trend, you need to examine as broad a spectrum as possible. Comparing a large number of cities is more reliable than comparing just two, and comparing states is more reliable still. And when you d0 a comprehensive comparison of gun laws with gun deaths across the states, you see that stricter gun laws clearly correspond to fewer gun deaths. That doesn’t prove that “gun control” works, but it goes a long way toward discrediting the contrary belief.

 

 

4 Dangerous Beliefs About Guns (4)

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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/albund

 

In previous installments, we looked at the dangerous beliefs that (a) the Second Amendment was intended to ensure that citizens can fight against their own government; (b) gun regulation is a hallmark of tyranny, and (c) armed citizens can defend themselves against oppressive governments. Now we’re going to examine the Big Enchilada, the biggest, most popular, most dangerous belief of them all, the one that feeds all the others.

Dangerous Belief # 4 : Guns Make Us Safer

As mentioned last time, gun culture beliefs (like the beliefs of just about any fanatical ideological faction) are based on presumption rather than fact. That’s true of the beliefs listed above, and it’s most emphatically true of this, the cornerstone belief, which gunsters take for such a self-evident and unquestionable maxim that it has been elevated to the status of sacred cow. I’ve actually heard some of them proclaim that if you doubt this Golden Truth, then the burden of proof is on you.

You’ve no doubt seen plenty of anecdotal evidence: stories about how a little old granny with a shotgun fends off a burglar/ rapist/ terrorist and sends him scrambling with a derriere full of buckshot, etc. But even when these incidents are all they’re presented to be (and not all are) it’s often hard to know (a) how they would have played out had no gun  been involved and (b) whether they even would have occurred at all had no gun been involved.

Gunsters, of course, are convinced they know the answers, particularly the first. Their presumption about defensive gun uses (DGUs) is that without a gun, the putative defender would have ended up dead or at least victimized. But bear in mind that the gun is the easy solution; and very often, the easy solution leaves much to be desired. Blowing out someone’s brains is not a good alternative to using your own.

Whatever the outcome of gun-involved encounters, there’s little doubt that some unspecified portion of them would not have occurred at all had not the alleged defender been armed. We get a clear indication from examining in detail the reports of specific DGUs that the alleged defenders had been indulging in what’s known as risk compensation. which is to say that whenever there is an increased level of security, we tend to compensate for it by increasing our level of recklessness.

In some activities (e.g., driving a vehicle) the added risk may be less than the risk reduction as a result of an added safety measure (e.g., seat belts). But when it comes to firearms, it appears that the added risk is greater, and perhaps much greater, than the risk reduction.  One study of  incidents in Philadelphia found that

(a)fter adjustment, individuals in possession of a gun were 4.46 (P < .05) times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession. Among gun assaults where the victim had at least some chance to resist, this adjusted odds ratio increased to 5.45 (P < .05)

If these results are typical, it’s hard to see how guns possibly could make us safer.

But what if you just keep your guns at home? You know, to defend yourself from that horde of home invaders you hear about? Well, keeping one at home actually puts you at greater risk of being burglarized (if nothing else) , since guns are a favored commodity among burglars. It also, of course, increases the odds of suicide or accidental death or injury.

And what if you keep your weapons unloaded and locked up to prevent tragic mishaps? Then you’re going to make it harder to access and use them if confronted by a criminal. Plus, you’re still not going to keep determined thieves from stealing them. And you’re still not going to eliminate the possibility of misuse — the two boys in Jonesboro, Arkansas who went on a murderous rampage at their school did so with rifles that had been locked in a cabinet.

Still, it seems reasonable that there are some circumstances in which it is advisable for civilians to be armed. I’ve never owned a gun in my life, and have fired one perhaps half a dozen times; yet I probably wouldn’t want to be without one if I ever went hiking alone through Alaskan bear territory. But bears don’t shoot back, and the chances would be very slim that an innocent bystander would be shot; so in this case the potential benefits would outweigh the potential hazards. (Even so I’d try to be conscious of whether my being armed would be inspiring me to indulge in unnecessary risk.)

But while a gun, singular, may make a person, singular, safer under some circumstances, it does not follow that guns, plural, make people, plural, safer overall.  To justify such a conclusion, we’d have to establish that guns effect a net reduction in crime – that they are used to prevent crimes more often than to commit them. And contrary to what the gun culture consistently maintains, this has by no means been established. We just do not have, nor is it likely that we ever will have, a practical means to determine accurately how often guns are used defensively.

