International House of Dan: Ammo For Guns

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Ammo For Guns

When I've debated gun control in the past I've been a little off my game, so to speak, because I've never really looked too closely at the numbers. Gun fanatics care very much about the issue, so they spend a lot of time online learning the statistics that the NRA so eagerly provides them, so I took some time to dig up some numbers and have decided to share them with you, since many of you live in Missouri, dangerously close to the owners of trucks with NRA stickers.

I've decided to focus on some general arguments that are made. Often what opponents of gun laws will argue is more narrow, but falls within one of these categories: crime vs. gun laws, "the little old lady", deterrence, militias, and constitutionality.

Crime vs. Gun Laws: cities with tighter gun control like New York, Chicago, and D.C. have higher crime rates than places like Wyoming and Iowa, where people can have guns.

The obvious flaw with this sort of statement is that it overlooks factors such as drugs, education, poverty, racial and socioeconomic inequality, imprisonment, unemployment, and gang activity as possible factors leading to higher crime rates in places like Harlem than in places like Dubuque, IA. Proponents of this argument should be easily dispatched with an explanation of the difference between correlation and causation. Perhaps suggest that tall buildings, and not gun control laws, are the cause of higher crime.

Another factor to consider is that guns are brought into gun-free jurisdictions from other states. In light of this, the gun ban is not the cause of crime, the irresponsible neighboring states are.

"The Little Old Lady": last year, a little old lady in (insert city) was able to protect her home and grandchildren because she had a gun.

The NRA encourages members to share their vigilante exploits on the web in a section it calls "the Armed Citizen". This is where you get the "gun-as-equalizer" tales of plain law abiding, god fearing men, women, and children who feel their lives are safer because of guns. The little old lady is a favorite of this pseudo-mythical example because she is perceived to be weak and sympathetic. The numbers relating to defensive gun used are discussed next, but first I would point out that an armed old lady is not in any position of advantage against an armed criminal, or an unarmed one who is freed from rational risk assessment due to intoxication.

Deterrence: criminals are not as likely to target citizens who may be armed.

The NRA points to a 1984 study in which inmates answered questions about their likelihood of targeting armed victims. Surprisingly, 81% agreed that "A smart criminal tries to find out if his potential victim is armed" and 74% agreed that "One reason burglars avoid houses when people are home is that they fear being shot." How shocking that criminals would consider self-preservation in conducting their trade. What these questions don't tell us is what criminals do when they can't determine whether a target is armed, or whether an empty home becomes a more likely target for burglary if it is known to contain a gun. I suspect the answers are "move on to a different target" and "yes", in which case, gun ownership doesn't deter crime, just delays it and better arms it.

This latter point is especially relevant, at least to my position on gun control. The question to ask oneself is, would I get rid of all legal firearms if it would keep them out of the hands of criminals? For me the answer is yes.

While numbers vary, an unacceptable amount of guns come into the hands of criminals through theft. A recent study by Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research estimated that 500,000 guns are stolen from private individuals each year (not including about 30,000 more stolen from dealers and common carriers). The Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics has not released information on guns since 1995 (as far as I can tell). At that time, it reported the following from the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC): between 1968 and 1995, 2 million guns were reported stolen, at an average rate of 274,000 a year. If that rate held steady through 2006 (the graph shows a rising figure), then 3.014 million more guns have been stolen since then. The 226,000 gun difference between the FBI and Hopkins figures is probably due to the first being reported thefts and the second an estimate of total thefts, as well as the fact that Hopkins data is likely more recent, reflecting the rising trend. The report notes that the National Crime Victims Survey estimates 341,000 thefts from private citizens between 1987 and 1994, noting that the number is likely much higher since the survey does not ask how many guns were stolen in each theft.

I don't see the need to look at ratios of victimization to support, or legal to stolen weapons used in crimes, because they favor a near-sighted justification of a position that will become untenable once the next unrelated statistical shift takes place. I prefer a supply-side approach whereby a combination of laws aimed at the eradication of guns, will eliminate them from our streets for good. We do recover stolen guns, not as quickly as we'd like, but eventually, guns will run out. One problem today is that theft reporting is not required, this should be addressed as follows: failure to report the theft of a gun gives rise to civil and/or criminal liability for crimes committed with that gun. I see no problem with requiring that if you own a gun, you keep an eye on it. The next step is to deny a permit to anybody who's had a gun stolen for a period of certain years. If you can't keep the gun locked up, you don't get to have one (but thanks for letting us know you lost it). As the number of "legal" guns begins to decline, it becomes easier to institute tougher laws against armed criminals, as well as tougher restrictions on gun ownership. Eventually, the unavailability of guns legally will spill over into the criminal sector, making it financially impossible for most armed thugs to remain so. Next thing you know, the only people with guns are police, really, really, really bad guys who don't live anywhere near me, and lunatics in the hills of Kentucky.

