Popular fallacies in the debate on Gun Control, Part 2

Last week, I published a post about popular fallacies being used as debate points in the current, and hopefully unrelenting, effort by the American majority to change our laws and our culture relating to firearms and their accessories. It racked up several comments, and it was taken by one person as an invite to feed me even more such misguided wisdom. That post has been very popular reading, though I don’t know if anyone has read it and learned anything new.

Today, I would like to address a few more of the red herrings and strawmen that keep showing up on the side of people who just don’t want things to change for reasons that, generally, have nothing to do with the arguments being proffered.

First off, let’s talk about things that do not actually cause gun violence.

Television and movies do not create killers. They do desensitize people to some degree, and they do glamorize guns. These are problems, but no more so now than in the 50s, when television shows with titles like Gun Smoke and The Rifleman were on the air. The Lone Ranger was a vigilante with a gun before there were moving pictures in the living room. Clearly, then, the problem isn’t just the visibility of firearms in entertainment.

(Edit to add: Wouldn’t reducing the number of guns also mean fewer guns on television and in movies? The British version of “Law & Order” has to take in to account that the police in London don’t generally carry firearms. That is how they make it look believable.)

Similarly,  we cannot blame video games. Certainly, many gamers develop certain skills in coordination and tactics. almost none of these skills would be applicable to a mass shooting attempt. The controls for an X-Box are nothing like the trigger and sight of a real firearm. Gamers aren’t even shown the actual loading of a weapon as the magazine is slapped into place. The people who commit  insane crimes have access to real weapons and time to practice with them. Their time with the video game might exacerbate some instability in their brain, but it does not train them to kill in the real world any more than World of Warcraft trains you to wield a sword or axe. The skills are far more applicable to piloting a killer drone than to firing the weapons simulated in First Person Shooters. For further proof that games don’t create crime: the Japanese spend fully 10% more on video games per year than Americans, despite the US having nearly 250% of Japan’s population. Japan has 1% of the gun homicides that the US does, along with a stronger sense of civics and 87% fewer guns per person. Clearly the guns are a factor.

Let me be clear: the Second Amendment is not more important to American freedom than the First Amendment.

Even after I dismiss violent entertainment as a major contributor to gun violence, I will give you a remedy for the impact it does have: civics and empathy. We need to instill in our kids the sense that they are part of a community and that they have responsibilities to that community, and the community has responsibilities to them, too. We tell them that they are not alone, and we teach them that people are not superior or inferior to others except through their choices and actions.

We absolutely need to address the problems with our mental health system, but we just had a huge fight over healthcare reform, and it didn’t exactly come down on the side of massive expansion in services to the poor or in the area of metal health and treatment. Now seems a strange time to take on healthcare again, but I am in favor of doing more for those in need.

I purposely avoided one point in my last post: the seemingly ancient trope that “Guns don’t kill people.” To that, I have to ask: What is the purpose of a gun? If not to injure and kill, then what is the point? To look threatening? That comes from the knowledge that since the invention of the single shot Chinese fire lance, which was invented in the 10th century, people have been refining firearms to be more accurate, more lethal, and more efficient at killing, or at least seriously injuring, other living things. Sure, there are other ways to do that, but there are few things currently available to the public that are more capable of killing large numbers of people, and the things that are, like explosives, don’t have the same mythology. That is why we don’t see people emulating Timothy McVeigh: these crazy people and gang members and vigilantes don’t want to kill people, they want to shoot people.

“Criminals are criminals, and they aren’t going to care what the laws are”, I hear over and over, but we all know this to be untrue. Most criminals work pretty hard to not get caught. They care a great deal about the laws, and they do the things that get them the greatest reward for the least risk. If we make it harder to get guns, then fewer of them will have guns. If we threaten higher penalties for illegally obtaining a gun, then fewer people will be willing to risk it. If we start prosecuting straw purchasers and shutting down the small number of dealers who “loose” to criminals over half of the guns used in violent crime in the US, then we will have less violent crime. We aren’t, generally, talking about terrorists and anarchists trying to bring down western civilization. Sure, those people are out there, and they make headlines, but they are not the biggest contributors to gun crime.

Plenty of people with some grasp of history ask about how prohibition only led to more illegal activity in the 1920, and that smuggling would keep up the supply of guns. First, 78%of the guns used in criminal activity in 1994 that could be traced originated in the United States. Smuggling could not supply those numbers, and would increase the prices drastically. Similarly, most of the illegal alcohol consumed in the 1920s was illegally produced in the US, which is a difficult process requiring leaving the orange juice in the fridge too long. There is no correlation to be drawn between alcohol prohibition and firearms.

