The View From 1776
Human Nature vs. Gun Control Laws
The bumper sticker is right: Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Recent slaughter at the Newtown, CT, elementary school is horrifying, but it’s just a reaffirmation of the potential for evil in human nature. Tighter gun control laws won’t prevent such human depravity. To the contrary, worldwide evidence shows that tighter gun controls both correlate with higher murder rates, and waste public time and money.
- There seem to be many theories for the cause of Friday's mass murder in Newtown. Mr. Brewton lays the blame at the feet of hedonism and ties it 60's student unrest.
Mike Huckabee, sometime presidential aspirant, blames the murders on removal of God from our schools.
Some interesting tidbits:
15 of the 25 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years occurred in the US. Findland is second on the list with two.
Brewton cites one Harvard Study to show there is no relationship between guns and murder. Here are four other Harvard School of Public Health studies that show the opposite:
Hepburn, Lisa; Hemenway, David. Firearm availability and homicide: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior: A Review Journal. 2004; 9:417-40.
Hemenway, David; Miller, Matthew. Firearm availability and homicide rates across 26 high income countries. Journal of Trauma. 2000; 49:985-88.
Miller, Matthew; Azrael, Deborah; Hemenway, David. Household firearm ownership levels and homicide rates across U.S. regions and states, 1988-1997. American Journal of Public Health. 2002: 92:1988-1993.
- J. Jay,
Bravo! That was a concise and well supported argument (as far as it goes). I am intrigued, however. For some weeks, now, it has been as if there are two entirely different Jays; the one who tends to rant, bombast, extreme-partisanship, and innuendo and another who is cogent and temperate, the latter being the one lately evident. Do you, perhaps, suffer from split-personality? I am tempted to think there are two of you: one who is somewhat sociable and rational and another who is noxiously irrational; and who take turns posting here under the common pseudonym. Another possibility is you are two entirely different people, each taking turns in the conservative-bashing bucket. Have you, perhaps, engaged a ghost-commenter to boost your style and standing? Jay #1 is our foolishly scathing bearer of ill-will and little else, Jay #2 is urbane enough he prefers ‘civilized debate’ and marshals his thoughts (and composure) before taking a whack at us. I don’t say this to mock (this is too serious a subject for that just now). I am truly (and pleasantly) surprised by the change of tone and willingness to engage, but can’t help suspecting a ringer. Just my skeptical nature, I suppose.
Needless to say, both are wrong on all kinds of particulars. And, the reason for this is simple: both begin from weak, overly complex and/or false assumptions, and neither really answers our assertions as posed – at least not without first rearranging them beyond recognition (i.e., you argue against substitute ‘facts’ and misrepresentations of statements by others rather than actual facts and statements as presented; aka, ‘straw-man’ arguments).
Now, as to some of your specific points:
First, as to gun studies finding more guns equal more death: big surprise! We realize academia and the medical professions are overwhelmingly anti-gun, and that that clouds objectivity. Surgeons, especially, have seen more than their share of gun deaths and the gross damage bullets do to the human body. Thus, theirs is an emotional response more than an objective one (dead is dead, however messy the result). [Side note: These same doctors are not at all squeamish in terminating undelivered babies wholesale; it is just that the one is so messy while the other has been sanitized and praised to such an extent they hardly consider their own participation in what is a foul act and, usually, for insufficient reasons.] Even homicide cops are susceptible to this emotional drain on objectivity from having seen too much of it. But, what that means is we should subtract such bias out of their studies, and draw our own conclusions from what remains (i.e., raw data). We should also look for independent sources and the full data sets from which their data was drawn to get the whole picture, not just that part of the data they intend us to see. What should surprise no one is that most (if not all) of your cited studies are flawed because their authors cherry-pick data so as to present but one possible conclusion; i.e., that guns are the root cause of our evil.
