Friday, April 5, 2013

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Mother Informed

On December 14, 2012 I wrote a post entitled Hell Hath No Fury Like a Mother Enraged in response to the Sandy Hook massacre.

Since then, I have gotten involved with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America to channel my anger and despair in a positive way.
I sat down earlier this week to compose a short piece on why I support Moms Demand Action, but I ended up doing so much reading and research I had to break my post into three parts.

> Part I: Analysis, Honesty and Gun Control
> Part II: The Very Unsexy, Yet Essential, Backdrop

As I said in my last post, the counterpoint to gun control legislation has become a collection of misguided arguments based on diversions, technicalities and populist mythology. I can't possibly do every argument justice, so I've chosen a few to highlight.

"Guns Don't Kill People"

Are we still carrying on with this inane piece of propaganda? Let's compare the facts, shall we? 

On December 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT with a Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle (a type of AR-15). He shot 154 rounds in less than 5 minutes. (Source: NBC News)

On the same day, 36-year-old Min Yingjun injured 22 children and 1 adult at a preschool in Beijing with a knife. (Source: Daily News)

Take a look at the words in bold if you are confused.

Guns. Kill. People.
Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle

The Chicago Argument

Gun advocates like to point to Chicago as a city with strict gun laws yet out-of-control gun violence. The argument goes something like this: Chicago has strict gun laws. Gun violence persists. Ergo strict gun laws don't work.


First, according to the CDC, Chicago's firearm homicide rate is 23rd in the nation at 11.6 deaths per 100,000. While that number is high, it's certainly nothing compared to New Orleans, which is first with a whopping rate of 62.1, almost double that of runner-up Detroit at 35.9. (In third place, viewers of The Wire will recognize, is Baltimore at a rate of 29.7 deaths per 100,000.)

Photo credit: porbital

Second, Chicago's experience underscores the need for federal legislation around guns. Because according to a recent New York Times article, the problem is guns acquired legally elsewhere.
More than a quarter of the firearms seized on the streets here by the Chicago Police Department over the past five years were bought just outside city limits in Cook County suburbs, according to an analysis by the University of Chicago Crime Lab. Others came from stores around Illinois and from other states, like Indiana, less than an hour’s drive away. Since 2008, more than 1,300 of the confiscated guns, the analysis showed, were bought from just one store... within a few miles of Chicago’s city limits. (emphasis is mine)

A 2001 study using data from guns used in crimes traced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms corroborates this explanation. It found that "[t]he effect of gun control laws was... mitigated by the nearness to a state with fewer restrictions on gun purchasing."

Third, a 2005 study published in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology found that
Comprehensive gun control legislation lowers the number of gun-related deaths anywhere between 1 to almost 6 per 100,000 people in the states with the most gun-related legislation. Socioeconomic and law enforcement variables play equally important roles in containing gun-related fatalities. (emphasis is mine)
Chicago is in the midst of gang wars unlike any the city has seen in recent history. As a result, one might expect to see a spike in firearm homicides as was seen in the city in 2012. (Socioeconomic variable)

In addition, this New York Times article from 2010 shows how weakly Chicago's strong laws are enforced. (Law enforcement variable)

All of this is to say that simplistic, anecdotal arguments in the absence of academic research are useless. I could easily counter with the fact that New York City also has strict gun laws, yet its firearm homicide rate dropped to 4.0 recently. (Source: CDC)

Incidentally, the reason we don't have as much hard evidence and research into guns as we might want is that the NRA has lobbied hard -- and successfully -- to limit federal agencies from conducting research into firearms.

Did you know, for example, that, under pressure from the NRA, Congress passed legislation in 1996 that banned the CDC from conducting research regarding gun control? Here is the language:
"None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control."
In 2011, Congress placed those same restrictions on all agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services, including the NIH.

The Russia Argument

The Russia Argument is a cousin of the Chicago Argument, but way more ridiculous. It tries to compare the gigantic apple of the U.S. with the gigantic orange of a developing nation or police state where the rule of law is not respected in any domain.

For example, in response to tweets to my congressional representatives, someone actually wrote to me: "Russia banned guns. Their murder rate is twice ours." As if Russia should somehow be the benchmark to which we aspire?


Seriously? Land of the free? And the AK-47?
Photo credit: anankkml
No thank you.

How about Australia, where, according to studies in Firearms Research (a database of social science, criminology, law reviews, medical and public health research concerning firearms compiled by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center) gun control legislation worked:
The authors... found that after the first legislative reform in Victoria, rates for all firearm-related deaths decreased in the period 1988-1995 compared to the rest of Australia. After national legislation was implemented in 1996, similar declines were observed in the rest of Australia from 1997 to 2000.
Or Canada, where, following the passage of gun-control legislation in 1977, researchers found "a significant decline in the overall homicide rate and a non-significant decline in homicide by firearms" over the period 1969-1985.

In the U.S., civil society functions. Let's compare ourselves to our peers, shall we?

After the Aurora, CO shooting, The Guardian compiled data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) database of homicides by firearm and the Small Arms Survey of 2007 to show the U.S. has the highest homicide-by-firearm rate per 100,000 people of any developed country on the globe.

I'm so very proud, aren't you?

