Gun control for dummies

Posted: February 13, 2013 in gun policy, politics
A guest blog by Scott Church (gentleman, scholar, citizen, lover of good wine and hamburgers).  

Gun-Control31-550x384Recent tragedies like the Sandy Hook massacre have reignited the never-ending debate about gun control, and there has been a lot of discussion about it at this blog and in many other forums as well.  We all care about the safety of our communities, our Constitutional rights, and the stability of our nation, so it’s no surprise that some of the discussion can get heated.  As a citizen and a gun owner I see both sides:  I care about preserving the Second Amendment AND I care about public safety.  But that said, over the last month or two I’ve been shocked by the degree to which inflammatory myths and poor scholarship have dominated the statements of the anti-gun control advocates I’ve encountered in this forum and elsewhere.  It’s high time we cleared the air a little.  In what follows I will review a few of the statements made by some of the more vociferous anti-gun control folks in recent posts, and why they don’t hold water.

1)    Numbers are hard to estimate because not all gun manufactures break down sales data by model, but very generous estimates state that so-called “assault weapons” account for roughly 3% of all privately owned firearms…  (point, counter-point: on “the NRA’s six degrees of stupidity” – Jan. 21, 2013)

big gun

203 mm M110 Self-Propelled Howitzer. Nominal yield of the W33 round is 40 kilotons (roughly 2 Hiroshimas).

Anti-gun control advocates regularly insist that many if not most highly lethal guns are not a concern because very few of them are sold, but this is irrelevant. The issue on the table is the lethality of those weapons—the fact that they are military weapons designed to kill very large numbers of people in a very short time and with great efficiency.  The percentage of gun owners who possess them has no bearing on that question.  Very few people own tactical nuclear howitzers either.  Shocking as it may be to NRA extremists, there’s actually a reason for this.  In the hands of a single paranoid fear-monger, one 203 mm M110 self-propelled howitzer and W33 nuclear howitzer round with a 40 kiloton yield (shown here) could obliterate downtown Seattle or San Francisco and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people in an instant.  The fact that these weapons are not commonly owned by law-abiding citizens is beside the point.  It only takes a single nutcase in possession of one to inflict an unthinkable amount of death and suffering on the general population. That, and that alone is why we don’t hand them out as party favors to just anyone on the street who wants one simply because he/she believes that “liberals” or “government tyranny” are threatening their “liberty.”

2)    What, pray tell, do you hope to accomplish with an ‘assault weapons ban’?  (point, counter-point: on “the NRA’s six degrees of stupidity” – Jan. 21, 2013)

He’s kidding, right? Hmmm, well let’s see… For starters, had the mentally ill psychopath who perpetrated the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre had a regular hunting or target rifle (like any of the ones I’ve owned and hunted with over many years)—with limited capacity magazines for which every round had to be manually chambered—instead of a 223-caliber Bushmaster XM-15 rifle (a variant of the AR-15 shown below), a 10mm Glock 20 SF, and a 9mm SIG Sauer semi-automatic handgun, all with high-capacity magazines and fragmentation rounds, he probably would’ve managed to slaughter a lot fewer than 20 children and 7 adults.  He would’ve had to reload after a standard hunting rifle clip was exhausted (anywhere from 4 to 12 rounds, say, depending on make and model) making him that much slower and easier to overpower before doing so.  It’s reasonable to conclude that if not for the assault weapons and semi-automatic handgun he had, at least 15-20 lives would likely have been saved.


AR-15 Assault Rifles similar to the one used in the Sandy Hook massacre, including the lower receiver with pistol grip and trigger assembly.

Now, I can’t speak for this individual (or for that matter, for Wayne LaPierre or any other abusive anti-gun control talking head), but as the father of a beautiful 10-year-old girl I DO consider saving the lives of 15-20 children an accomplishment.  NRA extremists are certainly entitled to their opinions, and they’re more than welcome to disagree if they wish.  But if they do they won’t earn the respect of the general public, especially that of parents who love their kids.

As for the effectiveness of such laws, I’ll be addressing that momentarily.

