Monday, December 17, 2012

The Truth About Guns

 This might be too soon. The wound too fresh. Then again, if it isn’t fresh in memory, people fall back on old attitudes, where when we are raw and aching, maybe we are open to new information. I am thinking this is the first of two important posts whereby I prove I should be ruling the world. Or not.

I am not anti-gun.

Okay, I AM, but for ME, not for people broadly. Exactly. I grew up in Idaho and come from a long hunting tradition. In 7th grade PE we had gun safety because it was the belief (backed by statistics) that many YOUNG people who died in gun accidents weren’t the children of gun owners, but the curious friends who came over and didn’t know how dangerous the things could be.

We learned RESPECT. SAFETY.  And to load and unload, and SHOOT a rifle. I was good, actually. It just required a steady hand and the patience to line up the site. I have decent special skills. I didn’t just get a bulls-eye; I pierced the X at the very center of the bulls-eye, and ALL my bullets hit the target.

I’ve also shot tin cans off fences at my friend Tammy’s house, and then there were my b-b experience with cousins, but that was pre-gun safety. THAT I was bad at (having never been taught). My dad had guns and hunted. My step-dad had guns and still hunts.

My point? I grew up IMMERSED in gun culture. MANY of my friends are die-hard advocates.

But what I do, when I am not being naked and silly and ridiculous or writing (or all of the above), is statistics. That’s it. My day job is to run numbers and find truth in them. Not graphic, single-incident anecdote, but collective FACT.  THAT is what I am here to talk to you about right now.

First… A Lesson:  Philosophy versus Science

People use philosophy to guide what they believe. And that is normal and rational. But when a philosophy is DISPROVED by science, it can no longer be held by reasonable people. Take the flat world view of the middle ages. A lot of OTHER beliefs centered around the WORLD being the center of the universe.  Decisions and conclusions factored this in. When SCIENCE proved the SUN was actually the center, it undid ALL the stuff that posited the earth at the center.

I apologize here as I step into a sensitive topic, but it runs so perfectly parallel. Creationism and evolution: the former being philosophy, the latter being science… if someone sees creationism happening THROUGH evolution, they are good. If they see creationism as allegory (which was the intent of the authors, by the way—that is HISTORY, or rather anthropology of how lessons were taught—Biblical literalism only arriving about the 11th century at the word of the Pope), they are good, but if they believe creationism means evolution is wrong?  Then THEY are wrong. Philosophy CANNOT EVER trump science. Science is testable. We see ACTIVE evolution in near lakes here and now. It HAPPENS. Faith in a particular philosophy is FINE, so long as it isn’t scientifically disprovable. But if it is, science trumps.

So now, while I’ve already offended some subset of my audience, though presumably the portion who was chased off long ago by my nakedness…

Applying Philosophy and Science to GUNS.

You know what makes science?  NUMBERS. Statistics. Tests, though honestly, in real life, randomization is hard… though there are a lot of ‘prisoner experiments’ and they aren’t very promising. (for an entertaining, yet still enlightening version of this, there is a Veronica Mars episode, season 3…) 

Most people evaluate on GUT. Something rings true, and they believe. And this is normal. But it gives too much power to the case study. Because of my background, I am far more inclined to look at collective data. YES, the individual examples are moving. But what should guide POLICY is the collective. The COLLECTIVE shows us what is most likely.

Let me delineate these for you, as they apply to gun themes.

If someone is determined, they can still get a gun. 

TRUTH:  Yes and no. They can, but it will be harder. And so a person set on SPECIFICALLY guns who has a long-retained determination can get them. But anti-gun laws mean they have to go through criminal routes (something not all people are willing to do—even murderers), and more importantly, this instills a ‘cool down’ time… so if a person is being IMPULSIVE, this will be an effective deterrent. Some portion will still get them, but another portion WON'T, so the events won't be eliminated, but lives will still be saved.

Sidenote:  THREE women from my high school have been shot by partners. In TWO of these cases, I believe the partner regretted it the minute he did it. Still abusive assholes, yes, but not having a gun present would have prevented the deaths.

Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.:  I suppose this is true. But a person with an automatic or semi-automatic weapon or even just a handgun can be much more deadly in far less time than a determined person with another weapon. Take the Chinese episode the SAME DAY as the US one:  man with knife in elementary school… attacks… wounds 23, 22 of them children, but not a single one is dead.

So a gun without a person can’t kill. Right on. Gotcha.  But a person with a gun instead of another weapon is FAR more deadly. That is just the truth of it.

