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Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Three problems with the American debate on guns


http://cdn.worldcupblog.org
by Michael De Dora

In the aftermath of the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, which left 12 people dead and 58 injured, Americans are once again intensely discussing guns and gun control. Despite the unfortunate circumstances that brought it about, this is a welcome development. However, I have noticed that there are several serious problems with how Americans often talk about guns that prevent any progress in the collective conversation. While I would prefer not to address specific policy proposals — though I think this list appears eminently reasonable — exploring these problems could potentially get us out of a generally locked debate and into substantive thinking and talking. So, here goes.

The first major problem with the American conversation on guns is that many Americans reject that there is a problem at all, and for the wrong reason: they wrongly link admitting to the existence of a problem with their ideological opponents’ proposed solutions. Similarly, climate denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) has admitted to rejecting climate science only after learning what Democrats said it would cost to fight climate change. In much the same way, many people deny there is a gun problem simply because they disdain the idea of a society that doesn’t grant its citizens the right to bear arms (more on that in a moment).

Yet acknowledging a problem does not require us all to agree on the severity of the problem, or on specific solutions. It just means we can start a conversation on the nature of the problem. In other words, we can’t have a constructive conversation if we don’t all agree that there is a problem worth discussing. And with guns, there is.

We do not yet know all of the details surrounding the horrible Aurora event, though we can be sure the gunman would have encountered a much tougher time securing one of his main weapons, the AR-15, if the federal ban on assault weapons was still in place (it expired in 2004). However, whether or not you think that law would have truly prevented or lessened the severity of the Aurora shooting, the fact remains there is a serious problem with guns in the United States. More Americans are killed by guns each year than all other developed countries combined, spree killings appear to be on the rise, and unfortunately the Aurora shooting appears to be another among too many cases where mentally unstable people too easily acquire extraordinarily deadly weapons. Perhaps these facts do not disturb you as much as other trends in the U.S., but they should at the least merit your attention and consideration.

A second major problem with the American conversation on guns is that too often the many factions that exist are represented as two simplified camps: liberals, who want to completely ban guns, and conservatives, who want all guns legal, and believe everyone should carry one (if not several!).

Consider this article by Tammy Bruce, in which she argues that while liberals want to completely ban guns, the better solution to gun violence is to more widely arm Americans (no, really):

“We all want this insane violence exacted in Aurora, and Chicago, and Norway to stop, and one way we can begin to turn the tide is allowing law-abiding citizens to defend themselves with the ultimate equalizer — a firearm — and end this madness of blaming inanimate objects for the actions of individuals.”

Of course, there is no reason to assume an armed movie attendee would have made the situation in Aurora any better. Indeed, it would have likely ended up raising the death count as a result of a gunfight — one he or she would almost assuredly have lost given the shooter’s bulletproof armor, plethora of guns and ammo, use of tear gas, and vantage point — that would have seen bullets flying in every direction. The equalizer in Aurora would not have been a person with a handgun; it would have been the sort of fully armed Marine you find walking the battlefields of Afghanistan.

That point aside, as you can see, Bruce has taken the two-camps approach. I should note that I asked Bruce to name a couple of these supposed pro-gun-banning liberals. She hasn’t replied. I welcome your answer. But more importantly, this is precisely the sort of false dichotomy the public is widely offered, and often accepts. Is there not a middle ground?

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does guarantee citizens a right to have arms, and I believe this is an important right. But we still have to interpret what “arms” really means. To answer this question, it’s worth considering why people aren’t allowed to own certain types of “arms.” Why can’t people own rocket or grenade launchers? Or tanks? Or semi-automatic assault weapons with high-capacity magazines? Oh wait…

There are two reasons these types of arms are illegal. First, they are highly destructive and present a massive danger to society — the kind of danger not presented by hunting rifles and handguns. Second, they serve little use outside of wartime fighting (try using a grenade launcher to take down that deer you’re hunting, or a nighttime intruder, and you might run into a couple of problems).

Yet there is no friction between acknowledging certain weapons should be kept from civilians, and believing mentally fit and able Americans have a right to own arms, picked from a wide range of legal rifles and handguns. Pace Bruce, I don’t know a single person who would argue that owning a Glock makes you more likely to be a mass murderer (although carrying one makes it more likely you will be shot and killed). On the flip side, few people are arguing that there should be no regulation of guns whatsoever. Most people seem to be somewhere in the middle: they agree that there should be a protected right to own certain guns, but also that we need to have a critical discussion about what “guns” really means, and what legal steps we might take to lessen the chance of unwanted shootings.

A third major problem with the American conversation on guns is that too often people believe the discussion on gun control is nothing more than a discussion on gun laws. Consider this quote from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), in response to last week’s shooting:

“This isn’t an issue about guns. This is really an issue about sick, demented individuals. It’s a tragedy, and I don’t think there’s a solution in Washington to solve that problem. ... other than look to our families, look to our communities, starting with our education system. We’ve got to re-instill values in what we’re teaching our children. We need to look at families and the education system.”

Similarly, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said that the proper way to respond to Aurora is not to focus on changing gun laws, but on changing American hearts and minds.

Both Johnson and Romnney are wrong that this isn’t an issue about guns. But Johnson is correct to say that we can’t simply look to Washington (or our local statehouses) for end-all-debate solutions. Gun laws are only one part of the broader discussion about how to manage guns and our attitudes toward guns in American society. Along with gun laws, we need public education efforts. This is precisely what we do with cigarettes: we make them harder to buy (through taxes) and accompany that with public information campaigns (commercials, billboards, etc.). Why should we treat guns any differently?

But public education efforts should not focus only on the danger of guns. They should also focus on bringing mental illness out of the darkness. Too many people believe depression and other mental illnesses are embarrassing conditions fit only for concealment and shame. Instead, they should think of mental illness as a health matter worth addressing. And society more generally should be more open and welcoming, if not encouraging, of humans being candid about their mental health issues.

Let’s be honest: we can’t stop shootings completely. There will always be hard-to-comprehend acts of violence. But these facts should not prevent us from taking steps to improve the situation at hand. We might not be able to stop many instances of gun violence, but we can work to slow their occurrence — so long as we all agree that there is somewhat of a problem, believe improvements can be made, and accept that solutions are more complex than we have been led to believe.

83 comments:

  1. As a Canadian, I find the American obsession with guns to be bizarre. While many Canadians in parts of the country with more of a hunting culture do not want gun laws to be too onerous, most of us would be alarmed at any suggestion that it would be a good thing to allow people to walk around with hand guns strapped to their belts. The problem with the U.S. is one of culture, not of laws. Law reflects culture. Canada has strict gun laws because that is what the people want. Until there is a cultural change in the U.S., the horrific carnage will continue. This culture of violence also spills into Canada as American gun dealers actively send lethal weapons to criminal gangs in this country, resulting in the deaths of innocents.