The gunsters will point to “statistics” of anywhere from 65,000 to 2.5 million annual DGUs in the U.S., as calculated by several widely divergent “studies” – most notably that of Dr. Gary Kleck, who came up with the high end figure. You don’t have to be a sociologist or a statistician yourself to spot the primary problem with these “studies”: they are all blatant examples of false advertising. They are packaged as studies showing how often DGUs occur, but they are all actually surveys of how often gun owners claim they occur.

Dr. Kleck may be a respected and respectable scientist in general, but his signature paper is very bad science indeed. He suggests that we should just take the word of the respondents in his project because he doesn’t believe they would lie – even though he’d eliminated many respondents from his tabulations precisely because it was obvious that they were lying!

So let’s get this straight. Gun enthusiasts tend to be very vocal about their perceived “right” to own a gun, and their perceived need for one. It would be fair to conclude, based on their comments, that many of them are absolutely itching for a chance to use their guns, or at least to give the impression that they have done so. And yet you don’t believe that those taking part in an anonymous survey are going to pad the truth just a little bit – even if inadvertently?

When it comes to actual DGU statistics, the best we can do is compile accounts verified by media or law enforcement.  There are several such compilations online, almost all of them maintained by staunch “gun rights” proponents who urge their constituents to contribute anecdotes. Yet despite their burning obsession with proving that guns are a basic food group, the best these folks can come up with is somewhere between 1000 and 2000 DGUs per year.

Is it possible that there are additional incidents that don’t get reported? Well, sure. Is it likely that there are enough of them to justify the fantastical totals that the NRA purports? Not by a long shot. (Dr. Kleck would have you believe that only about one in every 1200 to 2500 gets reported!) As we’ve stated before, most incidents that truly warrant armed intervention are also going to warrant police and/or media attention. And while gunsters insist that they are responsible, law-abiding citizens, they also want you to believe that in the vast majority of DGUs, the defender lets the criminal get away without taking appropriate measures to prevent him from striking elsewhere.

But let’s cut them some slack and say that, despite all evidence to the contrary, most DGUs are never reported anywhere. Let’s be even more generous and say that 90 percent don’t – no, hell, let’s be incredibly generous and say that 99 percent don’t. Only one out of a hundred is reported.  Let’s continue on our generosity binge and suppose that all of those that do occur, whether reported or not, are genuinely defensive; let’s assume that the defender was an innocent victim, and did absolutely nothing to provoke the incident, and that the use of armed force was necessary and indispensable. Even so, that would amount to, at the very most, some 200,000 DGUs

Meanwhile, guns are used to commit crimes at least 400,000 times per year in the U.S. This is not a generous guess. It’s not a presumption. It’s not a projection based on a skewed survey posing as a “study”. It’s a bona fide, hard statistic. So do guns really make us safer? Do the math.

The mentality of the American gun culture reflects what I call the Cocoanut Grove Syndrome — a scenario in which the response to a perceived threat does more harm than the threat itself. The Cocoanut Grove was a popular nightclub in Boston during the 1930s and 1940s.. Then one night in 1942, it was the scene of one of the deadliest fires in U.S. history, killing 492 people.

Thing is, most of them probably could have made it out, except that in the stampede toward the exit, they all crowded against the doors,  some of which opened inward, and as a result the doors were jammed. The victims’ own panic, in other words, was more deadly than the fire itself. Because of this tragedy,  new fire and building regulations were adopted nationwide, sparing many lives in the future – and in the process dealing a crushing blow to those who ardently believe that government interference invariably makes things worse.

A pyromaniac might smugly insist that fires don’t kill, people do; but it’s a pointless point. However you choose to apportion blame, the fire was certainly an integral element of the tragedy. Furthermore, fire regulations, like firearm regulations, are designed to be followed by people, not by their implements of destruction.

Like the panicked patrons at the Cocoanut Grove, gun fanatics perceive a real or imagined danger, namely, the threat of armed criminals,  and in their panic they believe that the solution is to rush the door — the door of the local gun dealer. Each looks after what appears to be his or her own interests, unmindful of the fact that selfish interests add up to mob action. Each is convinced that he or she will be the exception who successfully defeats the overwhelming odds of making it to safety through the packed masses. But that’s not quite how things have been turning out.

