Second Amendment Follies, Part 1: An Inconvenient Clause

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Let’s be clear: Americans have a right to own guns. But it’s not a constitutional right. And it’s not a “God-given” right. It’s a right conferred by the rulings of a “conservative” Supreme Court, in a grotesquely distorted reading of the Second Amendment.

But in the interests of accuracy and satisfying curiosity, let’s consider the Second Amendment in more detail. We’ve touched on this topic in a previous discussion, but it was hardly exhaustive. In fact, it was quite cursory, and was designed to show that the amendment is a semantic mess that, at the very least, casts serious doubts on the gun culture’s claims of a constitutional right to be armed. And as long as there is one scintilla of doubt, then you cannot say (as many do) that there is an absolute right enshrined in the Constitution to tote a hogleg.

The gun culture tries to dance around the actual meaning of the Second Amendment in several ways. First of all, it simply ignores the first part of the sentence, the inconvenient explanation for its existence:

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…

And instead, gunsters just cut to the part they actually like…

…the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

You seriously will hear many of them simply quote that second half as representing the entire Second Amendment (as on that handy-dandy magnetic sign pictured above), perhaps followed by a haughty “what part of that don’t you understand?”

How about the part they omitted? The part which, as we mentioned before, could be construed as the actual subject of the sentence. The part which, whether one reads it as the subject or not, is placed at the beginning and is clearly crucial to understanding the Amendment’s meaning and purpose.

Even when they acknowledge this elephant in the living room, the gun fanatics try to diminish its importance. They often try to dismiss the opening as merely a “justification clause” while the second half is the actual “rights clause”; or alternatively, “prefatory clause”, and “operative clause”. Nice words, but they don’t change anything: the beginning clause still expresses the purpose and reason for the amendment being drafted in the first place: i.e., to ensure a “well-regulated militia”. The gun culture’s conclusion that “gun rights” were not meant to be limited to this purpose alone is based on clues extraneous to the amendment itself, and indeed extraneous to the constitution. (Incidentally, in strict grammarian usage, the two phrases referred to are not really “clauses”; but since that’s the label they’re commonly given, we won’t be sticklers on this point for the time being.)

Suppose you opened up a cookbook and found a passage like this:

A well-made fruitcake being necessary for a traditional Christmas celebration, you should make certain to have a supply of citron on hand.

Would you conclude that this sentence was written to encourage everyone to stockpile citron, all year long? Or would you conclude that it was written to help ensure a well-made fruitcake?

Another tactic the gun culture (and right-wing extremists in general) often employ is playing the “original intent” card; if the Constitution doesn’t say what they want it to, they try to discern what the framers really meant. They do this in part by just playing psychic, though they try to buttress their claims by scratching through an endless supply of documents for “historical context”.

Now certainly historical context is, up to a point, useful and even vital. It’s important, for instance, to understand what words like “militia” and “arms” meant to the framers who used them. But the “original intent” crowd often turn historical context into a bottomless pit by mining all manner of documents for clues that are really tangential to the point under consideration. I recently had someone try to argue with me, for instance, that the Civil War was really not about slavery because her great-grandfather fought for the Confederacy, and by god he had other motives, and if I would just read all the letters and other papers left by the other Southern peasants, I’d see that they had other reasons for fighting. No doubt. But they weren’t exactly the ones who made the decision to declare war, were they? The ones who did make the decision were quite unequivocal about their motive.

An excellent illustration of how the gun culture utilizes this tactic can be found in what is surely the ultimate compendium of gun culture propaganda: Gun Facts , which is intended to address every “myth” that has been, is being, or ever will be, perpetrated by the “gun control” advocates. It covers gun culture talking points of every possible breed, from mass shootings, to children and guns, to gun laws, to microstamping to concealed carry — and of course to the Second Amendment and court rulings as well. A sleek PDF of Gun Facts can be downloaded for free; and oh by the way while you’re at it, you also can purchase another book heavily marketed within its pages that betrays the real NRA agenda: drawing a bead on “liberals”.

