Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Second Amendment, second thoughts...

I wasn't going to write about the current gun debate, but a rash of ill-informed facebook status' has caused me to break my silence. These vacuous musings always try to claim that Obama is trying to repeal the second amendment, or that he's coming to take everyone's guns. This isn't the case though. Thirty seconds of fact checking would have revealed this fact to them. But facts don't matter to these people, only the pushing of their personal delusions. So, what is President Obama actually proposing? Here's the rundown:

•A background check for all gun sales.
•Renew the assault weapons ban.
•Ten round ammunition limit.
•Ban armor-piercing bullets.
•Provide mental heath services in schools.
•Hire more police.
•Institute a federal gun trafficking statute.

So where in all of that is Obama trying to take everyone's guns away. Requiring that everyone who buys a gun (legally) undergoes a background check makes perfect sense. Certainly no one has a problem with stopping someone with a history of mental illness from taking advantage of the gun show loophole. And what of the assault weapons ban? That wouldn't take everyone's guns away either. Remember that assault weapons were already banned from 1994 to 2004. Last time I checked, the second amendment was still alive and well from 1994 to 2004. I also think that most agree that no one needs an assault weapon. However, crimes using assault weapons make up a tiny percentage of crimes, so banning them again probably won't impact crime figures much. But I think that banning something that no one needs is understandable, and could save a few lives to boot. The same is true of magazines larger than ten rounds and anti-armor bullets. They aren't widely used, but the average citizen has no real use for these items. Mental health services: Sounds good to me. Providing this service could stop would be shooters before they get to that point. More police... I don't see how more police can be bad. And finally, how is it bad to punish those illegally trafficking guns? As you can see, none of Mr. Obama's proposals are aimed at repealing the second amendment, nor to 'take everyone's guns away'. But cue the overreacting and illogical claims about gun violence...

One thing being blamed for the recent gun violence is video games and movies. The claim is that they are far too violent and and cause kids to mimic the games. Oddly enough, my childhood video games didn't cause me to be a plumber who stomps mushrooms, kicks turtle shells, and throws fire balls at Venus Flytraps in order to defeat a giant spiked turtle in order to save a princess. A game is a game. And when you look at the stats you will find that there is no data to actually suggest this to be true. A comparison of the ten largest video game markets shows that the United States is an outlier in the group. Even though all ten have the same access to games, and some even spend much more on games, yet the United States sees many multiples of gun murders as the other nine nations. This suggests that there is a different cause since these industrialized nations all have the same access to movies and games, yet the US sees more gun related murders.

Image courtesy of The Washington Post

People have also begun overreacting to anything that is even remotely related to guns. Case in point, a girl was suspended from kindergarten in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania for what were deemed "terrorist threats". That seems fine. Well, until you find out what they are considering a "terrorist threat". The five year old girl had brought a Hello Kitty bubble gun to school and had mentioned that she and her friend should shoot the bubble gun at each other. They deemed that a "terrorist threat" and suspended her from school. She has since been allowed to return to school, but the school has yet to apologize for such an outrageous ruling.

Closer to home, there have been similar overreactions here in Maryland as well. Twice recently, boys have been suspended for making the 'gun gesture' with their hand/finger. In one instance, a six year old in Montgomery County was suspended for using his hand as an imaginary gun whilst he and some friends played cops and robbers. The same was true of students in Talbot County. Seriously!? A bubble gun and an imaginary gun are harmless. These kids were playing and nothing more. The 'gun hand' gesture could be construed as a threat in the proper context though. If someone made the gun gesture at another and threatened that they were going to come back with a gun and kill someone, then you could say that the gesture was threatening. But even then, that's a serious threat, gesture or not. So with these examples you see people overrating in the direction that any slight reference to guns is bad. What you end up is ridiculous stories that distract from the real issues at hand. And that really is a shame.

