Friday, January 11, 2013

random thoughts on gun control

The discussion continues regarding gun control and there are lots of arguments that are coming from the pro gun folk that need to be addressed and lots of fallacies or at least misleading ideas being promulgated from those who are for gun control.  Here are a few of the issues as I see them.

1.  Violent crime has decreased in the US over the past few decades including the murder rate.  Indeed, our rates of violent crime in the US are lower than many of the nations that are raised up as examples by the gun control folk.  At the same time, our gun violence rate is significantly higher than all of those places.

2.  Assault weapons represent a very small percentage of guns used in murders.  They are disproportionately used in mass violence, but that too represents a very, very small percentage of gun deaths.  While 26 were killed at the Sandy Hook school, some 700 have died by guns, almost all one at a time and the vast majority by handguns, since then.

3.  A significant proportion of gun deaths occur in gang violence.

4.  The rates of violent crime are higher in large cities with large populations of folk living in poverty.

5.  The number of guns in a given area is directly proportional to the number of gun deaths.  Whether this is a direct correlation or coincidence is debatable.  For example, the south has one of the higher rates of gun ownership and of gun deaths.  It also has a poverty rate that is higher than many other areas of the country.

6.  All of the statistics are clear, owning a gun makes one more likely to die from a gun than not having one and those statistics are consistent everywhere.  If we look at #1 again, that explains why in England there is a significantly higher violent crime rate, a lower murder rate,  and an amazingly lower rate of death by gun. 

7.  We live in a violent society, but other cultures are violent as well.  Video game playing is higher in Denmark, for example, where the rate of death by gun is extremely low.  Ditto in Japan.  Again, if we look at #1, England has a higher rate of violent crime, but much lower rate of death by gun.

8.  We have significant problems with mental health care and with poverty in our country that directly impact violent behavior although often in ways that are counter-intuitive when one watches the news or listens to talk radio.  For example, the mentally ill are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.  The same is true of the poor.  

9. Gun ownership is going down.  Still, the myth of redemptive violence is prevalent in our culture and we still have a love affair with guns that borders on idolatry.

10.  There are significant differences in how to understand the 2nd Amendment.

11. There are literally millions of guns already out there.

Some implications of all of that...

1. Banning assault rifles and high capacity magazines will not lower the rate of death by gun significantly.  It will lessen the possibility of mass murders, but they are extremely rare.

2.  For gun control to make a dent in the raw numbers, handguns must be included in any regulations and some kind of buy back would be required to begin to lower the number of guns in the general population.  Many possible laws, for example how guns must be stored, would be virtually impossible to enforce. 

3.  There are clearly other cultural issues like mental health care and poverty which must be addressed in order to change the level of violence, but the removal of guns from the equation cannot be dismissed as a way of lowering the level of violence.

4. Education is required to begin to dispel the myths that owning guns = protection or having more handguns in the general population lowers the incidence of violence.  These ideas are widely held and clearly not true according to any of the objective studies. 

5.  Any gun control changes that will have a significant impact will involve conflict and serious discussion regarding the meaning of the 2nd Amendment.

What do I think?

I think all assault rifles and high capacity magazines should be banned.    Currently owned weapons of this sort would be subject to a government buy-back and destroyed.  Any found afterwards would be confiscated and destroyed and the owners face a substantial fine.  Collectors owning such weapons would have to have them modified to be non-functional and inspected.  Armor piercing ammunition would also be banned.  I think concealed carry permits should be available only under the most extreme cases.  Nobody should be able to purchase any gun without significant background checks, education, and licensing both for the owner and for the weapon.  Nobody under age 18 would be allowed to own or use a gun for any purpose including hunting or target shooting.  Ammunition would be tracked.  By law, all guns must be stored in locked cabinets and ammunition must be stored separately and also locked.   Stand your ground laws would all be repealed.  A public service announcement campaign would begin, telling the truth regarding the statistics of gun violence.  I think that would be a start.


Anonymous said...


Michael Mahoney said...

Your arguments are pretty salient, but your conclusions are a little scary.

A gun buy-back program isn't tenable. What do you think the average value of a licensed firearm is? $500? $600? Let's assume $500 to keep the math easy. And let's say a third of the guns get bought back. 100 million times $500? For Democrats that's chump change, I know, but that's some serious scratch. Any other solution is taking legally owned personal property away from law-abiding citizens, and that will seriously never happen.