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    1. So your gangs are benign until they get guns? Interesting. It is so obviously the fault of the guns, then, and not the culture of the gangs...

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    2. Benign or not, they don't shoot people without guns.

      Imagine you had cancer. If someone injected your cancer with a growth hormone which vastly increased the rate at which it grows and spreads, you would be an idiot to say "Well, the cancer was always malignant, so the injection doesn't matter." Making things worse is still making them worse, no matter how bad they are to start with.

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    3. So, say you have cancer. And say I walk up and inject you with a formula which causes your cancer to grow and spread faster. By your argument, since the cancer was already malign, what I've done doesn't matter.

      Making things worse is making them worse, no matter how bad they were to begin with. I know if I got to choose between my neighborhood being infested with gangs armed with switchblades and gangs armed with assault weapons, I would have no problem choosing the former.

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  2. "Along with gun laws, we need public education efforts. This is precisely what we do with cigarettes: we make them harder to buy (through taxes) and accompany that with public information campaigns (commercials, billboards, etc.). Why should we treat guns any differently?"

    In cases like the Aurora shooting, we're dealing with the fringes of the bell curve. I doubt there is a way to make 'education' effective on 100% of a population. There will always be the exceptions.

    If we educate to the point where only 100 people in America smoke, we're successful I'd think. If we educate until only 100 are potential mass murderers, we've still failed.

    It's a case of attempting to control the outliers. A soft solution like education may dull the edge, but a single instance is failure. A hard solution is needed, but I have no idea what that may be. Restricting guns would still allow for homemade bombs.

    Crazy-person-detection-systems integrated into communities may be one avenue towards a solution. But I'd beware the slippery slope. Sometimes I think I'm crazy, but I have no intention of doing harm. I would rather not be profiled autonomously by a computer. :}

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    1. Regulating explosives and their essential ingredients is of course essential, but I wonder if the stats for bomb killings in suburbia (even with terrorism) are higher than for guns. My suspicion (there might be research on it) is that the cock of a wrist to pick up a gun and the flick of one finger to kill someone with it is a bit too easy. The harder you make it to harm someone, the better (leaving aside the fun of hunting, which I find silly, but nevertheless if done responsibly with good preparation, a quick cock and flick are needed to make an immediate kill).

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  3. Here's my problem with this piece of writing.

    The author wrote: " In other words, we can’t have a constructive conversation if we don’t all agree that there is a problem worth discussing. And with guns, there is."

    And then writes another 1,100 words without spelling out what he thinks the "problem with guns" actually is.

    What, precisely, is the problem with guns I wonder.

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    1. The problem with guns is that he personally doesn't like them. And he has a forum, plus an incident to exploit. Plus he thinks he has the moral authority to condemn the machine, rather than the operator. None of my machines, including automobiles, kitchen knives, chain saws, and power tools have killed or hurt anyone. The Leftist nannies who condemn dangerous machines are generally also the ones who consider character development to be too hard for many people, and therefore discriminatory.

      It's also interesting that places like Chicago, with all its gun control, outkill the joker killer on a regular basis. Of course if all the USA had its guns confiscated, things would be great (for the Leftists) - until the import business starts up just like the drug import business, against which the US is impotent.

      Will the Left be happier when only the international druggies have weapons (automatic ones too)? I think they will.

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    2. Computers, cars, kitchen knives, chain saws, and power tools are not created for the purpose of hurting or killing people. Guns are. They also don't make for terribly effective killing tools. Guns do. Just ask yourself how Aurora would have turned out if the attacker showed up with a steak knife and a power drill, and I think you'll figure out why the state has a compelling interest in regulating guns.

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    3. Does the machine care purpose its maker intended? Would guns created by pacifists be less objectionable than ones created by violent bigots?

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    4. I would say, no, a machine has no cares whatsover (being inanimate), and no, guns are guns either way, in answer to your questions, Vincent, if that helps at all?

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    5. I disagree with you Michael, Guns are not ONLY created to kill or hurt. Yes as a result that does happen. However I believe it is a mater of perspective. A wise man once said, God made man, Colt made man equal. Guns have been used for good to. regardless how you look at it, it is a necessary evil. Without guns I as an American citizen may not have the freedoms that I enjoy today. I can understand your argument, and I respect it. However I believe that you need to look beyond your own understanding of it, look out side your sphere. Hitler said if you want to control a nation disarm them.

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  4. The assault weapons ban was purely cosmetic and and it was very easy to buy an semi-auto rifle under the ban. In fact the ban was a huge marketing success as sales and prices skyrocketed during the ban and the trend continues to this day.
    Also grenade launchers are legal to buy. The grenades are illegal, but you can smokers and stuff:
    http://www.firequest.com/37mm-accessories.html

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    1. Thanks Zed. I should note, however, that problems with the expired assault weapons ban are problems with that specific measure, and can't really be used as arguments against assault weapons bans generally.

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    2. "though we can be sure the gunman would have encountered a much tougher time securing one of his main weapons, the AR-15, if the federal ban on assault weapons was still in place"

      My point was that this is not a true statement. There was no hindrance to getting assault weapons when they were banned. Part of the problem of parcing the issue is getting past the political subterfuge and propaganda.

      I would suggest you not identify the weapon. Identify the characteristic that is the problem. In the case of the AR15 it would the firepower potential. It has a high capacity magazine with a high rate of fire and is quickly reloadable.

      Under the assault weapons ban, one of the characteristics that was banned was the bayonet lug. This would have been effective in preventing a rash bayonet changes in South Chicago if that was a problem. What it actual did was give politicians a way to ban assault weapons without banning assault weapons.

      Another thing about the NRA argument is they separate criminal behavior from law abiding citizen behavior. When you lump the two together you are making a bad conclusion. Because gangsters carry guns and gets shot does not mean that carrying a gun gets you shot. It is the gangster behavior and carrying a gun that might get you shot if the other other gangster is also banging it.

      It is a tough situation to parse.

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  5. The likelihood of a randomly selected American dying from gun-related violence is extremely low, and it is not at all cleat that anti-gun laws would reduce the likelihood any further. So, I guess, I must ask: what is the problem here?

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  6. @Eamon: The US ranks #55 out of 66 counties surveyed on firearms death rate, just behind the Philippines and ahead of Mexico.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_firearm-related_death_rate

    Now you know where the problem is.

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  7. Peter,

    No, now I know where the U.S. ranks amongst countries surveyed on gun-related deaths. My comment remains unaddressed: the likelihood of dying from a gun-related event is extremely low and there is no good reason to believe further gun laws would decrease that likelihood further. I should add also that even if further gun control laws did reduce gun-related fatalities, it is not clear that the reduction would compensate for the costs (both direct & indirect) associated with enforcing the laws.