Militias: armed citizens are the only protection against dictatorship.

People who truly believe this are too far gone. They've seen Red Dawn too many times and they will not respond to reason or appeals to peaceful change. Consider reporting them to the BATF. When societies find themselves under siege by their government, especially in this age of interconnectedness, the best way to restore democracy is not through armed insurgence (which only elicits more and harsher reprisals), it is through peaceful resistance. Yes, people die, and the process is slow, but one look at 1790's France or 20th century Africa will show you what kind of government you get from armed "grassroots" revolutionaries.

Constitutionality: a well regulated militia being necessary for the protection of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

I will leave this question to another day, it is far too thorny and I want to read a little more before presenting my final stance. Suffice it to say for now, that nothing proposed above should run afoul of any constitutional test. Since the USSC has not addressed the Second Amendment under 14th Amendment grounds, the states are still free to regulate guns at will.

A Final Note: it seems appropriate to point out as a parting note, that the prison population is economically very different from the population of "responsible gun owners". This is another reason I glossed over numbers on the role of guns in crime, the habits and tendencies of a street thug in Chicago's South Side do not justify, in my mind, any safety concern of a gun owner in North Suburban Cook County. The same is not true for theft data, because all too often the stolen gun goes through many hands on the way to the criminal. I have to imagine that the children of suburban gun owners (trying to get drug money) are often among the first of those hands.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw this by accident. I don't know where to start with your seriously flawed argument(s) in favor of gun control.

I'll just start with your jibe at pseudo-mythical old ladies with guns. I guess you would prefer little old ladies be dead because in the real world, little old ladies without guns who are attacked often die, sometimes after being raped to boot.

I have an older friend (early 50's)who shot a man in the face (took out some teeth) when the man refused to comply with orders to lie down. The man broke into my friend's house and was in my the bedroom of my friend's teenage daughter. Read all about it here.

Thanks to his handgun, there is one less criminal on the streets. The criminal survived (he ran away and was treated at a hospital before being turned over to the police.)

Had my friend not had the gun, the story might have been very different, and I might have one less friend in the world.

Do us a favor and take an unarmed walk in one of the projects in Chicago. When you get mugged, or murdered, maybe you will change your opinion.

Best regards,

2nd Amendment Fan (as well as the rest of the U.S. Constitution)

30 April, 2006 03:56  
Blogger Dan said...

Start and apparently end with the mythical little old lady... Your friend could've used a bat or golf club to knock the intruder out then waited for police to arrive, then his teenager would've been spared the additional trauma of seeing her father splatter an intruder's blood all over her bedroom (why the face, anyway? A little sadism perhaps? Wouldn't a shot in the arm or leg have worked as well?).

Thank you for reiterating my point that an irrational criminal will not be deterred by the fact that there is a gun in the home. Not that it matters, but I have walked around most of Chicago's neighborhoods, at various hours, either on my way to or from places, or on the picket line, in my days with the Union. Anybody who is aware of their surroundings, has lived in a big city, and has common sense can avoid criminals with great ease. Then again, if I were ever murdered during one of these walks I couldn't really change my opinion, could I?

I have two similar gun stories from last month, right here in Chicago. Honor student at middle school is minding her own business inside her house when a stray bullet from the street kills her.

In his inaugural address in 1801 Thomas Jefferson said of critics of the early government, "let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it." This is why I did not delete your comment.

-a friend of the Constitution who realizes that the Second Amendment was written when we lacked a standing army and Congress could only summon the "well regulated militias" for a brief period.

30 April, 2006 14:13  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan -

Guns are not only for deterrence, they also serve a protective function. Self-defense is a human right, is it not?

" armed old lady is not in any position of advantage against an armed criminal, or an unarmed one who is freed from rational risk assessment due to intoxication."

Let's accept that statement at face value for argument's sake. I would just add that an unarmed human being peaceably occupying their home is at a serious disadvantage when attacked by a criminal.

