The Gun Delusion

The Gun DelusionYes, The Gun Delusion is an intentional play on Richard Dawkins’ best selling title, The God Delusion. I don’t mean to suggest the writing here is even a tenth as eloquent or compelling as that of the professor. But I do mean to suggest that the arguments presented by gun advocates are often as delusional as those dissected by Dawkins.

Friday morning, I made an (admittedly sardonic) social media post to a gun law story that appeared in what now passes as our local “paper”:

It didn’t take long to be taken to task in the comments on Facebook:

I personally am fed up with the attitude that anyone who chooses to carry a gun is some sort of criminal, or a nut case, or some such!!! Law abiding citizens choosing to be armed while in public are simply taking the responsibility of protecting themselves from the violent thugs and scumbags that are a part of modern day life in any city in the world. It is NOT paranoya, it IS a recognition that we live in a violent world and that the police are not able, nor are they responsible to protect any individule citizen. Yipsilanti has made the intellegent decision of allowing law abiding citizens to use their God given right to be armed in order to protect themselves as guarunteed by both the 2nd amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Michigan State Constitution, both of which guaruntee all citizens the right to be armed!!! [sic.]

I’m not sure who claimed, “anyone who chooses to carry a gun is some sort of criminal, or a nut case, or some such.” I did not and would not. I personally am tired of straw men.

There are, no doubt, many reasons why someone would want to carry a gun in public, not all of which are based in paranoia. (Although, I suspect some might qualify as paranoia.) But there is also a huge range of personality types on the spectrum from “law abiding citizens” to “violet thugs and scumbags”, any of whom may elect to carry a gun. (Where would you put Darryl Jouett, for example? Or George Zimmerman?) Being armed may provide some level of protection, but it also provides some level of risk. I personally think it is safer to be unarmed in public interacting with others who are also unarmed.

But that does not in any way imply that it is therefore good and wise to be armed in public places as a matter of common practice.

I agree that we (not God), through our federal and state constitutions, grant ourselves the right to be armed; and I don’t want to change that. But that does not in any way imply that it is therefore good and wise to be armed in public places as a matter of common practice. We also have the right to own and use motor vehicles, but not everywhere.

Personally, I would prefer to have local ordinances against firearms in places like the Ypsilanti (and Ann Arbor) city parks. Yes, I realize that such ordinances might increase the odds of falling victim to “violent thugs or scumbags”. But I’ll happily trade that for the actual reduced risk of being accidentally shot by a random, law abiding person (because they won’t have a gun).

The very idea that having a gun makes you safer, in most situations, is not supported by evidence. What does the evidence actually show? Does having a gun make you safer in your home? No. Does carrying a gun make you safer in public? No.

But gun advocates–not all, surely, but many–continue to argue based on false beliefs, held despite strong evidence to the contrary. This is the very definition of delusional. This is what I call “The Gun Delusion.”

Stop acting like a tool is a danger! Are you threatened by a hammer? Maybe you shopuld be, more people are killed by bludgeoning than shootings every year!!! A firearm is nothing but a tool, and no more or less dangerous than any other tool. [sic.]

False.

As commenter Christian Laurin quickly responded, that is factually untrue. Based on the FBI’s 2011 Uniform Crime Report, here are the number of murders attributable to firearms vs. blunt objects (clubs, hammers, etc.):

  • Firearms: 8,583
  • Blunt objects: 496

So, based on actual evidence, 17 times as many people are killed using firearms than all bludgeoning tools combined.

But express any sympathy for even mild gun restrictions or gun regulations, and brace yourself for the hot take reactions. These are the ardent and emotional (but not evidence-based) counter arguments. These are the symptoms of The Gun Delusion.

2 comments for “The Gun Delusion

  1. Bill French
    January 25, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    Even in the strictest gun law cities, bludgeoning is a small fraction of firearms deaths. DC for example (2012).

    “Shootings remain the most common cause of death, with 60 killings, down from 77 last year. Twenty people died in stabbings, six of blunt force trauma, one of strangulation and one of hypothermia.”

    http://homicidewatch.org/2012/12/26/2012-by-the-numbers/

    One would think that if you constrain the availability of firearms in a city, other means of homicide would rise. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Accidental, suicide, and homicide rates all appear to be constant in terms of aggregate percentages in any given locale.