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    1. Eamon,
      considering that your likelihood is still multiple times higher than mine in Europe or Acitta's in Canada (and other assaults don't compensate that), either Europeans and Canadians are generally less violent or gun law enforcement has a positive effect. (I am only looking at the homicides - I do think that gun-control would be fairly irrelevant for suicides. Although it is interesting that every 2nd gun death in the U.S. is a homicide, whereas in Canada it is every 6th, and in Switzerland every 10th.) Add the likelihood of getting injured by an unfriendly gun, and I would say our cost-benefit ratio is pretty good - there certainly will be a point where a further increase in restriction will increase cost (both monetary and in liberty) prohibitively, and we may be reaching that point in Europe, but the US is far away from it.

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    2. Just an extra thought - if you are right that gun laws wouldn't decrease the likelihood, then the reverse should also be true - i.e. if we liberalized our local gun laws to American level, your chance to die of a gun homicide would still be 20 times mine. Seems you have a much higher opinion of my countrymen than I do. ;-)

      [NB: "Extremely low" is an opinion - the "extremely" part, not the "low". Sure it's low, but it's also extremely unnecessary.)

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    3. Eamon,

      on this one I think you are - predictably - sticking to the irrational NRA position. Besides the fact that I have seen plenty of articles referring to studies showing that gun laws do make a difference, as chbieck pointed out, what is your explanation for the difference between the US and pretty much every other democracy in the world in this respect? You think Americans are innately more violent than Europeans and Canadians? That there is something wrong about the US culture that is magically independent of the easy availability of guns? And what on earth is your reason to allow people to acquire means of mass destruction regardless of other considerations? And, as a follow up to the last question, why not tanks and warplanes? No, I don't expect a coherent answer, not even from you, but you are welcome to try.

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    4. Chbieck & Massimo,

      Unfortunately, I am traveling today and the next four days and will not have time to respond in full to your comments, so excuse this abbreviated one. First, my position is that though higher than Europe, the likelihood of dying from gun-related violence is much too low to warrant costly legislative activity and enforcement. Second, regarding the evidence concerning gun-laws and gun violence: See or rather listen to the latest episode of BBC4's podcast More Or Less. I do not have a firm stance on the latter issue; I am rather agnostic. But I suspect gun laws are not the principal contributing factor to a decrease in gun related deaths.

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    5. Just curious: how costly is our legislative activity and enforcement?

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    6. On a related note, the majority of gun-related deaths in the U.S. are intentionally self-inflicted (aka "suicide"). I do not havedata on the relative efficacy of trying to kill yourself with a firearm versus other methods, but I am pretty sure that tighter handgun controls is not going to instill an increased will to live among these would-be suicide victimes.

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    7. Eamon,

      I'm curious: the number of homicides caused by guns each year in the U.S. is nearly the same as the number of deaths caused by drunk driving. Given these similar frequencies, would you also suggest we stop spending so much money on legislative activity and enforcement for drunk driving?

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    8. Chbiek,

      Not entirely sure. With increased anti-gun laws comes an appropriate increase in expenditures on law enforcement, prosecution, and loss of tax revenue on gun sales. I imagine there are also subjective costs we should consider (e.g. criminalizing otherwise safe & peaceful behavior).

      Michael,

      You propose a poor analogy. I fully support legislative & law enforcement activities which target the improper use of firearms. Likewise I fully support similar measures which target the improper use of automobiles.

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    9. Eamon,

      > With increased anti-gun laws comes an appropriate increase in expenditures on law enforcement, prosecution, and loss of tax revenue on gun sales. <

      And I still don't see how on earth those amount to reasonable objections.

      > You propose a poor analogy. I fully support legislative & law enforcement activities which target the improper use of firearms. Likewise I fully support similar measures which target the improper use of automobiles. <

      Why, exactly, it is a poor analogy? Michael isn't supporting a complete ban on guns (that would be unconstitutional), only regulation of proper use. That surely includes massacres, yes? We ask people to carry insurance for cars, and we make them go through regular checks of their engines for environmental reasons. Surely we could do a *criminal* background check for gun purchasers? Maybe even make them buy insurance, so someone can pay for the health care expenses due to accidents or purposeful carnage.

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    10. Massimo,

      The initial bit is an objection insofar as gun related deaths are unlikely events. Since such events are unlikely, the expected utility of spending increased amounts to prevent them *may* not be rational. Add to this that it is not at all clear further gun laws would decrease gun related crimes, and you can see how my comment amounts to an objection.

      As for your second bit, I have no problem in principle with such measures -- I only worry that they are superfluous.

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    11. Eamon,
      just did some napkin calculations, fwiw. The US gun homicide rate is roughly 4.7, Germany's 0.22. Let's round that down to a difference of 4 and assume for a moment that it actually is our gun laws that cause the difference. That would mean that our gun laws prevent 3200 deaths a year - at a million per life (is that an acceptable figure?) that means if the measures cost less than 3.2 billion the utility increase is reasonable.

      We have a total of ca 250k police. I don't know the total cost of law enforcement, but the incremental change in cost through enforcing gun laws if certainly much smaller than 3.2 billion. So even if only a fraction of gun homicides are prevented through laws and their enforcement, it is still worth it, utility-wise. At least on our end.

      Cheers
      Chris

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    12. "That there is something wrong about the US culture that is magically independent of the easy availability of guns?"

      It's typical of Massimo to imply that whatever's "wrong" with "US culture" can be "magically" abstracted from the realities of class society.

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    13. Attlee,

      Did you even read my comment in its entirety? In context? No, I didn't think so, as usual.

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    14. Whether or not gun laws "make a difference" is irrelevant.

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    15. Chris,

      I am uncomfortable conjecturing about the costs (approximate or otherwise) of enforcing further gun laws and, as I said, I am agnostic about whether gun laws reduce gun related crimes / deaths, so I cannot really comment on your last reply. I would like to see some good research on this issue, though.

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    16. Attlee,

      > Whether or not gun laws make a difference is irrelevant <

      Seriously? On what planet do you live, man? Unbelievable.

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    17. They are irrelevant as a means of accounting for the disparity "between the US and pretty much every other democracy in the world".

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    18. First step is to make them illegal without a police check and foraml application (license) the police administer. Then an amnesty for people to surrender them, which will net quite a few. The others can be confiscated if and when located, you don't need to waste resources hunting down individual guns.

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    19. Attlee,

      says who, and on what grounds? Or don't you see you just made a statement of faith because it fits your ideology?

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    20. Sociologists, political scientists, psychiatrists, psychologists, anthropologists, criminologists . . . prison administrators.

