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:

 

Capture

 

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.

Crime_trends_630_b_3279248b

 

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.

 

Of Guns and Madness

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Gun Culture Propaganda, in case you didn’t know

Columbine. Aurora. Virginia Tech. Tuscon. Newtown. What they all have in common, besides being the sites of horrific massacres, is that the crimes were carried out by mentally disturbed gunmen. Whenever an unbalanced individual wants to make a big statement to get the world’s attention, it seems that the gun is the instrument of choice to deliver the message. And aside from being male, the one thing that nearly all mass shooters have in common is that they are mentally and/or emotionally disturbed. But it’s not just the shooters who display bats in the belfry; it’s also a large segment of the American public in reacting to these bloodbaths.

Shortly after the carnage at Sandy Hook, as after any and every mass shooting,  the gun lobby began rhapsodizing about how wonderful guns are, and gun sales began soaring, thanks in large part to the NRA’s campaign of paranoia — not about other armed crazies, but about the government. Since President Obama, they declared, wants to “take away your guns”, the thing to do is acquire more of them for him to take away. And millions of gunsters have bought into this transparent marketing ploy.  Are these the actions of a sane society?

One of them was Larry Ward, president of Political Media, Inc., who commented:

“The Obama administration has shown that it is more than willing to trample the Constitution to impose its dictates upon the American people. If the American people don’t fight back now, Obama will do to the Second Amendment what he has already done to the First with Obamacare; gut it without a moment’s thought to our basic constitutional rights.”

If that’s not loony enough for you, try this. Ward is chairman of Gun Appreciation Day, as if guns weren’t already appreciated more than enough. As discussed in the post Of Guns and Glamor, American pop culture is saturated with the glorification if not downright deification of the almighty gun, which is commonly portrayed as the first, best and/or only solution to any obstacle that blocks your path.  Americans don’t just love their guns; they worship their guns, they obsess over their guns, they eat, breathe, and fuck their guns. Are these the sentiments of a mentally balanced society?

Gun Appreciation Day (on which 5 people were injured in 3 accidental shootings) was held on January 19, in proximity to Obama’s second inauguration and the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. That’s a triple nose thumbing: not only was Dr. King murdered with one of their precious toys, but it’s possible that Second Amendment they champion as “the one that makes all the others possible” was actually inserted into the Constitution largely to defend the institution of slavery.  Yet today the gun culture passionately believes the Second Amendment to be the very embodiment of liberty, and hold gun ownership itself as being synonymous with liberty. And the president, they maintain, is an enemy to that liberty, a tyrannical dictator who’s actually been (horrors) issuing executive orders lately. Never mind that he’s issued fewer executive orders than any president in the past century. Never mind that the executive orders dealing with firearms are quite sensible and don’t involve “taking away your guns”. We mustn’t let the facts get in our way, or we might succumb to sanity.

The running narrative is to portray “liberals” as being enemies of the Constitution because they tend to support firearm regulations. Never mind that the vast majority of NRA members ( the vast majority of whom are anything but “liberal” ) also support some form of restrictions on guns. Never mind that an icon many of them devoutly revere was a vocal proponent of “gun control”. There’s nothing more important than scoring cheap political points, even if it means exploiting the violent deaths of school children. Jesus H. Christ tap-dancing on a cracker, what is wrong with these people? It certainly isn’t a surfeit of sanity.

The wingnut blogosphere has been abuzz with many rumors and accusations about the Newtown slaughter. For one thing, in rushing to the defense of their beloved assault weapons, gunsters have circulated the claim that the Sandy Hook killer actually used only handguns. It’s been established that the primary weapon was a rifle, but that hardly can be expected to stop the rumors. The big advantage of insanity is that when reality doesn’t fit your worldview, you can just switch to a different reality.

But that wasn’t the nuttiest rumor by any means. Foremost among them is the accusation that the whole thing was just staged, and the grieving parents of the deceased children were in fact hired actors. Yep, a lot of people out there believe that not only the Obama administration and the librulmedia, but also all the students, teachers and parents of  Sandy Hook and indeed the entire Newtown community, and even the friends and relatives of the victims from other communities are all involved in a big conspiracy to portray firearms as (heaven forbid) destructive.  Does this bear any resemblance whatsoever to a sane thought process?