    I suspect the “more killed by bludgeoning” comment comes from this right-tilt article which is actually fact-based, but exceedingly misleading. While there are more killings with blunt objects than with rifles, the vast majority of gun violence is not perpetrated by people wielding rifles.

    http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2013/01/03/fbi-more-people-killed-with-hammers-and-clubs-each-year-than-with-rifles/

    It is very unlikely anyone will bring a rifle to a Ypsilanti park. Thugs prefer handguns because they can be easily concealed. A rifle is simply a poor choice for engaging in criminal activities.

    Laws against (or supporting) the carrying firearms in public parks probably has no effect on criminals. But what we don’t have a good handle on – and probably never will – is how many crimes may be averted in parks – especially those that are risky places to begin with – by the presence of armed citizens? This would be a helpful stat to know more about especially in parks that are vast and unable to be patrolled by law enforcement.

    I think it’s unreasonable to take a gun to most public places because most public places in America are safe and watched by police who are relatively close by. There are some exceptions, just as there are some nut-cases with guns.

    Eliminating a ban on firearms in a specific location is not the same as encouraging visitors to come armed. I’m pretty sure most law-abiding gun owners are still going to leave the heat at home when taking their kids to the Ypsilanti parks.

    However, eliminating the ban sends at least one message to criminal elements – Ypsilanti parks are probably no longer an ideal place to rob or attack people. Will they hear the message remains unclear until you can evaluate the data over the long run.

    Ideally, though, laws should never bias any place or group of people by eliminating personal defense options.

    Are knives banned from Ypsilanti parks? How about hammers? Pressure cookers?

    Obviously, these types of “weapons” cannot easily discharge accidentally killing someone. Ergo – why the vast majority of gun owners will think twice about bringing firearms to the playground despite the lifting of the ban.

  2. Neeld Tanksley
    January 25, 2015 at 11:46 pm

    1) The AJL study (linked to by the blog you linked to) plays the “lets lump suicides and homicides together” game. Now that might be entirely valid depending on what you are trying to measure, but in this case it’s not and I’ll explain why.

    The problem here is that the number of suicides with firearms are nearly double those of homicides with firearms, basically tripling the number that most people think of when they think “boy, I hope I don’t get shot today”. But here’s the kicker. Despite the fact that firearms are readily available in the U.S. and despite the fact that most suicides in the U.S. are committed with a firearm, the total suicide rate in the U.S. is right in line with the suicide rate of Europe (higher than some, lower than others). Since gun control proponents love to compare the statistics between the U.S. and Europe as if our historic, demographic and geographic differences don’t matter, including the very study in question, lets go ahead and assume that the comparison is valid. The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that gun ownership rates seem to have, at best, a negligible affect on suicide rates. They affect not the prevalence of suicides, but only the preferred method of carrying it out.

    Actually if you go ahead look at not just those two regions (EU vs US), but all nations, it’s pretty quickly apparent that suicide rate, gun ownership rate and even homicide rate for that matter, are seemingly uncorrelated. That is why including gun suicide rates in your numbers when discussing gun politics is simply a trick to pad the numbers. It’s statistical shenanery.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

    2) As I’m sure you would agree, the more data available, the more valid the conclusions, and so I’d like to add a citation.

    The blog post you linked to cites a 2009 University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine study that concludes: “on average, guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault.”

    A more recent and much broader report by the CDC, a meta-study if you will, commissioned by that NRA mouthpiece Barak Obama himself, came to a very different conclusion:

    source: http://www.ncdsv.org/images/IOM-NRC_Priorities-for-Research-to-reduce-the-threat-of-firearm-related-violence_2013.pdf

    “Studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was ‘used’ by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies”

    3) Your statement that “I agree that we (not God), through our federal and state constitutions, grant ourselves the right to be armed”, is actually not correct. Like yourself, I’m not a religious man, so I’m certainly not going to argue the God angle, but there is still an important distinction between a Legal Right and a Natural Right.

    Your statement presupposes the idea that all rights, are a gift bestowed upon the population by their government. That claim is not only at odds with the intent of the authors of the the very document describing those rights (in U.S. law) it also leaves the rights of the individual to the whims of the majority and is exactly the kind of political philosophy that opens the door to The Tyranny of the Majority and despots.

    Some rights are self evident and inalienable (phrases that should be familiar given that we are talking about constitutional issues). Nobody can give them to you nor take them from you, they are yours by birth, not government grant. The Bill of Rights does not grant you your right to be armed to any more than it grants you the right to speak. The right to freedom of speech and thought and the right to act in defense of ones life are about as basic as rights get.

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