      As Eamon intimates, one is pressed to account for "democracies" like Switzerland - which has the 4th highest gun ownership rate in the world, lax gun laws, and virtually no gun-related crime. The question then is - what accounts for the prevalence of sociopathic behavior in "US culture" as opposed to others?

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    21. Attlee,

      sloppy and self-serving as usual. First, Eamon said no such thing. It was chbieck, responding to Eamon, and the point was completely different.

      Second, scientific method 101 teaches us that picking individual examples, especially in the social sciences, accomplishes nothing. One has to look at the big picture.

      Which is not difficult to find:

      Four Harvard (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/research/hicrc/firearms-research/guns-and-death/index.html) studies conclude that:

      1. Where there are more guns there is more homicide.
      2. Across high-income nations, more guns = more homicide.
      3. Across states, more guns = more homicide.
      4. Across states, more guns = more homicide (part 2)

      Moreover (http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/27/2/214.full.pdf), "the rate of firearm deaths in the United States exceeds that of its economic counterparts eightfold and that of UMI (upper-middle-income) countries (9.69) by a factor of 1.5.

      Finally, there is a pretty nice correlation (yes, I know, correlation doesn't necessarily imply causation, though the two are highly correlated, as statisticians say) between percent gun ownership and firearm deaths *within* the US (http://www.statcrunch.com/5.0/viewreport.php?reportid=15389), which is a pretty good cultural control, don't you think?

      But I absolutely completely do not expect any of the above to change your mind, even a bit. This is for the benefit of interested readers. Cheers.

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    22. Here's a Harvard study for the benefit of interested readers (and narrow-minded ideologues such as myself):

      http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf

      "International evidence and comparisons have long been offered as proof of the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths. Unfortunately, such discussions are all too often afflicted by misconceptions and factual error and focus on comparisons that are unrepresentative. It may be useful to begin with a few examples. There is a compound assertion that (a) guns are uniquely available in the United States compared with other modern developed nations, which is why (b) the United States has by far the highest murder rate. Though these assertions have been endlessly repeated, statement (b) is, in fact, false and statement (a) is substantially so"

      "To reiterate, the determinants of murder and suicide are basic social, economic, and cultural factors, not the prevalence of some form of deadly mechanism. In this connection, recall that the American jurisdictions which have the highest violent crime rates are precisely those with the most stringent gun controls. This correlation does not necessarily prove gun advocates’ assertion that gun controls actually encourage crime by depriving victims of the means of self‐ defense. The explanation of this correlation may be political rather than criminological: jurisdictions afflicted with violent crime tend to severely restrict gun ownership. This, however, does not suppress the crime, for banning guns cannot alleviate the socio‐cultural and economic factors that are the real determinants of violence and crime rates. . . The political causation is that nations which have violence problems tend to adopt severe gun controls, but these do not reduce violence, which is determined by basic socio‐cultural and economic factors. . . The point is that violence will be rare when the basic socio‐cultural and economic determinants so dictate; and conversely, crime will rise in response to changes in those determinants—without much regard to the mere availability of some particular weaponry or the severity of laws against it."

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    23. "The 'more guns equal more death' mantra seems plausible only when viewed through the rubric that murders mostly involve ordinary people who kill because they have access to a firearm when they get angry. If this were true, murder might well increase where people have ready access to firearms, but the available data provides no such correlation. Nations and areas with more guns per capita do not have higher murder rates than those with fewer guns per capita."

      "Moreover, there is not insubstantial evidence that in the United States widespread gun availability has helped reduce murder and other violent crime rates. On closer analysis, however, this evidence appears uniquely applicable to the United States. More than 100 million handguns are owned in the United States primarily for self‐defense, and 3.5 million people have permits to carry concealed handguns for protection. Recent analysis reveals “a great deal of self‐defensive use of firearms” in the United States, “in fact, more defensive gun uses [by victims] than crimes committed with firearms." Concomitantly, a series of studies by John Lott and his coauthor David Mustard conclude that the issuance of millions of permits to carry concealed handguns is associated with drastic declines in American homicide rates. Ironically, to detail the American evidence for widespread defensive gun ownership’s deterrent value is also to raise questions about how applicable that evidence would be even to the other nations that have widespread gun ownership but low violence. There are no data for foreign nations comparable to the American data just discussed. Without such data, we cannot know whether millions of Norwegians own handguns and carry them for protection, thereby deterring Norwegian criminals from committing violent crimes. Nor can we know whether guns are commonly kept for defense in German homes and stores, thus preventing German criminals from robbing them. Moreover, if the deterrent effect of gun ownership accounts for low violence rates in high gun ownership nations other than the United States, one wonders why that deterrent effect would be amplified there. Even with the drop in United States murder rates that Lott and Mustard attribute to the massive increase in gun carry licensing, the United States murder rate is still eight times higher than Norway’s—even though the U.S. has an almost 300% higher rate of gun ownership. That is consistent with the points made above. Murder rates are determined by socio‐economic and cultural factors. In the United States, those factors include that the number of civilian‐owned guns nearly equals the population— triple the ownership rate in even the highest European gun‐ ownership nations—and that vast numbers of guns are kept for personal defense. That is not a factor in other nations with comparatively high firearm ownership. High gun ownership may well be a factor in the recent drastic decline in American homicide. But even so, American homicide is driven by socio‐economic and cultural factors that keep it far higher than the comparable rate of homicide in most European nations."

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    24. "In sum, though many nations with widespread gun ownership have much lower murder rates than nations that severely restrict gun ownership, it would be simplistic to assume that at all times and in all places widespread gun ownership depresses violence by deterring many criminals into nonconfrontation crime. There is evidence that it does so in the United States, where defensive gun ownership is a substantial socio‐cultural phenomenon. But the more plausible explanation for many nations having widespread gun ownership with low violence is that these nations never had high murder and violence rates and so never had occasion to enact severe anti‐gun laws. On the other hand, in nations that have experienced high and rising violent crime rates, the legislative reaction has generally been to enact increasingly severe antigun laws. This is futile, for reducing gun ownership by the law‐abiding citizenry—the only ones who obey gun laws—does not reduce violence or murder. The result is that high crime nations that ban guns to reduce crime end up having both high crime and stringent gun laws, while it appears that low crime nations that do not significantly restrict guns continue to have low violence rates."

      "Thus both sides of the gun prohibition debate are likely wrong in viewing the availability of guns as a major factor in the incidence of murder in any particular society. Though many people may still cling to that belief, the historical, geo‐ graphic, and demographic evidence explored in this Article provides a clear admonishment. Whether gun availability is viewed as a cause or as a mere coincidence, the long term macrocosmic evidence is that gun ownership spread widely throughout societies consistently correlates with stable or declining murder rates. Whether causative or not, the consistent international pattern is that more guns equal less murder and other violent crime. Even if one is inclined to think that gun availability is an important factor, the available international data cannot be squared with the mantra that more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death. Rather, if firearms availability does matter, the data consistently show that the way it matters is that more guns equal less violent crime."