The crazies and mad men can still get the guns:  (I know this sounds like the first, but I have another argument).  Yes.  They can. But if a crazy steps into a crowd with a gun, and someone ELSE pulls a gun, he will shoot MORE. After the Colorado Theater shooting one of my friends… spouse of a cop… said when a gunman appears the WORST thing to do is to ADD MORE GUNS. The body count amplifies VERY fast. The BEST thing would be to get the gun OUT of the situation (jump and disarm him).

“I feel safer with a gun.”  Feel away my friend. But that is an emotion that is actually contradicted by facts. Gun owners, FACTUALLY are far more likely to die by gun than non-gun owners.

Several years ago, there was a well-done blog post by BarryEisler--and here is a more recent update--that contrasted countries without guns with the US, acknowledging how the US probably COULD NOT give up our gun addiction, and so in the presence, it is reasonable to have certain attitudes, but people in countries where nobody has them are absolutely safer.

There was also a terrific article yesterday by NicholasKristof of the New York Times.  He proposed a number of ideas that put guns in a similar place as cars legally.  People can HAVE THEM, but there need to be rules about it.

I’ve heard some promising ideas. Re-enacting the automatic weapon ban that expired in 2004 for one. The most innovative is requiring gun owners to hold insurance for the damage the firearm might do—cost dependent on storage, who has access, how it’s normally used, and damage potential it has (so faster firing and larger magazine potential means more expensive.)

I really get that some people feel philosophically that they should be able to have guns. I just really wanted to make sure you all knew that IN REALITY, guns in our presence makes us LESS safe. I promise.


Nessa said...

Very well said. I applaud your well thought out and researched post!

I live in Ireland. Not a gun culture and there have been no mass shootings here. Yes, we have gun crime but nothing like the US experiences.

I've never held a gun and would never want to. I don't want my daughter to ever hold or use a gun either. I believe I am safer here in Ireland than I would be in a country where guns are readily available to the masses.

Ted Cross said...

I'm with you all the way, Hart! The gun lovers will not listen, but that's just the way it is. The problem is getting those who do care to actually do something about it.

Old Kitty said...


p.s. there's a very thoughtful article comparing the tragedy at Newtown to the one here at Dunblane in Scotland in 1996 where 16 children were gunned down in the same heartless way.
Take care

Mel Chesley said...

Very well said and thought out. I think the insurance idea is the best yet. However every time something like this happens, the focus instantly switches to "what can we do to keep our rights intact" rather than prevention or even the victims of the crime. I personally am not a gun girl. I' m like you. I have the mad skills but no desire. I just wish people would pull their heads out of certain orifices and work on the issues rather than clutch their rights a little closer while hunkering down in their denial bunkers.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Shame more people don't have the training like you did as a kid.
Certainly we don't need automatic weapons. What are you trying to take down, an elephant?
And as a side note, creation can be proven by science as well. Yes, I believe for both reasons.

Creepy Query Girl said...

Since the incident and the subsequent coverage by the french media, I'm being asked a lot of difficult questions about my opinion on the tragedy, our president, and gun control in the US by the french friends and family in my life but I'm remaining somewhat reserved because I just don't know how I feel. It's tough to know what the right answer is when it comes to preventing crimes like this in the future. Definitely gave me food for thought here.

Trisha said...

I'm all for gun control, in fact I'm all for NO GUNS AT ALL, but as I said elsewhere today, it's easy for me to say that because I'm Australian and ours is not a gun culture either.

Misha Gericke said...

I'm so with you on all factors.

Gun policy is a touchy subject in my country too, but the fact is that I see the logic behind it, even if our law enforcement is somewhat... lacking.

Ella said...

Still here and appreciate your post!
But another issue is mental illness, we as a country need to have a health care system in place. Why would a teacher with a mentally ill child, teach him to shoot?! I understand she lived alone, maybe scared. In reality, I can't imagine putting a gun in anyone's hands, but especially not a mentally ill child.

Hart Johnson said...

Thanks, so much, guys!

And Ellie, I agree the mental health is actually bigger. I'm going to do that one tomorrow.

Ella said...

I wanted to say(had a computer glitch)how well done this was~
I didn't grow up with guns, but I married a man who did. Guns make me nervous and then there is the Constitution-yikes. I agree if someone wants to get one they will, but I don't think they should be easy to get. It is too easy...

Tamara Narayan said...

Great article. I have no experience with guns and would like to see the assault rifle ban come back. That insurance idea sounds like a good one too.

I also blogged about some of this today. Couldn't help myself. I had to put two little girls on the bus this morning and it was not easy.