Incidentally, there is a simple but quite reliable litmus test for gauging the probable reliability of any such source of gun “facts”; just check to see whether it places obeisant faith in the absurd “statistic” of 2.5 million defensive gun uses per annum. If it does, there’s an excellent chance it will be just as sloppy about the rest of its “facts”. Gun Facts does, and is. (It also fails another telling litmus test, parroting the claim that Nazi Germany “established gun control” in 1938.)

The main tactic the author uses in the “original intent” argument is to cite passages from several state constitutions (written before and after the U.S. Constitution) that declare residents of those states have the right to be armed for individual purposes. This supposedly demonstrates that the Second Amendment was drawn up with the same intention. See if you can follow the logic here: (a) Several states had constitutions that enshrined an individual right to “bear arms”; (b) the framers of the U.S. Constitution were familiar with these provisions; (c) they did not insert such a stipulation into the U.S. Constitution; (d) therefore, they meant to insert such a stipulation into the U.S. Constitution.

The author also mentions that during the deliberations on the Second Amendment, one senator proposed inserting the words “for the common defense”, but this suggestion was voted down. Evidently, he concludes that rejecting that wording also means a rejection of the concept. (In fact, “for the common defense” is, for one thing, redundant when you already have “well-regulated militia”).  And note the logic here: the absence of a phrase about the common defense means the whole concept is null and void, whereas the absence of a phrase about individual defense means this is clearly what the founders had in mind.

Not content with having shot himself in both feet, the author then turns around and shoots himself in the ass as well by quoting the first draft of the Second Amendment:

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.

Talk about an inconvenient clause. Why would there be a provision for conscientious objectors if the purpose of the amendment is to guarantee individuals the right to go deer hunting or gun down illegal immigrants invading their homes? Yes, this clause was eventually eliminated (after being retained in the second draft). And evidently, the Gun Facts author believes, in Orwellian fashion, erasing the text of it erases it from ever having existed at all. But if you’re talking about original intent, it’s hard to argue that the framers had private gun ownership in mind when they talked about military service and religious objections. It’s very clear that they were really talking about a well-regulated militia, whatever that means.

And just what that means is something we’ll be looking at in the next installment.

 

 

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4 Dangerous Beliefs About Guns (4)

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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/albund

 

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

Dangerous Belief # 4 : Guns Make Us Safer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

4 Dangerous Beliefs About Guns (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Dangerous Beliefs About Guns (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Article 2, Section 2)

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

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

(Article 3, Section 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Make My Day: Mention Gun Defense “Statistics”…

There’s a certain number that gun fanatics just love. Well, actually there are several numbers they love, but there’s one in particular that they lustfully salivate over: 2.5 million. That’s the putative number of defensive gun uses (DGUs) that occur in the United States every single year. That’s a highly impressive “statistic”, which is why you’ll see it starring on bumper stickers or websites or wherever else people want to emphasize the need for firearms in order to feel safe from all the THEMs out there.

Except the “statistic” is not really a statistic. It’s a projection, an estimate, put forth in a “study” by Florida criminologist Dr. Gary Kleck (in collaboration with Professor Marc Gertz), based on interviews of alleged defenders in 1993. Except the “study” wasn’t really a study; it was a survey, which is a sort of glorified poll.

Whatever terminology you choose to use, the point is that the Kleck “study”, which involved 222 respondents, didn’t really estimate how many DGU’s actually occur; it estimated how often gun owners say they occur. That’s a different thing, but just how different is it? Well, let’s see how it stacks up against the real world.

Dr. Kleck, Meet Mr. Gallup

According to Gallup (a poll, not a study, but generally rather reliable) 30 percent of American adults own guns. With a U.S. population of 313 million, roughly 75 percent of whom (about 230 million) are adults, that translates to about 70 million gun owners. The gun culture estimates its own strength at 80 million, so let’s assume they’re right, and Gallup not so much so.  That would mean that one out of 32 gun owners is involved in a DGU every year.  Seriously? Even if we factor in the additional 12 percent who, according to Gallup, live in a household in which someone owns a gun, that means 99 million who have access to one.  And that would still mean that one out of 40 of them is involved in a DGU every year. If that sounds like a reasonable ratio to you, let’s draw a tighter bead on it.