I tried locating your source documents, and found most of them either irretrievable or costly to obtain. This makes me wonder, have you even read them. If so, please provide some evidence of same. Do you know for a fact they ‘prove’ a relationship between gun-ownership and murder; or, are you merely citing some undisclosed third-party blogger for that opinion of your studies (who also didn’t read them or briefly scanned). Often, when I read blogger X citing a study of this type, he or his source has its substance hopelessly garbled. For all we know, your studies support Tom’s argument more than they do yours. Tom, at least gives us some idea of his studies internals (which you did not) suggesting he, at least, perused his. Moreover, he cut-&-pasted a section of it to his webpage and gave us a link; which indicates he actually read his enough to hazard giving it to us gift wrapped (failure to provide links – or some other sure means of easily retrieving a cited document – frequently indicates uncertainty and an unwillingness to risk embarrassment). Therefore and whereas, Tom took aim, fired and hit his target, you merely waved a weapon about that you only assumed to be loaded.
My second criticism (of anti-gun studies generally; not yours specifically as we have no idea as to its content) has to do with the data itself, and what it does and does not capture. Mostly it captures violent crimes were committed, but does not capture crimes averted or gun crimes that did not result in death and/or classified as something else (e.g., robbery, carjacking, terrorism, self-defense [crime victim arrested], domestic disturbance, &c). Crimes in this category (non-fatal, non-injurious) are often tagged according to their most serious offense, and may or may not record a gun was used in the commission of the crime or that there was any significant threat to others (e.g., a burglar had a gun on him, but had no occasion to draw it, or the person arrested was a crime-victim who was also arrested for having defended himself with a gun), which are lumped in indistinguishably. Worse, there is no systematized consistency to the data (across jurisdictions) such that study-takers are somewhat justified in interpreting the data according to their own lights. Police officers are human and tend to note only the most salient facts of an arrest, making arrest records woefully incomplete. Typically, they record those parts of a crime which result in the greatest probability of a conviction (i.e., most relevant), leaving out lesser offenses and possibly relevant factors as may seem irrelevant to that objective, but that would be invaluable to researchers establishing the bona fides of the guns=death argument. Trials often reintroduce this ‘lost data’, but that rarely makes it into crime databases such as those compiled by DOJ and CDC. What this does is skew data so as to mask the relevance (or irrelevance) of guns to many non-fatal situations, and to over emphasis them in others; with both having an inverse effect on the guns=death correlation (i.e., concentrates remaining data toward greater equivalence). For example, a substantial number homicide reports mention a gun was found in the possession of a killer (in his home, car or person), even when the gun played no part in the killing. Despite this, it gets tallied in the ‘gun=death’ column by researchers having no way of determining its irrelevance. Similarly, other reports are vaguely worded, leaving important details so as not to prejudice the courts against a detainee who is almost certainly guilty; and that happens because police are constrained not to ‘violate’ perpetrator’s rights (e.g., perpetrator was found standing over the body with emptied murder-weapon in his hand, but denies he pulled the trigger) even in slam-dunk cases. Thus, much of the data is of such poor quality that data-compilers are forced to make some kind of judgment regarding which bin it goes into. Studies account for this skewing of arrest data, but the reports of them the public and policymakers read rarely do; and, even those that do tend to hide it simply because there is no way to show beyond doubt the gun was/wasn’t relevant to a crime. Researchers are, thus, constrained by a bias built into the data; one that conveniently agrees with what study authors expect to find. What this means for us is the data available is unquestionably skewed toward the guns=death bias, and should be regarded at most as an extreme estimate (i.e., gun homicides are no greater than X/100,000). What we need then is a reasonable estimate of the other extreme (gun homicides are no less than Y/100,000) to bracket the data and give us some idea of variance. However, Kates and Mauser tell us this is barking up the wrong tree.
