Misfires

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New at Reason: Jacob Sullum wonders why evidence for and against gun control gets treated so differently by politicians and the media.

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  1. The flaw in the article has briefly been touched upon here but bears repeating:

    Some amount (a lot? a little? definitely >0) of the “criminals who use guns” were not criminals before they used the gun. They were just jackasses with poor impulse control who had a very effective killing tool available. So to say that gun access is not an issue for “criminals” is stupid. Some of those criminals wouldn’t have had that access if it were even a bit harder to get a gun.

    The people making analogies to frying pans are idiots. It is possible to kill somebody with a fork and a gun. Most toddlers are trusted with forks; most small children are even trusted with metal forks. Do you think that since they’re both killing tools, that it’s equally wise to trust small children with a gun?

  2. Dear Preacher Sullum,

    Thanks

    Sincerely,
    The Choir

  3. My point in describing some particular types of criminals was to suggest that Sullum’s generalization about the compunctions of “criminals” as a class seemed overstated; since his article placed some value on the existence of empiricle evidence to support various conclusions regarding gun control, it seemed to ask him to supply some similar foundation for his own conclusions.

    Whether the lack of a gun would stop a hot tempered husband from killing his spouse or whether it would merely make him reach for a frying pan is exactly the question I said I couldn’t answer with any authority. I suggested it was something worth pondering, but rst supposes he knows the answer and makes conclusions about the value of gun control based on his assumptions–again, similar to the behavior Sullum is criticizing in the article.

    I oppose gun control because I don’t think government should have such authority, so I don’t have to pretend I know whether it would result in a decrease in violence or what the compunctions of criminals as a class are. (I think learning more about both those issues is a worthwhile exercise, but they are not directly related to my own position on gun control.)

  4. MD-

    Excellent job of missing the point and being obtuse.

  5. Here?s a couple more examples:

    Since 1985 when Florida was debating shall-issue concealed carry every time the subject of civilians carrying arises the gun control folks have predicted disaster. ?Blood will flow in the streets. Fenderbenders will turn into firefights. Pilots will shoot their passengers.? Out of all of these dozens of predictions they?ve been wrong every time.

    Yet today in the new carry states, Missouri, Colorado, Michigan, and New Mexico they are issuing the same press releases. And not one reporter is raising a hand and asking, ?What about all those other times??

    California just passed, and dead duck Davis signed, a law improving the safety of firearms by requiring magazine disconnects and loaded chamber indicators on semiauto pistols. The bill, as usual, exempts military and law enforcement purchases.

    Not one reporter is raising a hand and asking, ?What? Don?t we want our cops and soldiers to have safe guns? If the experts who select their handguns don?t want these gadgets, maybe they aren?t a good idea. After all, the only folks who are demanding them are gun control experts, few of whom have ever taken a 9mm to a range and discharged it.?

  6. Larry: It’s worse that that, they are trying to get cops’ off-duty firearms to also comply with the law. People who lay down their life everyday for our saftey will now be more at risk.

    It isn’t about gun control, its about control. Don’t forget!

  7. MD, you’re right, the point bears repeating. I note your description “just jackasses with poor impulse control who had a very effective killing tool available”. The measure of this effectiveness is not the degree of death to which the target is brought, but how quickly it is accomplished — very quick, like an impulse. While a savage thug might take five or ten minutes to bludgeon his wife to death, shooting her takes seconds. I submit that the likelihood of intervention increases monotonically with the duration of the incident, and thus without a gun being available a woman is more likely to survive her asshole husband/ boyfriend’s assault. Add these saved lives to those saved because somebody wouldn’t be showing off/ playing with a gun they didn’t think was loaded (often children, but not exclusively so), and you have a compelling prima facie case for the complete prohibition of guns in the USA to any but the most callously ardent, self-centered libertarian/ sociopath. Seemingly…

    I also note that ALL of the people I know who legally own handguns are very responsible, and why would anyone want to prevent them the opportunity to defend themselves when and if it becomes necessary?

    I am all for any gun legislation that effectively prevents accidental/ impulse killings, keeps guns out of the hands of criminals, and protects the rights of the rest.

    I just haven’t seen any yet.