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    25. "Once again, if more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death, areas within nations with higher gun ownership should in general have more murders than those with less gun ownership in a similar area. But, in fact, the reverse pattern prevails in Canada, “England, America, and Switzerland, [where the areas] with the highest rates of gun ownership were in fact those with the lowest rates of violence. . . A recent study of all counties in the United States has again demonstrated the lack of relationship between the prevalence of firearms and homicide. This inverse correlation is one of several that seems to contradict more guns equal more death. For decades the gun lobby has emphasized that, in general, the American jurisdictions where guns are most restricted have consistently had the highest violent crime rates, and those with the fewest restrictions have the lowest violent crime rates. For instance, robbery is highest in jurisdictions which are most restrictive of gun ownership. As to one specific control, the ban on carrying concealed weapons for protection, “violent‐crime rates were highest in states [that flatly ban carrying concealed weapons], next highest in those that al‐ lowed local authorities discretion [to deny] permits, and lowest in states with nondiscretionary” concealed weapons laws under which police are legally required to license every qualified applicant. Also of interest are the extensive opinion surveys of incarcerated felons, both juvenile and adult, in which large percentages of the felons replied that they often feared potential victims might be armed and aborted violent crimes because of that fear. The felons most frightened about confronting an armed victim were those “from states with the greatest relative number of privately owned firearms.”

      "The burden of proof rests on the proponents of the more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death mantra, especially since they argue public policy ought to be based on that mantra. To bear that burden would at the very least require showing that a large number of nations with more guns have more death and that nations that have imposed stringent gun controls have achieved substantial reductions in criminal violence (or suicide). But those correlations are not observed when a large number of nations are compared across the world."

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    26. Clearly, Massimo, yours is an erroneous mantra - the "difference" of which you speak can only be accounted for by appeal to the underlying disparities in socioeconomic conditions. Guns don't kill people - sociopathic maniacs do.

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    27. "Moreover (http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/27/2/214.full.pdf), "the rate of firearm deaths in the United States exceeds that of its economic counterparts eightfold and that of UMI (upper-middle-income) countries (9.69) by a factor of 1.5."

      Just a brief comment on this. The exact numbers here may or may not be accurate, but the citation doesn't answer my question: why does the "rate of firearm deaths in the United States exceed that of its economic counterparts" etc.? It can't be the mere availability or presence of any particular form of weapon. Analysis of "high income nations" like Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Germany, France, Denmark, etc., dispatches this oddly reductive notion. These and other "high income nations" have high rates of gun ownership with gun-related homicide rates as low or lower than "high-income nations" in which gun ownership is much rarer. In fact - contrary to your preposterous assertion - data from the United States on firearms ownership indicates a negative correlation between "percent gun ownership and firearm deaths": "where firearms are most dense violent crime rates are lowest, and where guns are least dense violent crime rates are highest." Indeed, if the liberal litany “where there are more guns there is more homicide” were true, "broad based cross‐national comparisons would show that nations with higher gun ownership per capita consistently have more death. Nations with higher gun ownership rates, however, do not have higher homicide rates than those with lower gun ownership." In fact, "many high gun ownership nations have much lower murder rates. Consider, for example, the wide divergence in murder rates among Continental European nations with widely divergent gun ownership rates. The non‐correlation between gun ownership and murder is reinforced by examination of statistics from larger numbers of nations across the developed world. Comparison of homicide and suicide mortality data for thirty‐six nations (including the United States) for the period 1990–1995 to gun ownership levels showed 'no significant (at the 5% level) association between gun ownership levels and the total homicide rate.' Consistent with this is a later European study of data from 21 nations in which 'no significant correlations [of gun ownership levels] with total suicide or homicide rates were found.'"

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    28. Attlee,

      to begin with, please do not post four long "comments" that turn out to be verbatim from the article you already linked to. It is bad form.

      Second, so, even if the study you mention should be considered, that gives you the right not to bother to counter all the other ones that reach a different conclusion? And there is a good number, as I mentioned before.

      Third, there are apparently pretty good reason to question the Kates and Mauser study. Let's start with the fact that it was not a "Harvard" study, as neither author has any collection with that august body of learning and knowledge. Rather, the paper was published in a *student* journal run by conservatives/libertarians. I checked their web page, and - suspiciously - nowhere there says that the submissions are peer reviewed, nor is there a standard list of editors to guarantee the seriousness of the journal. Naturally you'll think my skepticism is ideological, but check it our for yourself.

      Fourth, I perused the article itself, and there is precious little "data" there, all in the form of tables, with no statistical analyses.

      Fifth, commentators have pointed out at least one glaring mistake: the murder rate in Luxembourg is overstated by an order of magnitude, and since that country plays a major role in the argument based on their Table 2...

      > the "difference" of which you speak can only be accounted for by appeal to the underlying disparities in socioeconomic conditions <

      Did I ever say that socioeconomic conditions do *not* make a difference?

      > Guns don't kill people - sociopathic maniacs do. <

      Great logic. But sociopaths need guns, yes?

      Just consider the following analogy: we have laws that prohibit drunken individuals from driving. We don't ask the (separate and important) question of why some people get drunk, we just take away their right to drive a car while under their influence. What on earth is the difference with guns, except that automatic/assault weapons are a heck of a lot more dangerous than cars??

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    29. A quick search of Wikipedia has this article from Sydney University in 2006 showing that deaths from guns fell from 521 to 289 per year after stricter gun laws and seizure of guns were introduced in 1996 shttp://sydney.edu.au/news/84.html?newsstoryid=1502.

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    30. "Did I ever say that socioeconomic conditions do *not* make a difference?"

      You implied that whatever is "wrong" with "US culture" could not be "magically independent of the easy availability of guns."

      "Second, so, even if the study you mention should be considered, that gives you the right not to bother to counter all the other ones that reach a different conclusion?"

      The mantra that more guns equals more deaths does not withstand serious scrutiny - as based on evidence from such diverse fields as stated above.

      "Fifth, commentators have pointed out at least one glaring mistake: the murder rate in Luxembourg is overstated by an order of magnitude, and since that country plays a major role in the argument based on their Table 2..."

