More hand wringing on guns
Shootings will continue to make headlines. Recent incidents such as the Aurora, Colorado shooting and events Friday at the Empire State Building continue to put guns and gun rights under a spotlight. One of the latest columns I’ve come across was spawned from the Huffington Post. In it, writer Marian Wright Edelman says she thinks it’s time for “common sense gun control”.
Every time another mass shooting happens in the United States, the debate over gun control comes fleetingly to the forefront — until political fear paralyzes courage and action. Inevitably, some people repeat the argument that the solution to preventing mass shootings is not better gun control laws — even control of assault weapons, which have no place in nonmilitary hands — but getting even more Americans armed. The apparent fantasy result would be something straight out of Hollywood where every single time a bad person stands up with a gun a good person with their own gun would quickly rise up out of the crowd, shoot the bad person, and save the day.
Edelman spends a good bit of time talking about mass shootings, invoking not just Aurora but also Columbine, Virginia Tech, and a host of others. After all, we must prevent these horrible events.
I don’t think anyone believes that these events aren’t horrible. However, I want to point out some things to Edelman. After all, she is writing from a position of emotion, rather than actual facts.
First, let’s look at the total number of gun related homicides. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were at total of 11,493 gun related homicides in 2009 (the most recent numbers I could scrounge up). If you also count accidental deaths, you get 554 for the same year. So, all told, 12,047 people lost thier lives due to some improper act with a firearm. These deaths are no doubt tragic.
However, Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck has estimates that guns are used by a law abiding citizen 2.5 million times to defend themselves each year. That’s a pretty significant difference in numbers.
Some may question why I didn’t calculate gun related suicides into my above figures. The reason for that is simple. Suicides are cases of someone who simply wants to die. If they couldn’t use a gun, they would find some other means. As such, it skews the numbers in a direction that has no real bearing on the gun debate. After all, if you want to ban things in an effort to prevent suicide, you would eventually have to ban rope, water, and gravity as well.
Edelman takes a particular aim at assault weapons. Those evil weapons that she alleges only belong in the hands of the military (I guess she’s also opposed to the militarization of local police who also have plenty of these weapons?). These weapons are so evil, they could only be used for criminal intents, right?
Not really. First, the number of times these weapons are used in crimes are extremely low. Remember Gary Kleck from before? Well, he wrote in Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control (Walter de Gruyter, Inc., New York 1997), that so-called assault rifles are used in less than 2 percent of gun related crimes. That’s a remarkably small percentage, despite how much Hollywood loves to show AK weilding bank robbers. However, that’s just gun crimes. When you factor in all crimes, the number becomes more like .2 percent. A fifth of one percent. That’s it. Hardly the public safety hazard Edelman seems to think it is.
In addition, Edelman apparently has a short memory. After all, despite invoking the Virginia Tech shooting, she fails to remember that the shooter in that incident simply used pistols. No signs of the assault weapons here. To be fair though, she also sees evil in the dark spectre of “high capacity clips” as well. As if reloading is somehow to tricky to be managed by those with evil intentions.
In her column, Edelman quoted Daniel W. Webster, a professor and co-director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and a panelist at the Children’s Defense Fund. Webster wrote, shortly after the Aurora shooting:
We should not brush aside discussions of gun policy as too politically difficult to expect meaningful change, or “the price for our freedoms.” Instead, we should reflect on why the U.S. has a murder rate that is nearly seven times higher than the average murder rate in other high-income countries and a nearly 20 times higher murder rate with guns.
Now, I’m going to concede that this is probably very accurate. I remember looking at the numbers several years ago while having a debate with someone about this very subject. Want to know what else I found? Of course you do…you’re still here.
What I found was that the average murder rate with all weapons was also significantly higher than other countries. In short, we are a more violent people. For whatever reasons, we are far more likely to go off and kill one another than Candian, British, or French folks are. Why? Who knows, but that is the root of the problem, not an object that does nothing without an individual operating it.
These mass shootings are horrible. I lost a dear friend in the Cafe Racer shooting in Seattle this past May. It’s virtually impossible to describe what it feels like to lose someone so suddenly, and so senselessly. However, that doesn’t mean more laws will do anything. After all, if they did, perhaps we could just outlaw murder and call it a day. Oh, wait…we already did.
Mass shootings seem to be a primarily American problem. While there have been incidents in other nations in the past, they happen far more frequently here. However, despite the horrors of these events, there is still no valid reason to restrict the law abiding’s access to the firearm of their choice. Edelman’s column makes reference to “scientific” data that supposedly supports her point, but there’s more than enough scientific data to show that her argument just falls flat.
On top of all of this, there’s still that pesky Second Amendment thing that says our right to keep and bear arms “shall not be infringed.” But, I guess the Constitution doesn’t really matter to some folks.