3)    And who needs a weapon designed to kill as many people as possible anyway???   (point, counter-point: on “the NRA’s six degrees of stupidity” – Jan. 21, 2013)

 Good question!  Who DOES need one? As pointed out earlier, such weapons are military weapons designed to kill very large numbers of people in a very short time with great efficiency.  They’re essentially useless for hunting or target shooting, and would hardly be necessary for “home defense” even if actual armed burglary or armed home invasion were common enough to pose a statistically significant risk for the average citizen.  As such, apart from owning one as a collector (in which case there should be no issue with either disabling the firing mechanism or at least removing the semi-automatic functionality), there’s no point to having one unless you want to kill very large numbers of people in a very short time inflicting as much misery and suffering as possible in the process.  By my lights, the only people who would want to do this are either,

  1. Violent criminals.
  2. Paranoid fear-mongers who believe that people are fundamentally dangerous and out to get them and/or that the government, the U.N. black helicopters and storm troopers, or “liberals” are coming to take their guns and ¼ acre of Nevada scrub land.
  3. Those who are convinced that violence is the best (if not only) means of effective conflict resolution available to them.

There’s no compelling reason for allowing people like these to have any weapons at all, much less the most lethal ones available.

4)    I could point out that the 2nd Amendment says nothing whatsoever about hunting, target shooting, or sporting competitions…  (point, counter-point: on “the NRA’s six degrees of stupidity” – Jan. 21, 2013)

Dare I ask what verbiage in the Second Amendment (or lack thereof) regarding hunting, target shooting, or sporting competitions has to do with the issue on the table—the lethality of semi-automatic and/or military weaponry and whether the general public should have free rein to them?  Again, no one is trying to take away our hunting rifles, target pieces, b-b guns, or our sling shots.

The question being asked is why anyone should have unrestricted access to the most lethal weapons  on earth, especially with virtually no responsibilities of any kind whatsoever to demonstrate their ability to be responsible with such weapons (via background checks, licenses, etc.).

Anti-gun control advocates regularly insist that we don’t ban automobiles, and they kill a lot of people too.  But I AM required to demonstrate that I am responsible with mine.  I’m required by law to have a driver’s license—which I cannot obtain without taking safe driving classes and passing both written and driving tests.  I’m required to insure it.  And if I drive irresponsibly my right to drive will be taken from me.  When I sell that vehicle the title has to be transferred and record of the sale made with the DMV and until this happens, I am legally responsible for that vehicle and everything that happens involving it.

Why should the most lethal firearms be any different?  True, we do require background checks on gun purchases, but only for sales through retail gun dealers and those are regularly circumvented by little more than providing false information at the time of purchase (Wintemute, 2010).  For instance Cho Seung-Hui, the shooter in the Virginia Tech massacre had a well-documented history of mental illness yet was able to walk into at least two gun stores and purchase his weapons legally (ABC, 2007; AP, 2007).  Gun show sales and private transactions are largely exempt, and online gun sales usually circumvent them completely (Mencimer, 2013).  In fact, as of 2001 it was known that roughly 40% of all gun sales occurred this way and at least 40% of armed felons had obtained their weapons through such channels (BJS, 2001; NIJ, 1997).  And no one is required by law to insure firearms to any degree or be responsible for failing to secure them from theft and subsequent misuse by criminals or anyone else.

Yet improvements to background check systems and the closing of these legal loopholes are viciously opposed by the NRA and the anti-gun control lobby.  Why???  Could it be perhaps, that the most vociferous critics of improved background checks are secretly afraid of what such checks would reveal about them?  😉

5)    I could point out that the Federalist Papers and other founding-era documents are rife with assertions that the 2nd Amendment was a protection against tyranny.   (point, counter-point: on “the NRA’s six degrees of stupidity” – Jan. 21, 2013)

The Second Amendment was written at a time in our nation’s history when we had a much smaller population with1-25-13 3 limited standing armed forces compared to the present, and our way of government was still in its infancy with many kinks still to be worked out.  There were few, if any police forces compared to the present and a lot fewer highly lethal weapons as well.  Today things are different.