      I will cede you this point. Either Kates-Mauser cooked the numbers or the Canadians misplaced a decimal point. Whichever the case - what no-one seems to have noticed - is that the Luxembourg figure seems to have been plucked (erroneously) from the Eighth United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations:

      http://www.unodc.org/pdf/crime/eighthsurvey/8sv.pdf

      However, conceding this point doesn't shift the burden of proof. You still have to account for countries with high rates of gun ownership that have very low gun-murder rates — or, conversely, low-income nations like Mexico that have quite stringent gun laws and a comparatively high incidence of gun-related violence. One typo aside, the statistical analyses conducted by Kates-Mauser remain unanswered, which means that my argument stands unimpeached. Like all "self-serving" liberals, you just don't like the red stinging hand of fact slapping you back and forth in the face.

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    31. I would support the Australian approach and findings against the various studies cited because they are directly on point and a clear case study. Very strict gun laws began in 1996 and nearly halved the gun death rate within 7 years. The downside for the USA, as for Australia, is the cost of standard compensation when people surrender guns. Any hunter can have a gun or guns, with police check and approved application. No automatic weapons at all.

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  8. The problem with guns is that people use them to threaten, assualt, and murder other people, as seen on the news. There may be benefits also, but that's the problem. What are the benfits? I would reverse the prima facie case and put the burden of proof on proving benefit, from looking at the news lately and readin the papers. I don't know anyone I can think of offhand who owns a gun.

    The other thing is training and familiarity with guns, in a careful and respectful way, rather than by watching TV and video games. Research goes this way and that on the connections between popular culture and personal habits, but it alarms me the amount of summary executions by the 'good guys' in movies these days, and summary execution seems the norm in video games. Personally I would only have them in a few authorized hands, and I use other means of personal protection. I have been satisfactorily involved in few fist fights against the odds for necessary reasons, but no guns involved.

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    1. No, Paul. People have a fundamental right to live their lives the way they choose, and to own property as they see fit. If society (using government as the tool) wishes to infringe on that right (as they often legitimately do) then society or government has the moral burden to justify that infringement before instituting it.

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    2. People have no fundamental rights. It's the law of the jungle without society in some form, and you can grab what you like and kill who you like and just try to deal with what happens as a result. You are in society, and it does not tolerate murder (no justification needed). Machinery & chemicals that easily murder need regulation too (an extension from the justification opposing murder). I think you have naive view of reality, Vincent. The justification already exists by defining the causal relation.

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    3. "People have no fundamental rights"

      This is exactly the mentality behind gun control initiatives, and exactly why they must be resisted. Anybody who doesn't want to live in a country where they have no fundamental rights must necessarily oppose the present superficial hysteria - the real issue is between the unbridgable gulf between those who say that you have no fundamental rights and those who still want to live in a free country.

      I thank Mr. Keating for his honesty.

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  9. Michael,

    some comments from a European perspective:

    - Just judging from news reports, you don't seem to have more killing spree shootings in the U.S. than we have in Europe. (That might be just availability bias talking, though.) Those you can make harder, but never completely eliminate, just like you said. It's the "small" gun-related incidents that would make the difference. (And again, I am not counting suicides.)
    - I think you are right in saying that the big difference is in the acknowledgement of a problem. While you will always find people who think a proposal is rubbish just because it is from the "other" political camp, that sort of thinking seems to be much less prominent in (continental) Europe. (My personal theory is that a two-party system promotes a black&white view.) We had a school shooting with 15 deaths just a few kilometers from where I live, and the measures that followed were based on a broad consensus and enacted by the current conservative-liberal (European term) coalition - which seem unthinkable in the US. I had a discussion about that just over the weekend with a friend of ours who used to hunt. He sold his gun after the legislation - it was a mild annoyance, nothing more.
    - Education is good, but can education change attitude as much as necessary? The general German view is that guns are for hunting, not as a sport but in a gameskeeper way to keep nature in balance (you have to show you understand that before you are allowed to hunt), and for range shooting as a sport. And for law enforcement of course, but never as a private means of self-defense. (My guess would be that 80%+ of Germans share the view I outlined above.)
    The "over my cold dead hands" rhetoric is something you don't hear around here outside of the lunatic fringe.

    Personally, I think the issue is built into the American slogal "it's a free country (and I can ... whatever I want)". Sounds great, and that slogan is what attracts many people to the US, but some will want to insert "shoot" in the dotted space.

    Cheers
    Chris

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    1. Chris,

      Thanks for reinforcing the "Wild West" stereotype of the US, relative to Europe. :-) Sadly, there's plenty of evidence to support that stereotype. :-(

      As the regulars here may already know, I'm a fan of the book, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Whether or not the book's main thesis is true that inequality (in this case, measured by income) naturally entails a host of social ills - including violence (e.g. by eroding trust and by triggering the counter-dominance/respect-seeking instincts that are especially familiar to young males), at the very least they point to a curiously strong relationship between inequality and violence, where (among the wealthy nations included in their sample) the US happens to have the dishonor of being the leader in both categories.

      That aside, although I would very much like to see a greater diversity of electable political options here in the US, besides Democrat or Republican, that's not going to happen until we manage to reform the voting system; i.e. away from plurality (or "winner-take-all") voting and towards preference voting and proportional representation. One day, perhaps.

      Until then, we voters in the US have to confront the quite real differences in how the two dominant parties and political philosophies here see and approach the world - e.g. as cognitive linguist George Lakoff says (using metaphorical models that map parenting styles to morality and politics, or "moral politics"): as "strict fathers" (conservatives), "nurturing parents" (liberals/progressives), or some combination thereof (bi-conceptuals/swing-voters).

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    2. mufi, sorry about that, but somehow Charlton Heston always pops into my head when I hear US and guns in the same context ;-)

      Delete
  10. "Indeed, it would have likely ended up raising the death count as a result of a gunfight"

    That's ludicrous.

    "Is there not a middle ground?"

    "People" with guns are obviously not the problem. Men with guns are.

    Women should be encouraged to carry concealed guns, and men should face much more difficulty in acquiring them.

    As far as I know, no one has tried anything like this.

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    1. Why is it ludicrous to think that a single person with a handgun would not have had a chance at stopping the shooter -- who had bulletproof armor, several guns and stacks of ammo, tear gas, and a blinding vantage point -- and might have actually made things worse?

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    2. It's not ridiculous at all.

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    3. "would have likely"

      "might have"

      Of course, it might have. But you are walking back the force of the original claim. A gun fight in which the shooter would have been compelled to shoot at one target from whom and while others flee would not have likely raised the death count. And the counter gunman (woman?) could have waited until the gunman was reloading to fire multiple shots off, etc.

      As much as paintballs hurt, I imagine shots to body armor hurt more so (I've never been shot while wearing body armor, or without it). A lucky shot to the head would have been possible, etc.

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    4. Getting shot while wearing body armor can result in broken ribs and bruised organs.

