How to Curb Gun Violence (Really)

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Mass shootings like those in Las Vegas and Sulphur Springs, terrible as they are, are only a small taste of the carnage that goes on in America on a daily basis, courtesy of firearms. Most of it slips under the media radar; it’s only when a bunch of people are killed all at once that the lead holocaust is considered newsworthy. It’s only then that the media start talking about what can be done about it.

And the line of thinking from most media talking heads goes like this. If the shooter was a Muslim, we need to tighten immigration laws. If the shooter was Hispanic, we need to build a wall. If the shooter was black, we need more prisons and tougher laws. If the shooter was white, thoughts and prayers will do the trick. And above all, protect the Second Amendment.

And the causes of all this violence? Well, in addition to immigration, some of the causes that have been seriously suggested are: video games; Hollywood movies; Barack Obama; day cares; the “liberal media” (hey, I guess if the violence isn’t reported, maybe it won’t exist); mental illness; antidepressants (nothing like hedging your bets); abortion; “taking God out of our schools” (not sure how that’s even possible, since God is supposedly everywhere); “gun control”; not beating kids enough (to teach them violence is wrong, don’t you know); not enough guns out there; and, of course, the victims of the shootings.

The actual causes of gun violence are varied, complex and even to an extent inscrutable. So are the remedies. But as difficult as solving the problem may be, there are really just a few simple principles that we need to keep in mind.

1. Weave a web of regulation

Quite simply, a society should regulate the hell out of firearms. There’s no valid excuse for not doing so, no matter how much distaste you have for “big guvmint” cramping your right to shoot things up.  One of the gun culture’s popular sayings is “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” — which is irrelevant, since regulation is not about “outlawing”.  When you are required to be tested before obtaining a driver’s license. and stick to the speed limit, and drive in the right lane, does that mean that the government is trying to “take away” your car?

Regulation is not the final solution, by any means; on the contrary, it’s just the first step, a necessary foundation.  It’s something that we can’t afford not to do, if we want to avoid a broken windows effect that invites crime and carelessness.

Of course whenever you propose firearm regulation,  someone is bound to respond with another old tried and false big fat floppy red herring: “Criminals don’t care about laws”. Well, their victims might not “care about” bullets, either, but they’re still just as dead. Who the hell cares what criminals “care about”?  The real questions are (a) what kind of message do we want to convey, and (b) do gun regulations (“gun control” in the haughtily dismissive vernacular) help reduce crime.

The evidence is very strong that they do, both when we examine states within the U.S. and when we examine countries around the globe. Japan, to take just one example, has very strict laws about types of firearms allowed, registration, background checks, renewal periods and penalties. And it has, on average, about 30 gun deaths per year (and as few as 6). In contrast, the U.S. (with a population about two and a half times as large) has about 30,000 gun deaths per year.

2. Think long term

Still, even if the U.S. adopts the same gun policies as Japan, that doesn’t mean that America will suddenly become Japan.  They are very different nations with very different histories and cultures.  Japan has a culture of respect and courtesy and a constitution that explicitly states the nation will never again resort to aggressive warfare.  The U.S., on the other hand, has a long tradition of people believing (incorrectly) that they have a constitutional and/or god-given right to build up their own private arsenals without restriction.  And a long history of brutally enslaving and exterminating entire races of people — with the aid of guns.

We here in the U.S. have developed a mythos that brandishes the almighty gun as the infallible key to conquest and power. That mindset won’t be changed overnight. And the effects of gun legislation or any other reforms cannot be expected to manifest immediately.