 

 

4 Dangerous Beliefs About Guns (3)

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In the previous installments we looked at the myths that the Second Amendment was intended as an authorization for citizens to take up arms against their own government, and that firearm regulation (“gun control”) is concomitant with tyranny. Now we look at a myth that ties these two together.

Dangerous Belief # 3: Armed civilians can defend themselves against a tyrannical government

This is going to be short and sweet, because we already covered this topic sufficiently in previous posts. See, for example, More on the Myth of Hitler’s Gun Ban, Part 2.

But to review a crucial passage from that essay (pardon me while I quote myself):

A moment ago, I stated that when a small band of armed citizens defend themselves against armed government forces, the odds are overwhelmingly against them. What I probably should have said instead was that the odds of their success are essentially nonexistent — at least if history is any guide. Because I can’t think of a single unequivocal exception to this rule.

The gunsters, however, are convinced that they can.  There are several examples in particular that they keep lobbing in my direction: Afghanis against Soviets, the South Vietnamese against the North Vietnamese and even (I kid you not) the American Revolution. But none of these qualifies as an instance of a small contingent of armed citizens defending themselves against their government.

In each of these conflicts, the insurgents formed an army and/or were aided by outside forces; in the first two, it was the United States supplying much of the firepower. In the Revolution, the colonists formed their own organized and trained army (not just a band of armed citizens) and they were substantially aided by other armies — most notably, that of France. (Sorry, gun nuts. I know many of you love to believe that the French are anti-American socialist pussies; but the truth is that to a very large extent you owe to them the liberty you so fervently claim to cherish.) In each of these wars, moreover, the defenders were warding off invaders on their home turf — which was not the case in Germany.

And what about the French Revolution? Yes indeed, those brie-nibblers did have their own revolt and it was indeed successful, but it was a multi-pronged social upheaval rather than just a military action. And it wasn’t fought by just a small group of people, but by a large contingent of revolutionaries, including soldiers, against a corrupt aristocracy.  Note also that they were on the offensive rather than the defensive end of the clash.

Perhaps I was a bit too loose in my use of the word army , because in the context of this passage, it could be construed to include militia units. But as the folks at Armed With Reason so deftly point out, militias have been less than spectacularly successful in fighting tyranny, and indeed are even more likely to contribute to the rise of tyranny.

Militias that have been successful in warding off foreign aggression overwhelmingly opposed democratic rule. A few examples are Vietnam, Afghanistan, Cuba, Somalia, Iraq, and southern Lebanon; in none of these countries did the militias promote a free State. Add to this list countries where militias have ripped apart society in tribal states or civil war (such as Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Colombia, and the Palestinian Territories) and we can form an even clearer picture of militias. For a more immediate example, one only has to look at the bewildering array of militias (more than “1,000” according to Robin Wright) currently fighting in Syria to see how little they promote democratic values and how ineffective they tend to be on the battlefield. While there may be an example of victorious militias replacing tyranny with freedom since the industrial age hiding somewhere in an obscure footnote of history, the rule that militias are detrimental to preserving freedom holds.

The piece also includes this section, which I perhaps should have quoted in Part 2:

Yemen is currently the second most heavily armed country in the world (per capita), and it is currently a battlefield between a Western dictatorship and various Jihadist organizations who have no love for a free State. Saudi Arabia and several other Arab countries are heavily armed, with what can only be described as tyrannical governments. Iraq before the 2003 US invasion is perhaps the best example. Saddam Hussein falls under any definition of a tyrannical dictator, yet the Iraqi people were very heavily armed with a gun culture mirroring that of the US. How armed a population is appears to have no empirical bearing on how free that society is.

Contrary to what the gun culture likes to proclaim, a militia is also a different thing from just a gaggle of armed civilians. Nor does dressing up in combat garb and drilling with guns make you a militia. And civilians have an even more dismal track record of thwarting tyranny than do militias. Furthermore, as we mentioned in the previous installment, those who believe in an armed citizenry as a remedy against tyranny are likely to be severely delusional individuals who make up their own warped definitions of tyranny. We witnessed this recently in Oregon, where a would-be militia occupied a government building and eventually engaged in a confrontation with authorities that resulted in a senseless death.

