…Shall not be infringed.
Song of Mood: Deus Ex: Human Revolution Extended Remix, by Michael McCann.
Taking a temporary break from my travel logs to discuss something more…controversial.
In light of the recent shootings across the US as well as the upcoming election, I find myself as a gun owner to be feeling almost obligated to give my perspective on the issue of guns and gun control in the United States. This is an INSANELY controversial and complex issue, so I apologize for the ridiculous length of this post–but I don’t take positions on controversial topics without a good bit research.
Point of Inspiration:
Maybe, maybe not. We shall see.
In this discussion I will attempt to take both sides into consideration to the best of my ability and cite credible sources. Since proper annotations are annoying and this is a BLOG, my citations will use links instead.
While 100% objectivity is inevitably impossible, hopefully the methodology of my post will, at the very least, demonstrate that I remain open to new data and am not necessarily set in my ways. That said, do understand that anecdotal accounts and emotional appeal don’t really help shift my position; I try to have my conclusions based on DATA and SOUND LOGIC.
One final introductory point: Since statistics are different each year and studies aren’t conducted every year, there will be a margin of error in some cross-annual comparisons. Overall it seems that the statistics in the United States are relatively consistent for the last decade or so based on the UNODC, but there will be some estimates and approximations used in this post.
So without further ado…
THE SECOND AMENDMENT
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
I won’t spend too much time on the historical aspect. The Second Amendment was first passed in the late 18th century. That’s quite a long time ago, and since then society and guns have both changed quite a bit.
While the “militia” according to founding father George Mason “consists now of the whole people”, it would appear that the original intent for a “well regulated militia” was primarily directed towards a CORPORATE threat–that is, an organizational threat such as a corrupt government, an invading country, or a rebel group. Today this argument may seem like a silly one–if our government is corrupt, an M4 Carbine isn’t going to stop that missile from hitting you. No country dares invade the US through conventional means, and individual gun owners in theory don’t stand much chance against organized crime.
At the same time, however, we need but look at Vietnam and the Middle East and realize that with good organization one does not need massive hi-tech ordinance in order to give the US military a hard time–maybe even to the point of making concessions.
So in THEORY, I think the amendment can hold to its corporate-oriented intention in the FUTURE if things go bad; but ultimately I think the issue AS IT IS NOW is not a matter of corporate threats anymore (NWO conspiracy theories aside) but rather an issue of PERSONAL SAFTETY.
I will admit, organizing the outline for this post proved to be an absolute nightmare. It’s a very convoluted issue, but I think I covered quite a few bases with these few issues:
Issue 1: Do guns make our society safer or not?
Let’s make this absolutely clear: Neither the Pro’s nor the Anti’s want innocents to be harmed. The question is, how can we best achieve that end?
The Pro’s argue high gun ownership means LESS crime. The argument here is a matter of deterrence–case in point, the open-carrying soldier-citizens of Israel. Criminals are less likely to commit crimes when everybody around them is willing and able to shoot them. More on this below.
The Anti’s, however, argue that low gun availability correlates strongly with low gun crime–especially when other nations are considered. What the Anti’s position suggests is that gun crimes are high in the United States because guns are widely available. Well, this claim can be examined:
Internationally the United States may have the highest gun homicides per capita among certain FIRST WORLD states, but the real issue at hand is not simple quantities but whether there really is a definite CORRELATION between gun ownership and violence.
Before going any further, we have to note that “homicide” according to these studies is not the same as “suicide”, and may or may not include justified homicides.
Looking at the United States, according to the CDC in 2009 (as mentioned above it seems that there isn’t too much change between the years, so I would daresay that 2009 is fairly representative of the general pattern) there were:
-554 unintentional firearm deaths
-18,735 firearm suicides
-11,493 firearm homicides
-Estimated 3,000 non-fatal suicide shootings
-Estimated 44,000 non-fatal assault shootings
Unquestionably, they’re high numbers. But please read on.
While the Anti’s contend that one need only look at Europe’s low murder rate to justify anti-gun positions, according to the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy (downloadable pdf) murder in Europe was already at an all‐time low BEFORE the gun controls were introduced (page 654). Nations such as Norway, Finland, Germany, France, and Denmark have high gun ownership rates compared to their neighbors but low gun violence rates. In addition, nations such as Luxemborg with very low gun ownership and complete handgun bans had murder rates 9 times that of Germany, and Russia (also with very low gun ownership) had 20 times that of Germany as of 2002 (page 652).
As far as England is concerned, following the total ban of all handguns in the 90’s, in the early 2000’s violence (although perhaps not with guns) actually dramatically increased–to the point it was even worse than the United States per capita (page 656).
In the United States, during that same period of time gun ownership steadily increased but violence noticeably decreased (page 656). However, it is possible that the dramatic increase in prison size and/or the economic situation as a result of the internet bubble were a large factor in contributing to this change as well.
