My thoughts on guns (written July 20th, 2012)

So, the shooting in Colorado makes me angry and sad, as I am sure it does a lot of people.   It leaves us with many questions.  I think more so because we are in general a fairly orderly society and peaceful despite differences in ideologies, few of us would ever do something so heinous.  If this was South America where gun deaths happen so often we might still be angry and sad, but it still wouldn’t be too surprising.  I think after the many shootings that have taken place though now, even I have become less shocked by this.  As I read comments on articles, it also makes me angry because the argument erupts in to gun control.  I don’t know if this is the right answer, but what I do know is that faulty logic largely drives the debate; on both sides.  So I thought I would deal with some of the common errors in logic.

1.       Banning guns would end these types of incidences.

This of course is not true completely.  Guns can be obtained illegally.  Crazy people still exist, and often clever ones who can find different ways of ending a lot of lives if they so choose.  There is no denying this.  The correct solution to understanding these issues is not the knee jerk reaction but to understand why people like this exist.  What can be done to help them?  What are the warning signs?  Do they exist in other societies?  And in those societies does access to weapons of deadly force make them more likely to cause harm?  To my knowledge when these incidences have happened in the U.S. the media never really brings up these questions.  It always goes to gun control.  I can understand the knee jerk reaction though.  We all do it.  Let’s say you’re a parent and you can now start feeding your kid the food you eat and not just mashed up peas and carrots all the time.  So let’s say you give your child a soft taco with chicken, cheese, lettuce, onions, and tomato.  The kid likes it, but feels sick right after eating it.  The immediate reaction is to have your kid not eat anymore.  But this doesn’t mean he can never have a soft taco.  You’d start to say…hmm…do I feel sick…since you have a higher mass it might take longer for you to feel the effects and maybe the chicken was bad, not cooked enough.  Then you might take him/her to the doctor later to see whether they might be allergic to one of the ingredients because there were 5 foods in the taco that they had never had before.  So once again it comes to asking the right questions in the end, but knee-jerk reactions are natural.

2.        Banning guns is unconstitutional  because of the Second Amendment.

This line of reasoning is faulty on many levels.  For one, unless someone can provide me with more definitive resources there is debate as to the intention of the second amendment and this debate has yet to be resolved.  Pro-gun people will say it was so that we could defend ourselves against a tyrannical government and anti-gun say it was for development of militia.  If one imagines what life was like in the early days of the U.S. it makes sense that guns would be made a right, because population densities were very small, and law enforcement would have been extremely difficult.  And it clearly was on the American frontier.  Yet it is also quite handy when you have a tyrannical government, which I don’t think we’ve had in over 200 years as a nation.

What is often left out of this argument as well is that the 2nd Amendment says “Well regulated militia…”, because are a bunch of homeowners in the suburbs with guns a well regulated militia?

The flawed logic though is holding to a 200 year old amendment like it was flawless.  Just like the bible which has things that pertain to the time it was written, so does the constitution.  Did the forefathers really think the constitution was perfect and timeless?  Undoubtedly no.  That’s what an amendment is.  The way society and technology has changed since then is immense.  It makes no sense why we should be held to a document that old.  We should in fact constantly be modifying it to help solve problems faced by our society.  When it was written the population was less than 1/100th of what it is today and the most dangerous weapon you could have was a musket, that took a few minutes to load, you got one shot, and it wasn’t overly accurate.  Would the founding fathers have made the second amendment if there were laser guided sights and semi-automatic weapons?  I don’t know, but I ask this question merely to point out that the logic one uses may depend on the times for which the decision was made.  Too many people in this country tend to hold to the constitution like it’s a bible and should be unchanging.  As a person who has become active in my faculty union on campus I see both the benefits and negatives of being bound to a document which is nearly as hard to change as the constitution.  It can be very binding in a way that doesn’t help solve problems that are different or new from when the contract was written.

The other faulty line of reasoning here is that the founding fathers were geniuses or something.  They were human, they made mistakes, and maybe some of them were brighter than others, but they fought, and came to compromises.  Now when a compromise is made it could be that both sides of an issue have merit, it could be that the other person was just plain wrong, but compromise was needed in order to just finish the thing and get an overall product that everyone would agree with.  The value we should take from the constitution is not so much its substance (although there is still a lot of great stuff in it) but the work ethic that was involved in putting it together; cooperation, idea exchange, and coming together to solve problems of the day.

3.       Gun deaths are higher in countries where guns are banned.

Nobody ever quotes some actual figures.  A very worthwhile site to go which has data collected by an international collaborative group, but based out of Australia is http://www.gunpolicy.org/

When you look at countries that have a lot of deaths by firearms and have restrictive policies, these are always third world countries with poor economies.  There is a huge educational gap, and a huge income gap.  United States has the highest murder rate and firearm death rate of any industrialized nation with a similar standard of living.  As a comparison between the UK and the US, there are about 4-5 times more homicides per capita in the U.S. than in the UK, and firearm homicides are 100 times more likely.  Now anti-gun people might excited by this statistic, but if firearms were the only thing to blame, we would expect the homicide rate per capita to also be about 100 times greater, but it’s only 4-5 times more likely.  So we cannot say that banning guns would make the homicide rate go down significantly in the U.S. Nevertheless if restricting firearms even reduce homicides by as little as 10% which is supported by figures from other countries similar in standard of living to the U.S., isn’t 10% a good thing?

