Guns in the US

There was an ad before a YouTube video I watched earlier today,  unfortunately I didn't have the presence of mind to save the link -- I think it's safe to assume that they would have already paid for the advertising, that they didn't (a.) throw up the ad after hearing about the shooting this morning, or (b.) have the ability to pull it from airing for a respectful period of time.  My point isn't that the ad was in poor taste.  Just that it exists. It was an ad for a company in California, that sells kits to assemble guns at home.  The ad featured (in fact, entirely consisted of) a man explaining that it's not illegal to buy the parts of a gun, even if you can't buy the gun itself, how to machine those parts to create the gun they're parts of, and in what ways you can avoid registering the gun.  Apparently, registration has to happen at the point where the gun is sold, at least in California, so if you make it yourself, nobody has to know that you own it.

It's not hard to qualify for a gun in the United States.  But apparently, that's not enough -- there are also companies whose business is helping people who don't qualify get around the law with loopholes, so they can have guns without letting anyone know.

I'm angry.

I'm angry because I know how many times in the next few weeks I'm going to hear people say that this couldn't have been prevented.  And because I know I'm going to hear that, even if guns were substantially more controlled, this kid would have gotten them anyway.  Or that he would have done just as much damage if he had some other weapon.

After the Aurora, CO shooting, PolitiFact responded to Facebook claims that the United States has the most gun violence in the world:

According to data collected by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, several other countries had more gun homicides than the U.S., and perhaps 17 countries had a higher rate of gun homicides than the U.S. when population is factored in. However, when comparing the U.S. to its most direct equivalents -- affluent nations in Europe and Asia -- the U.S. has far more gun homicides than they do. We rated this one Half True.

Emphasis mine.

So, we have less violence than countries like Somalia.  We're outdone in gun violence per capita by the nation states who are constantly at war with themselves and each other.

And I'm angry that people will say "If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns."  First of all, because it reduces a complex legislative discussion to all-or-nothing, and secondly, because other developed countries clearly illustrate the reality that more gun control means less gun death.

The UK is widely acknowledged to have some of the strictest gun laws in the world.  Wikipedia has a list of world nations by firearm related death rate.  The United States is twelfth, at 9 deaths per 100,000 people annually (data 2008-2010).  The UK is sixty-fifth, at 0.22 deaths per 100,000 people annually (data 2009).  That is, eleventh from the bottom of the list.  That is, about 41 times more gun death in the US than the UK.

And to the point about people just finding other ways to kill people, the US rate of murders per 100,000 people is 4.2; the UK's is 1.2.  As for the discrepancy with the numbers, a lot of gun death in America is by suicide.  The American suicide rate per 100,000 annually is 12.  UK; 6.9.

Now, correlation does not prove causation.  But it offers a fracking big hint.  And this correlation absolutely disproves the premise that more gun laws = more gun violence.

Plenty of people will say that we shouldn't make this political.  That it's a tragedy.  That we have to wait a respectful amount of time before we start the argument about gun violence.  They said that after the Aurora shooting.  And the shooting before that.  And the shootings before that.

We didn't ever get around to changing the rules last time.  We won't, this time, either -- if we pretend that gun control legislation is somehow irreverent.  There may not be a sufficiently respectful amount of time after this shooting, before there's another one.

Since (and including) the Columbine shooting in April of 1999, there have been 31 mass shootings in America.  That's close to two and a half per year.

We're over the average so far in 2012, at 3, but there are less than 20 days left this year.  Is that a respectful amount of time?

Twitter gun rant from Jason Alexander

[pullquote align="right" textalign="left|center|right" width="40%"][T]here are the folks who write that if everyone in Colorado had a weapon, this maniac would have been stopped. Perhaps. But I do believe that the element of surprise, tear gas and head to toe kevlar protection might have given him a distinct edge. -- Jason Alexander[/pullquote] I'm going to start following Jason Alexander on Twitter, because earlier today, he delivered an amazing rant about the second amendment, and why it doesn't mean what people take it to mean today -- that everyone, everywhere is entitled to as many bullet-firing tubes they want, of whatever kind and configuration.

He tears down the argument brick by brick, first citing opinions of the founding fathers to provide context for the second amendment, like Alexander Hamilton describing what a militia consists of -- a stark contrast to the popular definition in our culture, "Anyone over 18 with a credit card."

He breaks down the problems with the arguments for banning things based on lethality (there's a difference between banning cars and banning guns) and the psychotic argument that individuals are ever going to be genuinely prepared to violently overthrow the US government.

The quote to the right illustrates his criticism of the "No one would get shot if everyone had guns" argument.  The whole rant is awesome, and you can see it compiled on Salon here.  You can find Jason Alexander's Twitter here.

Depressing realities of gun proliferation

The Christian Science Monitor published a piece today addressing the reasons that gun sales tend to spike after tragedies like the one in Colorado last week.  I said spike.  They go up.  Way up.

Self-protection is part of the reason. But a bigger factor, say gun dealers, is fear of something else:  politicians -- specifically, their ability to enact restrictions on gun ownership and acquisition of ammunition.

People are, apparently, afraid that the government is going to outlaw guns soon, but if they get them right now, with licenses and everything, they'll somehow be grandfathered in and won't have to face the consequences of having, and not wanting to turn over, now-illegal objects in their possession.

It's not just silly for the bad logic.  There's also the bad political estimating:

Never mind that few members of Congress, or the Obama administration, are willing to stick their necks out on gun control. With Election Day drawing near, and gun advocates on edge that President Obama will end up being “the most anti-gun president in American history,” as theNational Rifle Association says, that’s all the more reason to buy now.

Gun dealers, in fact, owe a lot to Mr. Obama. Before his election in 2008, gun sales spiked in anticipation that he would promote a gun-control agenda - even though he did not campaign on the issue and the Supreme Court had just handed down its landmark Heller ruling, which asserted an individual right to keep and bear arms.

I wanted to refer to episode 3 4 of the Newsroom, in which Will McAvoy quotes a scorecard from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence on President Obama's gun control record (he got all F's).  Unfortunately I can't find that scorecard anywhere online, and so can't with confidence claim that it exists. EDIT Jul 26 5:32: Commenter Albert responded to this post with a link to the report, which you can find here or in the comments below. 

I've emailed the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence asking about that report, and will update this post if/when they respond.