Anyway, back to my friend who shot the burglar in the face. He probably intended to shoot to kill (headshot) to protect his family, and in the stress of the situation, pointed one or two degrees down from point blank range. (He fired when the criminal was at arm's length and in danger of taking away his gun after repeated commands to get down.) It was a small caliber weapon with very little "stopping power." A shot aimed at the arm or leg, assuming you did not miss due to combat stress, would not have stopped the man any more than throwing one of your hardcover Black's Law Dictionaries at him. In Firearms Safety Course, they always teach you to shoot at the center of mass (i.e., chest area.) So maybe my friend was pointing at the criminal's chest but shot the man's face instead. I don't even know if my friend has a bat or golf club, but they are poor self-defense weapons, especially in confined spaces such as small North Arlington children's bedrooms.

During this entire incident, 911 was on the line and it took several minutes for police to arrive. The mental trauma was not from seeing her father shoot a man, it was from having a stranger in her darkened room at night, and said stranger not immediately departing when she started screaming. BTW, the homeowner was not prosecuted as he broke no laws.

Here is my favorite Thomas Jefferson quote.

No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.
---Thomas Jefferson: Draft Virginia Constitution, 1776.

As a slaveholder, he did not want to arm slaves.

I'm a "freeman," not a slave.

Another quote I found on the 'Net.

A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks.
--- Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, 1785. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors.

Thanks to

As soon as you write with a quill pen on parchment paper, just like when the First Amendment was written, I will do nothing different. The right of the people (that's you and me) to keep (in their homes, outdoors or indoors) and bear (in their hands) arms (guns, pistols, rifles, etc.) shall not be infringed.

And chew on this.

Gay group defends right to arms

Prosecute and lock up criminals who use guns. That is the solution. Just because automobiles are involved in over 30,000 deaths per year in the United States, no one is calling that automobiles be banned. Cars sometimes even hit innocent teenagers. A bullet and a car are both made of metal. Only the person behind the wheel (or trigger) should be put away who criminally kills people with their car (of bullet fired from a gun.) Or to use your logic, maybe we should ban cars.

I apologize for the bit about being murdered, but these people in the big city could not avoid being murdered.

The initial investigation disclosed the following: on Monday, July 7, 1997, at approximately 5:15 a.m., the bodies of Mary Caitrin Mahoney, Emory Allen Evans and Aaron David Goodrich were found by the morning store supervisor in the rear of Starbucks Coffee, 1810 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. All three had suffered gunshot wounds.

Have you been to DC? That Starbucks is in one of the nicer neighborhoods (Georgetown) of our nation's capital. I've even had a coffee there (once), and I paused to think about what had happened there. Banning guns is not the answer. Get the criminals off the street, and keep the guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens.

There are many stories never reported in the MSM of ordinary people (armed, ordinary people) thwarting crimes with their lawful weapons.)

Take this one for example (frmo

...two armed robbers herded 20 customers and employees in an Anniston, Ala., Shoney's restaurant into a walk-in cooler and held the manager outside at gunpoint. Then they spotted Thomas Glen Terry, a customer, hiding under a table and began shooting at him. Unlike the situation in Texas, Terry, who had a permit, was carrying a .45 caliber automatic handgun. He shot back, killing one robber and wounding the other. The manager and the hostages were released. unharmed.

Best wishes to you, and may you never need to use deadly force.


30 April, 2006 19:47  
Blogger Dan said...

First of all, I give mad props to the fact that you responded in a reasonable way instead of remaining a faceless comment.

I continue to oppose your view of guns, though, if your friend had used another non-lethal weapon the intruder would serve as an example, not to mention that if the crook has any brains, your friend's place becomes a target once the minivan is gone, that's one place to score a gun at!

Seriously, if we dry up the supply in states neighboring gun-ban states, and we require gun owners (the law abiding ones) to report it when their guns are stolen, and we keep confiscating stolen guns, won't we eventually dry up gun crime? (yes, I'm liberal enough to point out that cops [at least in Chicago] keep guns around to plant on people, but that's neither here nor there). I mean seriously, what is wrong with asking gun owners to report it when their guns are stolen, or otherwise hold them liable for crimes committed with those guns? What's wrong with asking them not to legally have a gun once they've shown themselves unable to keep them off the hands of criminals?

That being said, I'm not kidding, I do appreciate the chance to have a real debate as opposed to a "you suck"/"no, you suck" type debate.

I didn't like your first response, but I'm glad you wrote more.


01 May, 2006 00:52  

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