The profoundly silly article about Wounded Knee I mentioned before would have you believe that if only the Natives had been armed, they could have fought off the U.S. Army’s attack. Like just about everything else the gun culture believes, this is pure presumption with hardly a shred of evidence to support it. But suppose by some miracle this small band of Native Americans had warded off the assault. What would have prevented the army from returning with more troops and bigger guns? What’s that you say? The Indians could have sent for reinforcements too? Ah, but then you’re no longer talking about a citizen-state conflict. You’re talking about a clash between two armies, like Little Big Horn.

To return to Nazi Germany (and we must always return to Nazi Germany, mustn’t we?), it is an article of faith among the gun culture that if only the Jews had been armed, the holocaust never would have happened (even though “gun control” supposedly doesn’t work). Which is another superb example of how ideological beliefs so often ignore the facts. Because the fact is that the Jews did manage to get their hands on guns. And they did engage in episodes of armed revolt — at least a hundred of them. And how much less dead were they in the end?

One reader who was a gun enthusiast himself responded to my observation that all these acts of defiance failed to alter the fate of German Jews, with some comments that were illuminating in a manner he hadn’t intended:

A citizen alone just has to get to safety. That could be as little, as, for example, holding a couple of border guards at bay. For some reason, liberals can’t seem to get off the straw man that the entire armed forces can’t sumultaneously (sic) come after everybody individually. I think this is a symptom of the left worshiping government as a god; the notion that government is not all-knowing and all-powerful is something the left just can’t seem to grasp.

That’s a whole pasture full of straw men, including the one about the “straw man”. I assume the one about “worshiping the government” is an allusion to my mentioning the inescapable fact that it is armies, and not civilians, that defeat other armies. I’m not sure what significance the references to “liberals” and “the left” are supposed to have, but this reader inadvertently makes a meaningful revelation about “conservatives” — particularly those “conservatives” who put great stock in lead. Namely, that they live in a make-believe world in which they have only to pull a lever (or trigger) and the universe will neatly align all of its cherries for their benefit.

He assumes in this fanciful little scenario that he would be able to make it to the border. He assumes that there would be only a “couple” of guards at the border crossing point and no other security measures in place. He assumes that those two guards would be so involved in playing Tetris or watching porn that he could get the drop on them. He assumes that he would be able to maintain the upper hand, unimpeded by anyone else who might arrive on the scene. And he assumes that once he had crossed over into his new homeland (Canada? Mexico?) the authorities would open their arms to a fanatical American bearing a loaded weapon. But alas, real life is usually not like the movies.

Look, it’s not hard to see how such naive fantasies might take root. Most of us want to feel empowered rather than powerless. We want to believe that we can fend off the wolf at the door, blow up the Death Star, topple Goliath singlehandedly. And guns seem to offer an easy, or at least readily feasible means to achieve this.

But they are not what they seem. Behind the screen of gunsmoke, the collective recoil is much greater than people realize. In fact, the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that on balance, guns do far more harm than good. As we shall see in Part 4.

4 Dangerous Beliefs About Guns (2)

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As noted in the previous installment, the gun culture intensely promotes the false and dangerous belief that the Second Amendment was designed to ensure that citizens can wage war against a government that they consider tyrannical. Now we look at a corollary of this.

Dangerous Belief # 2: “Gun Control” is a hallmark of tyranny

There are two aspects of this belief. On the one hand there is the notion that any society that institutes “gun control” is, or is in danger of becoming, a dictatorship. Which is patently and titanically false.  Nearly every country exercises “gun control” in some form or other, yet very few of them have ever become dictatorships. On the contrary, many of the nations with the strictest of gun laws (e.g. Germany, France, Finland, the U.K. and Japan, to name just a few) are among the most liberated and democratic of societies — and incidentally the least violent.

The other interpretation is that those governments which are indeed known to be totalitarian tend to have very strict gun laws. This isn’t necessarily false in itself; totalitarian governments by definition impose heavy restrictions on many things, so it shouldn’t be surprising if firearms are included. But it’s a mistake to exaggerate the importance of gun restrictions in particular under such circumstances. Dictators also, with great uniformity, practice censorship; yet gun enthusiasts and Americans in general don’t seem to regard this as being nearly as germane to controlling the citizenry as gun restrictions, though it’s actually much more so.

Gunsters are fond of claiming that “the first thing a dictator does is take away people’s guns”. Which, even if it were true, would not be particularly relevant to a discussion of “gun control”; contrary to rumor, there’s a vast difference between “gun control” and “taking away guns”.  Furthermore, tyrants usually don’t consider either of them as crucial as the gun culture does. If you look more closely at the historical record involving specific brutal regimes so often cited as examples – e.g., Stalin, Pol Pot, Mussolini and of course the deranged little Austrian with the Chaplinesque mustache – you see some interesting patterns that the NRA tends to gloss over.