Washington, DC has a population of about 600,000. That means it should have about 450,000 adults and about 189,000 with access to a gun. According to the Kleck ratio, we would expect that Washington would experience 4725 DGUs annually. (Actually much more, since DC is one of the most dangerous cities in the nation -and for several years in the recent past was the most dangerous.)  That means almost 13 per day. Seriously? Let’s return to DC later.

Media Rare

Dr. Kleck can get away with such extravagant claims because we don’t have real comprehensive statistics as such on defensive gun use.  But we do have accounts of them reported in the media, along with phony accounts reported in emails. And even the real ones and the fake ones together do not number in the millions.

In challenging my observation that many of the anecdotes are bogus, a writer at The Truth About Guns whipped out a list of “75 real ones, just from the last 4 months”. Except that many of these “real” ones were, um, not so real.  He didn’t say where he came up with this collection, but everybody who produces such a list produces essentially the same list, a roster of news headlines apparently meant to confirm the 2.5 million tally. If so, it indicates that maybe gunsters aren’t quite as proficient at counting people as they are at killing them.

Because 75 in 4 months does not quite add up to 2.5 million. It adds up to 225. And at that rate, you would have – quite literally – a substantially greater risk of being struck by lightning. So, since the NRA has only your best interests at heart (wink wink nudge nudge) why isn’t it promoting handy dandy designer rubber suits to go along with those portable miniature lightning rods it pushes?

Even on the busiest day, there are rarely more than 2 or 3 DGUs in the news; and in order to meet the quota of 2.5 million annually, you would need to have 6849 daily, more than 2 per day in each of the nation’s counties.

Okay, okay. I can hear the screaming from the gunster gallery, so we might as well acknowledge what they’re saying:

‘YOU IDIOT! NOT ALL DEFENSIVE GUN INCIDENTS APPEAR IN THE MEDIA!!!”

Well okay, I guess it wouldn’t greatly surprise me if that’s true. But it would greatly surprise me indeed if the number of non-covereds greatly exceeded the number of  covereds – especially to the extent Dr. Kleck maintains. If an incident is truly serious enough to warrant pulling out a weapon, it’s generally serious enough to warrant notifying the police. And what makes it into the police blotter is generally fair game for the media.

There are exceptions, of course – some defenders have good reason to keep their actions under their sombreros. But even among Dr. Kleck’s subjects, 64 percent said the police learned of the episode either from them or someone else.  My calculator says that 64 percent of 2.5 million totals 1,600,000 police reports and 1,600,000 potential media stories. So where are the other 1,599, 775?

Okay, they’re screaming again. Let’s see what they’re saying this time.

“YOU MORON! ALL THE MEDIA EXCEPT FAIRANDBALANCED FOX ARE OWNED BY A BUNCH OF LIBERAL COMMIES WHO SUPPRESS DGU STORIES BECAUSE THEY HATE FREEDOM AND WANT THE TERRORISTS TO WIN!!!”

Well, let’s say that we buy into the “liberal bias in the media” canard. It will require a tremendous effort to say it with a straight face, since the myth is so easily discredited, but we’ll give it our best shot. Say that the media suppress 90 percent of DGU stories – no, hell, let’s let our persecution complex really run wild, and say 99 percent. Still, one percent of 1,600,000 is 16,000. So where are the other 15,775? (And if you think the media suppress even more than 99 percent – well, I’m very sorry, but I just can’t take you seriously at all.)

The truth is that if you ask someone who’s actually worked in the media (like, er, um…well, yours truly, maybe) they’re likely to tell you that the media love this kind of story. They have a lot of column space and airtime to fill, and they’re savvy enough to know that the public would much rather hear about a sensational crime than a church bake sale. And lacking a sensational crime, the public will settle for a sensational crime prevention, thank you very much. Some editors would just about break into someone’s house themselves to get this kind of story.

The Great Equalizer

Yet it’s fine if you choose not to believe this. Thing is, the gunsters who invoke the specter of the librulmedia to explain the phantom DGUs are overlooking something. A little thing called the Internet – even though most likely they’re using it to state their case. While referring to guns as “equalizers”, they overlook the greatest equalizer ever : ye olde world wide web.  Thanks to millions of websites and blogs, thanks to email and Facebook and YouTube and Reddit and Twitter and so on, we no longer have to rely on the sinister librulmedia to give us The Truth About Guns.