3. Get creative

When we talk about measures to curb gun violence, we’re not just talking about “gun control”. To tackle a problem of this scope and complexity, we really have to think outside the ammo box. Strangely enough, one of the most interesting proposals came in jest(?) from a comedian. Actually, that’s not so strange; comedians tend to possess the kind of insight that politicians and pundits rarely do. In any case, this is what Chris Rock said in 1999:

You don’t need no gun control, you know what you need? We need some bullet control… I think all bullets should cost five thousand dollars… people would think before they killed somebody if a bullet cost five thousand dollars. “Man, I would blow your fucking head off– if I could afford it. I’m gonna get me another job, I’m going to start saving some money, and you’re a dead man. You’d better hope I can’t get no bullets on layaway”. So even if you got shot by a stray bullet, you wouldn’t have to go to no doctor to get it taken out. Whoever shot you would take their bullet back, like “I believe you got my property”.

Doesn’t it indeed seem logical that making bullets prohibitively expensive would reduce the number of times people fired them? Furthermore, the extra fees could be in the form of taxes that could go toward further steps to reduce gun violence and/or to clean up the mess it leaves. And what about target practice, you ask? Well, with today’s technology, it surely would be possible for virtual bullets to substitute adequately for the real thing.

And for that matter, technology offers a wealth of other possibilities. What about, as a random suggestion, mandating that guns be designed so they only can fire when handled by an authorized user. The point is that there are many, many different ways to approach the problem.

4. Radically alter public (mis)perceptions about firearms

And now we come to the portion of the discussion most pertinent to the content of this blog. Even if the Chris Rock Doctrine proves to be impractical, it at least makes a very important point: in order to combat gun violence, you have to condition the public to think about guns very differently. If you think this suggestion reeks of Orwellianism or totalitarian efforts to “reeducate” citizens, what you need to bear in mind is that the public already has been conditioned, for many generations, to have certain perceptions about guns — and those perceptions are quite faulty.

We have inherited the archetype of the rugged frontiersman who lived and died by his gun,  lionization of the screen personae of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood,  and a false perception that an “armed good guy” has a good chance of stopping an “armed bad guy”. A great deal of what the public believes about guns has come from popular entertainment. This is not to suggest that Hollywood is to blame for the violence, but it is to suggest that Hollywood could play a role in addressing it.

Many people seriously think it’s practical to shoot a gun out of someone’s hand. Most Americans don’t even recognize the sound of a gunshot when they hear it, because they’ve been conditioned by entertainment media to associate gunfire with a totally different sound (an unfortunate fact that could affect how quickly a person can respond and get to safety in an active shooter scenario). In the movies, the good guy mows down the bad guy with both six-guns blazing (which in real life is a difficult feat to pull off); the bad guy dies immediately and the good guy rides off into the sunset without a care in the world.

Imagine instead a film industry that portrays gun violence more realistically and responsibly. Imagine studios that stop promoting action films by using publicity photos that make guns appear sexy and glamorous. Imagine an entertainment industry that routinely gives some indication of how much gunshot victims often suffer before they die, and how long it takes them to do so. Imagine more realistic portrayal of the emotional recoil that people feel when they fatally shoot someone — an effect that can haunt them the rest of their lives. Imagine this knowledge uniformly transmitted through awareness programs at schools like Straight Talk About Risks (STAR). Can we afford to be any more lax with kids about the dangers of guns than about drinking or drugs or sex?

If we instill in the public what horrific deadly implements guns can be (which is one of the purposes of enacting stiff gun laws), chances are not so many people will automatically reach for one to settle a dispute over a parking space. Ironically, we can help reduce gun violence by respecting guns — respecting them for what they are rather than worshiping them for what they are not.

5. Spread civility

Even if everybody had a gun, there would be considerably less violence if everyone behaved civilly. That’s a big pipe dream, of course; there is no way everybody will ever behave civilly, which is precisely why it’s a bad idea for most people to be armed.

The gun lobby likes to say that “an armed society is a polite society”. but the facts just don’t support such a thesis. Americans are armed to the teeth, but America is a seething cauldron of anger and rudeness. In fact, there is some evidence that gun ownership actually contributes to this animosity. In any case, it makes the anger and rudeness far more dangerous. The hostility quotient would be high enough even if left to its own devices. But it’s very far from being left on its own; it’s constantly being amped up by a virtual army of demagogues saturating every corner of American media and American culture. And it certainly doesn’t help matters any that one of them is currently in the White House.

