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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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 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 brain.

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?