Monday, May 14, 2018

On Guns

In light of the recent viral sensation, Childish Gambino's "This is America," I have decided to make a blog post on gun violence in America.

It's a polarizing issue, with some people calling for an outright ban on guns and others refusing even marginally more regulation, citing Second Amendment freedoms.

My own opinion is, as usual, somewhat moderate.

I don't think we should make guns illegal but I also think it's reasonable to ask for more regulation and more difficulty in obtaining a gun. For example, you are not allowed to drive a car without getting a license, and you have to take a test to get a license. Why isn't there a test and license for gun ownership?

I personally would like the following:
  • a federally instituted waiting period for obtaining a firearm.
  • a state-issued license or permit to own and operate a firearm, similar to a driver's license, which would require an initial test to demonstrate competency and safety knowledge, as well as a periodic refresher course.
  • a national OR state registry.  Again, similar to the DMV's registration process for vehicles.  Since many guns are obtained from interstate traffickers, a national registry makes more sense to me, but I understand how this is a difficult law to get on the books.  So let's start with a state registry.
  • an enforced requirement that guns be safely stored by their owners. 
  • government buy-back programs to reduce the number of guns in America.  (Guns bought secondhand are the most likely to be used in crime; people should be able to safely sell their guns back to the government or to gun shops.  A gun shop subsidy for buy-backs might be a good compromise if people don't want to give up their unwanted guns to the government.)
  • stricter sentencing for "straw" purchasers.  (Again, this is currently very hard to enforce because of a lack of any sort of ownership registry.)  

Many people will point out that some states already have laws similar to these, but they are poorly enforced and not universal to all states.  Also, there's no federal registry; gun ownership registries are kept on hard copies by the seller, which means that, if a gun is used in a crime, the investigation is slowed by the unnecessary bureaucracy of trying to track down registration and license records from the seller.  If the seller has gone out of business, the hardcopy records end up in state archives.

The Firearm Owners' Protection Act of 1986, aka FOPA, is an amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968.  FOPA makes it illegal for the national government or any state in the country to keep any sort of database or registry that ties firearms directly to their owner.  People who whine about the Second Amendment should be aware that it was only in the eighties that we decided against a registry, even though there's every indication that such a registry would be hugely beneficial to federal criminal investigations.  Most people who are against a registry seem to think that this is a bad idea because the government will then know how many guns they have.  Which is exactly the point.  And let's be real.  The government already knows. 

We live in the information age.  Every time you post to Facebook, the government learns a little bit more about you.  Need proof?  Look no further than the targeted advertising you see every time you log on to the internet.

This is my actual "recommended" list from Amazon.
Apparently it thinks I need cockroaches, inflatable toast, a terrifying medical baby, and an electronic pickle.
...yeah, I'm definitely on a watchlist.

People against any sort of gun regulation will argue that criminals will get guns no matter what.  And it's true.  Criminals get drugs no matter what, also. But when drugs are illegal, they are harder to get.  And while it's true most criminals already get guns illegally, the lack of any sort of national gun registry or gun database means that interstate trafficking and private sales are made fairly easy, and the suppliers themselves can avoid persecution.

In a perfect world, the guy who handed the Winter Soldier this semi would be a felon.

To the people who say gun control "doesn't work," I ask them, then, why not give it a whirl and see what happens?

We see a strong correlation between gun deaths and gun ownership.  This does not, of course, equal causation.  I personally think that gun culture in America is fairly diseased.  Our fetishization of guns is part of the problem.  To be fair, our nation was born from gun violence; we literally founded our country after overturning the government using guerilla militias.  So, you know.  Historically, it makes sense for Americans to be wary of the government and obsessed with home militias, although, in this day and age, with drones and tanks and all that, I'm not sure a stockpile of hanguns is going to do much good if it comes down to a standoff between you and Uncle Sam.

I'd like to tell a personal anecdote now.  Earlier in the year, there was an actual drive-by shooting on my block, two houses down from mine.  I have an English penpal and I had been intending to write to her that evening but, because the police had cordoned off the street, I was unable to get home.

My initial reaction, as both an American and a millennial, was pure annoyance at the inconvenience of the situation.  When I finally got home after a few hours, I wrote to my friend that I had been delayed coming home due to a drive-by, and she was like, "Oh, yes, traffic sucks."

My English friend did not even know what a drive-by was.

Drive-by shootings are so common to our urban culture that we have shortened slang for it.

When I explained to her that I basically live in the Wild, Wild West, she was shocked and appalled.

Incidentally, that movie has a lot of gun and perfume and steampunk spider violence.

I don't know why Americans are so convinced that they need guns to defend themselves.  Everyone else in the world seems to be doing okay with more restricted gun access.  Why are we so paranoid, so convinced our freedom will be taken away?   It's not like Europe is a totalitarian regime of unimaginable horror.  Yet Americans seem convinced that we're one gun regulation away from the total collapse of civilization as we know it.

Let's look at some statistics.  In America, 2/3rd of gun owners cite "personal protection" or "safety" as their reason for owning a gun (or multiple guns, which is baffling, as the average American has onl two hands with which to wield them).

In 2015, 102 people were killed during home invasions in the US, compared to 505 killed by accidental gun discharge.  (For those wondering, the 102 killed during home invasions were NOT necessarily killed by a gun.)

Not necessarily a gun.

In other words, if you are scared of dying in a home invasion, and buy a gun, congrats. You are now statistically 5 times more likely to die. Good job.