I believe in the Second Amendment, and I’m no “crazy right-wing nut” (if I were I’d be in full agreement with the NRA and a lot of folks who post comments at this blog). Over the years I’ve owned a number of firearms, including one World War II era semi-automatic 9mm Luger, and I believe that the Second Amendment gives me the right to own such weapons.  But unlike NRA extremists, I am well aware of a fact too easily forgotten these days—that all truly meaningful rights come with responsibilities.  As noted earlier, society also grants me the right to own an automobile, even though automobiles are involved in many injuries and fatalities.  But I am only allowed to drive after I’ve passed appropriate safe driving courses and tests, and obtained a driver’s license… and if I am ever convicted of driving drunk, the automobile and my right to drive will be taken away.  Outside of the NRA at least, laws like these are rarely questioned because most people know that the right to own and operate potentially dangerous things presumes an ability and willingness to assume the attendant responsibilities.  As a gun owner, it seems to me that the more lethal my weapons are, the more incumbent it is on me to be man enough to demonstrate a completely clean criminal record as well as my ability to properly secure those weapons and be responsible for everything that involves them.

Thoughtful gun owners (the majority, thankfully) have no issues with these responsibilities—either for their weapons themselves or with demonstrating to society that they’re able to assume them.  But people like Wayne LaPierre and the more extreme wings of the NRA (and apparently, many who frequent this blog as well) are another matter.  Apart from their paranoia (and for some, a willingness–even eagerness to resort to violence to resolve disputes), what actually separates them from the rest of us is their defiant refusal to man up and accept these responsibilities.  Where I come from, we call this sort of thing cowardice.

6)    Even the most skeptical research on defensive gun use (such as Harvard’s Hemenway, who claims approximately 100,000 cases per year), suggests that guns are used far more often for self-defense than for crime; an order of magnitude higher in fact.    (point, counter-point: on “the NRA’s six degrees of stupidity” – Jan. 21, 2013)

According to both the FBI and National Institute of Justice, guns are used for self-defense forty times (40x) more often than they are for crimes. That is just when the gun is *fired*! How many are used as a deterrent that don’t need to be fired?  (point, counter-point: on “A well-regulated militia – is that what you call it?” – Dec. 16, 2013)

No properly cited sources are given in either statement—only a few indirect names and agencies—so it’s difficult to tell where these claims came from.  The researcher referenced in the first (David Hemenway of Harvard’s School of Public Health) has actually published quite a bit of research on this topic, so in the absence of a proper citation the claim could be based on virtually anything.  It’s strange that Hemenway would be cited, improperly or otherwise, in support of a claim like this. He and others have actually provided some of the best evidence to date that the frequency of use of guns for self-defense has been greatly OVER-estimated (Cook et al., 1997; Hemenway, 1997a; Hemenway, 1997b), and is much lower than some other researchers have claimed (e.g. Kleck & Kates, 2001).  It’s possible that this individual took the statement from a second-hand source who had either cited Hemenway incorrectly or cherry-picked his results to give them the appearance of supporting something they did not.  Sadly, this sort of careless scholarship is rampant in pro-gun forums so it wouldn’t be surprising if that was the case here as well.

In fact, the results on defensive gun use are actually mixed as it’s difficult to discriminate between legitimate self-defense and the so-called “self-defense” that comes in the wake of undue provocation during conflicts when one or more of the assailants are emboldened by the knowledge that they’re “packing heat.”  In fact, research has shown that having a gun in your home actually increases your chance of injury and/or death (Kellerman, 1998).  In 2004 the National Research Council arm of the National Academy of Sciences published one of the most extensive reviews of firearms used in self-defense in recent decades, and concluded that “There is no credible evidence that “right-to-carry” laws, which allow qualified adults to carry concealed handguns, either decrease or increase violent crime. To date, 34 states have enacted these laws” (NRC, 2004).  The claim that arming ourselves to the teeth prevents anything at all is nothing more than an NRA myth.