BTW, I find people who don't believe in evolution odd. There is plenty of evidence. Look at the suits of armour in a museum and the furniture from the 1800s. People were shorter! We don't even wait for 'natural' selection anymore. These days we breed all sorts of new pets: tea cup pups and the like.

j welling said...

Bears don't maul people, park rangers do.

Doesn't work, does it ? We know bears are predatory omnivorous animals who differentiate items into "food" and , well. So there is not a great deal of discrimination in bear logic.

Guns also are largely indiscriminate weapons whose use requires so little effort. Sure my chainsaw is a horrendous weapon. You're probably going to outrun me should my sanity needle peg to "bat shit."

There is little discipline required in the operation of a handgun. I suspect for strict interpretation, we should consider the firearms considered by the constitutional convention : single-shot muzzle-loaded.

That seems to solve a great deal of concern. Sport hunting - there you go. Defense of property - same. Defense of person - OK. Mace seems a better choice but if you want to be Pirate Pete with a flintlock in your belt, ok. We could work something out - fine to do on your own property. ( Buy some, stay there. )

Large scale mayhem ? I'd say it is inhibited.

Now - about public mental health. We need to do something about that too.

Johanna Garth said...

Not too soon at all. I really appreciated your thought out, factual evaluation of guns and gun safety.

I just talked my mother out of getting a gun and into getting an alarm system. My argument was the person most likely to get shot with it, in the event of a home intrusion, was her.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Taking away automatic weapons and armor piercing bullets (can't believe THOSE are legal) makes sense. But allowing our government to say no guns at all is giving them just too much control. And the criminals will still have guns anyway.

Michelle said...

I grew up on a farm. Guns were used - at times animals had to be put down - it made sense. When my brother accidentally put a bullet through our lounge room floor, I was turned off guns for life. I understand when and where they are needed but I'm thankful our laws in Australia are quite strict. I pray USA tightens their gun laws.

Helena said...

Thank you, thank you Hart, for writing about this subject. Only in America is there a large, frightening, sick group of people who are far more concerned with their alleged "right" to own any kind of gun, and as many guns as they wish, than they are with the lives of children. And to enforce this "right" they lie, they bully, they shout and threaten. What they don't want to hear is the truth you've pointed out: Mathematically, their guns will far more likely kill them or a loved one than they ever will a violent attacker.

Like you've pointed out, it's one thing for hunters, farmers, ranchers, and a few other people to have a gun when it's merely one of many tools in their line of work. But even these weapons must be strictly licensed and controlled. Hell, I couldn't drive three blocks to the grocery store without a driver's license, license plates, registration, and tests at the MVD. But a brain-damaged eighteen year old with hateful Columbine fantasies can buy a gun at any gun show. This is wrong. This is evil.

MTS said...

Thank you for this post, Hart. The problem I'm finding is that thoughtful posts such as yours are usually preaching to the choir.

The gun lobbyists and enthusiasts, the "freedom fighters" convinced their second amendment rights are in jeopardy, they're all tuned in to another channel. And they're just as convinced they are right and those who want gun control - or even a conversation about gun control - are wrong.

HOW do we get together and have a purposeful and rational conversation about this? Facts SHOULD help. And yet, they don't always.

Just today, one of my gun freak friends posted a long list of countries that brought in gun control and subsequently suffered tyranny and oppression. How to respond? How to respond?

LTM said...

Such a terrific post, TH. and I'm just nodding, nodding, nodding along with it. We come from such similar backgrounds when it comes to gun exposure, and yet we don't have guns, don't want guns. Interesting.

So are you thinking you agree w/the suggestion that we regulate ammo?

This is such a difficult topic. I do think the assault weapons ban that has expired needs to be renewed again immediately and indefinitely. Why would that expire???

Love you--have a wonderful holiday! <3

Heather Savage said...

Well thought out, once again. I appreciate all of those facts laid out in one place. Obviously after a tragedy such as Newtown, we are bombarded by stats that might or might not come from well founded studies. I'm assuming, since this is your trade, that yours are indeed from real sources, not Wikipedia.
On the subject itself I am torn. Take all guns? That might be something we as a people can not agree to do. Take away fully automatic rifles and some of the "non hunting" weaponry and we might be able to reach some sort of consensus. For a funny, Chris Rock did a bit on gun control and he said not to regulate the guns, but to charge for ammo. "Damn, somebody put twenty rounds in Bobby. They must have hated him."
*Disclaimer* I am in no way making light of the situation, gun control, or any loss of lives. Merely adding a lighter side note on a subject that has most of us absolutely dumbfounded.