One website that regularly circulates the latest version of The List is keepandbeararms.com. And hoo boy, if you want to stoke your paranoia and justify your gun addiction, you’ve come to the right place. There are ample links to stories abut the big bad guvmint wanting to take away your so-called Second Amendment rights, and about the incompetence of law enforcement personnel – we all know that they’re not nearly as skilled and responsible at using firearms as we are. And of course stories about defensive gun use. In fact – get this – this website even recruits a team of volunteers to scrape up these stories and send them in. Even so, they can’t come up with more than a few hundred per year (even assuming they’re all genuine) – while there seems to be a higher incidence lately, the archives indicate  that 75 in 4 months is more or less typical. And guess what? From what I can tell, every one of these incidents was reported in the nefarious librulmedia.

Or take the NRA. Please. Since 1958, this humanitarian organization has maintained (first in print and now online as well) a feature called Armed Citizen, which also collects these stories. And it doesn’t just rely on the commie librulmedia; its 4 million-plus members are all invited to submit items to be listed. There is an archive of “thousands” of these in the past 53 years (only thousands??) and the NRA assures us that there could be many more, editorial space permitting, because there are millions of DGUs to pick from every year. And how do they know this? Why, that famous “study”, of course.

One only hopes that the good folk at NRA are more competent handling weapons than they are handling editorial space. Armed Citizen easily could accommodate one DGU per day, 365 per year. And how many did it print last year? Barely more than 100. And guess what? It appears that every one of them was reported in the terrorist-coddling librulmedia. Can I order my rubber suit now? Surely they must come in red, white and blue.

Capital Offenses

NRA headquarters sits across the river from the nation’s capital. Because of this proximity, and because the NRA is so intensively involved in influencing government policy (to put it mildly), its personnel no doubt have spent a great deal of time in DC and crossed paths with its criminal elements – and we’re not referring to Dick  Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Therefore, they should have had plenty of opportunity to bag their very own share of those 4725-plus annual DGUs. If nothing else, they surely have heard about many of them through the grapevine, even those that were buried by the scumsucking librulmedia.

And how many did they list for Washington in 2011? A grand total of zero. In fact, the last one I found was more than SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO!  This excludes a 2004 story in The Washington Times about a hiker shooting a bear. No, no, not on the National Mall. In Alaska. Yep, the straight-shootin’ NRA feels that if it appeared in a Washington newspaper, that makes it a genuine DC DGU – even though it also was listed under Alaska’s database. Which really makes you wonder how many of their other untold “thousands” are also duplicates – especially since, contrary to what the gun culture clams, these episodes are usually covered by a number of media sources.

Armed Citizen recently has been revamped.  Before that, the search options were more user-friendly, and I counted 24 DGUs in the former Murder Capital of America for the 53 year period, falling a tad shy of our expected total of 250,425.  But those 24 include the ursine encounter in Alaska; and I didn’t confirm the legitimacy of the other 23.

Studying the Studies

Unless you’re really heavily immersed in a gun propaganda website, I probably don’t have to tell  you that there is a wee bit of difference between 2.5 million and 2.5 hundred. The question is, which is closer to the truth? No, strike that. The question is, how could a reputable researcher like Dr. Kleck, even given his apparent propensity for gun worship, have fucked up so royally?

I don’t claim to have a solid answer for that. I don’t believe he deliberately cooked the books, and even if he did, it hardly would cover the bases. There have been at least a dozen other “studies”, one by the Department of Justice, that also generated some preposterous projections. Granted, there was quite a range in the totals, with the lowest being 65,000. That, contrasted with the high of 2.5 million, is a point spread of  4000 percent, for crying out loud; and that, if nothing else, ought to raise a matador-size red flag about the challenges of obtaining accurate data on such a subject. But even 65,000 seems greatly overinflated.

So it appears that Dr. Kleck is not to blame. Instead, the probable explanation is that the respondents to such surveys tend to give consistently and wildly distorted responses. Why? Well, that might take an actual study or two to figure out.  Prof. David Hemenway of Harvard has made some illuminating comments, which of course have been attacked ferociously by the gun lobby. He  notes by way of comparison that among 1500 adults contacted at random, 10 percent claimed to have witnessed a UFO, and of those, 6 percent claimed to have had personal contact with space aliens.  Which would mean that 1,380,000 American adults have encountered Klingons. And hey, 579,600 of those may have been hauling a heater. Hmmm… maybe so many DGUs are missing because they occur on the far side of the chronosynclastic infundibulum.

