Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gun-Control Post


Jeff is a friend from my military days. He posted a thought-provoking blog today that led to one of the best (rational, logical, sober) conversations on Facebook that I've seen on the topic of guns since things have started getting more heated in the media. I've asked for and received Jeff's permission to re-post the post in its entirety. Thanks Jeff!

Link to Original: Wild Thinking - A Sane(?) Look at Guns.

"A sane(?) look at guns 



Everyone seems to have an opinion on gun control. There are extremists on both sides of the gun-ownership debate that feel very strongly about their position, while the vast majority are somewhere in the middle. They may lean towards one side or the other, but perhaps not comfortable with taking a position. Personally, I think that hidden beneath the scare tactics used by both sides, there are elements of truth. Those elements are valid and need to be addressed, but how? This isn't a scholarly article, so I'm not going to cite sources, just try to come to some sort of understanding about potential ways to go forward.

First, we can address the concerns of those that favor gun control. Events like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, the Fort Hood shooting in 2009, the Tucson shooting of 2011, the Columbine High School shooting of 1999, the Virginia Tech shooting of 2007, and the Batman shooting of 2012, all show the risks of firearms in the hands of those that wish to use them to create mass casualties. There are also the daily shootings throughout the country where firearms are used to kill.

In a recent year, the Center for Disease Control found that there were 11,493 firearm homicides, which equates to roughly 31.5 killings each day. In addition, there were 18,735 suicides using firearms, which is a little over 51 per day. That matches a recent story which stated that there were approximately 85 shooting deaths each day, and 53 of those are suicides. In this case, I'm going to disregard the suicides and concentrate on the homicides. For the sake of simplicity, I'll go with the higher number of 32 unwanted shooting deaths per day.

The mass casualty shootings and the homicide shootings have a couple of things in common, but the one that really jumps out at me is the preference for handguns by the shooters. Most of the mass casualty shootings were accomplished either primarily or exclusively with handguns. About 67% of homicides are accomplished with firearms, and handguns are used in a significant majority of those events. To me, this means that the focus of any sort of gun control regulation should be on handguns, since shotguns and rifles together are used in homicides less frequently than knives.

In my mind, there is a legitimate concern about the frequent use of handguns in homicides. Is there a way to decrease that threat without violating the 2nd amendment rights of the people?

I think part of the process will be to identify risk factors to go along with those homicides. We know that those in heavily urban counties are twice as likely to be shot as those in very rural areas. We know that per-capita, the most likely places to be involuntarily killed by a firearm are are the southeastern states, from Louisiana to South Carolina. That's roughly parallel to the areas with the greatest African-American population, which only makes up about 13% of the population, but over 54% of all firearms homicides. The second highest threat area is the southwest, which has a significant minority population of Hispanics. Many studies have shown a correlation between Blacks and Hispanics and homicides using firearms.

That isn't just true for these areas of the South. Nationwide, young Black males are killed at a rate 2.5 times higher than Latinos and 8 times higher than Whites. A report from New York City shows that shooting victims are Black (73.8%) or Hispanic (22.1%) and that those arrested for shooting homicides are Black (70.9%) or Hispanic (25.8%). Whites accounted for only about 2.5% in each category. This is in a city that is about 45% White, 25% Black, 27% Hispanic, and 12% Asian.

Over 90% of homicides are carried out by males. However, I'm not sure if men are just that much more prone to commit murder or if they are simply that much more likely to own and use firearms. In a marginally related topic from the Bureau of Justice Statistics about murders of intimate partners, I found that husbands were killed by knife 26% of the time and boyfriends by knife 47% of the time, which was the only instance in the study where a knife was used more than a firearm.

The Brady campaign helps clarify this even more. In 2007, 84% of all African-American gun deaths were homicides. In that same year, 68% of Hispanic gun deaths were homicides, while 80% of gun deaths for Whites were suicides. That's pretty clear cut. Just as clear cut, about 60% of all homicides take place in the largest 50 metro areas. These are the biggest areas of concern. Again, simply looking at homicides and ignoring self-inflicted intentional death, the key indicators seem to be race, area of the country, and urban environment.

That makes sense with handguns, because the only real advantage of a handgun is concealability. As a weapon, it's marginally better than a spork, which is why its only use in war is an officer's sidearm or a bottle opener. Sadly, a lot of politicians fail to distinguish between handguns and other firearms. Most bans seem to focus on "assault rifles" ... which should clearly NOT be the focus of their efforts in an attempt to reduce homicides and gun-related crime. Instead of worrying about collapsible stocks and flash suppressors, which should be considered cosmetic since they don't actually have an effect on the function of the weapon, they should be focused on education and enforcement targeting these at-risk populations.

If that were the case, I think it would do a lot to ease the concerns of those worried about their 2nd amendment rights. Most say that they want their firearms for self-defense, though some claim that it's for defense from people and other say it's for defense from government (if ever necessary). Many of these people are thinking long-term, and want to be prepared for civil unrest if it happens in the future. That's not such a bad idea either.

Since 1970, there have been over 50 civil wars throughout the world, as well as over 50 significant international military engagements. That's in addition to the drug wars going on in Mexico, right on our border. It's not unreasonable to expect some sort of uprising in our country at some point either. There's a lot of talk about the "fiscal cliff" lately, and parts of the government have made plans for shutdown several times in the past few years as part of budgetary concerns.

Some of the most turbulent and dangerous times in a nation's history are those following an economic collapse. Recent examples such as Argentina, Russian, and Thailand are just a few examples. The defender of gun rights may be considering those as valid threats and supporting their desire to stand ready to be part of a militia should it be necessary. As the 2nd amendment states, "the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed" since a well regulated militia is "necessary to the security of a free state." To me, that means that individuals are allowed to own firearms, but it doesn't state ALL firearms.

The "assault rifles" that politicians keep attempting to ban are actually the very sorts of weapons that would be useful to a militia. Rifles are the primary weapon of professional militaries, and most of the objects that keep getting banned are either cosmetic in nature or don't affect the function of the weapon. Things like flash suppressors, folding stocks, or pistol grips won't make any difference in the use of the weapons. They are simply cosmetic differences that can make the weapons appear more threatening.

Sadly, the repeated attacks on the weapons that could reasonably be expected to be used to defend the nation from foreign or domestic threats are the same ones that politicians seem to be going after. Regulating the size of a magazine just means that shooters have to reload additional times, which for a skilled shooter can be done very swiftly. To those that fear the government's power, that seems to be an attempt to disarm the citizens rather than ensuring their safety.

In reality, I doubt that it matters much. There are about 300,000,000 privately owned firearms in the United States. In comparison, the military branches only have about 10% of that amount and all of the law enforcement agencies have fewer than 1,000,000. That means that the question isn't about having the guns out there, that's already happened, but it's about the safe ownership and use of those firearms as well as the sale of new ones.

To me, if we concentrated on firearms education, enforcing the laws that we have, train and license handgun users, and prevent crime among the most at-risk populations, then we can help to increase the safety of individuals while still ensuring the safety of the nation as a whole by allowing the unfettered ownership of more effective defensive weapons, like rifles, shotguns, and sporks."