It’s also vital, of course, for gunsters to try to minimize the horrors of a gun tragedy by drawing irrelevant and pointless comparisons. Many of them absolutely must seize the occasion to remind you that they also consider abortion to be murder just in case you forgot and if you did how dare you. They don’t seem to realize that they’re advocating the same measure for abortion — i.e. government prohibition — that they insist is ineffective for gun violence.  It’s also standard operating procedure to point out that more people are killed by automobiles than guns so why don’t we talk about banning automobiles heh heh heh.  Never mind that automobiles serve a useful purpose besides killing people, which generally results from improper use, whereas guns are designed to kill, and death is a product of their intended purpose; or that strict “automobile control” has been a fact of life for generations.

And hey, people also can kill with hammers and baseball bats, so how about outlawing them, nyuk nyuk nyuk. Never mind that guns kill at least 20 times as often as all blunt objects combined — all of which, need we add, are designed for a more constructive use. And oh yes, we mustn’t forget knives, which are certainly a significant assault weapon.  And presto, at about the same time as the Newtown massacre, a deranged man in China went on a rampage with a knife and wounded 22 school children. So there — see what happens when people don’t have guns?

Now in case you’re really confused here about the difference between the China episode and the Connecticut episode, here’s a little visual aid that might come in handy:

STABBING VICTIM IN CHINA

chinese students

SHOOTING VICTIM IN CONNECTICUT

(ABC News)

(ABC News)

You might want to study these two pictures carefully to see if you can spot the difference. You could be tested on it one of these days.

Of course, the gunsters may have picked on China because that country has had its own share of attacks on school students — 10 of them in less than 3 years, all carried out with sharp or blunt instruments. Researchers are trying to sort out the factors that have prompted this sudden rash of violence, but they could save themselves a lot of trouble by just consulting the American Gun Worshiping Cult , which has it all figured out: it’s all because the Chinese can’t access guns as easily as candy. Take away people’s guns, and they’ll turn violent by other means, so you might as well let ’em have guns, eh?

There are at least a couple of little problems with this line of “reasoning”. First, China’s strict firearms code goes back many years, to long before this spate of school attacks that started in 2010. Second, these 10 attacks have produced a total of 25 deaths. The shooter in Connecticut singlehandedly bested China’s collective score in a matter of minutes. To juxtapose these two recent tragedies in order to make the case that the American system of arms for all is preferable to the Chinese system of strict regulation is to imply that it’s better to have 20 dead kids than 22 wounded ones. Is this really the preference of people who have a grip on their mental faculties?

It also has become quite trendy in the wake of these tragedies for gunsters to defend the object of their infatuation by insisting that a gun is “just a tool”. Really? Hammers, toothbrushes and can openers are tools. But do hammer aficionados go out and swing their tools just for fun? Do toothbrush enthusiasts salivate over the sleekest, sexiest models of oral hygiene implements at trade shows? Are there racks and racks of slick magazines at your local bookstore glorifying can openers? Are there hundreds of online forums on which devotees can compare corkscrews and discuss how they take theirs out into the woods and exercise them for sport? Actually, it would make more sense to lavish that kind of attention on such objects, because tools are things that enhance the quality of life. Guns, on the other hand, destroy and disrupt life — by using them for the very purpose for which they’re intended. Nor does it work to justify the fawning adulation by protesting that they’re needed for protection. Burglar alarms, insurance policies and condoms also afford protection. But does any of them boast the kind of cult following that deadly weapons do? The word tool just doesn’t seem to apply to guns. As for many gun owners — well, you be the judge.

I’ve heard plenty from them. Here are, by far, the most widely read and commented upon posts on this blog : (1) The Myth of Hitler’s Gun Ban; (2) Estimating Defensive Gun Uses Reasonably; (3) Make My Day: Mention Gun Defense “Statistics”; and (4) The Myth of Constitutional “Gun Rights” ; a Second Look at the Second Amendment. Noticing a  pattern here? A large percentage of the readers of these posts have been not so much readers as reactors; they’ve been gun addicts who are upset because I have questioned their dogma. Consequently, they’ve written to inform me that the Second Amendment was written so that citizens could violently overthrow the officials they’ve elected themselves, and that abortion and the “outlawing” of school prayer are responsible for all the nation’s ills, and that Hitler never massacred anyone, and that the U.S. has been taken over by a coalition of atheists, vegetarians, pagans, environmentalists and Muslims. No word yet on whether the extraterrestrial lizard people are also involved.

