July 25, 2012

Guns Redux

At this point, I am neither a proponent nor opponent of gun control.  I generally think the federal government should stay away from gun control, but I don't have any problems with municipalities, counties, or even states limiting access to firearms.  Colorado, for example, should probably think about gun control.

Every time we are faced with mass murder, the whole discussion becomes soured.  Extreme events lead to extreme reactions, the visceral replaces the reasonable.  There are equivocations on both sides.

  • How are gun deaths qualitatively different than, say, stabbings?  Or, to point to a more recent trend, bombings?  A long time acquaintance of mine was recently beaten to death in a fight in Los Angeles: is his death somehow cataloged differently because he was beaten?  Why do we fixate on gun deaths as opposed to violent deaths in general?
  • Obviously guns make killing easier, but (especially in light of the above) is that really the metric we care about?  The numbers* show that the US sports over 88 guns per 100 people (not that 88% of Americans own guns, just to be clear).  Only Serbia gets within 30 of that number.  A quick look at homicide rates from 2000 puts the US at 4.55 per 100,000, 65% of which are committed with guns.  Countries that have a higher death rate but do not allow legal gun ownership: Zimbabwe (7.24 per 100,000, 66% by gun), Latvia (10.03, 13%), Estonia (10.45, 15%), Belarus (10.13, 33%), Barbados (7.49, 40%), Costa Rica (6.57, 51%).  Countries that allow gun ownership, with higher death rates, and lower gun death percentages: Lithuania (10.01, 22%), Ukraine (8.93, 4%), Moldovia (8.13, 6%), Poland (5.61, 8%), Uruguay (4.61, 55%).  Countries that make the US look like Mayberry: Columbia (62.74, 83%), Guatemala (25.47, 73%), Mexico (14.11, 25% . . . wait, 25%?!  Apparently, they hadn't fully made the changeover from machetes to AKs by 2000**), Paraguay (12.05, 61%).  What does all this tell us, other than the fact that those Baltics/Eastern Europeans WILL KILL YOU WITH THEIR BARE FUCKING HANDS?  It's not clear what all this means . . . and that, friends, is the point.  There are no easy answers.  I dare say that one of the ideas that starts to surface from all these numbers is the old saw that "guns don't kill people; people kill people".  Those wacky Former Soviet Republics sure don't need guns to kill people; do we believe the US would be radically different?
  • If guns disappeared tomorrow, we would see less bloodshed in the streets (turf wars wouldn't have the same body counts), but would other types of homicides be dramatically changed?  Would the jealous, enraged lover be hindered by the switch from gun to knife?  This especially holds true for mass murder, the very event that always triggers our national hand-wringing over gun laws: guns are ridiculously easy to get in the US right now, but if they were gone, do we think for a minute that James Holmes wouldn't have just walked in to that theater and tossed around some pipe bombs?  He did, after all, rig his apartment with explosives.  Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris used several pipe bombs, though most of them didn't go off (Holmes likely would not have made that mistake).  In the Arab and Persian states, bombs are now the weapon of choice, and there's really very little a government can legislate to keep people from building bombs.

On the other hand . . . 

  • That meme with the rock being the first weapon used by one human to kill another, so maybe we should have rock control?  Yeah, shut the fuck up.  Maybe 15% of the population could kill me with a rock, and that number goes down to 5% if I get my hands on a baseball bat or tire iron first (and to that five percent: PACK A FUCKING LUNCH).  On the other hand, any idiot with a gun can kill me.
  • Can we please (please please please please) finally be done with the redneck fantasy that an AK in the hands of a patriot keeps the government from taking over?  One word: DRONES.  They always have a bigger gun.  And, while we're on the topic, who do you think the government fears more: A) a 17-year-old computer geek with a MacBook Pro and bad intentions, or B) a thousand knuckleheads with automatics?  If you guessed "B", you are living in a fantasy world.  You know those drones I mentioned earlier?  They get plenty of al-Qaeda, and they can get you.  And you can't shoot them down.  But you know who can bring down drones?  Computer geeks, like the students from the University of Texas who spoofed the GPS signals for a drone and put it on a crash course before rescuing it themselves.  And what did they have?  Guns, no.  Computers, yes.  Now, are there any questions?  Maybe if you used your computers for more than porn and Neo-Nazi websites . . .
  • I don't even really buy the self-defense angle.  Guns are good against knives, ball bats, clubs, etc., but against other guns?  The thug is 1) gonna have the drop on you, and 2) has probably drawn on someone before, which means there isn't going to be any hesitation on that trigger.  Whereas you, unless you are military trained and battle tested, probably are going to have a split second of indecision before killing a man.  The thug, not so much - that is, after all, what makes them thugs.  And yeah, I know you say you're a badass and wouldn't hesitate, but I don't believe you.
The narrative always goes bad whenever we have an extreme event like the latest Colorado shootings.  Everyone misses the point . . . on purpose, it seems.

*  As always, I grabbed the first numbers at my disposal.  They are certainly not fresh numbers, and perhaps not even completely accurate.  And, as always, I welcome corrections from the statistical department.  I can't see that revised numbers would dramatically change my point.
**  Sure enough, 2010 numbers show Mexico up to 59% homicides by gun.