"But it won't happen to me!" cries the average American, setting down their Budweiser indignantly.

That's why the FBI stats make a distinction for "accidental discharge." Because those 500 deaths were people who thought it wouldn't happen to them. Those were people who didn't want to die.

As for those who DO want to die, in 2015 there were about 22,000 suicides by gun alone. "Expert gun owners" are 44 times more likely to get bummed out and kill themselves on purpose than on accident. These are often people who are experts in a literal sense: there's an overwhelming number of veterans, for example, who know exactly what they're doing when they pull the trigger.

As for whether or not guns actually prevent crime when placed in the hands of "expert" gun owners, well... annually there's about 250 "justified homicides" according to the FBI. These are situations where a gun was used "in self defense." This includes but is not limited to home invasions.

I think the math speaks for itself. About 1/3 Americans own a gun. Every year, twice as many accidentally kill themselves than defend themselves.

You are more likely to get hit by lightning than to ever have an armed gunman try to break into your house. You would be better off buying a lightning rod than a gun. Can't accidentally kill yourself with a lightning rod, as far as I know.

Norway has some of the strictest gun laws in the world.
The Norse mostly just defend themselves with hammers.

Let me play Devil's Advocate for a moment and mention that total defensive gun uses are generally held to significantly exceed the number of justifiable homicides and include things like warding someone off via brandishing (but not using) the weapon.  55,000 instances per year tends to be the low-end estimate.

However, it's difficult to say what constitutes "defensive gun use." I used homicide rates because they've got an objective and measurable use. DGU research is a bit wishy-washy for my taste and relies pretty heavily on self-reporting and assumptions.

The implication here seems to be that, in the extremely unlikely (more unlikely than being struck by lightning) event that your home was invaded by someone whose intent was to kill you, then it would behoove you to have a gun. This makes logical sense to me.

However, the suicide odds ratio is higher than the homicide avoidance odds ratio. Which brings me back to my original hypothesis that having a gun in the home is probably more dangerous than beneficial.  And while I'm not at all against people owning guns, I think that the idea that they are needed for protection is utterly ridiculous. And I think we need much, much better regulation, as evidenced by the amount of people getting killed by guns meant to "protect" them.

You can protect yourself with measures other than guns.

Ultimately, it's political rhetoric that is one of the things most likely to doom good policies on gun control. (To say nothing of conversations ABOUT the policies.)  Regardless of where you stand on the subject of gun control, I think everyone should support political candidates willing to talk, listen, and push towards finding a better objective model of the costs and benefits of firearms ownership, separate from political rhetoric. 

At this point in time, emotions are high and the issue has become a partisan one, with people on either side unwilling to compromise.  And if you'll excuse the pun, it's the disenfranchised American who is caught in the crossfire.

I say "disenfranchised" because many of the victims of gun violence are children who cannot vote on issues that affect them.  In the Parkland Florida shooting in February, for example, 13 of the 17 killed were too young to vote.  And here's some other disturbing stats:

  • Alyssa played soccer
  • Martin had a younger brother.
  • Nick had been accepted to the University of Indianapolis.
  • Jennifer went by "Jaime."
  • Luke loved Lebron James.
  • Cara was a dancer.
  • Gina had "spa days" with her mom.
  • Joaquin was naturalized as a US citizen in January 2017 and had an Instagram dedicated to artistic urban graffiti.
  • Alaina was active in JRTOC and volunteered after Hurricane Irma.
  • Helena shielded her best friend, Samantha, with a textbook. Samantha survived.
  • Alex loved roller coasters and played trombone in the marching band.
  • Carmen received a letter one day after her death declaring her a National Merit finalist. She never got to read it.
  • Peter was shot while holding a door open for classmates to run to safety. He was in JROTC.
Oh shit sorry those weren't statistics; those were facts about the 13 kids who are dead now.

On the four "adults" we lost:
  • Meadow was 18 and had been accepted to Lynn University. She posted tweets about it 1 day before being killed.
  • Scott was 35. He was a geography teacher who was murdered while escorting students to safety.
  • Aaron was 37-yr-old assistant coach. He used himself as a shield to protect students who were being fired at.
  • Chris was a 49-yr-old Naval reservist who had been deployed to Iraq in 2007. He had given students lunch money and rides to school.
So, please explain to me why having your guns taken away is more important than any one of these people being taken away. Please explain to me how guns protected these individuals. Please explain to me why you still believe there's NOT something very, very wrong and very, very sick about our culture.

 Presented without comment.

I believe that if we want to keep our guns and uphold the Second Amendment, then it is critical that we pull our heads out of our asses and start trying to reach regulatory compromises (such as safe storage, or gun buy-back programs to reduce the number of guns) before it's too late.  Because, sooner or later, people are going to get sick of gun violence and ban them outright (as most developed countries already have).

I believe that it is in the best interest of BOTH parties, as well of the best interest of the American people and the Second Amendment itself, to push for reasonable federal regulation.

The stance that "something needs to change" is a non-partisan one, in my opinion.

As usual, if you are reading this and don't agree, then no judgement. If you would trade in any one of these individuals for your AR-15 then feel free to say so. But I want you to admit it, boldly and unapologetically, that the cold aluminum semi-automatic rifle you're clutching is valued more than the 17 American lives we lost that the Second Amendment was designed to protect in the first place.
If you can admit to that without shame, you may keep your weapon, and may God have mercy on your soul.

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