They’ve called me a “brainwashed liberal”, an “asshole”, an “idiot”,  “one bloody walking red fucking herring” (I’m still trying to get a good visual on that one) and “a brain dead gun-grabbing neo-Nazi liberal”. All because I set the record straight by debunking a myth about Hitler — that’s right, not about guns, but about Hitler. It’s still one of their cherished beliefs, though, and anyone who challenges any part of the Gun Gospel is obviously a commie/ traitor/ librul.  Heaven knows what they would have said if I’d tried to promote some ideology of my own that conflicts with theirs (as these folks love to accuse me of doing, with no substantiation whatsoever).

I even heard from Alex Jones. Yes, Alex New World Order Jones, who never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like.  And what did he have to say to me?

“I have never witnessed a more pompous or self absorbed and self righteous individual in my life. You know everything and how everyone should live and what they should believe. Right? Why even bother with a blog like this when you have no room in your inflated head for an honest debate?”

I am intrigued by the possibility that someone who, like me, blogs anonymously to keep himself out of the limelight could be regarded as “pompous”, “self-absorbed” or “self-righteous”. It’s not an impossible scenario, and I’d love to hear the details. Unfortunately, the venerable Mr. Jones didn’t leave a clue as to what led him to that conclusion, or why he believes, despite an overwhelming body of evidence to the contrary — even in the comments on the very post he was commenting on, no less — that I leave no room for “honest debate”. But in any case, if I received that kind of sliming from him, I must really be doing something right.

A few days later, Jones appeared on MSNBC as a guest of Piers Morgan, the British media personality whom he’s been trying to get deported because he doesn’t support Jones’ radical interpretation of the Second Amendment (honest debate, all the way). I defy you to watch this “interview” and tell me that these disjointed, spittle-flecked rantings are the product of a healthily functioning cerebrum.

But there are many others like him out there. Indeed, there are many who look up to Jones as a guru, a sage, a prophet. They believe the Obama administration is the new Nazi regime, and that someone would be doing the world a favor by knocking him off. (Perhaps they just feel threatened because a couple of the president’s nefarious executive orders target mental illness.) They fancy themselves the equivalent of the patriots who fought the American Revolution, and are itching to turn their own weapons on anyone who is connected with the big bad guvmint.

War may be an effective metaphor, but for the gun culture, it isn’t just metaphor, but literal reality. Many of its constituents are incapable of expressing ideological differences or complaints about official policy in any but the most extreme, vitriolic, polarized, absolute, oversimplified, dire, overblown and violent of terms. Their worldview admits no other option except us-against-them, or more accurately me-against-them, and they have the compulsive conviction that “them” must be stopped from whatever they’re doing, and even destroyed, in order to save the universe. It’s paranoid schizophrenia at its starkest, and it illustrates why many of them should hardly be allowed to handle a loaded question, much less a loaded weapon.

In a way, it’s fitting that they view their imagined oppression in terms of war, since war itself, with its heavy concentrations of gunnery, is perhaps the ultimate madness: not only does it attempt, as expressed by a popular slogan, to establish who is right by determining who is left, but in a sense it attempts to establish who is more civilized by determining who can behave more barbarically. (For a wickedly satirical take on the war-as-madness conceit, see Philippe de Broca’s 1966 film King Of Hearts.)

I don’t mean to suggest that all gun owners are delusional or that military personnel who use guns as part of their job are playing with a depleted deck; the latter, after all, have a great deal of discipline and at least some realistic context guiding their actions. I don’t know the psychological profile of the “average” combat recruit – I suspect it’s rather more sound than that of the “average “civilian, since the soldier has to pass through a certain amount of screening and filtering, whereas most Americans become citizens just by being born. Additionally, the typical soldier, unlike the typical gun fanatic, is drawn to take up arms by motives more noble than just a love of the hardware and a hatred for the government. But however sound the psyche going into combat, it stands a perilous chance of being severely and permanently impaired by the time it comes out – about one in five combatants who return from Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Warfare may not succeed in converting many of its participants into the kind of outright madmen who made the war a necessity in the first place, but it does its best.

It may not be fair to say that Wayne LaPierre and company want to turn the country into one big war zone. But they are turning it into one big armed psych ward. And  how much difference is there?