First, the dictators generally were not particularly prone to initiating “gun control” themselves; usually, they inherited it in a country where it already had been in place for many years. Why, then, didn’t the previous regimes morph into oppressive police states if gun regulation really is so toxic?

Second, the dictators may practice “gun control” – as virtually every government does – but they also tend to exalt and glorify guns as implements of power. Why not single out the latter rather than the former as a contributing factor to evil?  (One answer, of course, is the passionate but mistaken conviction that a better armed populace would be able to defend themselves against such tyranny; we’ll address that in the next installment.)

This myth rears its daffy head anytime any government official advocates any kind of regulation of firearms.  It happened just recently when President Obama proposed new measures to stanch the tide of gun violence in America. The reactionaries screamed bloody murder and insisted that “gun control” and tyranny go hand in glove – even though, as usual, such a claim was long on rhetoric and short on proof. As Vice President Joe Biden reminded us, he is himself a gun owner who must go through the same regulatory process as everyone else, and it doesn’t abate his freedom one whit.

In anticipation of the president’s moves, the gun culture launched preemptive strikes of paranoid propaganda. Among them was the circulation of new and old op-eds citing the massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee. Prior to that incident, the U.S. government had stripped the Natives of their firearms. So when the Army returned on the warpath, their victims were easy pickings.

Aha! says the gunster – that’s a classic example of how “gun control” leads to dire consequences. No, actually it’s a classic example of gun confiscation, not “gun control”; it’s especially typical in that it was applied only to a specific segment of the population. Genuine “gun control”, on the other hand, applies to everyone. Probably no mainstream American politician in the past hundred years has ever proposed gun legislation that applies only to one ethnicity – except maybe Ronald Reagan, who, as governor of California, embraced gun legislation that he hoped would keep weapons out of the hands of The Black Panthers.

Yet the profoundly silly essays conjuring up Wounded Knee parrot the official predigested gun culture rhetoric:

Ask any Jew what Hitler’s first step prior to the mass murders of the Holocaust was – confiscation of firearms from the people.

Not if you ask any Jew who actually knows anything about it, and certainly not if you ask any Jew who actually was there. As we mentioned in a previous article, the Nazis had been in power for a full 5 years before they introduced any gun legislation at all — and it actually loosened gun restrictions considerably. (The Third Reich was among those regimes that inherited a gun policy that already was rather strict.) And it wasn’t until later that year (1938) that they got around to prohibiting Jews from owning guns. Obviously a burning priority, eh?

By that time, the Jews already had been subjected to all manner of prohibitions, including where they could live, what kind of jobs they could hold, what businesses they could patronize, and what parts of town they could visit. Disarming them, then, was very far from being the “first thing” the Nazis did; on the contrary, it was more of an afterthought, a final slap in the face after the Jews already had been thoroughly dehumanized.

Likewise the Native Americans. Before Wounded Knee, and before they were disarmed prior to Wounded Knee, they’d already endured centuries of marginalization, exploitation and brutalization. When the U.S. Army attacked helpless civilians at Wounded Knee, it must have seemed (for many, at least) a natural and justifiable step in what had become a comfortable pattern.

Neither the holocaust nor Wounded Knee occurred because of “gun control” or even because of gun confiscation. Neither occurred because one side was armed and the other wasn’t. Both occurred because one side had severely and completely dehumanized the other. And guns do nothing to rectify such a lopsided and callous mindset. If anything, they only make it worse.

 

 

4 Dangerous Beliefs About Guns (1)

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Finally, President Obama stood up to Republicans in Congress and the gun lobby that owns them.  And not surprisingly, his announced plans to take action on gun violence triggered a volley of loony objections from the Second Amendment cult: “IT’S UNCONSTITUTIONAL!!! HE’S PLANNING TO TAKE AWAY OUR GUNS!!! IT WON’T STOP GUN VIOLENCE!!! IT’S JUST LIKE HITLER!!!