And of course there are those that are saying that the problem with gun violence is that there simply aren't enough guns. How can that be? When you look at who has the most guns, the United States already does at distribution of 88.8 guns per 100 people. The top ten (and a few notables) looks like this (per 100):

1) United States  = 88.8 
2) Yemen = 54.8 
3) Switzerland = 45.7 
4) Finland = 45.3 
5) Serbia = 37.8
6) Cyprus = 36.4 
7) Saudi Arabia = 35
8) Iraq = 34.2 
9) Uruguay = 31.8 
10) Sweden = 31.6 
11) Norway = 31.3 
12) France = 31.2 
13) Canada = 30.8 
16) Germany = 30.3 
88) England = 6.2 
111) Netherlands = 3.9 
165) Japan = 0.6 

As you can see, the United States has far more guns than anyone else per-capita. But how does that relate to crime figures? The data differs depending what year you find data for, but the US actually does not have the most gun deaths per 100,000 despite the lead in the number of guns overall. In 2000 the US ranked ninth with 2.97 gun deaths per 100,000 people. A 2007 survey also put the United States at 2.97 gun deaths per 100,000, but this time in twenty-eighth place. One factor that was interesting is that in both, the nations that had higher rates than the United States were either not industrialized 'first world' countries or are heavily influenced and involved in the drug trade (the worst having far more murders by gun that the USA). If we omit those results, the US does come out tops among developed nations. Here are some from that list (per 100,000).

United States = 2.97
Switzerland = 0.77
Canada = 0.51
Finland = 0.45
Sweden = 0.41
Netherlands = 0.33
Germany = 0.19
England = 0.07
France = 0.06
Japan = 0.01

2.97 gun homicides per 100,000 really isn't that bad. But when compared to other industrialized nations, things could be much better. Granted, there are nations with less guns than the United States that have much more gun deaths. But due to the 'status' of the country, or how ingrained the drug problem is, they are not necessarily accurate comparisons. In fact, if it were not for the United States' war on drugs, I feel that our figure of 2.97 could easily be brought down more. The NRA would have us believe that more guns would fix the problem, but would it really. Sure, an armed teacher may be able to stop a school shooting, or stop it sooner. But guns in the school could also lead to the odd accident here and there when a kid gets a hold of the gun that wouldn't have been there before. Also, would everyone being armed bring down shootings? I actually think it could increase them. A criminal is going to be a criminal no matter what. If he tries to steal a woman's purse, he may just use the gun to scare her if she is not armed. But if everyone is armed, it is more likely that the thief would skip the threat and just shoot first. Then you have the problem of gun yielding good Samaritans trying to 'stop' the criminal with their firearm. This could lead to a crossfire that leaves even more needlessly shoot due to people missing the target. Personally, I'm amazed at the stats for Japan. Just 0.6 guns per 100 people and 0.01 gun deaths per 100,000 people. That quite frankly makes Japan sound utopian. To compare, the US had 12,000 gun related deaths in 2008, while Japan had only 11! And in 2006, the number for Japan was only 2! Granted Japan does have very strict gun laws, and guns have never been as big an part of Japanese culture as they have been in the United States, but the figures are astonishing none-the-less.

So I truly believe that the surge in gun sales following a terrible gun related tragedy is not the answer. Perhaps you are buying piece of mind. But I don't think sheer numbers of guns is the problem. I support the second amendment, but intelligent choices need to be made if we are to bring our gun related death toll in line with most other industrialized nations. We need universal background checks. Keeping an eye on mental health can stop gunmen before they develop into gunmen. Ending the war on drugs would likely slash gun violence. And finally, responsible gun ownership with full training. I feel that reducing the number of guns would be an even more serious step toward a less violent country. But at least doing the rest should leave us in a much better place, and hopefully bring our gun death numbers more in line with Europe's without any serious work or concessions.


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  1. Please tell me you are not an advocate for extended centralized gun control. If so, I suggest you look more into the other spectrum of this issue. Our own freaking capital has the highest crime rate....and coincidentally enough also has the most gun laws.

    1. I'm in favor of common sense gun control. In some cases, gun laws should be national, and in others I believe the states should decide. The problem with pointing out the crime rate of DC and assuming that the local regulations are to blame is that there is so much more to consider. DC is highly populated, and highly populated areas tend to hive more crime. Disparity of wealth is another big factor. There are many ares in DC of very low income. This also plays a factor. But DC is also very small. That being so, it is easy for residents to simply go to neighboring states for easier gun purchases. Gun laws will never be the end all be all to the gun violence problem, but they can certainly help if they are well thought out common sense laws. To solve the problem all together is going to require a bit of introspection as a nation as well.