On fools and guns

Tragedies have a nasty habit of bringing out the fools.  Regardless of what happens, someone will come up with idiotic ways to try and prevent such a tragedy from happening again.  Almost universally, these people misrepresent facts to try and score points from those who don’t really understand the issue.

One of the latest is Amitai Etzioni, a University Professor of International Relations at The George Washington University, who has a piece he wrote up over at The Huffington Post.  In it, he shows that even university professors can spout utter crap.

Etzioni starts by urging people to post “gun free zone” signs on their homes, and telling parents to tell other parents they’re hesitant to allow their kids over unless the house is “safe from guns”.  Now, the fact that the vast majority of these mass shootings happens in so-called “gun free zones” seems to completely skip the part of Etzioni’s brain that computes facts.

Instead, he follows with a point by point counter argument to one liners by gun rights advocates.

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

• Tragically, it is the case that there will always be dangerous individuals, but they can kill a lot more with easy access to guns. On the same day as the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, a knife-wielding man targeted a primary school in a Chinese village. Twenty-two children and one adult were wounded, but none were killed.

Guns also allow smaller, weaker people to defend themselves from aggression by these dangerous individuals.  Not everyone can be Rhonda Rousey or Anderson Silva, so it’s unreasonable to believe that every person can be skilled in unarmed combat.  A gun is an equalizer for these people against the more agressive and more skilled attacker.

“Guns deter crimes and save lives.”

• Of the 30,000 gun deaths in America every year, only 200 are caused by self-defense. Studies have shown that a higher rate of gun ownership is correlated with higher rates of homicide, suicide and unintentional shootings. The U.S. has a firearms homicide rate 19.5 times higher than the combined rate of 22 high income countries with similar non-lethal crime and violence rates.

Of course, Etzioni conveniently fails to mention any numbers regarding any other defensive use of a firearm.  The vast majority of defensive uses never require a shot to be fired.  Still others only wound the bad guy.  Translation? They don’t show up in the studies comparing firearm related deaths.

Of course, that 30,000 gun death number is unnaturally high.  Why is that?  Because it also includes suicides.  I think any rational person will agree that if someone wants to committ suicide, removing one means of killing themselves will only make them choose another one.  Unless we are going to ban water and gravity, you wil never rid the world of the means to kill oneself.

By contrast, 2009 only had 11,493 gun related homicides.  While that number is still higher than we would like to see (anything higher than “zero” is higher than we would like to see), it’s also far, far less than Etzioni’s numbers.  Why is that?  Well, maybe it makes things seem more dire.  Who knows for sure?

Now, compare that to these numbers, courtesy of this article at Forbes.com

A widely-known study conducted by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz in the 1990s found that there were somewhere between 830,000 and 2.45 million U.S. defensive gun uses annually. A National Crime Victimization Study (NCVS) which asked victims if they had used a gun in self-defense found that about 108,000 each year had done so. A big problem with the NCVS line of survey reasoning, however, is that it only includes those uses where a citizen kills a criminal, not when one is only wounded, is held by the intended victim until police arrive, or when brandishing a gun caused a criminal to flee.

Wow.  It looks like guns are used a whole lot more for defensive uses than to commit murder, doesn’t it?

Etzioni wasn’t done though.  Oh no.  He goes on with this gem:

“Criminals would obtain guns anyway.”

• Weak gun laws that exempt many private companies and gun shows from background checks already enable a thriving criminal market for guns. According to the Brady Campaign, “In most states convicted felons, domestic violence abusers, and those who are dangerously mentally ill can walk into any gun show, flea market, or even log on to the Internet and buy weapons from unlicensed sellers, no questions asked.” True, dangerous people may still be able get their hands on weapons if tighter gun control laws are passed, but certainly less will do so when it is illegal.

OK, this one is pretty much bull.  You see, anyone who purchases from a licensed vendor at a gun show has to go through the background checks.  This includes criminals.  When a criminal purchases a gun, they either buy an illegal weapon (most likely stolen), or they misrepresent themselves to a private seller as a law abiding citizen.  While this may happen at a gun show, it can also happen in the classified section of a newspaper.

In addition, you can not buy a gun online and have no questions asked, unless you are working out something within your home state, which is just like the gun show example above, is a private sale to an individual.  The vast majority of online sales are performed with a requirement of a Federal Firearm License holder be involved.  Either the seller is the FFL holder, or they require it to go through one.  This is a federal requirement if state lines are crossed, which they usually are.

In fact, if memory serves me correctly, a gun can only be shipped to a FFL holder regardless of locale.

Etzioni has misrepresented these instances, which aren’t nearly as common as he wants the reader to think.  Either he’s completely clueless, or he blows things out of proportion to present the reader with a false impression of how the gun industry actually works.

As they say on television, “But wait!  There’s more!”

“The right to private gun ownership is guaranteed by the Constitution.”

• No right is absolute. Even the right to free speech, considered the strongest of them all, is limited. You cannot shout “fire” in a crowded theater — precisely because it endangers life. You can’t always make a speech with a loudspeaker at 2 a.m. in a residential area. We can limit gun ownership to people who have neither criminal nor mental health records and ban assault rifles for starters. Meanwhile, make our children safer by not allowing them to go to places that are not gun free.

Ah, the old “fire in a crowded theater” argument.  First, let’s take a look at that.  People actually can yell fire in that crowded theater.  There is no law preventing the actors, for example, from delivering their lines for example. You’re also free to yell “fire” if there’s…oh, I don’t know…a fire, maybe?

That whole argument stems from the act of endangering lives.  This is no different than laws that prevent me from pointing my gun at someone without cause.  I’m endangering their life after all.

Even his second example, the using  a loudspeaker at 2 a.m. is an example of interfering with my own rights.  However, a better example of what Etzioni is actually suggesting is a law that limits my right to own a loudspeaker because someone might use it at 2 a.m.

Like so many who pontificate on the need for new gun laws, Etzioni either doesn’t understand the reality, or else he feels it’s irrelevant.  I’ll let you decide which one he is.


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