Again, the U.S. will never become Japan. But by exercising courtesy as much as possible, we should be able to defuse many of the situations that lead to violence, and thus lead to shots being fired. Arming a society certainly doesn’t make it polite, but being more disarming can make it a bit more dis-arming.

6. Tame the Testosterone

You hear a lot about mental illness being the cause of mass shootings. Well, it does play a role. But it’s clearly not the only factor or even the most important factor.  There are approximately as many mentally ill women as men. But guess what? All the mass shooters, with one exception, have been male.  In fact more than 75 percent of all violent acts are committed by males, and about 90 percent of killers are male.

Maybe some of this is biological. When my son was a toddler, we made a point of keeping him away from “war toys”, and minimizing his media exposure to weaponry. But he still went around pretending to shoot things with whatever object he could pick up.  Maybe there’s something about having a Y chromosome that makes a person attracted to lethal phallic symbols.

But it’s also unquestionably cultural.  (My son soon outgrew his armament phase, unlike many other males, and as an adult has shown no interest in guns at all.) Violence, and particularly an addiction to guns, is largely learned just as misogyny is. And the two tend to go hand in hand. Is it just coincidence that committers of gun violence frequently have a strictly patriarchal worldview, and often a history of domestic abuse? Is it just coincidence that terrorist cultures are also sexist cultures? Is it just coincidence that the U.S., which is a lead-sprayer’s paradise, is now discovering a widespread, deep-rooted epidemic of sexual harassment that has been right under its nose all along?

Bullet Points

The gun lobby incessantly promotes an obscene, and obscenely profitable, lie: the pulp fiction fantasy that guns make you safer. (This is often bolstered by mythical “statistics” about defensive gun use.) In fact, having a gun multiplies several times the odds that you will be the victim of a crime and/or be shot yourself.  You may assume (as many gun enthusiasts apparently do) that probability is for wusses, and you’ll beat the odds, by god. Maybe you’re even lucky enough to be right. But you might want to consider that guns and gun incidents don’t just affect gun owners; they affect potentially anyone the owner — or a recipient of his bullets — comes in contact with.

It would greatly behoove us to reduce and limit the number of guns in circulation. It should be at least as hard to get a gun as it is to get an abortion,  and their use should be at least as stringently controlled as the use of automobiles.  But we also need to radically alter how the public thinks about guns. And we need to clean up cultural garbage of more than one kind.

All of this constitutes a tall order, and we need to be in it for the long haul. But the benefits would be well worth the effort and minor inconvenience.

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And Now, the Nominees for the Worst Response to Las Vegas

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Another day, another horrific gun incident in America. And inevitably, another round of inappropriate, irrational and tasteless responses in the hive of American culture. The competition, as always was stiff for the worst response. Let’s roll the drum and announce the contenders.

1. “Thoughts and prayers”

This is a perennial mindless mantra that gets trotted out and echoed over and over after every mass shooting.  It’s made more appearances on the post-massacre stage than Meryl Streep has made on the Oscar stage. Theoretically, there’s nothing wrong with offering “thoughts and prayers” to victims and their relatives. But such sentiments do nothing to ward off these incidents in the future. And after the 500th time or so, the phrase begins to sound awfully hollow — particularly when it comes from mouths that normally are occupied with fellating the NRA.

2. Verbal diarrhea from the Putative President

Inevitably, the character in the Oval Office would contribute to the mix. Fresh off his life-saving expedition to Puerto Rico two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, in which he heroically sought to relieve the suffering of the locals by throwing rolls of paper towels at them, he proved once again that he was up to the challenge of making an utter ass of himself.

First, he extended “warmest condolences” to the families of the murdered, as if he were congratulating them on a baby shower; even when he apparently has good intentions, he seems utterly incapable of saying anything that doesn’t sound moronically gauche. Then he declared that the bloodbath was “in many ways a miracle” because the first responders did their jobs — apparently the concept of people doing their jobs is so foreign to him that he finds it a nothing short of miraculous. Then he went to visit the scene of the crime and declared that it was “so wonderful” to meet with the victims and their families. At least this time he didn’t attack the media or Hillary or boast about his election victory or the size of  his audience.