7)   Why do the cities and states with the most stringent gun laws have the highest rates of violent crime? Why is there a demonstrable link between less restrictive concealed-carry laws and lower crime rates?   (point, counter-point: on “the NRA’s six degrees of stupidity” – Jan. 21, 2013)

As to correlation, you can go state by state, and even county by county and see that the highest violent crime rate areas (NY, D.C., Philly, Chicago, Detroit, etc.) also have the most restrictive gun laws whereas “shall issue” states have much lower rates across the board.  More concealed carry, crime rate goes down. Less concealed carry, crime rate goes up.  (point, counter-point: on “A well-regulated militia – is that what you call it?” – Dec. 16, 2013)


No sources were cited for these claims either, but in this case the errors are easy to track down.  This is a standard, bread-and-butter NRA myth that for 15 years has been consistently defended in pro-gun forums with citations to John Lott’s book, “More Guns – Less Crime” (Lott, 2000).  That work was based on a 1997 study by Lott and David Mustard (Lott & Mustard, 1997) that was riddled with statistical errors and poor controls when it came out and was widely discredited by further research within months of its original publication.  Lott and Mustard’s study had numerous problems including sampling issues, poor controls and data clustering of various sorts.  “Data clustering” occurs in multiple regression models like the one used in this study when careless sampling and/or variable selection leads to inadvertent correlations between variables that should be independent.  This in turn causes artificially low variances in the resulting data that make some results appear to be statistically significant when they are in fact within the noise of the sampling methods used.  Within a year of its original publication other researchers demonstrated that even the slightest changes in Lott and Mustard’s data caused their results to vanish (Zimring  & Hawkins, 1998; Black & Nagin, 1998; Ayres & Donohue, 1999; Goertzel, 2002).  Numerous direct comparisons were made between murder rates in rural regions of Idaho, West Virginia and similar areas with urban regions like New York and Washington D.C. that were radically different in almost every respect, yet given no appropriate controls for the variable differences (Goertzel, 2002).  For many rural regions they even assigned non-zero murder rates for counties that had no murders during the test period just to keep their trends (expressed as inverse logarithms) from becoming singular and undefined.

For years Lott and Mustard’s study has been a laughing stock among sociologists and statisticians and hasn’t been taken seriously since by anyone outside of the NRA. In fact, numerous studies have been done on gun control and crime rates and the results are equivocal. Some studies show crime increases, other decreases, and most are complicated by a number of factors that render clear answers hard to come by (NRC, 2004). The best data on such matters is available from sources like the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Reports (FBI, 2011) and older, but still relevant research like the D.O.J. report “Guns Used in Crime” (DOJ, 1995) or the ATF’s year 2000 Youth Crime Gun Interdiction Initiative Report (ATF, 2000) as well as the 2004 NRC report cited earlier.

8)   Most importantly, to take the same anecdotal tact you favor, how many kids brutally murdered in CT could have been saved if just one person in the vicinity had been armed and had the training, ability, and most importantly the will to act?  (point, counter-point: on “the NRA’s six degrees of stupidity” – Jan. 21, 2013) 

This claim was largely addressed in point 7) above, but anti-gun control advocates are fond of countering it by circulating anecdotal tales of armed law-abiding citizens foiling crime.  There certainly have been occasions where armed citizens deterred or stopped crime (e.g. the 1981 Pearl High School shooting in Pearl, Mississippi – Wikipedia, 2013), but in the large majority of cases, further investigation reveals these tales to be either urban legends or highly cherry-picked renditions of what actually happened (Follman, 2012).  For instance, in a 2007 ABC News editorial right-wing ideologue John Stossel supported this claim by making reference to one such urban legend: The oft-told epic tale of the 2002 shooting at Virginia’s Appalachian School of Law during which, we are told, two armed students “heard gunshots… retrieved their weapons and trained them on the killer, helping restrain him until authorities arrived” (Stossel, 2007). In fact, that shooting ended when the shooter ran out of ammo minutes before either of these men arrived with their weapons, by which time he had already been subdued by others on the scene (Lambert, 2003).

Interestingly, a few years back I had the opportunity to engage someone claiming to be one of these two men at a science blog. When a few other folks and I confronted him there with all this, his only response was to become belligerent and disappear. Not once did he even attempt to deny any of the above despite being asked repeatedly about it and given multiple opportunities to.

