Monday, January 17, 2011

Second Amendment, Second Thoughts

January 17, 2011, 9:30 p.m.

Presenting, and Responding to, a Blog Entry's Critics
(bought to you by*)

A week ago I wrote about the carnage in Tucson, Arizona, and provided statistics about the number of gun deaths in America each year. "Guns Do Kill -- 30,000 Americans a Year; Just Americans Toasting Toast," January 10, 2011 ("Even in the lawless, wild west of old, Iowans had the sense to forbid six-shooters in bars and taverns. Iowa's legislators, yearning for the past, missed that nuance, and have provided that even those who can't walk and chew gum at the same time can legally drink and carry a gun at the same time.").

It's a subject I have written about before:
Related: Nicholas Johnson, "Branstad and Public Transparency," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 5, 2011, p. A7, embedded in "Governor Branstad's 'Transparency,'" January 5, 2011 (urging more media stories that "associate those appropriations [of taxpayers' money to for-profit corporations] with the legislators who voted for them, and how much those legislators received in campaign contributions and lobbying expenses from the recipient of the appropriation.").

Nicholas Johnson, "Police Accidental Shootings -- Of Themselves; Additional Risks from Armed (Campus and Other) Police: Accidental Self-Inflicted Wounds," May 9, 2008 ("It was pointed out that those who keep handguns in their homes are 16 times more likely to have those guns used on family and friends than on criminal intruders (e.g., as a result of suicides, accidents, mis-identification, or the gun being stolen and used by the intruder). Accidental shootings of unarmed, innocent civilians by police officers sometimes occur -- including in Iowa City. It was noted that police are sometimes shot with their own guns as a result of losing them to an attacker in a scuffle. What was not discussed was the danger to the police themselves from . . . themselves. We were reassured that our police would be well trained. And I assume they are. But it turns out that isn't always enough. Indeed, some of the accidental, self-inflicted wounds (and death) occur during that very training.").

Nicholas Johnson, "A Public Health Response to Handgun Injuries: Prescription -- Communication and Education," American Journal of Preventive Medicine (May/June 1993) ("So long as we are unwilling to adopt effective, fail-safe solutions--actually removing these instruments of carnage from our midst--the price exacted for this "freedom" will continue to be thousands of lives of children and adults.").
(And see this morning's [Jan. 18] New York Times: "The contention . . . is that the good guys can shoot back whenever the bad guys show up to do harm. An important study published in 2009 by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine estimated that people in possession of a gun at the time of an assault were 4.5 times more likely to be shot during the assault than someone in a comparable situation without a gun. . . . Monday was a national holiday celebrating the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While the gun crazies are telling us that ever more Americans need to be walking around armed, we should keep in mind that more than a million people have died from gun violence — in murders, accidents and suicides — since Dr. King was shot to death in 1968. We need fewer . . .. That means stricter licensing and registration, more vigorous background checks and a ban on assault weapons. Start with that. Don’t tell me it’s too hard to achieve. Just get started." Bob Herbert, "How Many Deaths Are Enough?" New York Times, January 18, 2011, p. A25.)

The January 10 Giffords blog entry produced a significant number of hits -- and criticism.

And so, in an effort to provide the remedies of the First Amendment to this discussion about the Second Amendment, I'm going to reproduce some of it here.

Some were comments appended to the blog entry. One of the most impressive rational responses, I thought, came in the form of an email I'm reproducing at the bottom of this blog entry. First, the comments:
Jeff Morelock said...

You forgot some other info...

Tobacco 435,000
Poor Diet and Physical Inactivity 365,000
Alcohol 85,000
Microbial Agents 75,000
Toxic Agents 55,000
Motor Vehicle Crashes 26,347
Adverse Reactions to Prescription Drugs 32,000
Suicide 30,622
Incidents Involving Firearms 29,000
Homicide 20,308
Sexual Behaviors 20,000
All Illicit Drug Use, Direct and Indirect 17,000
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Such As Aspirin 7,600
Marijuana 0

