Sunday, May 29, 2022

Explaining the Gun Debate

by Rod Williams, May 29, 2022- The tragedy of another mass shooting has renewed and reinvigorated the gun debate and Kevin D.Williamson writing in National Review discusses some of the issues around that debate. In this post are paraphrasings and quotes from the article and my thoughts. If you are an NR subscriber or can find it elsewhere or access it through your library, I suggest reading the complete article.  

A lot of things people think about guns are simply not true or if true need context.  I know there are those who have their mind made up and are not going to budge from the position they have taken. On the one hand, there are those who think Americans should not have the right to bear arms and that all firearms should be confiscated. I assume readers of this blog know the rebuttal to that simplistic unrealistic point of view. On the other hand, there are those who think any restriction on the type of weapon, magazine capacity, reduction in the age of majority, or registration of arms, or licensing of arms dealers is a step toward confiscation and the end of America as a free country. 

My view is that somewhere between these two extremes there is room for reasonable efforts to reduce gun violence. I also admit that the issue is complicated. I don't have the answers but see a problem that needs to be addressed. I see no point, however, in window dressing and symbolic measures and meaningless legislation that will have no impact. That being said, there probably are incremental steps that could make an incremental difference. We should however not be satisfied with the status quo.  Also, we should not be afraid to engage with people whose views differ from ours. A good place to start any debate is with facts and good data. This article by Williamson contributes to a clearer understanding of the issues. Below are some highlights from the article. 

Q: They didn’t have to worry about this kind of thing 100 years ago, did they?

"Of course they did," he says. "We are coming up on the 100th anniversary of the worst school massacre in American history, which happened in Bath, Mich., in 1927, and saw the deaths of 44 victims plus the perpetrator."  

Williamson could have done a better job. He only gives this one example. I would like more data. How big of a problem was this a hundred years ago compared to now? How often did it occur? I know that in my youth schools had Rifle clubs. I never worried about a school shooting. Columbine was the first school mass shooting of which I was aware. I think this is a recent problem and want data to see if that is correct.

Q: So how important is access to guns?

He says that by most meaningful measures it is not very important. "So, guns don’t seem to be the important variable. ... Americans buy more guns today than they did in 1990 ... but violent crime has decreased radically since those years, ... homicides falling almost by half between 1991 and 2020 ... There isn’t much reason to believe that the increase in gun ownership led to less crime, but it is a matter of historical fact that it was not accompanied by more crime."

Q: But isn’t our country awash in guns?

No, he says. A relatively small number of households have more guns but more households do not have guns. "The number of Americans living in households in which there is a gun present has actually declined quite a bit over the past several decades." "In 1973, only a minority of Americans (49.5 percent) lived in a household with no firearm, but by 2014 almost two-thirds of Americans (64.3 percent) did. So the typical American is less likely to reside in a household with a firearm in it today than 50 years ago." Some people live in a household with 50 arms but he says the lone psychopath in a house with 50 guns is probably no more of a threat than a lone psychopath with one rifle.

I don't doubt the data. However, in my own case, I only became a gun owner fairly recently. When the Antifa/BLM riots and random attacks on white people began occurring, I felt it wise to be armed. I know there was a shortage of good handguns during this period. Gun shops sold out. His data is from 2014. I think updated data would show more people have guns. Maybe not as many as in 1973, but more than in 2014.

Q: So gun owners are basically a bunch of insecure white guys with basements full of AR-15s? 

No, he says.  He says a lot of the increase in American domestic gun ownership was the result of women’s acquisition of firearms. He gives data.

Q: But isn’t the United States an outlier compared to other countries?

He says "Certainly, though not in the way you may have been told." He then mentions the genocide in Rwanda. That is not relevant, in my view. We are an outlier by an enormous amount compared to other developed countries. To me that is relevant; not what happened in Rwanda.  He does however provide a useful comparison to Switzerland. 

Switzerland has more guns per capita than any country other than the United States and Yemen. Its murder rate is about one-ninth the U.S. rate. Switzerland has about 8.6 million people to Cook County’s 5.1 million, but Switzerland saw only 47 homicides in 2021 (14 by shooting) while Cook County saw more than 1,000. 

He then points out that while Americans shoot each other to death at a much higher rate than do citizens of most other countries, "they also stab each other to death, beat each other to death, burn each other to death, etc., much more frequently than do citizens of other countries. In fact, the number of murders committed by Americans armed with nothing more than their bare hands each year exceeds the number of murders committed by Americans with so-called assault rifles. The United States has unusually high rates of criminal violence across the board rather than just an unusually high rate of gun-related violence."

That is disturbing. I think he hits the nail on the head when he says. " The problem with America isn’t that it is full of guns — the problem with America is that it is full of Americans." 

Q: What is the point of allowing civilians to have military weapons?

He says, "we don't." To call semiautomatic 5.56mm rifles “weapons of war” is dishonest" and he explains the difference between a military weapon and a civilian weapon.

Q: But isn’t it easy to modify these rifles to make them fully automatic?

No, not really, he says and explains that while it can be done, it is difficult to do. 

Q: But aren’t these new rifles 200 times more lethal than the old Revolutionary War muskets that were being used when the Second Amendment was written?

No, that figure was simply fabricated and continues to be spread. He goes on to say that it is absolutely true that a modern semiautomatic rifle is a more effective weapon than a muzzle-loading musket.

Q: Isn’t the Second Amendment and all that militia stuff just outmoded in the 21st century?

This is his answer and is similar to something that I have said. "In my view, that is really the most honest line of argument from the gun-control lobby. But that isn’t an argument for ignoring the Second Amendment — the law doesn’t stop being the law because of the private subjective judgment of political activists. It is an argument for repealing the Second Amendment. We have a process for amending the Constitution, and the Second Amendment could be repealed if enough Americans believed that to be the wise thing to do. I wouldn’t support that myself, but it is the proper course of action for those who want to eliminate the Second Amendment protections of Americans’ right to keep and bear arms."

Q: Isn’t there anything else that we could do short of a likely doomed effort to pass a constitutional amendment?

He says, yes there is, and lists these two possible actions.

Stronger enforcement of “straw buyer” laws, which are laws against buying a firearm on behalf of someone who is legally prohibited from purchasing one himself. He Explains that when violators are caught they are seldom prosecuted and explains why. He says we need to aggressively enforce these laws.

Improve the federal NICS background-check system. This system used to screen gun buyers is poorly administered and often people who would fail a background check get a gun anyway because the data is faulty or the background check is not conducted within the prescribed three-day period. Also, when the mistake is discovered, no effort is made to correct the mistake and repossess the illegally purchased weapon. Also, people who knowing attempt to purchase a weapon, knowing they are ineligible are almost never prosecuted. The law doesn't work and it should and could be improved and enforced.

I think this is a good start. I think there is more that could be done or at least considered and debated and will address some of it in future posts. For more of what I have posted on the topic of guns, see the following.

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