In essence, there is NO solid correlation that directly supports the idea that high gun control/low gun ownership leads to low violence, but there is some (albeit not much) evidence of a correlation between higher gun ownership and LESS violence. Perhaps high gun ownership can lead to more GUN violence, but the data seems to strongly suggest that violence/murders do NOT increase with more gun ownership.
To summarize, it would seem that while the data doesn’t fully swing to the Pro’s position in suggesting that more guns always equals LESS crime per se, it most certainly goes against the Anti’s claim. That said…
Would this have even been an issue in the first place if there were no guns period? If the United States was like Taiwan in which guns were never part of its culture, it’d be fine. I can say for a fact that when I was living in Taiwan, I didn’t feel I ever needed a gun and certainly didn’t feel like it should be legalized. It would be a solution asking for a problem at best.
But the United States is not Taiwan. Guns are already too numerous and ubiquitous for any ban to cause any good now. Criminals in the United States often have guns and are often willing to use them. When they’re already shooting at you (God forbid), it’s a little late to be trying to call the cops or trying to reason with the criminal. The proper response is to shoot back, provided the backdrop is clear. To allow criminals to have free reign over law-abiding citizens is unacceptable. If cops were omnipresent, omnipotent, and all-good, great–but they’re not. When they’re not here, we have no choice but to take care of ourselves.
Issue 2: Guns for self-defense in the United States
This is where selective media reporting inevitably creates an enormous bias of perception. Countless times shootings make sensational international news, but how often is a defensive gun use (DGU) reported in international news? Especially if no shots are fired? But this swings the other way too; how often do armed robberies (using guns) make international news? Thankfully, there is research on this from credible academic journals and FBI reports, although due to the dynamic nature of crimes (reported vs. unreported, varying sampling methods, etc) it was difficult to pinpoint specific data points that are reliable and relevant.
As mentioned above, in 2009 there were 11,493 homicides that took place in the United States, about 3,000 non-fatal suicide shootings, and about 44,000 assault shootings.
In contrast, in 2006 armed robberies occur at about 1 per minute, 42% of them with guns. That means the number of armed robberies that used guns that year (and probably of more recent years too) is around 220,000. This makes robbery by far the most frequent gun-related crime.
To put this in perspective, as of 1995 fewer than 3,000 criminals are lawfully killed by gun-wielding victims each year according to the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.
However, according the same journal DGU’s overall number at 2.2 to 2.5 MILLION each year throughout the United States. That’s about once every 13 seconds. (Remember, a DGU doesn’t necessarily mean shots were fired.) I found this difficult to believe when I first read it, but the study speaks for itself.
(Side note: Further details on the sampling methods are available in the link above. The NCVS survey, being based upon volunteer statistics and WITHOUT granting subjects anonymity, effectively failed to account specifically for the nature of reporting GUN defenses in their study and thus resulted in unreliable data.)
15.7% of that number stated that they or someone else “almost certainly would have” been killed, with another 14.2% saying they “probably would have” been and 16.2% responding “might have” been killed had they not used their gun. Even if we consider only the 15.7% (in addition to margins of error as a result of difference in year), the number would still be about 340,000-400,000 DGU’s that “almost certainly” saved a person’s life that year. Threat of rape, injury, or loss of property account for the remaining percentage.
Again, it is impossible to fully gauge the veracity of statements such as “almost certainly would have been killed”. Nonetheless even if we only accept 15% truthfulness of the estimated DGU cases (such as if we only accept “almost certainly” cases as an actual DGU of any sort) it would still place the number of annual DGU’s ABOVE the number of ALL gun-related suicides, accidents, assaults, homicides, and even robberies of 2009 COMBINED.
Long story short, in the United States guns are used VERY FREQUENTLY in self-defense regardless of whether or not the attacker/robber was killed or even shot at.
It is important to note that DGU’s may occur frequently because crime is frequent too. If one believes that guns are the CAUSE of crime which then forces people to need guns to PROTECT against those crimes, the whole gun debate turns into a chicken versus egg question.
Ultimately, I personally believe discussing “which came first” is irrelevant. The fact is, we live in a dangerous country and guns seem to be heavily relied upon for peoples’ well-being. The right question to ask is: should you, personally, own a gun for self-defense? You have the right to make that decision yourself. In that consideration, we now turn to issue 3.
Issue 3: Domestic Violence and Gun Negligence
Accidents and domestic homicides are the tragic part about guns. Inevitably, there are those who do not properly manage and respect its power.
76.7% of homicides in the home were by a relative or someone known to the victim, and about half of all homicides involved guns whereas knives and all other improvised weapons combined accounted for the other half.
