Guns in DC: What Will Stop the Violence?

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard District of Columbia v. Heller, which pits DC’s handgun ban against the Second Amendment. DC’s gun law is the strictest in the nation, since it effectively all handguns; it does, however, allow for rifles and shotguns if they’re kept disassembled or under trigger lock. The big issue is whether the Second Amendment – “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” – guarantees an individual right to gun ownership, or only a collective right that hinges on militia service.

For the public health community, the question isn’t what the framers intended, but what works.

First, a look at the problem: In the United States on average, 81 people die from gunfire every day. Medical care for firearm injuries runs an estimated $2 billion each year, and because so many gun violence victims are uninsured, taxpayers shoulder much of the medical cost – 85%, according to one study. It’s harder to find numbers for the grieving family members left behind, or the people who are afraid to venture outside or sleep next to an exterior wall for fear of being hit by a bullet, but we know gun violence also takes a substantial toll on mental health.

So, do gun bans help reduce the toll of gun violence? From 2000 – 2002, the Task Force on Community Preventive Services reviewed 51 scientific studies on the effectiveness of firearms laws in preventing violence, and published their results in MMWR. Their conclusion:

The Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes.

They went on to note that “insufficient evidence to determine effectiveness should not be interpreted as evidence of ineffectiveness” – in other words, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

The Task Force looked at two studies that specifically addressed DC’s handgun ban, and reported that the two studies came to different conclusions; the Task Force also found inconsistent results from four studies on the effects of registration and licensing and three on child access prevention laws. The authors pointed out several recurring problems with studies evaluating the effects of firearms laws on violent outcomes: evaluations haven’t accounted for the degree of implementation of laws; crime data are substantially under-reported, and often aggregated; study designs and analytic techniques are often problematic; and measuring potential confounders is challenging. We obviously need more studies on the effectiveness of gun bans, but these problems will be hard to solve.

Lessons from Motor Vehicles, Tobacco, and Alcohol
In a 2001 Journal of Public Health Policy article, David Hemenway calls for a firearm policy approach modeled after that of motor vehicles, tobacco, and alcohol, noting several similarities between the four products:

For all four products, the goal has not been to prohibit manufacture or ban consumption but to minimize the burden on the public’s health. For all four products, many of the harmful results are imposed on others. And for all four products there are strong and opposing commercial and vested interests whose main concern is not the public’s health, but increasing the sales and the general acceptance of the product. … The affected industries have tried to focus policy efforts exclusively on education and enforcement, and have typically portrayed any product-related problems as caused by a few blame-worthy users.

Hemenway describes how research has helped overcome the industry narratives. Auto manufacturers blamed drivers for the accidents that caused so much death and injury, but researchers linked vehicle design features to common crash injuries (shifting the emphasis from the cause of the accident to the cause of the injuries); today we can thank auto safety features like seatbelts and airbags for reducing the rate of death from motor vehicle accidents. Tobacco companies argued that smoking is a personal choice, but researchers provided evidence of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, and restrictions on smoking in public spaces followed. Alcohol companies argued that the vast majority of drinking was perfectly harmless, but World Health Organization-sponsored groups of researchers demonstrated that the more alcohol is restricted (through taxes, age restrictions, etc.), the lower the rates of cirrhosis, highway fatalities, and other alcohol-related problems are. Restrictions on when, where, and how much alcohol can be sold (and for what kind of price) are now more common than they used to be, and drunk-driving deaths are down.

The article points to several lessons that firearm-control advocates can learn from these successes:

From motor vehicle policy, to remember that
• blaming individual users is counterproductive;
• physicians can play an important role; and
• having good data from a comprehensive surveillance system is crucial.

From tobacco policy, understand the importance of
• independent federal data analyses, investigations, and reports on the product’s danger;
• “the costs imposed on innocents”;
• the product’s symbolism in the media and culture as a whole;
• grassroots activism; and
• tort law.

From alcohol policy, to focus on
• restricting who can use the products and where they can use them;
• the costs that the products’ use imposes on innocent victims;
• federal funding for research; and
• debunking the dichotomous depiction of the world as having “a small percentage of problem users and everyone else.”