So what is the right tree? K&M go on to tell us the right tree is the one that minimizes our exposure to criminals with guns. Putting this another way, there is no arguing guns kill. But, then, so too do knives, baseball bats, water, oxygen deprivation, electricity, poison and a lot of other things conveniently to hand. The point K&M make (and John Lott before them) is that the only situation worse than a lot of people running around with guns is a subset of those people with guns but with fewer scrupples about using violently (i.e., gang members, criminals, thugs, psychopaths, &c). We already have plenty of gun laws on the books, so piling on more of the same does little to nothing to make us safer; and, in fact, make us less safe if those same laws concentrate remaining guns in the wrong hands (aka, criminals). K&M’s study, therefore (and like Lott before them), makes bi-variate comparisons of countries and cities of murder rates v gun prevalence to confirm Lott’s finding that more guns results in fewer homicides. Their study, moreover, bypasses some of the weaknesses and criticisms made of the Lott study. Gun-homicide studies conducted by control advocates never seem to make such situational comparisons. Typically, those present a lot of gun-deaths divided by subtype (homicide, accidental, fatal, semi-automatics, &c), but provide no alternative scenario comparisons from which we can judge a proposal’s efficacy. Rather, they simply infer causality from coincidence.
Cato’s Clayton Cramer gives us another reason to mistrust studies weighted against guns. His argument (http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/right-side-bullet ) goes something like: whereas data relating guns to death and injuries are relatively abundant, data supporting guns prevent more violence than they cause is sorely lacking (because poorly documented, ignored and uncollected). Yet, we know it happens, happens a lot, and the reasons it happens go almost entirely uncommented. The media deem deterrence ‘non-newsworthy’ and government has no vested interest in drawing attention to it or conclusions from it. No government agency, university or think-tank has seen fit to compile statistics on this the way they do in proving the guns=death proposition. Thus, the guns=death lobby is handed an unfair data advantage, and there has been little attempt at leveling the playing field. I did find a couple of similar sites providing citations to credible studies of crime deterrence by individuals in possession of firearms (see http://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewherper/2012/12/16/searching-for-hard-data-on-guns-and-violence/?utm_source=Twitter & http://www.guncite.com/gun_control_gcdguse.html ), but these are far more rare than the institutionalized studies promoting gun-control. Gun-control researcher/advocates (like Hemenway) dispute the actual numbers, but do not and cannot successfully refute guns deter far more violent crime and deaths each year than they cause or facilitate.
I further note that, while you gave us several study citations, they include a high number of recurring co-authors who are ‘behavioral scientists’ (a highly gun-averse group), and one of the authors (Hemenway) appears in all four. Would you accept four right-leaning studies written by Kates (citation 1), Mauser (citation 2), Kates & Mauser (citation 3) and Kates, Mauser and Nimrod (citation 4)? What this looks like is one study periodically revised and updated, and that tells me what you really gave us is one study with which to refute Tom’s one study. We can only guess Tom’s study has gone through similar periodic updates, but that does seem fairly common among this type of literature (i.e., same names and titles reappearing – with some variation – and with varying dates). That makes your evidence no weightier than Tom’s (though, to be fair to Tom, he wasn’t aiming to preempt your ‘I got more studies than you’ attack, and merely reported yet another right-leaning study to add to his growing evidence pile). For your assumption of ‘more studies on my side’ to be relevant, we’d have to go back through every posting of the last eight years to see which of you supplied the greater number of studies (screening out outdated and redundant studies, of course). Regardless, it is not the quantity of studies that matter, but quality, integrity and repeatability (using non-overlapping sets of data or by treating the data in novel ways). Does it really matter one side presents four bogus studies to the other’s one [hypothetically] legitimate study? For your four to have the greater weight, then, they would not only need to be greater in number, but also be a) bias-neutral (or at least demonstrably less biased), b) have entirely different authors (and/or unassociated), c) data independence, and d) measure essentially the same things. They would also need to be accessible so that we might fairly inspect them. That is a pretty tall order for any study area that does not have a major funding source interested in obtaining independent studies untainted by bias or corruption. I suspect these co-authors share a common history of radical advocacy, as well as their shared authorship, and (if true) alone reduces the weight we should assign them.