“People will just use another weapon, though,” you might be thinking. Certainly, there are those who will. That isn’t really the important part of the question, though. The question is what will changing weapons do to the victims. Gun violence is 5 times more deadly than knives. You cannot have a drive-by knifing. Just this week, a man went on a stabbing rampage through a college here in Texas. He stabbed 14 people, 2 were critically injured. No one was killed. He was stopped simply by one brave young man tackling him. This was a disturbed individual by all reports, having thought about a stabbing rampage for years. He killed no one.

Along with all of the crimes that would either be less deadly or outright impossible to commit with another weapon, we need to look at the incidents of where the ease of access to a gun makes a situation deadly when it would have only been violent, or the many that would never have happened at all. Domestic violence with a gun in the house is 5 times more likely to result in a murder; so much so that half of the women murdered with guns in the U.S. in 2010 were killed at the hands of their intimate partners.

In 2008, the last year for which I can find numbers, there were 680 accidental shooting deaths in the United States. More than 15,500 additional shooting injuries. Each day approximately five children were injured or killed on a nationwide basis as a result of handguns. Most of these were accidents, and not targeted shootings.

Finally, we need to address one of the most difficult areas of gun violence in the US: Gun suicides are almost twice as common as homicides (19,392 to 11,078 in 2010). Gun ownership makes you more likely to commit suicide. Again, the argument that comes up is that these people will just find another way to kill themselves. The fact, though, is that a great many people who attempt suicide aren’t addicts, terminally ill, or clinically mentally ill. A great many suicides are, more or less, spontaneous and unplanned. As the link tells it, proof of this exists in the history of England, where the switch from deadly coal gas being piped to residential ovens to less lethal and more sickening (thus less comfortable to breath long enough to be fatal) natural gas. In making the switch, the rate of successful suicide went down by about 1/3, or exactly the percentage that had resulted from people sticking their heads in the oven in the first pace. Similarly, would-be jumpers who were stopped by the police from jumping off the Golden Gate between 1937 and 1971, which was 515 individuals in all, were researched for the book “Where are They Now” by Richard Seiden. He found that just 6 percent of those pulled off the bridge went on to kill themselves. The overwhelming majority weren’t acting out some careful plan to end unendurable suffering. Similarly, then, by making guns less available to people in general, and not just criminals and the certifiably mentally ill, we can reduce the number of suicides.

One fact that is on the side of the gun lobby that you hear almost endlessly is that gun homicides are down, and down drastically, in the last few years. Many of the people touting that fact claim that the rise in gun ownership is responsible. That is odd, sense the rise in gun ownership is due almost entirely to the decreasing number of gun owners buying more and more gun, to the point that 20 percent of gun owners own 65 percent of the guns. The fact is that assault rates are up, as are property crimes in many “right to carry” states. So-called “Stand-Your-Ground” laws can be traced to several incidents where an armed individual seemed to provoke others, in one case leading to the aggressor actually being convicted of murder in Texas. It seems unlikely that he would have been this brazen if he hadn’t convinced himself that the law was on his side.

The fact is that guns do kill people. They make it possible for 5 and 6 year olds to kill. The NRA brags that tweens can handle an AR-51. They make it possible for a person in a car to kill 2 or 12 or 20 people without ever slowing down. They make death easy, and they kill people who would not otherwise be in any danger from the person with the gun. There is no other class of weapons that this is true for, because that is the intent of the gun maker: a tool designed to make killing so easy that an unlucky toddler can become a killer.

There are certainly other factors, but the gun is the common denominator in these suicides, infant deaths, drive-by shootings, and mass murders that no other weapon will replace. It is proven by history, mathematics, and the obvious evidence of the daily news. There are other avenues that might each address some of these circumstances, but none that will be more effective or less controversial. In short, real reform on gun ownership and accessories could make a difference in all of these areas and is much simpler than trying to implement changes to the mental health system, the education system, and censoring movies, television, and video games.

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2 Responses

  1. I’ve seen entirely too many stories about kids killing people because they were allowed to have access to a gun. Are the owners of the guns in these cases ever prosecuted?

  2. […] Popular fallacies in the debate on Gun Control, Part 2 […]

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