December 16, 2012

Why gun control doesn't work the way it's supposed to

Sam Smith - I don't own a gun. I was never any good at shooting a gun. I was educated by Quakers and avoid violence every chance I get. But my view of guns has also been affected by spending time in Maine, one of the best armed and least violent places in America, and having had a wonderful hunting father-in-law. While I never went hunting myself, whenever liberals would rail against gun ownership, I would think of him sitting in a blind in northern Wisconsin waiting for the ducks to appear.

It turned out that there was another advantage for a peace loving progressive to oppose taking away other people's guns. Once some of these folks found I wasn't after their guns, they were more willing to listen to my ideas on other subjects. It was something many liberals have never learned: don't mess around with the other person's culture. Stick to the big things that can bring us together.

Dan Baum, Harper’s Magazine - It’s true that America’s rate of violent crime remains higher than that in most European countries. But to focus on guns is to dodge a painful truth. America is more violent than other countries because Americans are more violent than other people. Our abundant guns surely make assaults more deadly. But by obsessing over inanimate pieces of metal, we avoid looking at what brings us more often than others to commit violent acts…

If tomorrow President Obama signed the ultimate gun-control law—a total ban on the sale, manufacture, and import of guns—we would still be awash in firearms for generations to come…

In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control—no friend of the gun lobby—evaluated fifty-one studies on everything from the effectiveness of gun bans to laws requiring gun locks, and found no discernible effect on public safety by any of the measures we commonly think of as “gun control.” Two years later, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine did a similar survey and came to much the same conclusion

The harm is that 40 percent of Americans own guns, and like it or not, they identify with them, personally. Guns stand in for a whole range of values—individualism, strength, American exceptionalism—that many gun owners hold dear. Tell a gun owner that he cannot be trusted to own a firearm—particularly if you are an urban pundit with no experience around guns—and what he hears is an insult. Add to this that the bulk of the gun-buying public is made up of middle-aged white men with less than a college degree, and now you’re insulting a population already rubbed raw by decades of stagnant wages.

The harm we’ve done by messing with law-abiding Americans’ guns is significant. In 2010, I drove 11,000 miles around the United States talking to gun guys (for a book, to be published in the spring), and I met many working guys, including plumbers, parks workers, nurses—natural Democrats in any other age—who wouldn’t listen to anything the Democratic Party has to say because of its institutional hostility to guns. I’d argue that we’ve sacrificed generations of progress on health care, women’s and workers’ rights, and climate change by reflexively returning, at times like these, to an ill-informed call to ban firearms, and we haven’t gotten anything tangible in return. Aside from what it does to the progressive agenda, needlessly vilifying guns—and by extension, their owners—adds to the rancor that has us so politically frozen and culturally inflamed. Enough.

Dan Baum is the author of Gun Guys: A Road Trip, which will be published by Knopf in March

Progressive Review - Gun prohibition has much the same effect as drug or alcohol prohibition. It would increase the price but not limit the availability of guns for those who really want them. One of the effects, for example, of banning cigarettes in prisons is to create a booming trade in contraband tobacco.

- A killer who is mentally deranged and driven enough to have easily obtained a gun even if there were gun prohibition.

- Since 1993 the U.S. handgun murder rate has decreased 48 percent while the number of privately owned handguns in America has increased by more than 20 million

- Culture is a far more important factor in violence that gun ownership. There are more guns per-capita in Maine than in any other state save possibly Alaska. About 50,000 Mainers have permits to carry concealed weapons. Yet Maine has a crime rate one-third below the national average. Maine has one or two fatal gun accidents a year, lower than the death rate for snowmobiling or boating. These figures -- which reflect those of certain high gun-ownership countries such as Sweden, Norway and Switzerland -- suggest that the culture of a society affects the problems caused by guns more than the guns themselves. Introduce guns to an inherently violent community and you'll get more violence. Introduce guns to an inherently lawful society and the crime rate drops. In 2004 the South, for example, had a murder rate 57% higher than the Northeast.

- Forty-six percent of all those dying of gunshots in 1997 were between the ages of 15 and 34. Presumably guns work mechanically the same way for this age group as they do for others, thus something other that safety would appear to be involved.

- Treating gun laws as a national issue exacerbates cultural conflict, such as those between rural and urban, east and west, wealthy and not so well off. Telling rural Westerners to get rid of their guns is like telling urban blacks to stop reading African-American books.