    Steve, you’re making me feel guilty for not smoking anymore! 🙂

  8. Mark A:

    Give the wife a gun and she can defend herself. This is the whole point. While guns can be used to kill effectively, they can also be used to defend effectively. They are also useful tools for hunting, collecting, fishing, opening locks…. Okay maybe I?m stretching.

    My point is, there is simply no way you can take all the guns away from all the ?criminals? (mainly the people those in power don?t want to have guns). All gun control legislation does is prevent non-criminals from defending themselves from people who actually use them to commit crime.

    Legislation that effectively prevents accidental/impulse killings: These can only take the form of waiting periods, gunlocks/safes, clip limits (for mass impulse killings), and required gun training/safety classes. These haven?t and never will work(I?m iffy on training/safety classes). In addition, waiting periods and gunlocks/safes prevent you from defending yourself as effectively as possible.

    Legislation that keeps guns out of the hands of criminals: Not possible

    Legislation that protects the rights of the rest: I?m assuming this is your qualifier, but any legislation that imposes a change of behavior by force inherently limits your rights/liberty.

  9. “While a savage thug might take five or ten minutes to bludgeon his wife to death, shooting her takes seconds.”

    A sharp blow to the head can kill just as swifty and effectively as a bullet.

    Aside from that, why do you want to live in a soceity where things are forbidden to you because you ‘might’ abuse them? Are we citizens, or are we petulant children who need to be lorded over by the state? Think about the logical conclusion of that. You can misuse a Corvette. No one really needs a Corvette. Why should you be allowed to have one? We allow people to have corvettes because fast cars don’t produce knee jerk reactions, because most people have a familiarity with cars. I wish more people who had strong opinions of gun control would try to familiarize themselves with guns before they formed their opinion.

    Do I worry about abusive men using guns to murder their girlfriends or wives? Sure. Do I think taking tools of sport and self-defense away from everyone else will really solve the problem? Absolutely not. We need to learn to live with guns. We can’t uninvent the technology. We can’t wave a magic wand and make them all go away.

  10. Why even speculate about uninventing the technology? Guns are a wonderful invention. It maybe “unfair” but I am glad a 100 pound woman has the means to defend herself against a larger, stronger man. Without firearms we might still be serfs.

    ?God didn?t make all men equal, Sam Colt did.?

  11. I spent several years of my younger life in an abusive household. I witnessed first-hand the impulsiveness and power of an abusive husband as my step-father beat my mother. Fortunately, she divorced him and it never escalated to the point where she needed serious hospitalization. Recalling the scenes of my mother being knocked acrossed a room, I can speak with some confidence that a 200lb. adult male could easily end the life of a woman (or another man) using nothing more than an aluminum baseball bat and about 30 seconds of time.

    The problem with violence in America is *violence*. I will concede that some tools are more easily used to deliver violence, but the underlying cultural psychosis *is* the disease and the methods are only a symptom. Take away the guns from law abiding citizens, and yes it’s true, criminals will still have the means to obtain them. Furthermore, even those without guns will still find another way to commit violence. (How many people in history perished by blade?)

    Gun control laws don’t work…and they won’t work. Take for instance, last year’s shootings at the University of Arizona. It took place in the building next to mine. Every damned day I go to work, there’s a sign on the door that says “This campus is a weapons free-zone, call UAPD…” I wasn’t in my office when those three faculty members were killed…but everyday I have returned since then, it is with bitter irony that I think “the man who murdered those teachers must not have read this sign.”

    The laws of our republic are assembled bottom-up. In theory (although no longer in practice), it is incumbant upon all of us (you, me, him, her…the guy that sold my coffee to me this morning), to uphold and enforce *just* laws. If we, as individuals, cannot be trusted with firearms, how can we be entrusted with the awesome responsibilities of our democracy?

    I’m stepping off my soap box, now…would anyone else like to use it? Please recycle it, when you’re done.

  12. Ady wrote: “I actually changed my opinion after reading that article. Always a gun control advocate, comparing the UK (or Canada) with the US as reason enough, it doesn’t take into account the fact that it’s arguably too late to control guns in the US and doing so might cause very real harm to innocent people.”

    Actually, since banning handguns in ’97, England has had a sharp rise in handgun crime. Serious international comparisons of homicide rates don’t support gun contol.