From the Gun Lobby, a Different Kind of Prevention
Perhaps the gun industry has also learned from the examples Hemenway cites, because it has lobbied successfully to cut off some of these avenues, or at least block them for a while. Hemenway, after citing the importance of comprehensive surveillance data about motor vehicle fatalities for advancing vehicle-safety interventions, points out that the CDC is planning to develop a National Violent Death Reporting System that will collect comprehensive death information on firearm fatalities – “hoping to resume the role they relinquished in the mid-1990s due to gun lobby-induced cuts in appropriations.”

Information about how crime guns circulate can also be useful in studying gun violence prevention; for instance, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) traces the origins of guns used in crime, and in 2000 estimated that 57% of crime guns came from 1.2 percent of licensed dealers. The gun lobby evidently didn’t like this kind of research, though, and since 2003, budget riders – often referred to as Tiahrt amendments after Kansas Rep. Todd Tiahrt – have severely limited the gun trace information that local law enforcement agencies can get from ATF.

After Hemenway emphasizes the importance of tort law in tobacco control, he notes that “the gun industry is having success at getting state legislatures to prohibit lawsuits brought against it by local industry.” After this article was published, the gun lobby scored an even bigger coup at the national level, with passage of the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,” which prohibits liability actions against firearms or ammunition manufacturers and sellers for crimes committed with their products.

In “A Public Health Perspective on Gun Violence” (the first chapter in Suing the Gun Industry: A Battle at the Crossroads of Gun Control and Mass Torts) Julie Samia Mair, Stephen Teret, and Shannon Frattaroli bring up another potential public health strategy: regulating firearms as consumer products that should be engineered to prevent their operation by children or anyone else besides their owners. Ordinarily, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is (as its name suggests) responsible for overseeing the safety of consumer products; however, Congress has expressly forbidden the CPSC to regulate gun design safety.

Options for the District
Analysis of yesterday’s oral arguments in the Supreme Court suggests that the Justices will come down on the side of individual gun rights and declare DC’s handgun ban to be unconstitutional. We’ll have to wait until June to see what kind of gun restrictions they decide governments are constitutionally able to make.

No matter what kind of gun laws are eventually allowed, DC needs to do something about gun violence. Although 2007 marked our fourth consecutive year of having fewer than 200 homicides, our rate of 30 homicides for 100,000 people is still higher than New York’s or Chicago’s (Baltimore and Detroit fared worse). Of the 181 homicides in 2007, 77% of the victims were killed by gunfire, and 80% of the victims were black males.

Violence prevention programs are nothing new – it seems like most comprehensive anti-crime proposals call for better school programs and more economic development in high-crime neighborhoods. With most states facing budget shortfalls, though, it can be hard to get (or sustain) funding for such efforts. Two recent studies suggest interventions that can save millions of dollars by reducing crime in later years, and perhaps their emphasis on the numbers will help make the case.

Niko Karvounis at Health Beat has an excellent two-part series, “Healthy Kids, Less Crime,” that starts by describing a study published recently in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Duke University researchers followed a sample of 1,420 children, ranging from 9-13 at the start of the study, for psychiatric disorders annually until age 16, and then ascertained their criminal offense status in young adulthood through court records. They found that childhood psychiatric profiles predicted all levels of criminality, and concluded (footnotes omitted, emphasis added):  

Both male and female participants with childhood psychiatric disorders other than conduct disorder were twice as likely to be involved with the criminal justice system as young adults than those with no childhood disorder, and their criminal activity is far from insignificant, with risk concentrated on the most serious forms of offending. Particular attention should be paid to youths with a history of multiple diagnoses, even if they did not occur simultaneously.

If childhood psychiatric status is, as this study suggests, a common risk factor for criminality, effective treatment of childhood psychiatric disturbance may reduce the subsequent burden on the criminal justice system. Childhood treatment may also be cost-effective: a recent study estimated average annual mental health service costs across seven service sectors at $4,500 to $7,000 for children with diagnosable disorders, whereas the direct costs of adult incarceration are approximately $23,000 a year in federal facilities. Yet less than half of children with multiple psychiatric disorders receive any mental health services.

Then last week the Washington Post reported, based on an Alliance for Excellent Education study, that the District could save $700 million a year in crime-related costs if it could increase the high school graduation rate by 5%. Perhaps the additional $44 million our school chancellor is requesting for art, music, social workers, and activities will seem a bargain by comparison. We still have a lot to learn about what works to increase graduation rates, though.