9)   Every shooting where more than three people were killed since 1950 save one (Gabrielle Giffords) have occurred in “weapon free zones”. So how are those zones working out?  (point, counter-point: on “the NRA’s six degrees of stupidity” – Jan. 21, 2013)

Yet again, no sources whatsoever are cited leaving us to wonder where on earth such a claim came from (does anyone else see a pattern developing here?  😉 ).  For starters, it’s unclear what this individual even means by “weapon free zone” (a Google search for the term returns only references to nuclear-free zones).  Perhaps he’s referring to areas like courtrooms or schools and the like where guns are forbidden on the premises?  If so, this statement is so far out of touch with reality that it’s difficult to imagine what would lead any sane person to even consider it.  There have been at least 3 incidents in the last 6 weeks alone.  Heavily armed gunmen killed 12 people in a movie theater in Colorado, 4 firefighters in Webster, NY (LA Times, 2012), and 2 in a shopping mall in Clackamas, OR (granted, less than 3 in Clackamas, but that hardly changes the point here).  Movie theaters, shopping malls and similar public venues are not “weapon free zones” of the same sort as courtrooms or schools, and broadening the definition to include them would render the statement almost meaningless.

10)    As to your fewer murders in other countries, first you don’t correct for population and second, there is no real correlation to guns. You omit many countries that have equally low (or lower) rates and have private gun ownership rates that are also very high. Switzerland and Israel to name two. Also, your statistics include suicides which severely skews the data. It is deliberate obfuscation.

The US ranks #1 in private gun ownership (by a huge margin) but there are 27 countries with a higher gun HOMICIDE rate than the US. As for suicide rates, half of the countries you list in your cute picture rank higher than the US. They simply use something other than a gun to do the job. Even the ones below like Canada and Germany are barely lower (The US is #38, Canada #39, and Germany #47). Not having a gun doesn’t seem to deter those that want to take their own life.  (point, counter-point: on “A well-regulated militia – is that what you call it?” – Dec. 16, 2013)

In addition to the utterly predictable lack of scholarship, this comment is a mix of question begging and cherry-picking.  The “cute picture” reference is to a figure Mike posted (shown below) that compares firearm murders in the U.S. over a one year period with those in six other countries.  It is true that figure didn’t correct for population.  But taking these numbers at face value, even a cursory examination reveals a difference of nearly two orders of magnitude in the U.S. firearm murder rate over that of the second highest nation (Canada) and three orders of magnitude difference for the lowest (Finland).  To those more observant than this individual it may seem unlikely that population alone can account for differences like these… and indeed it cannot.

Population data for these nations are readily available (CIA World Fact Book, 2013) and a moment’s work with a pocket calculator shows that correcting for population doesn’t even begin to alter the point being made in that figure.  Canada for instance has a population roughly one tenth that of the U.S. (around 34 million) yet according to this figure the U.S. one-year firearm homicide rate is over 47 times theirs.  The population of Finland is around 1/63 that of the U.S. (approx. 5 million) but their firearm homicide rate is 1/588 that of the U.S. These translate into normalized firearm homicide rates that are roughly 1/5 and 1/10 those of the U.S. respectively—more than enough to establish the point Mike posted that figure to make.images-3

And… say what? 27 countries with higher HOMICIDE rates than the U.S.?  Once again, given the usual absence of proper documentation it’s difficult to know where this figure came from or what point he’s trying to make with it. Normalized worldwide intentional homicide rates are available from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and available at Wikipedia in various groupings (Wikipedia, 2013b).  Sorting the country list there by rate reveals that there are actually more than 27 countries with higher intentional homicide rates that the U.S.  But sort it by sub-region and we find that nearly all are in the Third World, the only exceptions being Greenland and a few former Soviet republics in Eastern Europe—regions that are for the most part plagued by poverty and unrest (interestingly, a few of the higher Third World listings are U.S. protectorates).


Map of intentional homicide rate per 100,000 for the most recent year tracked by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (Wikipedia, 2013b; UNODC, 2011).