So I guess cars, alcohol, Tobacco, sex, getting fat and a bunch of other stuff kills people too
1/10/2011 08:49:00 AM
He's got a point. It's a risk perception, risk assessment, point -- if what you're concerned about is death or serious injury. It's like being afraid to fly, but willing to smoke cigarettes and travel in automobiles -- both of which pose much greater risk of death than airplanes. My only reactions are two: (1) most of the deaths from "suicide," "incidents involving firearms," and "homicide" -- which he lists -- do involve deaths from guns. (2) Aside from them, the only other product on the list that, when used for the purpose for which intended, will cause death, is tobacco. Eliminating handguns (an impossibility, as the email writer explains) would at least eliminate deaths involving handguns -- a device manufactured for the purpose of creating violent trauma, whether to a fellow human, animal, or paper target. Automobiles, prescription drugs, and sex are seldom deliberately used to produce death, and at least have alternative purposes and uses.

Vinney B. said (in part),
Gun control in this country would only cause more problems than it would solve. Guns sold on the black market would create more crime and a deadly element worse than what we have now. Similar to our drug problem. Imagine the amount of our hard earned taxpayers money we would have to spend to fight it. It would be a losing battle. Similar to our drug problem. Criminals would still have guns knowing that most Americans may not.
1/10/2011 04:49:00 PM
He also has a point -- one expanded on by the email writer. But handgun injuries and deaths can be reduced, even if they cannot be eliminated -- any more than guns can be eliminated. Even the most avid "anti-gun control" advocates support the idea of education in gun safety and operation, and keeping guns out of the hands of psychopathic killers. There are more handgun deaths from suicide than homicide. There are suicide prevention programs that could help reduce those deaths and might be acceptable to gun owners. And most of those who want to regulate "guns" in some way or other make a distinction between the handguns that can be concealed and the rifles used for hunting -- although, as no less a person than the former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney demonstrated, they can also cause human injury (and death).

Finally, among those commenting is . . .
Anonymous said...

Pathetic. What happened to people taking responsibility for their own actions (something that you and other liberals do not believe in). Yes, believe it or not it is people who kill, not guns. You pose as an academic individual, but you seem to forget that murder predates firearms. Do you honestly believe that banning firearms will decrease violence? People who want to kill will always find a way. How about placing the blame where it needs to be placed: on the man who committed the crime.
1/16/2011 03:30:00 AM
My impression -- with no more data to support it than Anonymous offers -- is that almost everyone in my acquaintance I can think of (including "liberals," once there is a definition that enables one to identify who they are) believe that "people [should take] responsibility for their own actions" and support "placing the blame . . . on the man who committed the crime." (a) I don't believe that "banning firearms will decrease violence," but I do believe that, could it be done (which it can't) it would not only decrease handgun violence, it would eliminate it. (b) Even if "violence" cannot be reduced, violent fist fights, or knife attacks, are (again I'm guessing, without data) probably far less likely to cause death when they do occur, than the expression of violence with firearms.

And now for the thougtful email:
In almost all cases I agree with the liberal/progressive position on issues.

Gay marriage, living wage, single-payer national health care.

One of the few areas where I differ is gun control.

Of course "gun control" means different things to different people. Some NRA members (which I am not) would say that gun control means hitting the target. Others would say it means a policy similar to those in Canada, Japan, and many European countries where it is extremely difficult for a civilian to own any firearm, let alone a handgun.

A couple points:

1) As with most 'hot button' issues, most people have made up their minds on this and have dug in their heels, so there is no point in trying to "convert" anyone. That is certainly not my intent.

2) If the democrats want to win elections they will have to compromise on this issue. I really don't care one way or the other, just sayin'.

3) As mentioned above, there is a wide range of "gun control." I think requiring background checks, "cooling off periods," and gun safety courses is reasonable. Possibly even requiring that each gun be test fired, to allow law enforcement to have a record of the unique striations that each gun creates on the bullets that are fired from it. Beyond that, I think that the Second Amendment gives American citizens the right to own any gun that the police routinely use (i.e., not surface to air missiles or hand grenades). After all, what makes cops different from other humans? Only training. Gun owners could be required to have the same training.

4) It may sound trite, but it seems true that "if guns are outlawed, only outlaws would have guns." Very similar to our failed "war on drugs."