Looking at the percentages and dollar figures, it can be easy to forget what we’re dealing with. Here’s snapshot, from Allison Klein’s Washington Post article about crime in 2007:

Neighborhood organizers are concerned that the city could be on the threshold of another violent era. Trayon White, a community activist, said he knew five of the year’s homicide victims, including a former classmate, Tiara Merriweather, who was gunned down as she played cards on a summer night not far from White’s house.

Merriweather, 24, a mother of two, was killed June 30 in the 3500 block of Stanton Road SE — an innocent casualty of a drive-by shooting. She was among the 60 people slain in the city’s 7th Police District, up from 44 in 2006.

“Living in the streets, you get numb to it and learn to cope with it,” said White, an outreach worker for East of the River Clergy-Police-Community Partnership, a grass-roots group. “It’s hard for me to cry when I go to funerals anymore.”

Gun violence is a multi-faceted problem, and a powerful gun lobby opposes many of the attempts to address it. But we can’t let ourselves get numb to it and give up.

Liz Borkowski works for the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services. She thanks the professors of her Policy Approaches to Public Health class for teaching her most of what she knows about gun violence.

Comments

  1. #1 Robb Allen
    March 19, 2008

    “For the public health community, the question isn’t what the framers intended, but what works.”

    The the public health community can go pound sand. My freedom is not subject to the whims of public health officials (who I did not elect nor did I grant power over my life).

    No, you cannot use surveillance on me for being a firearm owner. I am a free man and I do not grant you that authority.

    81 people a day is a lie. Out of the mythical 30,000 deaths a year, 18,000 of them are suicides. People who commit suicide do so not because of the gun but because they wish to end their life quickly. If you don’t believe me, go to the CDC’s website and check it out for yourself. I’ve done it here and you’re more than welcome to double check my numbers – http://blog.robballen.com/archive/2007/12/29/30000-lies.aspx. If you’re truly a “scientist” you’ll no doubt agree with the numbers.

    I can’t imagine wanting to live in the police state you argue for. I do not want the government snooping on every last decision I make for “public safety” reasons. And this
    “blaming individual users is counterproductive”
    Is the most asinine, illogical blather I’ve read in a long time. I am responsible for my actions, not you, not my skin color, not my firearm, not society. You are responsible for yours. Only the individual, the smallest of minorities, can control their own lives and once you give that up, you are nothing more than a slave.

    I’m sorry the world is a dangerous place, but I refuse to allow people like you to con others into thinking “it’s in their best interest” to allow the state to regulate everything. Freedom and liberty come with great risks.

    And I hate to break it to you, but you don’t have to deal with the “gun lobby”, you have to deal with the MILLIONS of gun owners like myself who will fight tooth and nail to ensure that we adhere to what the framers intended and not some nanny-state, “I know how to control your life better than you” bureaucrat.

  2. #2 John Hardin
    March 19, 2008

    Your essay is not balanced – it goes on at great and emotional length about the costs of firearms, but does not address their benefits.

    Any attempt to decide the worth of firearms to society must address both aspects. Would you assess the value of a vaccine based only on the number of people who had a fatal reaction to it? Not if you are honest.

    I suggest you read the amicus curiae brief of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, available at:

    http://www.nraila.org/heller/proamicusbriefs/07-290_amicus_aaps.pdf

    A good analysis of the high points is available here:

    http://canticleforleibowitz.blogspot.com/2008/02/hellers-friends-doctors-prescription.html

    One telling quote from the brief is this:

    “… the benefits of guns are undeniable: one physician surveyed published studies and estimated that the defensive use of guns saves 25 to 75 lives for every one lost to a gun.”

  3. #3 Gregory Morris
    March 19, 2008

    I’m going to have to agree with Robb here about my personal liberty.

    Now, if you want to regulate guns the same way that cars and booze are regulated, let’s talk about that for a minute. I’ll agree to it if you _really_ mean it. With identical regulations, anyone with the cash can buy any gun they want at any time from any person in any state with no questions asked. To take it onto public roads, you need a license of course, and the gun you carry on public roads must be registered… by someone. The license doesn’t require a background check of any kind, so as long as you are 16 and you can pass basic test, you get the license. There are no felony, mental health, or violent-behavior restrictions on licensing. The license to possess your gun on public roads is valid in every state of the union regardless of their laws. Of course, getting caught without a license is just a slap on the wrist and a $90 fine. On one’s own property there are no restrictions on how guns are used, how many are owned, or how they are stored. You can build any gun you want, any way you want, and you are only required to follow basic safety regulations (i.e. the gun cannot randomly explode) if you take that gun out in public. A licensee’s personal information is not public, but it can be verified by law enforcement should the need arise.