  13. MD wrote: “The flaw in the article has briefly been touched upon here but bears repeating:

    Some amount (a lot? a little? definitely >0) of the “criminals who use guns” were not criminals before they used the gun. They were just jackasses with poor impulse control who had a very effective killing tool available. So to say that gun access is not an issue for “criminals” is stupid. Some of those criminals wouldn’t have had that access if it were even a bit harder to get a gun.”

    What does this have to do with the article?

    The fact is, statistical studies have yet to show that gun control prevents violent crime–that’s what the article was about. Your point is irrelevent–it is A THEORY why gun control should work (to some extent or another). There are other such theories on both sides of the fence, but the point, acording to the article, is that the results can’t be determined by the existing data.

  14. “If somebody could write a gun law that protected people from accidents, protected us from the bad guys, and didn’t infringe the rights of those who aren’t violent and whatnot, I’d abandon the Second Amendment in a heartbeat.”

    I don’t think there are any serious scholors on the Second who would consider any and all gun laws un-Constitutional. The Second does protect an individual right to keep and bear arms, and this definitly applies to many military type arms. But there are gun laws that would not violate the Second amendment.

  15. “California just passed, and dead duck Davis signed, a law improving the safety of firearms by requiring magazine disconnects and loaded chamber indicators on semiauto pistols. The bill, as usual, exempts military and law enforcement purchases.”

    Yes, and loaded chamber safety indicators have no safety value. Well, maybe they have a bit of NEGATIVE safety value. If California was concearned with gun safety, they would teach it in school.

  16. Here’s another one for Mr. Sullum to consider:

    I suspect a study of the past 25 years would note a statistical correlation between the overall decline in cigarette smoking by Americans and an increase of global temperatures.

  17. I hear that 95% of NPR listeners believe gun control works. On the other hand, only 10% of FoxNews viewers do. We can see which is true becuse NPR folks are smartie and FoxNews types are dumb hillbillies.

  18. Thoureau

    “If somebody could write a gun law that protected people from accidents, protected us from the bad guys, and didn’t infringe the rights of those who aren’t violent and whatnot, I’d abandon the Second Amendment in a heartbeat”.

    Keep in mind that per capita swimming pools are more deadly than guns. Swimming pools exist primarily to provide enjoyment. One of the things that constantly bothers me in the gun issue is nobody assigns any value to the enjoyment that responsible shooters derive from the sport. With pools you have a mortality rate associated with perusing the enjoyment, and everyone seems ok with that. However with guns it doesn’t even get mentioned. In conversations I’ve had with people where I have brought this up a consistent “how can you think that your enjoyment trumps the safety of others” response is the norm. Above you are alluding to the fact that you would abandon the second. I’m assuming that you would then ban gun ownership. How does this not then translate to a ban on pools, motorcycles, bungi jumping, promiscuous sex, etc…… You see where I’m going with this.

    All other arguments aside, gun ownership is supported as a right to liberty in the sense of personal fulfillment even in the absence of the second.

  19. The kneejerk (and demonstrably untrue) response to the study from the Brady Campaign to Ban Private Ownership of Firearms:

    “It’s hard to study whether gun control laws work in this country because we have so few of them,” said Peter Hamm. “Talking about studying gun control in this country is like talking about studying democracy in Iraq.”

    Where do they find these guys? Pluto?

  20. I actually changed my opinion after reading that article. Always a gun control advocate, comparing the UK (or Canada) with the US as reason enough, it doesn’t take into account the fact that it’s arguably too late to control guns in the US and doing so might cause very real harm to innocent people.

    Of course keeping them out of the hands of kids (unless supervised) is essential, but that’s a parenting issue, not gun control.

  21. Sullum wrote: “Criminals have no compunction about breaking the law, and they’re highly motivated to obtain the tools of their trade. . .”

    I’d like to see what empirical evidence exists for this statement. Since I smoke marijuana, I’m a criminal, but there are many laws that I have compunctions about breaking. And as a bookkeeper, the tools of my trade are a personal computer and the appropriate software, so I’m not sure what my high motivation to obtain that has to do with gun control.

