Thursday, December 3, 2015

Of Guns and Men

On the heels of the San Bernardino shooting perpetrated by two Moslem terrorists, tiresomely and predictably, President Obama and the chiefly liberal sections of the political establishment were on point railing against the supposedly too great availability of some or all types of weapons.  Their trope is: Guns should be banned or restricted because, intuitively, fewer guns means fewer gun-related deaths.

In making such assertions, however, no hard data are ever adduced.  Rather, they munificently deploy one emotionally-laden appeal after another, hoping to sway public opinion with sentiments that devolve to: "We must do something about it."

Following is just a selection of the factual arguments germane to the issue to be considered:
  • Historically, the U.S. has been a "gun-toting" nation.  Indeed, after the Second World War, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, and others, America was awash with both weapons of every kind and with war veterans suffering from P.T.S.D. and many other mental ailments onset by the traumas they endured in the conflicts in which they fought.  One would have expected those mentally-unstable people with ready access to destructive weaponry to have been shooting up America with terrifying frequency.  Yet, prior to the 1980s there were only two mass shootings of note: A WW2 veteran killed 13 people in 1949 and a discharged Marine killed 16 people in 1966.  Even in the 1980s there were still only a handful of such incidents.  The prevalence of weapons and gun crime (especially high-profile, mass-casualty gun crime) clearly do not correlate historically.
  • Case in point: Russia.  The country has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the world where it is virtually impossible to obtain a gun.  Fewer than nine out of 100 Russians possess a firearm.  However, its overall homicide rate is almost four times that of the United States.
  • By contrast, apart from having a lower homicide rate overall than Russia, despite there being 100 firearms per 100 population, only 10% of all violent crime in America involve firearms.
  • The various recent trends in the United States also undermine the anti-gun narrative.  The rate of gun ownership has been on a steady increase over the past two decades.  Simultaneously, the homicide rate has been on a distinct downward course.  (On a point of interest and without necessarily suggesting a causal relationship, home robberies have also been decreasing as gun ownership has been increasing.)
  • Consider the following chart:

    This chart is frequently employed by pro-gun advocates to argue that gun-"control" measures cause an increase in homicide, rather than a decline.  That argument is a post hoc fallacy; much more additional study would be required to validate it.  However, the chart does prove beyond a doubt that gun-"control" does NOT decrease homicides.
  • Turning to history again, it demonstrates unequivocally that banning something deemed undesirable does not make it disappear.  The examples are innumerable, and the range includes everything from alcohol and drugs, to pornography and homosexuality, to speeding and D.U.I.  A ban on guns in Denmark, Belgium, and France very tragically did not prevent Moslem terrorists from massacring hundreds of people in cafes, trains, restaurants, and theaters there.  Indeed, arguably, if even a fraction of the victims would have been armed, it is likely that the death toll in all such attacks would have been considerably lower.  Likewise, astringent anti-gun laws in e.g. Chicago, Washington, and Detroit do not prevent those cities from having the highest gun-caused homicide rates in the nation.
  • On the subject of D.U.I., more deaths are caused by intoxicated drivers than by guns.  Yet, no proposal has been advanced to further restrict the availability of automobiles or driver's licenses or even to mandate installation of additional safety mechanisms.  The reason why that should be so is self-evident: The overwhelming majority of drivers are law-abiding and responsible citizens.  It would, therefore, be unconscionable to penalize them for the excesses of an exiguous and statistically-insignificant minority, notwithstanding the suffering the latter group causes.
  • As far as safety, only 0.025% of the guns in circulation in the United States are utilized for illicit purposes.  That is a safety record of 99.975%, which eclipses many common items in everyday use.
  • Per 100,000 population, statistics show that such objects as swimming pools, scissors, stepladders, automobiles as well as many medical procedures are more lethal than guns.  In other words, many--sometimes on the order of magnitude of several tenfold--more deaths are caused by the items aforesaid than by guns.
    • The standard retort to the foregoing is that, unlike guns, those objects are "not designed to kill."  That is correct; however, if the focus is on saving every precious life possible, then surely the most prolific provenances of death should be addressed in the order of priority.
    • Another stock rejoinder is that people "do not need" firearms.  Surely such advocates recognize that government apparatchiks deciding what people "need" and "do not need," particularly pursuant to their personal beliefs, is the very definition of totalitarianism, indeed, fascism.
  • The overwhelming majority of firearms use and fatalities involve the criminal underworld (more than 80%).  By its very definition, that milieu would not be affected by legislation restricting or banning guns.
  • On a related note, far more crimes are prevented by the use of firearms than are committed.  The most conservative ratio is 10,500 : 1.  Recently, in Chicago--which, (in)famously has some of the harshest gun-phobic laws in the country--a conceal-carry citizen prevented a mass shooting.
  • For years the pro-gun lobby's reflexive retort to attempts to institute gun-"control" has been to advert to the Second Amendment.  For most of the time, the anti-gun campaigners ignored that point and deployed other arguments to support their position.  As of recently, however, that has changed and it is now more common to witness rebuttals along the lines of: "The Second Amendment concerns the right of a militia to bear arms rather than ordinary citizens" and variations on the theme.  Unfortunately for the proponents of that line, the U.S. Supreme Court already issued a crystal clear ruling on the matter (District of Columbia vs. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008)), which affirms that the Second Amendment does apply to individual citizens outwith any reference to any militia (s. (1)(f)).
  • A favorite anti-gun exponents' mantra--and one coopted by Pres. Obama himself--is that, if countries like Australia and England can "do it," then so can the United States.  "Do it" is either left undefined altogether or its meaning is made suspiciously vague.  The tenor behind such statements is that, basically, countries such as Great Britain and Australia banned gun ownership outright, and their rates of homicide are lower than America's, ergo... - it should be easy by now to fill in the rest.  There are two major problems with this statement:
    • England and Australia effected a complete ban of firearms.  Unless mainstream politicians, including the President and highest-ranked lawmakers are lying, that is by no means the goal behind any gun-"control" initiative under even theoretical consideration.
    • More importantly, statistics controvert the main premise of the argument, to wit, that the bans in the two countries had any salutary effect on their rates of homicide.  Survey the following charts:
      It is obvious that, in both cases, anti-firearms measures did not entail a decrease in homicide.  The same conclusion emerges from this, just as it does from every set of data: Banning guns does not reduce homicide.
  • The moral of the story is that these highly selective attempts at comparison between the United States and a few carefully picked countries is an exercise in futility.  A far more productive endeavor would be to cross-reference the rate of gun ownership with the rate of homicide, worldwide.  The result of such a study is astounding: The United States is the undisputed leader as far as gun ownership (112.6 guns per 100 residents), leaving Serbia a distant second at under 70 guns per 100 residents.  In terms of the intentional homicide rate, out of 218 states and territories, America is 121st.  So 1st in gun-ownership, 121st in homicides: That does not sound like a country that has an intractable gun problem.
  • On a final note, Switzerland has a high rate of gun ownership: little over a half of the U.S.  However, there have been no mass-casualty firearm-related incidents in Switzerland.  Conversely, Spain has a rate similar to Russia (i.e. less than 10% of that of the U.S.).  Hypothetically, if the rate of gun ownership in Spain was similar to Switzerland's or America's, is it likely there would be mass shooting incidents there?  While speculative, logic and extrapolation dictate that the answer be negative: The culture and nomos of Spain are different to that of America.  The familial and societal structure are different, the values (such as individualism) are different, the quality and quantity of crime are different; all of those conspire to create an environment in which people simply do not act out in the way in which they act out in the United States.  That involves not just mass shootings but many aspects of individual and collective behavior.  Indeed, it answers the conundrum with which this piece opened: Why were there almost no mass shootings prior to the 1980s despite the prevalence of guns?

It is incontrovertible that, despite high-profile and widely-publicized incidents, the absolute and overwhelming majority of firearms in the United States are used legally, legitimately and responsibly, and that there is no scientifically-justified cause to believe that restricting or banning them would have the desired effect of significantly reducing gun-related violent crime.

The facts and figures above (all readily available and easily verifiable with simple Internet searches) cannot be rebutted by reiterating that, essentially, "guns are bad."  Anti-gun advocates need to counter the foregoing data with data of their own, which are more scientific, more credible, more reliable, and more plausible.  However, that is consistently and conspicuously not being done for the simple reason that such data do not exist.  The said advocates, accordingly, fall back on the tactic of using interminable argumenta ad misericordia, false analogies, non-sequiturs, and other logical fallacies, i.e. they essay to impose what are mere personal prejudices and values on the rest.

That is anti-intellectual, anti-academic, and disingenuous.

It has also, thankfully, been ineffective in swaying public opinion.

Selected Bibliography (not formatted to standard):

 ©2015 Michael L.S.

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