The Technicality Argument: "There Is No Such Thing as an Assault Weapon"

I love these people. They focus on semantics instead of substance to derail the conversation. They say "assault weapon" is an imprecise term (correct), therefore the entire argument for reasonable gun legislation is invalid (incorrect).
I stopped listening after you said "assault weapon."
Photo credit: artur84

Here is just a sampling of comments left on the Moms Demand Action - Greater NYC Chapter Facebook page:

"[T]he term 'assault weapon' as used by schumer, oboma [sic], and the like ate [sic] not at all acurate [sic]. they are simply catch phrases invented by clueless people...."

"I'm guessing none of the people here can define an 'assault weapon' or know the difference between a clip and a magazine."

"An 'assault weapon' actually doesnt [sic] exist. There is no such thing, the term 'assault weapon' and 'assault rifle' are terms [sic] made up by the media to villify [sic] weapons."

Are these people for real? Who cares what they are called? Let's call them doppeldydooks. Doppeldydooks have the capacity to blow the jaw clean off six-year-old boys. Doppeldydooks kill.

Doppeldydook fanatics say Doppeldydook A and Doppeldydook B are effectively the same, so what's the point of banning A but not B?

From this same argument, might we not just as easily conclude it prudent to ban both A and B?

It wouldn't be unconstitutional; in fact, until the late 1970s, the Supreme Court agreed that firearms did not belong in the hands of civilians.

Look, Doppeldydook Fanatics, the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) did gun rights activists a favor by not banning all semi-automatic rifles and pistols. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

The complex and perhaps inconsistent definition of "assault weapon" in the 1994 AWB weakened the bill. But it was one step in the right direction.

As I said in my last post, Christopher Koper, a senior fellow at the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, concluded in his AWB report that a new ban could be a good first step. In his own words:
a new ban on large capacity magazines and assault weapons would certainly not be a panacea for gun crime, but it may help to prevent further spread of particularly dangerous weaponry and eventually bring small reductions in some of the most serious and costly gun crimes.  

The Populist Myth of Self Defense

The self-defense argument is the one that annoys me the most, and yet it is the one that is nearly impossible to counter. Some people actually believe they are in the minuscule minority of people capable of successfully defending themselves with a gun. No amount of data or studies will convince them otherwise.

For the rest of us thinkin' folk, I will outline the data that puts an end to the populist myth of self defense.

But first a word from our sponsors (i.e., commenters on Moms Demand Action's Facebook page):


"And who is to say how much ammo I will need? Would I ever face a burglar, carjacker, or any other armed threat in my near future? I certainly hope not... but should the situation ever arise, I would most certainly want the means to protect myself. Could I do it with 10 rounds or under? Who knows, there is no way of saying what kind of threat I would face or how many threats I would face."

"I love how gun grabbing liberals claim to be all about human rights but refuse to acknowledge self defense as a human right" (This gem was on Twitter.)

The simple truth is that "gun ownership makes everyone less safe," according to a March 25 post on The Guardian. 

The article cites a 2009 study from the University of Pennsylvania that "found that those with firearms were about 4.5 times more likely to be shot than those who did not carry..." as well as numerous studies from the New England Journal of Medicine and others indicating that successfully defending oneself with a gun is "rare and very much the exception" and "it doesn't change the fact that actually owning and using a firearm hugely increases the risk of being shot."

You'd probably be better off.
Photo credit: Ambro

Just ask relatives of the highly trained police officers who are shot and killed in the line of duty every year. Like this 22-year NYPD veteran who was shot to death while breaking up a robbery in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn in December 2011.

In reality, despite the estimated 310 million guns out there, U.S. civilians rarely shoot a gun in self defense. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, the rate is less than a tenth of a percent. 

Put another way, "guns are used to commit a crime about 10 times as often as they are used for self-defense." Plus, there is no evidence that "right-to-carry" laws decrease gun violence. (Source: The Atlantic's informative article, "Gun Violence in America: The 13 Key Questions (With 13 Concise Answers")

References and Further Reading

So You Think You Know the Second Amendment? (The New Yorker) Until the late 1970s, following a change in NRA leadership, "according to the Supreme Court, and the lower courts as well, the [second] amendment conferred on state militias a right to bear arms—but did not give individuals a right to own or carry a weapon."

Why expanding background checks would, in fact, reduce gun crime (The Washington Post) Interview with Daniel Webster, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

Have we forgotten Newtown already? Why are we letting the NRA win (Salon) In depth piece by a Sandy Hook alumnus and lawyer who, among other things, questions the NRA's motives for suppressing gun violence research. 

Gun Violence in America: The 13 Key Questions (With 13 Concise Answers) (The Atlantic) Excellent round-up piece of all the basic issues.

Guns don't offer protection – whatever the National Rifle Association says (The Guardian) One of the best explanations of why the "self-defense" argument is bogus.

Gun Violence in U.S. Cities Compared to the Deadliest Nations in the World (The Atlantic) "If it were a country, New Orleans (with a rate 62.1 gun murders per 100,000 people) would rank second in the world." Wow.

Everything you need to know about the assault weapons ban in one post (The Washington Post)

The Truth About Assault Weapons (Anonymous) I found this piece while trying to understand the definition of "assault weapon." It is obviously polemical and biased -- and, again, focusing on irrelevant details to derail the argument -- but I found it very interesting.