    I’ll join you in lobbying congress to pass this kind of sweeping gun-control reform.

  4. #4 Sam Wilson
    March 19, 2008

    There is a public policy which deters crime. Concealed carry of firearms by lawabiding citizens. Please consult the publications of Dr. John R. Lott and his colleagues for the evidence.

    You must consider all the relevant facts to reach a relevant conclusion.

  5. #5 Rob K
    March 19, 2008

    Why do you focus on “gun violence” instead of violence in general? Is violence with baseball bats just fine with you? Sure if you take away guns, you’ll reduce gun violence, but do you reduce violence overall? I think you’ll find that places where guns are banned are about the most violent overall that you’ll find, but places where guns are easily available to the law abiding have the lowest rates of violence.

  6. #6 Liz
    March 19, 2008

    Liberty:
    There’s no way for us to have a functioning society if we insist on absolute liberty to do anything we please. I’m glad that there are restrictions on driving drunk, driving at excessive speeds, and shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. Maybe some of us will just fundamentally disagree about this, though.

    Suicides:
    The public health approach is about reducing deaths and injuries, and that includes suicides. Suicide attempts with guns are more likely to succeed than other types of attempts, and if reducing gun availability reduces suicides, that’s a good thing in my book.

    Guns vs. baseball bats:
    Violence with a gun – especially an assault weapon – kills more people more quickly than most other types of violence (suicide bombings are an exception, but they’re not a major cause of death in the U.S.). Adopting gun restrictions does not mean ignoring overall violence prevention efforts, either.

  7. #7 Liz
    March 19, 2008

    Defensive gun uses:
    It’s certainly worthwhile to consider any positive benefits that guns might have, but here, again, we hear very different estimates from different researchers. Those advocating for fewer gun restrictions tend to cite (or cite things that also cite) the 1995 Kleck & Gertz survey that estimated 2.5 defensive gun uses (DGUs) annually, but a National Crime Victimization Survey estimate put that number at about 65,000 per year. This Police Foundation Study (large PDF; go to p. 57) explains the methodology of both, and its executive summary explains concerns about the Kleck & Gertz number:

    “However, our discussion suggests that survey-based estimates such as those from the NSPOF and Kleck and Gertz are grossly in error, for several reasons: (1) The number of crimes defended, perpetrators shot, and lives saved implied by the DGU reports are incredibly high in comparison with well-known facts about crime rates, gunshot woundings and homicides; (2) There is evidence of confusion on the part of some of the DGU reporters, in the form of puzzling inconsistencies in their descriptions; (3) Survey methods for estimating rare events are generally subject to a positive bias from “false positives.” Furthermore, the information available with the NSPOF, as with other surveys, is not adequate to determine whether these reported defensive gun uses (if true) were appropriate, in the sense of involving innocent victims taking prudent action. For example, alternative courses of action available to the respondent in each incident, and even the victim-perpetrator relationship, cannot be determined from the survey responses.”

    It might well be that it’s possible to reduce gun violence and at the same time allow law-abiding citizens to own guns for defensive purposes. Maybe some other methods or combination of methods – closing the gun-show loophole (which lets gun-show purchasers skip the usual background checks), banning assault weapons, limiting gun purchases to one a month, cracking down on corrupt licensed gun dealers, running a targeted PSA campaign – can reduce the toll of gun violence to the point that strict bans like DC’s get taken off the table.

    If I’m satisfied that the research shows that certain types of gun ownership either prevent or don’t contribute much to violent crime, then it won’t bother me to have those types of gun ownership continue. I don’t think the research we have now enables us to make that judgement, though.

  8. #8 Bob Leibowitz
    March 19, 2008

    There is no tool made for human use which we would not choose to forgo if we looked only at the costs. Without consideration of the benefits that attach we would all want to ban toasters, paint, boats, elevators, arterial stents, penicillin, CT machines, roller skates, ambulances, CF light bulbs, hammers, fire, mercury, vitamin D, the Internet, and guns.

    That guns save more lives than they cost is unarguable. That more guns equal fewer gun deaths is also unarguable.