(Continued in next comment)
- Second, you wrote “… 15 of the 25 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years occurred in the US”. Which of your studies did you gather this doubtful factoid from? It doesn’t matter which, because wrong as can be easily verified by engaging in a little memory dumpster-diving. Think about Africa, and all of the murderous mayhem that continent has suffered in last 30 years (Rwanda, Darfur, Sudan, South Africa, &c), and you will easily convince yourself that ours pales by comparison. How about the Khmer Rouge slaughtering several million Cambodians shortly after that country fell to communism? That slaughter was composed of hundreds of separate mass shootings or ‘purges’. Or, the mutually genocidal wars of Serbia-Croatia and Kosovo. Surely, those count as occurring in the last 50 years, do they not? Israel has suffered countless rocket attacks and suicide bombers, not all of whom were unsuccessful in seeking martyrdom while killing masses of Israelis. The Irish Troubles ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Troubles#Casualties ) comfortably fall within your 50 year time span, and were bloody right up to the end. How about the more recent killings in Russia to put down Muslim insurrections? It has been quiet there recently, but surely that was only a few years ago and the pot is ever ready to boil over. Then there are all those ‘mystery’ assassinations of Russian dissidents we read about a within this decade, most of them committed without benefit of guns. Or, didn’t you see those in the New York Times or Boston Globe? How about Korea? Surely you did not forget our old murdering pals of the DPRK Secret Police? Technically, of course, they are innocent of shooting 2.5-million (to 3.7 million depending on whose estimates), rather they systematically and deliberately starved these folks to death as a form of ‘dissent control’ and ‘Party power preservation’ (see http://www.northkoreanow.org/the-crisis/mass-starvations-in-north-korea/ ). Then, too, we mustn’t forget the hundreds of thousands of Koreans summarily shot and/or purposely worked to death ( http://www.genocidewatch.org/images/N.Korea_12_31_1.pdf ). The list goes on and I could fill pages with atrocity recitations, so let us agree your study guys may have overstated their case against us (either that or you’ve misquoted them).
Here is a webpage posting the ‘Worst 5 Gun Massacres by an Individual’ by body-count (http://top5ofanything.com/index.php?h=db8a4490 ). Note the recent spree in Connecticut did not change this line-up one iota, and only one of the five (#4) took place in the USA. This puts us behind in the ‘gun sprees by an individual’ category. Most of the other countries listed have far more draconian gun laws supposedly preventing this sort of thing. Come to think of it, gun-control laws in this country are about average among civilized nations, strongly undermining the proposition it is a ‘lack of gun-controls’ or an obsessive devotion to 2nd Amendment that is at the root of these killings.
Here’s a real shocker for you. According to this source ( http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_mur_percap-crime-murders-per-capita ), USA does not even appear on a list of 37 highest murder rate nations. Note that murder type is not specified (gun or gun-less) or whether by individuals, gangs or states; only that there is one heck of a lot of murder going on in those places. The source for this information is European, so we can’t fault it as having a pro-American bias. According to the Department of Justice, homicide in the U.S. is 5.1 per 100,000 (Nation-Master says US = 3.6/100K). [Side note: Nation Master appears to be something of a talented amateur who lumps together sources that make some of his findings controversial; and can be confusing if you don’t make allowance for it.] Compare that finding to any of the thirty-seven listed, and you will readily see we are substantially safer here than most countries where gun-control is undiluted by gun-rights. Of course, you may argue violent crime is less in those places overall, but you would be wrong. Britain has four times the violent crime per capita than does the USA (see http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/013582.html ), and this source (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/10/08/the_worlds_murder_capitals#3 ) says Latin American cities are far more violent than are U.S. cities; and with city murder rates for Honduras at 159, Brazil 135 and Mexico 149 per 100K who can argue? Business Insider gives us both a list of most violent countries and a map ( http://www.businessinsider.com/1homicidal-countries-2011-11?op=1 ). Scroll to the bottom to see the map, and note the United States’ shading indicates ours sits comfortably toward the low end of violence afflicted countries. And, what of our oil-soaked socialist pal to the south – comrade Chavez? Venezuela has become one of the most violent places on Earth, vying with Rwanda for killer-capital despite Chavez has carte blanche gun-control!