- John R. Lott has pointed out that "less than one out every thousand times people use guns defensively is the attacker killed. Ninety-eight percent of the time, simply being able to brandish a gun is sufficient to cause a criminal to break off an attack and the two percent of the time when guns are fired, the vast majority of those are warning shots. It's something like less than one-half-of-one percent of the time is the gun fired in the direction of the attacker. Even when they do hit, woundings are much more frequent than times when the attacker is killed."

- A Justice Department study, conducted from 1993-1995 tracked 4,000 boys and girls aged 6 to 15 in Denver, Pittsburgh, and Rochester, NY. According to the study:
Children who get guns from their parents don't commit gun crimes (0%), while children who get illegal guns are very likely to do so (21%).

Children who get guns from parents are less likely to commit any kind of street crime (14%) than children who have no gun in the house (24%) and are dramatically less likely to do so than children who acquire an illegal gun (74%).

Children who get guns from parents are less likely to use drugs (13%) than children who get illegal guns (41%).

"Boys who own legal firearms have much lower rates of delinquency and drug use [than boys who get illegal guns] and are even slightly less delinquent than non-owners of guns," the study reported.
- The Columbine killers violated at least 17 existing state and federal weapons control laws.

- In 1997 it was reported that Americans use guns defensively around 2 million times each year, five times more frequently than the 430,000 times guns were used to commit crimes that same year. And 98 percent of the time, simply brandishing the weapon is sufficient to stop an attack.


fowlbruce said...

Guns are shiny, an effective diversion and distraction for those who are driven by mental defect or abuse to do unilateral damage to others from learning how to use weapons much worse and effecting much greater injury.

Anonymous said...

Socioeconomic factors determine the rate of crime and gun crime. To say a state like Maine has less violent crime due to the well-armed citizenry is stretching belief. anyway, they are snowed in for half the year! .. there's no time to be out shooting people. :)

All that being said, I am not anti-gun (I own and use firearms, have since I was very young).. but I still see the truth of savage gun violence. Violence and death that would be lessened IF people would forsake their reliance on guns, for good or ill. But people are people, I suppose.

And it is ridiculous and needlessly divisive to frame this debate as for or against guns.. when in fact it should be for or against things like what recently happened in Connecticut.. I admit to hyperbole... yet to say Democrats want your guns is an oversimplification, good Democrats want a safe society with nobody shooting up the place.

I think it's the angry gun owners who need to calm down since they frame their argument around their personal likes and rights and have yet to show that arming the populace makes anybody safer.. I suppose they will not give that up until it has been really tested, with all teachers and kids too (openly) carrying.

I liked this series of essays posted and found it informative and useful. Yet I think the whole business of a better society and safer communities rests on a lack of opportunity, shrinking wages, housing and food price inflation, noisier and dirtier neighborhoods... all those you know, 'progressive' issues.. The ones Progressives want to leave to others while they argue why in fact we should let everyone keep their blasted guns.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

Anonymous said...

Sam... You're too good for this!

1) Like so-called global warming much of the opposition to 'gun control' is based on the spin that evil socialists want to take all your guns. Not true, and your father in-law is a much different gun owner than the gang banger who robs a convenience store with a handgun. Start using the phrase 'handgun control' as it's more accurate. The majority of gun crimes are committed with handguns. Registration, licensing and restrictions on large capacity clips are reasonable steps towards a well regulated militia.

2) John Lott Jr. -- Eight pounds of crap in a five pound bag. Do some research on Mary Roch, the fictitious source he invented to support his research. See and for more. The man is a shill for the gun lobby and if you heard him on Coast To Coast AM this past Friday one of his solutions for events like the Sandy Hook School shootings was for the media NOT TO REPORT IT AS MAJOR NEWS. You see, sociopaths crave publicity and the media encourage them by sensationalizing the event. Just say nothing and it won't happen.

I suspect the late Richard M. Nixon would agree with that.

3) Since 1964 a few Communists in our federal government have waged a relentless war against the tobacco industry. A mainstay of agriculture and economic stability in several southern states that provides thousands of jobs in rural areas. The same line of crap about the invincibility of the tobacco lobby and depth of the smoking / southern culture is being used in the handgun debate. It took over 40 years, but Big Tobacco lost that debate and millions of lives have been lengthened because of it.