Media Matters did a good job of addressing most of the negative comments about the president’s specific proposals. But there are certain general attacks that always greet any kind of proposed action to reduce gun violence. They are based on certain beliefs that are not only false but dangerous. The most common are these:

  1. The Second Amendment was intended to ensure that citizens can do battle against their own government.
  2. “Gun Control” is a hallmark of tyranny.
  3. Armed civilians can successfully defend themselves against malicious government forces.
  4. Guns make us safer, and the more guns we have, the safer we are

We’re going to look at each of these in its own separate post. Let’s get started with this one:

Dangerous Belief # 1: The Second Amendment was intended to ensure that citizens can do battle against their own government.

This is actually  a subsidiary myth, with the primary myth being that the Second Amendment was intended to guarantee all citizens a right to be armed. But thoroughly dismantling the immense stack of falsehoods surrounding that claim will take more space than we’ve got here (we’ll get to it in due time).

Yet it should be obvious to anyone who actually reads the Second Amendment and has a basic grasp of the mother tongue that it is, to say the very least, a semantic swamp that leaves a great deal of ambiguity about the supposed right to own firearms for private use; and wherever there is any ambiguity at all, there are no absolutes. Thus, there is no absolute right to own a gun. Which means the notion that there is a right to own a gun to defend yourself against the big bad guvmint is a non-sequitur.

It would behoove the NRA crowd to realize that there is more to the Constitution than just one amendment. If they could only extricate their combat boots from the muck of the Second Amendment, even just long enough to move a few steps back to the original seven articles of the Constitution — the ones written before the Sacred Second or any other amendment was appended–  they might learn that a true “militia”, such as they fancy themselves to be, answers to the President Of The United States, rather than trying to plot his downfall:

(Article 2, Section 2)

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States…

So if they are an actual militia, then President Obama would only have to call them into “actual service”, and they’d be obligated to take orders from him, if they truly are the  “patriots” they style themselves. Doesn’t matter whether or not they like him or his complexion — oops, I mean his policies, of course. Furthermore, if they have the fortitude to read only a little further, they might learn that taking up arms against their country not only is not patriotic, it’s the very definition of treason:

(Article 3, Section 3)

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort…

Treason is a very serious crime. It’s often been punishable by death. And yet you really believe that the Founders went to all the trouble of inserting an amendment into the Constitution so that U.S. citizens would have the opportunity — nay, even the right and duty — to commit such a serious offense?

This myth is particularly dangerous because since the Second Amendment does not mention tyranny, it of course does not define tyranny. That leaves the gun culture to dream up its own definitions, which tend to be deranged and egocentric. Quite often, “tyranny” is anything that happens when they don’t get their way one hundred percent: hence the slogan “if ballots don’t work, bullets will”.  Many of them consider President Obama a tyrant because he wants to make sure they have healthcare.

At this writing, one cringe-worthy example of what often happens when children of white privilege have too much time on their hands and too many toys to play with is taking its course in Oregon, where an armed “””militia””” has taken over an isolated pit stop and threatened violent action if they don’t get themselves excused from the penalties of law that apply to everyone else.

No matter how valid their complaint may have been to begin with, does it really justify this kind of behavior? So far, their actions have not resulted in any violence, but what do you suppose would happen if the big bad guvmint responded to them the same way it responded to UNARMED protesters for Black Lives Matter?

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These “””patriots””” supposedly came to defend a couple of Oregon ranchers who were duly convicted of arson after setting fires on public land to destroy evidence of other crimes, boasting about their deeds and vowing to “light up the whole country on fire”.  Those two, meanwhile, have faced up to their punishment and have said they don’t want the “””militia””” representing them.

Doesn’t matter. The “””patriots”””, led by a couple of other ranchers from Nevada, have decided to take up the gauntlet against the evil guvmint, from whom they receive several forms of assistance to fatten their purses, and have drastically rewritten the nation’s history in the process. And they’ve expanded their narrative to pose as constitutional and legal experts in making the case that the federal government in general has no authority to administer public lands — even though the Constitution and the courts say otherwise.

They have pledged to stay until the death if they are not crowned emperors; yet, while they remembered to bring plenty of weapons and lead, they apparently didn’t think they might also need food during their mission of indefinite duration. Consequently, they have appealed for more handouts — this time from their admirers, but the survival rations are to be delivered by the USPS — another branch of the evil guvmint.

It’s scary enough that people like this are armed at all, much less that they take it upon themselves to decide what kind of “tyranny” needs overthrowing.

(Related Post: “9 Nutty Narratives About the Nevada Standoff”)