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  11. By the way, since my essay was published, both Fareed Zakaria and Michael Shermer have weighed in on the subject with thought-provoking articles:

    http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/07/27/time-to-face-facts-on-gun-control

    http://www.skepticblog.org/2012/07/31/gun-control-and-the-law-of-large-numbers

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    1. Thanks, I just read Shermer's bit and it is good. If you read the comments section you'll see many are trying to nickle and dime him to death arguing about trivial definitions. You need to define what is the problem and then stick to it, Shermer calls it WMM.
      I believe you can differentiate defensive capability and offensive capability and then argue for banning offensive weapons capability.

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  12. I haven't read through all the comments, so someone else might have addressed this, but the term "Arms" does have a formal, legal, definition - and it isn't limited to weapons. It's any personal means of offense or defense. Guns, knives, etc. certainly qualify, but so do: safety glasses, steel-toed boots, "bullet proof" vests, riot or other shields, and so on. Think of a knight wearing armor with his weapons on a horse - that's where the definition began. His armor and other equipment, including his horse, were his "arms". And for those who want to talk about the "militia" clause - ALL U.S. citizens are theoretically "militia" (loosest application of the term here) - it's a red herring. Also it's not just a Second Amendment right, but a Fourth and Fifth Amendment one too (protections of the right to acquire, keep, or own property). Any rational gun-control must be legal as well. That means before denying the right to any person it must be applied on a case-by-case basis and not a blanket statute directed at a class or classes of persons (unless they are non-citizens). That's due process - just as vital to community safety as rational gun control - probably even more so. A community without justice is not a safe one.

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  13. Once more, guns don't kill people, right?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/06/us/shooting-reported-at-temple-in-wisconsin.html?_r=1&hp

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  14. Surely - but does the mere availability of guns incite people to violence? Does more guns mean more crime? Intellectual honesty compels us to answer: "no".

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    1. No, the answer is - as shown by the links posted above - that more gun availability does increase incidence of violence. Are you going to be sufficiently intellectually honest to admit it?

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    2. And what those links fail to account for is the fact that those less-violent areas were often even LESS violent when guns were legally available:

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/1440764.stm

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1223193/Culture-violence-Gun-crime-goes-89-decade.html

      And take a look at what happened to crime in DC when guns became available there again:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_YTM_eAWnQ

      And on a side note, fully automatic weapons have been illegal since the 30's, so I hardly see how those are relevant in your generalizations.

      In fact, Switzerland has a surplus of automatic weapons ownership with far less crime than many developed countries:

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/1566715.stm

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  15. If the links were accurate the authors would be able to show that a significant number of "high-income nations" with more guns have more deaths and that nations that have enacted stringent gun laws have achieved significant drops in gun deaths. Not only are these correlations not observed when broad sets of countries are compared, one can see from the statistics that there is actually a negative correlation between gun control (or lack thereof) and gun deaths.

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  16. Re the so-called evidence that more guns is correlated with increased incidences of gun violence, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has determined that as of 2004 the data is inconclusive and that more research is needed.

    The synopsis may be read here: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10881

    The full report here: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10881

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  17. The Academy of Sciences study is cited in Kates-Mauser: "In 2004, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences released its evaluation from a review of 253 journal articles, 99 books, 43 government publications, and some original empirical research. It failed to identify any gun control that had reduced violent crime, suicide, or gun accidents. The same conclusion was reached in 2003 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s review of then extant studies"

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  18. In "US culture" gun violence correlates to a higher incidence of socio-economic immiseration, not to the stringency of gun laws. That is the only positive correlation.

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  19. This video offers an excellent neutral viewpoint: http://youtu.be/HyPnIG0_MGs

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  20. "In "US culture" gun violence correlates to a higher incidence of socio-economic immiseration, not to the stringency of gun laws. That is the only positive correlation."

    Baloney.

    "gun control" doesn't work in the U.S. because there is NO meaningful control of most firearms at the federal level, the several National Firearms Act of the 20th century notwithstanding.

    When you have states like NY and NJ with relatively stringent "gun control"* abutted by states like PA and VT it is practically impossible to stop illegally obtained firearms from being introduced into those states and used for criminal purposes. Add to that the prevalence of "gun shows" which are, in many cases, effectively unregulated firearms supermarkets where there is little, if any, diligence done on the part of sellers to determine whether the buyer is, in fact, eligible to purchase firearms. When this situation obtains, the "gun control" that you people spend so much time complaining about is virtually non-existent. In most cases a crime has to be committed, beyond the illegal purchase of a firearm, before the authorities know about it.

    I understand your obssessive need for your gunz, they replace something else that's missing in your life. I would be much less critical of you people if you simply admitted that you're lying about "gun control" being a failed initiative, since you know as well as I do, it's never been implemented in any sensible, coherent and cohesive manner.


    * Although those "controls" fall miles short of the "confiscation" and "banning" scenario envisioned by the lying profiteers of the NRA and other pro-gun orgs.

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  21. I am pro-gun, being a fat old 57 year old SAHM, with five adult children now living and contributing to society. I guess I am "MISSING" something in my life. The fact is, I not only own one handgun but several and have used them and know how to shoot them. But to the general liberals I am a nutz,lol. Of course the federal government also calls me a criminal because I once gave my adult child one of my pain meds for his tooth ache while he was here visiting me! I could be "JAILED" for this under the laws that restrict some meds to us citizens. In fact I would wager to say there are MANY NUTZ out here and CRIMINALS like me who break these so called laws. The PLAIN fact is the politicians dont give a hoot about the so called "GUN" deaths anymore then they care about the "DRUG" problem here in the US. We really need to put the nutz and "REAL" criminals in jail,people like me;) At 57 I have never smoked a ciggi,have gotten intoxicated all of 6 times times in my whole life,never been arrested and in the past 30 years have gotten one speeding ticket.I have never taken any illegally purchased drugs nor have I ever taken many so called illegal drugs including,weed,LSD,meth,speed,coke,etc. In my 57 years I have been a SAHM who home schooled her five children and married to the same man for over 20 years.I am debt free,and own my own home and two vehicles. I pay my taxes on time and dont owe the government a dime either.I have lived a very calm life and my family has been my major interest along with cooking,and the NET. I am one of the "NUTZ" who own a gun(s).BTW I am NOT voting either one of the two major parties this next election.I will continue to own my weapons under the constitution of the US and reinforce the idea of "freedom" for all!

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  22. People like me, who are proponents of stricter gun control measures, aren't against Americans' 2nd Amendment right to "bear arms," either for sport or self-defense. We are distressed by the incidence of mass shootings in the US and we believe, reasonably I think, that placing strict controls on what kind of guns private individuals can own, and where they can carry those guns, would diminish the probability of future mass shootings.

    I agree that our culture glorifies violence; one need only look at the movies and video games we produce. And I agree that our mental health system is sorely lacking -- our jails are used as holding pens for the mentally ill. These problems must also be addressed, but their existence is not a reason not to undertake stricter gun control measures. Rather it is all the more reason to do so.