5) Personally, I think it's all but pointless to carry a gun for protection. Typically, a would-be mugger/rapist is going to point a gun at their victim and that person will not be able to draw their weapon without getting shot. However, I would not try to prevent people from carrying a gun if they want (again, assuming they go through a background check, gun safety course, etc).

6) It's too late for gun control if that means eliminating all guns. For better or worse, guns are a part of our society and have been from the very beginning. There are something like 200 million privately owned guns. Even if we could magically eliminate all new guns, it would be next to impossible to confiscate more that a small percentage of the guns already in private hands -- and then there's that pesky Second Amendment.

7) Beyond the number of guns a person can carry it doesn't matter how many guns a person owns. Why? Because they can only shoot one at a time -- the rest will be left in their basement or gun safe. We often hear that some criminal owns 50, 75, or 100-plus guns. As if that's supposed to be extra scary or something. It may indicate that the person was or is obsessed with guns. But it doesn't make them any more potentially dangerous that the guy who owns a couple semi-automatic handguns.

8) I have owned one gun since I was 14 years old. It it is a .22 caliber rifle. It is considered tame by most standards because of the small caliber and the fact that it is a long gun. It is the type of gun that would be the last to be outlawed even by the the most frothing at the mouth anti-gun fanatics. In actuality though, it could be very lethal in the hands of a lunatic. It holds 19 rounds and will fire them as fast as the trigger can be pulled. I have a high power scope on it which makes it extremely accurate from a long distance. I'm not a particularly good shot, yet I can hit push pins stuck in a tree at 150 feet. I suppose my point is that any gun, even a .22, can be used to kill people. John Hinkley used a .22 in his attempt to assassinate president Reagan.

9) People often refer to "assault weapons" and the repealed assault weapons ban. In actuality, most assault weapons are just "gussied up" hunting rifles. They just look scarier than a deer rifle. As a practical matter, banning them has very little effect. What is more important is the ammo. I remember seeing a demonstration on TV years ago of different types of bullets being shot from a common hunting rifle at watermelons. Some (the ones with a steel jacket) went right through the melons without much damage, others just blew them apart.

10) I rarely shoot my .22 and when I do it is just for fun -- target shooting. While the primary purpose of most guns is to hunt or for personal protection, target and skeet shooting is a legitimate (and fun) sport.

11) I'll end with one for the gun control folks. There are way too many people (mostly males) who think that if they just had a gun they would be able to protect themselves and their family in any situation. That's often not the case. In fact, the opposite may be true. If the criminal sees a gun they may start shooting when they otherwise wouldn't. Or, the criminal may get the person's gun. When under stress must people will not exactly have a steady hand like Clint Eastwood -- they will be shaking and trembling and not able to hit anything more than a few feet away. In the situations similar to that in Arizona this past Saturday [January 8, 2011], it will often be very difficult to shoot the criminal without hitting someone else. Also, lets suppose one or more people do start shooting at the criminal and a gunfight ensues. Then the cops show up and they have no idea who the good guys are. Or, other armed citizens join in and mistakenly shoot one of the good guys.

That said, there are definitely scenarios where an armed citizen could save lives -- the Long Island RR massacre comes to mind -- a crazy guy walking through a train randomly shooting people. But those situations are rare.

Bottom line, things rarely go down the way they do in the movies.
-- Sherman Johnson


* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself.
-- Nicholas Johnson
# # #


John Neff said...

In some respects this is a dangerous person issue. The Canadians have a dangerous offender classification where indefinite (subject to periodic review) incapacitation is used.

Potentially dangerous persons that are not offenders in theory can be incapacitated if they make threats but there are serious civil rights issues involved. It is hard to see how the public can be protected from potentially dangerous persons who do not make threats.

As a consequence we have something similar to the alcohol availability theory where in theory alcohol abuse is controlled by reducing alcohol availability.
The fact there is no evidence that supports this theory seems to be irrelevant.

The idea is one reduces the threat posed by potentially dangerous persons by restricting the availability of weapons. In a county that has at least 200 million privately owned firearms and ammunitions sales of about 10 billion rounds per year this does not appear to be very practical.

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