    Even if you restrict your inquiry to “criminals” who might be likely to use weapons, those criminals who are hot-tempered folks who end up shooting their spouses in a domestic dispute would be relevant. I’m not sure what the statistical effect of making it more difficult for those people to have firearms within easy reach would be, but it does seem to be something you would want to contemplate in thinking about how gun control laws might impact violence.

  22. It’s all about your threshold. For Hamm, gun control means only the government has guns. Most of those people like Hamm accept the government’s foot on their necks as a matter of course. They will spend their empty lives enchanted by the Great Illusion of Representative Democracy, that an individual actually has power and protection and civil liberties outside of that which is granted them by the 500+ out-of-touch, cantankerous old men and women who write law. They seem to think that gangsters and drug lords buy guns from swaps and NRA barbecues, and that it’s all part of some vast right wing conspiracy to wipe out the ghettos. This can be a tough and compromising world, and it seems to be too much for lefties and libs to handle. They need strong legislation to protect them from the elements they cannot control with marginalizing policies. Thankfully, the ones with the guns have an implicit trump card. In the event of catastrophe, let the ones who have surrendered theirs be the first to go.

  23. good thing that girl who had sex with kobe bryant didn’t have a gun. or it would be one less brother thanks to the right wing MAN.

  24. “Since I smoke marijuana, I’m a criminal, but there are many laws that I have compunctions about breaking.”

    But when it comes to the laws relating to obtaining, transporting, and smoking marijuana, you have no compunction. Similarly, a criminal who makes a career of holdups and armed rape and whatnot will have no compunction about breaking the laws relating to obtaining guns – the tools of *his* trade. Will either of you ever be charged by the SEC for embezzling millions? caned in Singapore for vandalism? arrested in the Ozarks for exposing yourself? likely not. Law in our country is just the codified moral stance of a powerful minority. You buy into and reject it as you like, as long as you can either not get caught or accept the consequences of being caught. So you’ll smoke marijuana, because it’s a safe bet that nobody cares except those whose job it is to enforce the will of that moral minority. But you won’t kill anybody, because you’re probably a decent human being who has made that moral determination on his/her own. It’s not about the raw concept of breaking the law, rather what you do to get by, against the backdrop of that law.

  25. “hot-tempered folks who end up shooting their spouses in a domestic dispute would be relevant.”

    Would not having a gun stop them? I’ll bet you could beat your wife to death with a frying pan in under 10 minutes. The gun is faster and more convenient, but a violent jackass is a violent jackass. It is better I think to try to solve the actual problem rather than endless “treat” symptoms.

  26. I for one find it completely unfair that a 100 lb women with a .38-special can stop a 220 lb man armed with a frying pan.

    Fairness dicatates that it should be a fair fight, frying pan verus frying pan. If the man beats in her skull (as he would likely do) I consider that a victory for gun control.

    But we know that husbands killing their wives without firearms doens’t happen very often.

  27. I for one am real glad that a ~100 lb. woman can use a gun to stop a ~200 lb man. He was kicking in the door of her apartment, and a couple of shots in his general direction were enough to make sure she could be around for me to meet and marry.

  28. thoreau — thanks for your support. While I do not advocate draconian gun control laws, I too am utilitarian in outlook and don’t particularly love — or hate — or even care about — the Second Amendment. I thought my post was pretty clear on this. I guess some people just read what they think you’re going to say and respond accordingly. I suppose they’re spoiling for a fight, or itching to stump on a soapbox, or eager to show their devotion to the almighty Constitution (rampant on this site).

  29. Andy,

    Prior to ’97 you could own a handgun in England, if you went through the process. The laws passed in ’97 made handgun ownership completely illegal, including .22s (and the Olympic Team).

    Subsequent to the handgun ban, handgun crime began to rise in England. The important point is that the ban did not prevent the rise, and likely results in a greater rise in overall crime since it is a given that victims can’t defend themselves.

  30. Don –
    I can’t remember the exact law change in 97, but guns have always been illegal and unobtainable in the UK; unless you had special reasons to own one (gamekeeper, aristocrat, rifle club member etc). Even then it was tricky and strictly controlled.

    I think the current rise in gun crime is more to do with changing attitudes than changing laws, with criminals smuggling in more and more weapons as violence escalates. At the moment a single shooting is headline national news, it will only be too late for gun control when no-one cares any more.

  31. EMAIL: sespam@torba.com
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