A 2004 investigation – one actually might call it a study –  by J. F. Denton and Dr. W. V. Fabricius that examined shooting incidents over a period of 3.5 months in the Phoenix metropolitan area confirmed that of 81 shootings, only 3 were of a defensive  nature; two occurred in a single encounter with two security guards firing at the same offender, and the third involved a family quarrel. The Kleck data would have projected 334 defensive shootings for the time frame and location. Denton and Fabricius illustrate the drawbacks of the Kleck survey by discussing another clash involving a drunken quarrel between two acquaintances, one of whom shot the other to death, which was ruled to be criminal homicide, but which Dr. Kleck would have misclassified as a DGU. Undoubtedly, there have been many cases that were misclassified.

Indeed, a close inspection of the Kleck data reveals some major thorns. As we mentioned, at least 36 percent of respondents stated they didn’t even notify police. Which makes you wonder whether the incidents really were serious enough to justify calling in the infantry.  Furthermore, 46.8 percent admitted (the actual percentage could be higher) that the supposed offender neither attacked nor made a threat. So what made the hardware necessary? In more than half of the cases, the supposed defender admitted (the actual percentage may be higher) that the supposed offender had no weapon of any kind.  And since 57.6 percent of defenders say they verbally referred to their guns and 75.7 percent brandished or showed their guns, that seems to indicate that about 25 percent only referred to them verbally. And this counts as a defensive gun use? I could do the same thing, but since I don’t even own a gun, the weapon du jour would be bullshit, not a Glock.

In 8.3 percent of the cases, the subject claimed to have wounded or killed the offender. There is no breakdown of what percentage was killed, but let’s conservatively guess one percent. Most likely, the true percentage is much higher, especially given that there seem to be a great many gun incidents that are falsely classified as DGUs; and a higher percentage of fatal shootings means a lower number of DGUs. But even one percent of 2.5 million would be 25,000; and we should be able to verify this because gun deaths are a matter of official record. Oops. According to the FBI, there were only 232 justifiable homicides by firearm in all of 2010 – and this was an increase over recent years.  No matter how you slice it, something in Kleck has to go.

Perhaps most interestingly, the subjects claimed to have experienced an average of about 1.5 DGUs each for a 5-year period; in other words, many of them said they were involved in multiple incidents.  Talk about red flags. This supposedly random sampling that supposedly represents the typical American gun owner nonetheless seems to be comprised largely of people who live in the world’s worst neighborhoods. In contrast, this group of gun owners, in response to a query about how often they’ve drawn their weapons (which doesn’t necessarily mean a DGU)  typically say once or twice in 15 years or 25 or 30 years; some even say “never”, although such an individual is probably not as likely to respond to this question at all.

Defensive or Offensive

All told, these facts shoot a big gaping hole in one of the gun culture’s prime tenets: that guns are used in self-defense more often they are used to commit crimes – some even claim ten times as often or more! In the Phoenix sample, however,  the score was 78 to 3 in favor of the Offense. Granted, these were actual shootings and most defenders don’t open fire – but neither do most offenders. While there are only a few hundred confirmed DGUs per year, there are at least 400,000 gun crimes per year. Among those committed or attempted, there is a 100 percent chance that the offender has a gun, but only a 42 percent chance that the victim even has access to a gun, much less is armed at the moment and able to use it successfully. Of course, there are many other crimes in which the criminal is not packing; but they are less likely to warrant firearm defense. In many of them, the victim is not even aware of the crime, and indeed may not even be present. But none of this will stop the gun lobby from peddling the illusion that guns make us safer.

At least one blogger out there is making an effort to chronicle the destructive use of firearms, both intentional and accidental – there are thousands of accidental gun deaths and injuries every year, but I’ve yet to hear of a gun accidentally preventing a death or injury. He seems to be waging a war of anecdotes with the gunsters, but it’s not much of a war. Despite their persistent claims of vastly superior firepower, he’s been blowing their asses out of the water.