In other words, countries like Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Mexico that are embroiled in poverty, civil war, and all-out drug wars between heavily armed cartels have higher murder rates than the U.S.  Gee, ya think???  What’s needed here is a true apples/apples comparison… which of course, wasn’t provided.  Sorting the list once more by sub-region and focusing on comparable First World sub-regions like North America, Europe, and Eastern Asia (you know, the kind that actually have real democracies where meaningful gun control might be possible) reveals that the U.S. homicide rate is 3 times that of the next closest nation (Canada) and 4 to 6 times that of Western European countries… once again, proving the point Mike was making.
11)  You start with a blatantly faulty premise and make that the hill you stand on. Banning guns from law-abiding citizens will somehow make us all safer, especially the children…  Prove it. You can’t because you are dead wrong.  (point, counter-point: on “the NRA’s six degrees of stupidity” – Jan. 21, 2013)
Prove it?  I’d be happy to!  With a little scientific literacy and due diligence it’s actually quite easy to prove.

The standard NRA mantra that “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” presumes that criminals and law-abiding citizens get their weapons independent of each other from one or more pools separate to both.  This is, of course, false.  Over the last few decades or so the FBI and the Dept. of Justice have maintained large databases of information on the sale and history of many types of weapons.  This data shows clearly the overwhelming majority of guns used in violent crimes originate as LEGAL purchases. Nearly all are obtained by criminals through a variety of channels such as regular sales for which the background checks prove inadequate, under-the-table gun show sales and third-party transactions  that circumvent background checks (most of which involve law-abiding citizens), or via theft from law-abiding owners who fail to secure their weapons adequately (FBI, 2011; ATF, 2000; DOJ, 1995).  The data shows that the average “time to crime” of such weapons is around 6 years.

It follows directly from all this that more stringent background checks, crackdowns on gun show and careless third-party sales, and penalties of some sort for failure to properly secure weapons will result in a significantly reduced flow of guns to criminals.  The only reason gun control laws have had such mixed results in the U.S. is that they’ve been haphazardly implemented on a county or state level.  Gun control laws in one state or county are easily circumvented by making gun purchases in a neighboring county or state.  If such laws were ever implemented across the board at a national level they absolutely would have an impact on crime!  Virtually every other country on earth that has done so has far lower homicide rates than the U.S. after correcting for other factors, the UK being one case in point (UNODC, 2011; U.K. Home Office, 2011).

12)    “Too many children are killed each year by guns.” True. More are killed in car accidents, bicycle accidents, drowning incidents, by doctors’ mistakes (preventable), and in some years, by space heaters. Have you started an organization to ban bikes yet, or at least severely restrict use of them?  (point, counter-point: on “A well-regulated militia – is that what you call it?” – Dec. 16, 2013)

And the non-sequiturs and meaningless comparisons continue…  Outside of anti-gun control forums the differences between automobiles and semi-automatic assault rifles and handguns hardly needs to be pointed out, but apparently it does need to be here.

In the very least, comparisons between firearm and auto-related deaths are meaningless apart from corrections for gun-control-debate-758x1024numbers and use.  Automobile ownership trends are available from the U.S. Department of Energy and Wards AutoWorld (Stacy et. al., 2012; Stacy et. al., 2012b; Sousanis, 2011) and gun ownership trends from the General Social Surveys.  As of 2010 there were 239.8 million automobiles in the U.S.—the largest fleet in the world—which averages to 1.13 vehicles per citizen.  Most of these are driven daily, if not weekly, by their owners.  As of 2006 automobile usage in the U.S. was averaging around 3 million user miles driven (USDOT, 2006).  By comparison, in 1997 around 192 million firearms were in circulation in the U.S. with 40% of U.S. Citizens reporting at least one firearm in their homes, translating to a 25% ownership rate per person (Cook & Ludwig, 1997b).  By 2004 the home ownership figure had dropped to 36.5% (Harris Interactive, 2006).  Usage data for these weapons is difficult to come by, but it’s safe to say that the large majority are used for hunting and/or target practice, and on relatively rare occasions—certainly not on a daily basis for most owners!

So how does all this translate into fatality rates?  In 2009 there were 33,808 traffic fatalities in the U.S. (IRTAD, 2009)—a figure which doesn’t vary by too much from year to year.  The same year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 30,228 gun-related fatalities, of which 18,735 were suicides and 11,493 homicides (CDC, 2013).