4.        Banning guns only makes people look for them illegally because that’s what happens with drugs.

Comparing drugs and guns is difficult.  On one hand I do think that if guns are legal, all drugs should be too.    If it really does all come down to personal choice, then the same argument can be made for drugs.  Some drugs however are habit-forming.  Guns are not (well of course anything can be habit forming to a certain extent, but I’m talking about a physiological addiction).  However making drugs legal would save a ton of money that could be put into education.  The need for meth labs would probably disappear, because you could just buy a hit of something at the grocery store.  You’d probably have cleaner drugs that don’t poison your body quite as much also.  What the UK v. US comparison does show is that high gun restriction does not lead to a high amount of unregistered firearms.  There are only 6.7 per 100 people with guns in the UK, with 100 times less firearm homicides.  While there are still a high amount of homicides in the UK, it is clear that those wanting to murder aren’t going, “Bah I can’t get a gun legally, I’m going to get one illegally!”.  Comparing guns with drugs, or say that illegally obtained guns will rise in equal compensation in simply untrue.

5.       Studies show that homicides through other means increase when you ban guns, so nothing changes.

This is true, but only in part.  Of course if you take away a gun, and you really want to murder someone you can find a way.  So knife deaths increase, piano wire, the list goes on.  But there is a big difference killing someone with a gun as opposed to other methods.  You cannot just throw a knife into a crowd and expect to kill anyone.  It is also a lot easier to avoid being killed by a knife wound.  In general the person has to get close, it takes longer, and it’s brutal.  You have to listen to the person suffer, the blood will certainly spill on to your hands, perhaps more depending on whether you cut an artery.  If it wasn’t a fatal wound you may have to grapple with the victim.  Thus the size and strength of the victim compared to you is important.  With a gun you can stand at distance.  You can be behind them.  Size isn’t as important.  The psychology of the two acts is different.  It’s hard to rob a bank with a knife.

6.       Guns are necessary to protect us from people who come in to our homes/person with the intent to cause harm.

How often does this actually happen?  According to www.fbi.gov the number of violent crimes (murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) in the U.S. for 2010 totaled 1.2 million.  If we assume that all these crimes were committed by a different person (which is likely not true) but it’s a reasonable assumption to make, given that we must take into account violent crime that may not have been reported, that means about 0.35% of the population of the U.S. are those who would commit violent crimes.  Not a high percentage, but let’s say any percentage is too high.  And remember that compared to other countries with a similar economy and standard of living the U.S. is the highest, then the 88.7 guns owned/100 people don’t seem to be making much of a difference.  The high number of firearms is not a deterrent at all to violent crime, and yet we are told that we are safer with one.  And of course the percentage is not uniform across the states…it is highly regional, so the idea that we are always in danger if someone assaulting us, robbing us, raping us, etc with the threat of force is pure fear mongering when you look at it statistically.

7.        Guns are necessary to protect us against our government.

This is the worst bit of fear mongering.  Once again we look at www.gunpolicy.org and see that there are many countries (again comparing only to ones with strong economies and a comparable standard of living and education) that have restrictive gun laws and the government has yet to start massacring their people.  The UK government hasn’t.  In 2001 Belarus passed legislation to increase restrictions on firearms.  Guns there are only for military or law enforcement.  Citizens cannot own handguns or revolvers, and to get a gun you need to show you need it for hunting.  Homicides went down by 50% since 2000 and firearm homicides by 80%.   The Belarus government has yet to show any signs of enslaving its people.  Yes this is not a comprehensive list of examples and my point here is that there are plenty of counter examples to the claims pro-gun people say, and so their logic does not even follow in general and then few rarely do their own research in order to come to any conclusions.   Think what you will of Michael Moore, but his thesis in Bowling for Columbine that we live in a “culture of fear” seems to be spot on.

8.   Automobiles cause more deaths every year so we should make automobiles illegal too.

There are many other anologies of this sort including the use of spoons, because people get fat and die of heart attacks, soda, etc.  For better or for worse it took me awhile to spot the flaw in this type of analogy even though I know it was a false analogy.  The reason has to do with the intention of the object.  Automobiles and spoons were not created as objects to commit crime, acts of violence, or to kill.  An extreme analogy might be to say that life is the chief cause of death, so we should not make babies.  The gun was invented to kill.  To kill from a distance, to kill quickly.  It struck me as ironic that pro gun arguments would use this logic and ignore intention.  Since much of their arguments involve the intention of the writer’s of the 2nd Amendment.  Showing that intention is pretty important to them.  Laws have intentions, as do objects.  Why create an object if it has no use?  Automobiles, spoons, guns all have uses and their inventor had an intention for those objects.  Only one out of 3 of those has the intention of deadly force.

9. Criminals don’t obey laws so what’s the point in making a gun law.  If criminals always break laws, then what is the point of having laws?  Nobody who is pro-gun has been able to answer this for me yet. If we always adopted the attitude that laws do not deter criminal behaviour, then all laws have no value.

Well if you’ve read this far, perhaps you are willing to read a bit further.  Yes, I’m a liberal atheist and I know facebook friends who are going to argue with me, but I know many who own guns and am not scared for my life at all.  But because I refuse to give in to fear is also the reason I don’t own a gun.  I am much more interested in the psychology.  I also know myself and I know that shooting a man dead who just wanted to steal my computer so he could afford his next cocaine fix is not something I could easily live with if I did that.  I try to be a good man, and yes even good men die too, but I don’t feel like a gun significantly helps increase my chances of protecting myself against the low probability of being effected by a violent crime.  And yes I do lean towards stronger legislation.  I don’t think anybody who passes a background check should be able to get an AK-47.  Stronger restrictions to firearms might not prevent all of these senseless deaths, but if it stops even one crazy person gunning down 12 people a year.  I feel it’s worth it.  But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep trying to stop them all together, and that is going to take investigation and understanding beyond banning guns.  They are in our world and they are not leaving, so we do have to understand ourselves better so that we don’t need to use them.  Firearm homicides in general are decreasing in the U.S. and in general the world is less violent than it has been in the past.  May we continue on this trend.  Peace out all.

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