Not that I expect it to make a great deal of difference. People will believe what that want to believe, and for the gun culture it’s important to believe that lead is more vital than oxygen. For all their rant and cant about “defending liberty”, many gunsters are quite willing to enslave themselves to the unscrupulous marketing machinations of the firearms cartel. And every time a trigger clicks, a cash register ka-chings.

(STILL TO COME:  A more reasonable approach to calculating DGUs; and the assault on “gun control”. Stay tuned.)

Gun Culture Fires Back – With Blanks

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

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

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

Racing to Conclusions

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

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

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

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

Barely Bearing Arms

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

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

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

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

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

Supreme Arrogance

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

He even pontificates that:

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

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

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

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

Emulating the Duke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Kewpie Doll Goes to…

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

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

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

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

Pro but conned

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

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

Blossoms among the stubble

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

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

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

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

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

Of Guns and Glamor

 

 

images

Try this little experiment sometime. Go to a movie rental kiosk from Redbox or Blockbuster Express – or browse through one online – and count the number of films that have a gun depicted on the cover. You may be astonished by the results. I recently counted 26 out of a stock of about 150 movies. (There were also a number of other phallic implements of mayhem, such as swords.) Over and over we see the various incarnations of James Bond, Dirty Harry, Wyatt Earp and Luke Skywalker reminding us that guns are cool, efficient and oh so sexy. I enjoy a well-done action flick as well as the next guy, and I don’t mind cinematic violence when it serves the story, but isn’t this–well, overkill?

Hollywood has a well-deserved reputation for being “liberal”, and yet it repeatedly indulges in cheerleading for the ultra-right wing gun lobby with its facile presentations of firearms as the first solution rather than the last.  There is disagreement among experts (no, that category does not include the NRA) about the impact this has on the public in terms of encouraging violence.  But it’s hard to imagine that it could be constructive. It’s unlikely that movie violence in general prompts its viewers to be more violent, and even the glorification of guns in particular might not be especially detrimental. But perhaps the real question is whether it has a significant effect in combination with other elements, such as the ready availability of weapons, ideological extremism, and a general cultural tendency toward confrontation, paranoia and irrational rage.

The gun culture would have us believe that cooler heads will prevail no matter how much hardware is in circulation. But there is often a huge difference between what people say they will do and what they actually do in the heat of crisis. Furthermore, even if we assume that every card-carrying member of the NRA will only use his or her toys in a responsible manner (a tall assumption), it’s staggeringly naive to believe that such a responsible attitude will extend to all gun owners- and the naivete increases as the number of owners increases.  We have the ample example of history to remind us how deadly things get when lead is substituted for brains.

Hollywood is in many respects inaccurate in its portrayals of the “Wild West”, but one thing it gets right is that people lived – and all too often died – by their guns. With few legal restraints, almost everyone had one (or more) and many used one at every opportunity. It was not unheard of for someone to be shot, for instance, in his sleep for snoring too loudly.

In even more recent days, my grandfather spent several months in jail as a young man after fatally shooting another fellow at a dance. He was eventually released when the court ruled it was self-defense. But what a senseless tragedy for him, the man he killed, and everyone who knew either of them.  Had you asked him about it, he probably would have told you that killing someone, even in self defense, isn’t nearly as glorious as Hollywood and the gun culture would have you believe. But this was far from an isolated incident. It was a time when people brought guns to dances because that’s just what people did. And it’s a time that the NRA is trying to take us back to.

What is to be done about Hollywood’s love affair with the Uzi and the Luger? Probably nothing. On a personal level, I tend to avoid renting any of those 26 movies, though it’s not because I’m trying to make a statement. It’s just that I’ve found that a gun on the cover is generally a tip-off that the film inside isn’t worth my time, because it’s probably a formulaic paean to the simpleminded ideology of violence as a virtue. (There are numerous exceptions to this guideline, of course.) But I don’t expect this to make any difference to Hollywood, and I doubt it would make much difference if a lot of people did it.  The Twenty-First Century American zeitgeist holds guns to be cool, efficient and oh so sexy. And therefore they’re highly profitable.