In other words, roughly the same number of people die annually in firearm-related incidents as do in automobile accidents… even though that latter have ownership rates nearly four times as high  and usage rates that are astronomically larger.  Anti-gun control advocates manage to make them appear on equal footing in their usual manner—by carefully cherry-picking their data, avoiding context at all costs, and of course… being careful not to cite their sources properly lest they be found and fact-checked by competent professionals, and the flaws in their “research” exposed.  And we haven’t even gotten yet to the fact that traffic-related deaths are usually accidents—unlike the assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns craved by the NRA and militia extremists, automobiles hardly lend themselves to killing large numbers of people at once without endangering the life of the one wielding them.

As for bicycles and space heaters…  Well, as we’ve seen there are roughly 30,000 gun-related fatalities in the U.S. annually, of which around 8000-9000 are handgun murders (CDC, 2013; FBI, 2011).  The idea that comparable numbers of people die in accidents involving either (NETS, 2013; NFPA, 2013), much less attempted murders using them, is positively ludicrous.  For sane, reasonably educated people at least, this requires no further comment.

13)   You are an excellent example of something my mom told me many times growing up that I have found to be so prescient in recent years. “Liberals care about intentions, Conservatives care about results.”

I won’t comment on “liberals” or “conservatives” but in my experience people who truly care about results are concerned first and foremost with the quality of their information—its accuracy, thoroughness, and relevance.  At a bare minimum this means investing the due diligence required to properly fact-check and document one’s claims.  It means sticking to broadly based, well-characterized, and statistically significant data samples and published, peer-reviewed science—NOT raving op-ed, talk shows, or popular potboiler books like “More Guns, Less Crime” based on studies that were widely discredited decades ago.  It means providing properly cited sources for one’s claims that are clear enough that they can be located and properly vetted by competent professionals.  Above all else, it means being decent people who are willing to put truth ahead of self-serving dogma in all its forms.

We are all entitled to our own opinions, but no one is entitled to their own facts.  Forgive me for being blunt, but if we are unable, or unwilling to make the best effort we can to ground our opinions in something other than tribal dogma and narcissistic rage, then we have no right to be heard… period! Over the last decade I’ve seen countless publications and forums dealing with this issue and read through literally thousands of pages of op-ed and essays.  To date, I have yet to encounter a single pro-gun advocate who demonstrated any effort at researching his/her opinions to a degree that would even meet middle school scholarship standards, and the comments I’ve seen at this blog so far are no exception.  All displayed basic factual errors and inconsistencies that even 10-15 minutes’ worth of due diligence should’ve been enough to correct, but from the looks of it no attempt whatsoever was made to do so.  And I have yet to see even one properly cited source offered in any of them.  This is hardly a meaningful commitment to “results” and it’s unacceptable… period!

I don’t mean to suggest that only scholars are entitled to have opinions.  Nor am I saying that occasional mistakes and omissions make our opinions invalid.  We can’t be experts in everything, and none of us is above making mistakes and missing things from time to time… even frequently.  And much as I hate to admit it, that includes me. 🙂

But thoughtful, morally responsible adults temper their opinions with humility in proportion to their knowledge and the degree of due diligence they’ve invested in making them educated ones.  I’ve seen precious little of that here. The individual quoted above in comment 10) summarily dismissed Mike’s 7 nation, one-year gun murder tally figure and accused him of “deliberate obfuscation” because it was not normalized for population.  However, it took me less than two minutes to obtain population data for those countries, and a few seconds’ worth of pocket calculator arithmetic to validate the basic point that figure was making.  It seems this individual wouldn’t bother with even that much effort before attacking Mike’s character!  At best this is careless and unprofessional, and at worst it’s downright negligent.

Folks, we have  to do better than this!  People are dying unnecessarily and Constitutional rights are at stake.  Both are far too important for any of us to shirk our moral responsibility as citizens to invest the due diligence this issue requires… and I refuse to believe that this is the best we’re capable of. We need to consider something other than our own interests and seek the best informed stance we can, even if abusiveness and name-calling feel better.

Economist John Maynard Keynes once said,

When my information changes, I change my opinion. What do you do Sir?

Now there’s some food for thought.


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