Moderating the Chain-Reaction Gun Debate

guns

By Mike Cronin

The recent shootings in Paris, San Bernardino, and Colorado Springs have brought out the usual heated debate over guns and gun control.  Perhaps we can moderate the chain-reaction with a bit of reason by dispelling a few myths:

Myth: Gun violence is exploding in America. Mass shootings are up, and more people than ever are being killed by guns.

Fact 1: Not true. It’s very hard to find source material on this issue that is reasonably free from bias – either liberal or conservative.  The least-biased source I found, Pew Research, shows that “National rates of gun homicide and other violent gun crimes are strikingly lower now than during their peak in the mid-1990s, paralleling a general decline in violent crime, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of government data.

Fact 2: Even if we set aside any policy or philosophical agenda on the part of the media, consider that news organization select stories based on several factors of “newsworthiness.”  “Mass shootings” fit several of these criteria.  They are sensational stories. It is good business to hype sensational stories; ergo killing sprees get lots of coverage…and perpetuate a sense of dread or crisis.   It’s just not as sexy to report that “no one was shot today” when an armed citizen deterred a gunman from committing a violent act.

Myth: Why do you need a gun when you can just call the police?

Fact: The average number of police officers in cities with 50,000 or more residents is 17 cops per 10,000 people.  When you account for shift work, days off, and detectives, supervisors, and special teams (like SWAT), one quarter or less of those 17 will be uniform-wearing officers “on the street” available to respond at any given time.  You might be able to call the police, but it’s very unlikely they will arrive in time to get between you and whatever or whoever is threatening you.

Myth: The police have to protect me.

Fact: No they don’t.  They are obligated to protect society as a whole via the deterrent value of investigating crimes and arresting criminals, not protecting you as an individual.  Don’t take my word for it; the Supreme Court has maintained this position over several cases dating to at least 1981, including Castle Rock v. Gonzales and Warren v. District of Columbia.

Myth: The Second Amendment was about arming the militia, not the average citizen.

Fact:  The Supreme Court ruled in D.C. v. Heller that the 2nd Amendment affirms the individual right to keep and bear arms.  The founders themselves made clear in their writings independent of the Constitution and Bill of Rights that the people must not be prevented from owning and bearing firearms. Consider these few examples from some of the most prominent founders:

“Firearms stand next in importance to the constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence … from the hour the Pilgrims landed to the present day, events, occurences  (sic) and tendencies prove that to ensure peace security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable … the very atmosphere of firearms anywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good.” -George Washington

“The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand arms, like laws, discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as property. The same balance would be preserved were all the world destitute of arms, for all would be alike; but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside … Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them.” -Thomas Paine

“The great object is that every man be armed.” and “Everyone who is able may have a gun.” -Patrick Henry

“Those who hammer their guns into plowshares will plow for those who do not.” -Thomas Jefferson

“The constitutions of most of our States assert that all power is inherent in the people; that … it is their right and duty to be at all times armed; … ” –Thomas Jefferson

“The best we can help for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.” -Alexander Hamilton

The bottom line: 1. Gun violence, though dreadful, is not as bad as you are lead to believe. 2. You are responsible for your own self-defense, not the police!  3. The right of the individual to own a firearm is absolutely what the founders intended to protect, and what the Supreme Court has upheld, in the 2nd Amendment.

Disagree?  let’s hear it!

5 thoughts on “Moderating the Chain-Reaction Gun Debate

  1. Mike,

    Thanks for the article. I think most Americans are in agreement here regarding the right to bear arms, left and right. I do not see many legitimate calls for banning guns, and those on the right claiming that those on the left want to are generally cherry-picking anecdotes, thus suppressing the real debate by using slippery slope fallacy scare tactics. What I do see are people asking for more regulation of assault rifles or other arms with the capacity to kills lots of people in a very short amount of time. These are weapons of war essentially. Every American has a right to firearms with the capability of defending one’s own family, home, and property (hand guns and shotguns), as established by the Supreme Court. On the other hand, I think many are uncomfortable with an unregulated market where people can buy weapons made for war like assault rifles that can shoot hundreds of rounds per minute, and thus enable the mass shootings we see today (not specified by the Supreme Court). Why should people have access to that capability? And if you cite greater reasons like protecting freedom from tyranny, fine, but then people should also be allowed to buy tanks, F-4s, MANPADS, SCUD missiles, etc…. I mean why regulate that and not your M-4s? All in all, there is a positive correlation between number of guns and number of deaths caused by firearms… the question remains is it sufficient cause too? Is there enough correlation to infer cause, or are there other factors that influence the excessive gun violence in the U.S. (excessive when compared to other Western countries and their gun violence / crime rates)?

    Also, good job on providing the statistics to refute common misperceptions about crime or gun shootings getting worse. It is not only that. Today in the U.S., people are the most politically free, wealthiest (its true but do not confuse wealth with economic security), lowest infant mortality rate, highest life expectancy rate, and lowest probability of dying a violent death… in history. So the trends are positive. Yet I understand how the new information age coupled with our availability bias make us susceptible to falsely believing that things are getting worse, when in fact the opposite is true. The one big caveat to this is of course the effects of global climate change over the next 150 years, which is the great wild-card regarding our long-term future. I remain cautiously optimistic. Cheers Mike from Miami.

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    • Nice to hear from you, Rich! You bring up several foci of the eternal gun debate. My desire is that more people would face the issue with cool reason. If there should be a line regarding what type of weapons individuals may own, I don’t know exactly where to put it beyond this: Since individuals have a right to life (and the inherent corollary to self defense – from any threat up to and including tyranny), the founders saw fit to protect the derivative right to keep and bear arms. One cannot defend oneself with a nuclear weapon or poison gas without killing innocents, so they cannot be weapons of self defense, ergo one does not have the right to own either of them. One might reasonably defend oneself with an assault rifle (either the genuine, full-auto capable military issue variety, or the scary-looking but garden-variety semi-automatic look-alikes the anti-gunners are vexed about.) The military-issue versions are already virtually illegal to own; banning their tamer look-alikes might appeal to politicians and the fearful, but it wouldn’t keep nut cases or terrorists from going on shooting rampages. In fact, while the country is arguing back and forth about guns and gun rights, we are ignoring whether the mentally incompetent, especially those that pose a danger to others, ought to be free and unsupervised. Perhaps we should be discussing assault-people bans instead of assault weapons bans.

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  2. Hi Mike. Interesting article, but you introduced at least one major issue–mass shootings–that you did not fully develop. I believe you are correct that the incidence of gun violence in this country has been decreasing, and I think the available data demonstrate that pretty clearly; however, the U.S., according to the data that I’ve been able to find, does have the highest incidence of mass shootings of any country in the world. Why is that the case and how do we change that dynamic? Say what you will about gun ownership, but it hasn’t seemed to reduce the relatively high incidence of mass shootings in this country.

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    • Hi, boss! I think it greatly depends on the definition of mass shooting and what sorts of incidents and countries are left out. I think the mass-shooting problem was a lot worse in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, Baathist Iraq, Pol-pot’s Cambodia, Mao’s China, Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, ISIS, Somalia, Rwanda, Syria, Mumbai…

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      • The source I found, Mike, was the WSJ, and it defined a mass shooting as gun-related violence resulting in at least four deaths. Philippines was in the #2 slot, well behind the U.S.

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