    The most telling comment from yesterday’s hearing at SCOTUS on the Heller case actually occurred after the courtroom drama. It was out on the sidewalk, when Adrian Fenty responded to a reporter’s question with,

    “We have long had a law in the District of Columbia that handguns are banned in the city. Thirty years ago, as is the case today, handguns represent a disproportionate number of crimes in the District of Columbia, everything from homicides, to robberies to rape.”

    According to the Mayor, who stepped onto a DC sidewalk shielded by his eight bodyguards there’s been no change in the criminal use of guns after 30 years of complete prohibition of handguns. According to the numbers, homicides in DC have only increased.

    Perhaps it’s time that DC and the public health crowd take a look at what works. In the scores of states that followed Florida’s lead by working to increase the tools available to ordinary citizens to help reduce crime, more guns equal less crime, fewer accidents, fewer homicides.

    Or does that approach not fit the agenda?

  9. #9 Bob Leibowitz
    March 19, 2008

    Liz writes

    Maybe some other methods or combination of methods – closing the gun-show loophole (which lets gun-show purchasers skip the usual background checks), banning assault weapons, limiting gun purchases to one a month, cracking down on corrupt licensed gun dealers, running a targeted PSA campaign – can reduce the toll of gun violence to the point that strict bans like DC’s get taken off the table.

    1. According to DOJ, less than 1% of guns used in crime are acquired at gunshows. If we want to have an impact for our efforts, let’s start elsewhere. After we’ve closed the truly meaningful “loopholes,” then we can spend scarce resources on the smaller issues.

    2. Over the past 30 years, “assault weapons” have been used in fewer than a dozen crimes. Again, let’s save the small fry for the day when we’ve resources to spare.

    3. Limiting gun purchases. I’m unaware of any fact any where that points to this item having any effect on crime up or down. Can you cite any showing from the states which currently limit purchases?

    4. I agree that we should throw the book at corrupt licensed gun dealers. I would go further and throw the book at corrupt unlicensed gun dealers.

    5. I agree with a PSA program. It’s interesting that there has been a steep decrease in gun accidents involving children in those states and during the time when the NRA’s Eddie Eagle gun safety program has had wide play. Perhaps we can agree that we should be teaching gun safety to all children?

    The suggestions we might be able to agree on:

    1. Felons never redevelop a right to possess a gun. Never. Possession by a felon gets a mandatory stiff sentence.

    2. Possession of a firearm during any criminal proceeding adds a substantial prison term.

    3. Straw purchasescreate of the purchaser a co-conspirator in the eventual crimes.

    4. The big one: Possession of a firearm during a crime by a minor creates an immediate presumption of majority, the kid is tried and sentenced as an adult.

    One could (and I would) make the case that the DC gun ban has cost innocent lives, victims who are not here today to raise their voices to protest what happened to them. Now that we have real-life laboratories amongst the states, producing all kinds of real-life data, shouldn’t we be paying real attention to what the experience of the last 30 years has tried to teach? One fact is already absolutely clear: In spite of the fears of some, it is certain that more guns haven’t resulted in more crime. The only open question is how much has crime been reduced in those states that have opened their minds to citizens defending themselves… and society.

    Finally, the three times that I’ve had occasion to use a gun to defend my family or myself, no shots were fired, no police report of the usage was filed, no pollster took a number. Each ended well, the good guys in control, without a need to shoot. Anecdotal evidence doesn’t count for much, but my experience supports my belief that Kleck’s numbers are more accurate than the others.

  10. #10 Robert
    March 20, 2008

    Criminal violence is bad. However, violence used by innocent people to protect themselves from wanton and unprovoked violence by criminals is actually good.

    A generation ago, everyone understood these obvious facts clearly. It is regrettable that so many people now, especially those in the health professions, are unable to understand them.

  11. #11 the pistolero
    March 20, 2008

    I’m glad that there are restrictions on driving drunk, driving at excessive speeds, and shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. Maybe some of us will just fundamentally disagree about this, though.

    Yes, we will, and and will loudly and repeatedly call out as fools and charlatans those who would lump gun ownership in with such irresponsible behavior as driving drunk. but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. You anti-gun nanny-staters have been insulting us gun owners for years now. Somehow I doubt you’ll ever stop.

  12. #12 Linoge
    March 20, 2008

    Not being a member of the public health community, I cannot address your thesis sentence, but I can say this much:

    The Founding Fathers wrote what they did with malice of forethought, intense and deep thought and consideration, and the hope, if not outright knowledge, that their words would stand for generations to come. I am sorry, but while you probably have a very high estimation of yourself and your opinion, you are not the person to come along behind them and second-guess them for the sake of “public health”.