The gun lobby needs to see the same. Propose new federal taxes on ammunition in the name of deficit reduction if you want to tweak the Neo-Cons while saving lives......

Anonymous said...

A Bushmaster M4? Really? You can buy them at the local Walmart in my state. More, they are readily available for sale at various flea markets in local supermarket parking lots--transactions that are legally regarded as person to person sales requiring no paperwork other than a receipt with both party's signature.
The M4 is an assault rifle designed for one purpose, and one purpose only, which is launching a ballistic projectile capable of inflicting the most destructive wound possible in the most efficient way.
At the very least, ought these weapons be somewhat more difficult to procure?

Paul Tullis said...

I think the first step to "bringing us together" will require some of us not being maimed and dead from a storm of bullets on our classroom floor.
Secondly, you and Baum here employ a frequent favorite rhetorical strategy of the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal: mischaracterize your opponent's position in order to take it apart. Nobody's talking about gun prohibition or taking away lower middle class white men's guns. The idea is to make it more difficult to get a gun than to adopt a pet or get a driver's license, and to limit or remove the ability of people to acquire military grade weaponry and ammunition such as those that allowed Lanza apparently to fire as rapidly as witnesses have described in news reports.
Baum's political argument is vapid. This is literally a matter of life and death, and he's talking about winning elections? He sounds like Karl Rove. By his logic, we should allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons if it means they'll help us get rid of Assad. Some things are actually worth fighting for-- isn't that the lesson of progressivism from Tom Paine to MLK?
As for what we've sacrificed in terms of other progressive agendas, tough shit. No amount of women's or workers rights can make up for the tens of thousands of corpses that have piled up since John Lennon was killed by a cheap, easily-acquired weapon.

Dan Lynch said...

Agree with you 100%, Sam.

Anonymous said...

Gun control, or lack of it, is about profits. And where profits matter, ALEC is lurking in the background somewhere:

Anonymous said...

Here's a about a federal law that imposes a total gun ban for a period of time...say ten years or any county in which a gun is used in a homicide. By total, I mean no private ownership, no shooting ranges, no gun stores or factories, etc. This could unite responsible gun owners with anti-gun citizens in creating programs to prevent gun homicide's underlying causes.

Tony Vodvarka said...

it's wondrous to observe America's culture wars in full bloom! Once again, with this latest lunatic disaster in our sick society, we hear a ban guns chorus calling for severe restrictions on "guns". No matter that Connecticut probably has some of the most restrictive gun laws in our country. No matter that the weapons in question were legally obtained and held under the laws of that state. No matter that the aggressively named "Bushmaster" mentioned above is not much different from any other rifle that could be used for deer hunting. No matter that this country is saturated with guns and if they were "banned", does anyone suppose they are going to evaporate into thin air? Or, as the NRA might say, if guns are made illegal, only criminals will have guns. Guns are tools, and yes, guns don't kill people, people kill people. More restrictive laws will do absolutely nothing to stop these lunatic rampages. What we absolutely need is a national health care system that guarantees health care including psychiatric care universally; we are the only industrial nation without one. Canada, who has an equal percapita ownership of guns as the USA has a fraction of the gun casualties. Were he Canadian, Lanza would have been much more likely to have been seen to have severe mental health problems early on and received care. Moreover, the possible psychotic side effects of certain tranquilizers and psychotropic drugs that are pushed on our nation (and especially our school children)should be looked into as they seem to have been involved in many of these periodic lunacies. Let's do something meaningful and not run around like chickens with their heads cut off.

Anonymous said...

I would like to take a moment to publicly thank FUX News Sunday for providing their viewers with a perfect example of what a completely worthless US Congressman looks and sounds like... Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Schmuck) is one of the better examples of why the GOP will continue to struggle in future elections and why one of the more beautiful sights a motorist will ever see is Texas in their rear view mirror.


As Bill Clinton might say, it takes some brass to argue for more guns in the wake of the Sandy Hook murders. No Doubt the NRA will reward him generously.

Yaweh, not so much....

KM said...

I agree that it is more a mental health as well as wider cultural issue, that it is tied to other dysfunctional aspects of our society.

But the desire to own guns, including for hunting, is part of all that. Just because we are already awash in weapons doesn't mean that we have to continue to acquiesce to enabling the madness.