    In addressing the arguments for and against gun control, let me repeat an old saying one of my stat professors was fond of quoting, "Liars figure and figures lie." People on both sides of the gun control argument like to quote statistics in defending their position, but you won't find a study of gun related injury/death in which any epidemiologist worth his/her salt can't find serious flaws. Why? Because you have no way of controlling for confounding variables (such as culture).

    In light of the above, we have to do the best we can with what we know to prevent as many of these tragic gun deaths as humanly possible. We certainly aren't doing that now. We know that more lethal weapons are capable of killing more people, more quickly than other more conventional hand guns, which we know are perfectly adequate for self defense. And we know that lethal guns, such as AR-15 type rifles, are too easy to obtain. Let's take the really lethal guns off the street, and do a better job of controlling who has access to guns in general.

    One other thought.

    When I was in the military, we didn't carry a sidearm all the time. We went to the armory and checked it out when we were required to be armed. This same idea could be employed for gun enthusiasts who enjoy shooting the AR-15 or similar weapons. Gun ranges could be licensed to maintain an armory of such weapons to check out to shooters for practice or competitive shooting at the range. The gun range armory would have to undergo periodic audits to ensure they maintained adequate security and inventory control over their weapons, just as we in the military did.

    Come on. We can do better.

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  23. Assault rifles seems to hit a nerve, The N.R.A. and People of the U.S.A. who own assault rifles now classed as W.M.M. have created a problem they wont admit too, So many large capacity round,s of ammo. able to MOW DOWN PEOPLE LIKE GRASS as they were designed for, These very folks approve of these people killers by allowing the laws to include them, so when any family members, or friend are killed in a barrage of bullets from a Tool of death Take the responsibility square on and and admit we approved them and allowed this action to take place, without the tools of murder major killings cannot take place Its no different than approving an attack of any form and the taking of lives of fellow citizens in any part of the world, change the rules and save lives you have the power to reverse bad trends but first admit the responsibility, Try passing the buck after someone you love is blown away can 50 rounds of BULLET HAIL solve the loss of loved ones ???

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  24. This exchange starts with Aurora in July, and continue with Newton.
    Very unfortunately for all the lives cut too short, no statistics will bring an answer to this problem.
    All countries have their episodes and their crazy individuals - there is no need for long discussions to know that if weapons are difficult to obtain, the probability of events like Aurora or Newton is reduced - it is never zero though.
    Is this problem cultural, it certainly has its roots in the past.
    But it is mainly a problem of money, and large amount of it leveraging on the cultural background to avoid change.

    Change will come, slowly, and at a cost of many more lives probably.
    But it will come.

    discussions like this one contribute to the possibility of a change.

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  25. The bottom line in this argument is that human approaches to guns are based on logical fallacies and deep cognitive biases. Anyone short of special forces soldiers (who can presumably place every bullet they fire on a dynamic target ~50% of the time) is literally placing their own life at risk by possessing a firearm in an altercation. The average person can expect to be killed with their own weapon in half of all encounters.

    Scientists with an understanding of human cognition know that as systems, human beings are ill suited to reliably use lethal force when confronting an armed shooter.

    Consider a thought experiment. Think of four individuals. Three have guns. (1)Pulls a gun to shoot armed (2). Half of the time each will die. Either (1) or (2) remains afterward. If the original shooter (1) remains (3) reacts subsequently and pulls on (1). Each will die half the time.

    One against two does not guarantee that one will fail. In a crowd of sparsely armed individuals, action is delayed. This means that for a time, until the majority identify the original shooter, combat will be one on one. The advantage belongs to the original shooter who can maintain progress until he engages individuals who can fire simultaneously. In an open environment, (4) will likely survive more than half the time by escaping while others engage.

    Therefore the benefit of such action is sacrificial. If pulling a gun delays the shooter, it can allow many others to survive.

    One wonders if gun owners truly understand the logical implications of their actions.

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  26. It would be interesting to note that the Right to bear Arms originally meant the ability to form a Militia-After all, that is why the battle of Lexington and Concord happened in the first place, they didn't actually keep their guns on their person, they stored them in the Armory, which was what the British were after, taken literally the Second Amendment would mean we shouldn't have a military.

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  27. “More Americans are killed by guns each year than all other developed countries combined, spree killings appear to be on the rise, and unfortunately the Aurora shooting appears to be another among too many cases where mentally unstable people too easily acquire extraordinarily deadly weapons.” -- You

    I challenge your data as relevant. More Americans killed does not tell us the propensity for Americans to be killed versus other places. If our population is greater, and the percentage of occurrences is lower in America, then there still may be more Americans killed, but its means there is less of a “problem”.

    Spree killings appear to be on the rise because it’s being covered more; the criteria of evidence are changing which is moving the goalpost from an objective perspective on the gun “problem”.

    Mentally unstable is not a causal link; this is a great example of confirmation bias. Not all shooting involve mentally unstable people, and not all mentally unstable people with access to firearms go on shoot sprees. We are missing evidence necessary for an objective perspective on the gun “problem”.


    “Of course, there is no reason to assume an armed movie attendee would have made the situation in Aurora any better. Indeed, it would have likely ended up raising the death count as a result of a gunfight...” -- You

    I agree that it may have not made the situation better, but to assume that it could have made it worse is asinine. The killer had no obstacles between him and his goal and to suggest that placing an obstacle between him and his goal would have made the achievement of his goal more complete is stupid.


    “But we still have to interpret what “arms” really means.” -- You

    Yes we have to interpret the words we read, but you’re suggesting corrupting those words. Uncorrupted, those words do not specify a limitation so there is no limitation. Arms are simply a means of offense or defense; so it means all means of offence or defense as it is written. Also, the constitution is charging the federal government to act in certain ways and to limit actions in others; it does not target the actions of citizens. It cannot, therefore, target the citizens’ possession of arms. This particular area in the Constitution only limits government activity. If you don’t like the facts that no limitation exists on the citizenry, then change the Constitution the right way via the amendment process, not the debauchery of the English language.


    “There are two reasons these types of arms are illegal. First, they are highly destructive and present a massive danger to society — the kind of danger not presented by hunting rifles and handguns.” -- You

    You falsely equate legality with justice. Laws can institutionalize injustice as easily as securing justice; so the fact that certain arms are now illegal is irrelevant. You also misplace the purpose of our right to arms. The purpose is a means of defense; I agree we have to right to destroy as such or no right to a means of offense as such except for the purposes of defense. The fact that some arms can be used for destruction is irrelevant because sometime neutralizing a threat requires the destruction of that threat.

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  28. Here is more detail on my view: http://lifeordeathpolitics.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/227/

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