However, there is strong correlation between gun violence in the home and a history of violence in general in the house, use of drugs/alcohol, and romantic/job problems prior to the homicide incident. As a result this is also a multi-faceted problem that cannot be fully blamed on gun ownership:
“Though only 15% of Americans over the age of 15 have arrest records, approximately 90 percent of adult murderers have adult records, with an average adult criminal career of six or more years, including four major adult felony arrests.” (Kates and Mauser, 667)
Without question, however, is that a high ownership of guns in the household in the United States fairly strongly correlates to high domestic gun homicides. Of course, high domestic violence itself may be the cause and the GUN violence merely the effect, but the correlation is there.
A ban or major restriction on guns might solve the domestic aspect of the gun debate, but an act like that would ultimately cause more harm than good in the larger picture. The numbers of “accidents” (actually negligent discharges) and even gun-related domestic homicides are considerably low compared to non-domestic gun crimes and especially DGU’s as mentioned above. Again–there were 554 unintentional firearm deaths and 11,500 homicides in 2009 according to the CDC, compared to 2.2-2.5 million average annual DGU’s.
I realize I sound as if I’m downplaying this problem here–I’m not trying to. Even if the annual number of unintentional firearm deaths are low compared to DGU’s, domestic violence is a legitimate and serious problem but as of yet there seems to be no viable solution that can isolate this problem and not cause more harm on a different arena.
Essentially, background checks cannot account for a person’s economic future or lifestyle choice after he/she purchases a firearm. Additional safety mechanisms, I would argue, are pointless if people don’t already follow the four cardinal rules of gun handling.
Personally, I believe proper training, good parenting, and personal integrity to be the solution. Perhaps a mandatory class on gun safety could accompany one’s first gun purchase or something along those lines might help prevent some dumb mistakes, but removing the right to gun ownership due to potential future job problems is unreasonable. Gun ownership demands wisdom–but you cannot enforce wisdom. You can only enforce wise laws.
Issue 4: Extent of Regulation
Based on what I’ve said above, if there are to be any gun laws passed, every gun law must:
1) Allow law-abiding citizens to buy and own weapons
2) Keep guns away from criminals and likely would-be criminals
3) Minimize risks of negligence and accidents
4) Prevent creating an enormous black market
5) Demonstrate an understanding of how firearms actually work
Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible for gun laws to successfully account for all five.
Case in point: The Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. Why is the definition of an “assault weapon” entirely based on fully-modular components?
Guns are not mystical alien death rays from obscure extraterrestrial planets where gun manufacturers reside. They’re highly-modular, customizable human-made machines. If you outlaw any “part” or “function” of a gun, it’s EXTREMELY easy for a criminal to just replace it with minimal mechanical knowledge.
For example: This is no secret. A simple zip tie can turn a semi-automatic AK-47 (legal) back into fully automatic (illegal). Plus, guns are ancient technology; they can be home-made with minimal materials!
Either way, there did not seem to be enough evidence for an identifiable decrease in violence as a direct result of many bans, including the folding stock and pistol grip–er, “Assault Weapons” ban.
While I understand that collectors and gun enthusiasts who maintain safety precautions view banning of many such weapons as pointless since murder with “assault weapons” may be extremely rare, personally I believe a full automatic weapon is rather excessive for self-defense cases against non-corporate threats. Still, safe recreation need not be denied. Just keep it SAFE, please.
Here are some real/potential legislations I don’t NECESSARILY agree with (I might). None of these will probably work in any statistically noticeable manner if the CDC is right, but I can at the very least see some reasoning in them:
1) Background checks – If a person has had a history of drugs, assault, and other questionable things, I’d be inclined to think that this guy isn’t particularly safe to be around if he’s without a gun–let alone with one. Still, requiring law-abiding citizens to have to go through this and sometimes even have their purchases input into a government registry seems like it punishes the citizen for the criminal’s crime.
2) Required safety training for first-time purchasers – Not tactical weapons training, but gun safety procedures and proper protocol. Keeping it away from unsupervised kids, always treating it like it’s loaded, etc. This’ll require more staff and have some other difficulties of enforcement, however.
3) Required Tests for Concealed Carry – As I understand it some right-leaning states actually have this requirement already. In order to carry concealed in public, one has to demonstrate that he/she is an ASSET to society and not a LIABILITY.
With all above factors considered, it seems that the data and best arguments support a small amount–and ONLY a small amount–of well-enforced and well-reasoned gun control. The Anti’s extreme position of entirely repealing the Second Amendment will almost certainly do far more harm than good, but the Pro’s extreme position may allow people that are too often liabilities to society to access guns. Bans on specific weapons are basically pointless, background checks filter out at least some obvious liabilities, and guns are VERY often used in self-defense.
Ultimately, we can never account for all possibilities; there is no foolproof plan or policy, because fools are always so ingenious.
Personally, like many others, I believe the heart of the gun “problem” is not about the guns, but about society, culture, and personal issues. Providing opportunities, supporting moral standards, and good parenting especially are far more effective at preventing ANY AND ALL crimes than gun control.
Maybe one day in the distant future, guns can be relegated to recreation only–but that day is not today.