What about all the youth shooting programs? Tens of thousands (if not more) young people learn how to safely handle and respect firearms each year. I personally know kids who went to college on full scholarships because of their shooting skills, and others who got partial scholarships.

According to a recently published Harvard Law Review, there is actually an inverse relationship to murder rates and gun control in Europe. For example, Norway has the highest rate of gun ownership, and the lowest murder rate. Holland has the lowest rate of gun ownership, yet almost the highest murder rate. On average, countries with less than 5000 registered guns per 100,000 people have a murder rate three times higher than countries with 15,000 or more registered guns per 100,000.

According to the FBI, states with the highest level of registered gun ownership have the lowest murder rate and the inverse is true.

I don't have any problem with registration or background checks. I think they are a good idea.

roy said...

I didn't say I expected any of my ideas to be implimented ;-)

As for the cost of a buy-back, the question deserves another question, What are the lives of 10K people killed by guns each year worth?

Yes, I know there are youth shooting programs and perhaps some have positive results in a few kids lives, but we have decided that youth are not mature enough to exercise certain rights. One can't drive a car at age 13 regardless of how mature they are or what kind of training programs or experience they've had. One can't vote until 18 even though the person elected will make decisions that will impact their lives in significant ways. But it is OK to put a gun into a 12 year old's hands?

Your raising the issue of murder rates vs. gun ownership is another of the apples and oranges arguments you see among liberals and rightly dismiss there. Gun deaths do not equal murders. Gun deaths include accidental deaths and suicide by gun. Murder rates include poisoning, bludgeoning, stabbing, etc. etc. For me, gun control is not about murder, it is about gun deaths. I think I was consistent in the use of that term in my original post.

Michael Mahoney said...

Somewhat obviously. You get rid of guns, you get rid of gun deaths. You get rid of knives, you get rid of knife deaths. (Gun death stats, btw, include police shootings and criminal-on-criminal shootings, which are the most common.)

Drunk drivers killed more people last year than died from gun deaths, and none were justified. Why don't I see you advocating for banning alcohol? Or tobacco? (And you know I so badly want to throw abortion in there.).

roy said...

and with fewer guns even criminal on criminal shootings would decline.

1st, I didn't advocate banning all guns.

the drunk driver example is another apples and oranges issue. We have significant laws regarding alcohol use with and without driving. I can't buy wine at one of my favorite stores without showing an ID (I haven't looked 21 in a LONNNGGG time) and nobody can purchase it under age 21 anywhere. And obviously both alcohol and cars have purposes other than weapons. The argument holds no water.

Tobacco? Ditto on serious regluations. Heck, here in CA you aren't allowed to smoke in many public outdoor areas. And there has been a concerted public relations campaign to lower the number of smokers which in large degree has been successful.

As to abortion, you know we don't entirely agree here but, I would love to see a serious effort to lower the number. In my best of all worlds that number would be zero. I recently read that Denmark has the lowest rate of abortion in the West, about 1/3 that of the US. General wisdom there is that the low rate is a result of excellent sex education, readily available and I believe free birth control, positive supports for families with children including those with disabilities, and a cultural understanding that abortion is inappropriate as a form of birth control. Works for me. I'd love to see us match of exceed their numbers. FWIW, just like violent crime, haven't abortion rates been dropping in the US?

Michael Mahoney said...

We have significant laws regarding alcohol use with and without driving. I can't buy wine at one of my favorite stores without showing an ID (I haven't looked 21 in a LONNNGGG time) and nobody can purchase it under age 21 anywhere.

Most states have these laws as well. Here in CT, you cannot purchase a long gun under 18 or a handgun under 21. All sales of handguns (private and dealer) and dealer sales of long guns must have a transaction number from the State Police. Federal law requires any firearm purchaser to be 18.

And obviously both alcohol and cars have purposes other than weapons. As do firearms. Hunting, protection, sport. Last time I checked, drinking wasn't an Olympic or collegiate sport (OK, maybe collegiate) but shooting is in both categories.

Not so apples and oranges. Maybe tangerines and oranges.

Speaking of Denmark, did you know that they have one of the highest rates of private gun ownership in Europe and one of the lowest gun homicide rates? Same thing for Holland, which has the highest gun ownership rate in Europe and one of the lowest gun homicide rates. On the other hand, Norway (right next door) has the lowest rate of private gun ownership and the highest gun homicide rate. Interesting, hmmmm?

roy said...

I had to smile Michael at the gospel reading in the lectionary for this week... John 2:1-11, Jesus turning the water into wine.