3. Conspiracy Cornucopia

The tinfoil hat brigade always comes out of the crevices after an incident like this, but this time they really outdid themselves with the rumors and allegations they spread.  Here is a list of some of them, courtesy of Media Matters : the shooter was an intelligence agent who botched a gunrunning sting; the shooting was a “false flag” attack from the “deep state”, Obama “shadow government” and/or “Bolshevik revolutionaries”; the shooting is linked to labor unions; the shooter was working with ISIS; the shooter was part of the antifa movement;  MGM Resorts is destroying evidence; the shooter did not act alone; the shooter’s suicide was staged by police;  the shooter was a left-wing radical who wanted to kill T—p supporters; the shooting was part of a plot to promote metal detectors; the shooting was connected to O.J. Simpson’s release from prison; the Democratic Party was behind it; it was part of a leftist plot to murder white people. Etc,, etc., etc., etc., etc.

4. Guns are beautiful

Needless to say, we can’t get through the aftermath of any gun slaughter without hearing the gun lobby and its cult followers rhapsodize about how wonderful the murder weapons are, and how all the carnage could have been prevented if only the citizens present had all been armed too.  Now stop and visualize for a moment. Can you imagine what the results would have been if all the concert attendees in Las Vegas had whipped out their own hardware and opened fire in the direction of the Mandalay Bay? (And no, Hitler did not ban guns. Nor did he say that the way to conquer a nation is to disarm its populace. And so what if he had?)

5. And oh yes, abortion

Gunsters always scramble for anything they can to point the finger of blame at, as long as it’s pointed away from their precious toys. Video games, the media, “gun control”, neglecting God and, inevitably, abortion. No, seriously. Every. Single. Time.

Right-wing pundit Jeffery Lord explains the “logic” thus:

“If we have a culture that disrespects human life and teaches people to have disrespect for human life, how else are we going to wind up than we did with this guy in Las Vegas who had no respect for human life?”

No word on whether “disrespect for human life” includes bombing the bejesus out of civilians or flooding the streets of America with implements of death.

6. And oh yes, more abortion

The GOP-controlled Congress took it a step farther, actually seizing on the massacre as an excuse to pass a cruel new anti-abortion law. The party faithful explain in a blog post:

“As we mourn the lives lost in Las Vegas this week, and welcome Whip Scalise back to Capitol Hill, we are reminded just how precious life is. This message weighed heavily on the hearts of House Republicans as we spoke of the potential of life — especially lives cut short through abortion.”

It isn’t just the dogmatic arrogance of claiming to know when life begins better than does the process of birth itself. It isn’t just the imperiousness of bulldozing their own personal convictions into law for everyone. It isn’t just the inexcusable naivete of thinking that banning abortion is an effective way to prevent it. It’s seizing upon a tragedy of epic proportions and exploiting it as an opportunity to shore up support among their hardcore base — and making no bones about it.

No word on whether they have any concern about “cutting lives short” by taking away their healthcare.

7. And oh yes, even more abortion

But the grand-prize winner surely has to be the social media meme reprinted at the top of the page. It appears with a photo of actor Sam Elliott (it’s not clear that he actually uttered the words, though it’s possible, as he has been known to make dopey statements inveighing against “gun control”).  Whoever is responsible for it, it manages to pack at least three straw men into a very compact space: “anti-gun”; “lectures”; “kill a baby”. All of them strung together by the absurd red herrings that these two issues are somehow related, that pro-choice advocates and gun regulation advocates are necessarily the same, and/or that one must choose between either concern about abortion or concern about gun violence. It’s a powerful achievement in human ignorance and irrationality that surely deserves an award of some kind.

 

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

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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:

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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.

 

 

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.