You mocked Tom’s ‘hedonism-&-radicalism’ and Huckabee’s religion explanations of the violence; yet sober reflection tells most people that the way we think has a great deal to do with the way we behave, and that when our moral standards are loosened we can expect a commensurate ‘loosening’ of our aggregate behaviors – including self-indulgently violent behaviors. Rush Limbaugh commented Thursday he thinks some of these ‘berserkers’ are doing it for ‘celebrity’, that celebrity has become the new standard of success and respect. While none of these theories explains all the massacres, each of them contains an element of truth; and far more truth than is to be found in the hopelessly simplistic and mechanistic ‘guns kill ergo eliminating guns will make us safe from madmen’ theory. At least, they made some effort at identifying a root cause for something that defies all logic.
- I have one final observation to make regarding your “… worst mass shootings in the last 50 years” comment. Just prior to that, you mocked Thomas for blaming “60s student unrest”. Yet, 50 years ago was 1962. The gun-control movement in this country began in the 1960s as an emotional [over-]reaction to the Kennedy & King assassinations as fanned by the leftist anti-war (pacifist) campus culture. Consciously or unconsciously, you (or your source) acknowledge the 1960s counter-culture as representing some kind of turning point or watershed in the culture regarding violent behavior – just as Thomas did. Therefore, you and Thomas are closer to agreement on this point than your mocking admits. Prior to that time, America was either a very safe place (else was significantly less disturbed by occasional outbursts of murdering rage). The change cannot be due to a culture less enamored of guns, because the opposite was true. Most people prior to the 1960s had guns in the home, there were no trigger-locks, you needed no one’s permission to own a gun, children were regularly taught to handle and respect guns (or toy proxies), war films and westerns were highly popular, and few embraced the ‘guns are evil’ mindset. Yet, no study I have seen provides evidence we are safer today then we were prior to gun-control. A couple of studies, on the other hand, have made an excellent and credible case gun-control make us less safe.
I am no lover of guns, but I do understand the logic of guns and the right of every individual to arm him/herself adequately against threats of all kinds and from several quarters. A world without guns may be preferable, but there can be no putting this particular demon back in Pandora’s Box. Gun-ownership is also a political right, one that forms the backbone of our other rights; without which those other rights are subject to confiscation and suppression without even the hope of a defense, and freedom a hollow assertion subject to governmental indifference. Government has proven inadequate to regulate this and, instead, exposes us the more to the depredations of outlaws, tyrants and madmen. That being the case, and until some more rational and foolproof policy can be formulated (one that does not compromise our political rights), gun-control is a grave mistake.
http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2012/02/21/disarming-the-myths-promoted-by-the-gun-control-lobby/ - article earlier this year arguing violence was declining despite gun-ownership soaring; may be just a case of timing; also alleges gun-ownership has been grossly misreported for political gain
http://www.policyarchive.org/handle/10207/bitstreams/96411.pdf - one of the studies J. Jay cites
https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/publications/Abstract.aspx?id=206421 – per NCJRS, the first study J. Jay cites is a literature review – not a study
http://www.factcheck.org/2008/03/violent-crimes-and-handgun-ownership/ - Even so, FactCheck.org calls J. Jays first citation a ‘study’, but goes on to find fault with it; specifically that correlation does not prove causality, and that nothing in the study indicates eliminating guns would not simply shift murder to some other choice of weapon. Most murders are not multiple victim massacres of the Sandy Hook variety and, despite its awfulness, Sandy Hook type atrocities are statistically anomalous and not where gun controls have any real potential for prevention. Terrorists and state-sponsored thugs have achieved similar results using rockets, IEDs, suicide-bombers, trucks driven into crowds, planes, electrocution, bricks, poison, stoning, drowning, strangulation, ceremonial swords, knives and cudgels (to name just the more obvious methods).
Thanks for your compliment about being concise. It is much appreciated! Your observation that I have recently mellowed may stem from the fact that the election is now over and perhaps there is less need to be argumentative on all fronts.
It is also the season of wishing for peace on earth, which is what I wish for you today!
- J. Jay,