    Sorry, but in all honesty, my concern for the “public health” ranks several orders of magnitude under my concern for personal freedoms, and, since, when you get right down to it, the inherent and unalianable right to self defense is one of our most basic personal freedoms, and since personally-portable firearms are a method by which we ensure our right of and capability to defend ourselves… Yeah, I think you can just go stuff your “public health” argument. Yes, personal freedom is risky. Yes, personal freedom is dangerous. Yes, bad things could happen. But a worse thing is to live your life in a padded, Nerf-ed out, nanny-state’d, you-can’t-do-that-because-it’s-not-safe/healthy/good nation, with no regard for the rights of the individual. Of course, I would imagine you do not see the downside of that kind of situation, so this is all for naught, hm?

  13. #13 Gregory Morris
    March 20, 2008

    On “DGU”s – I have to second Mr. Leibowitz… I have also use a gun (which remained in its holster, on my hip) to de-escalate an otherwise volatile and dangerous situation. I actually did file a police report, but there was no mention of a gun since it was never drawn. The reason the “65,000 DGUs” statistic is not widely accepted is because it does not in any way take into account defensive uses that did not result in a gun being drawn/fired or were never even reported.

    “…closing the gun-show loophole (which lets gun-show purchasers skip the usual background checks)…”

    Can you show me any evidence that these laws will affect levels of criminal violence?

    You are incorrect about the term “gun-show loophole.” In fact, a gun show has no different rules than anywhere else. Gun dealers must run background checks whether or not they are selling guns at a gun show. It is telling that you buy into the anti-gun-lobby’s misleading propaganda without doing your own research into the truth of their statements. The fact of the matter is, guns can be transfered between private citizens in most states without going through a dealer. It happens sometimes at gun shows, but more often at home (i.e. Uncle Bob giving a deer rifle to his nephew.) Show me, statistically, how closing this supposed “loophole” will have an effect on crime? You can’t.

    Liz wrote:
    “…banning assault weapons…”

    As Mr. Leibowitz also mentioned, most crimes are not committed with “assault weapons”. The thing is, assault weapons bans do not reduce crime for a number of reasons. First of all, if you eliminate AWs altogether, you will simply have gun crime with non-AWs. Second, the definition of an “assault weapon” is basically “anything that looks scary”. Criminals have no problem killing each other with non-scary guns that function identically to the scary-looking ones. What really ruffles my feathers about AW terminology is that there is no real difference between my vintage Yugoslavian rifle, my semi-automatic hunting rifle and a modern tactical “assault weapon”, other than the color and style of their stocks. The function of all three is identical.

    “limiting gun purchases to one a month…”
    A number of states have done this without having any change in the violent crime rates, or the illegal trafficking of firearms (which is the intended goal.) One-gun-a-month laws don’t bother me because I want to buy more guns than that (I couldn’t afford to even if I wanted to) but rather because they are just another law that won’t do anything but restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens. Do you think a criminal would follow a one-gun-a-month law when they intend to commit an even greater crime of bringing a truckload of stolen firearms into the city to sell on the street? I seriously doubt it. As it is, multiple firearms sales must be reported by gun dealers to the ATF. Given that information, the ATF has the tools they need to track down people who are trafficking guns illegally.

    Linoge wrote:
    “my concern for the “public health” ranks several orders of magnitude under my concern for personal freedoms”

    Public health is important, and I will fully support programs that will reduce crime. The problem I have with what Liz has written here is that none of her ideas will reduce crime, while all of them will increase the burdens of law-abiding gun owners.

  14. #14 Brett
    March 20, 2008

    If you don’t care about public health and stopping senseless deaths then you’re at the wrong place.

    I’m a law abiding gun owner, and hey, ya know what? I’m FINE with it being a little harder to own, because Its alot EASIER for someone to off someone with my gun than it is my fridge.

    You know you’re one of the few people who would agree to lobby for GOOD gun controls, and if you do believe that, I truely hope you’re not giving the NRA a dime.

    This could be a huge post, but face it, we both have our facts, and most our beliefs are rooted in personal experience and personal histories- The one thing we need to do is remain respectful, and I don’t feel most you guys are.

    Or would being courteous not fit with your agenda?

  15. #15 Liz
    March 20, 2008

    Very well said, Brett – thanks. And thanks to everyone who’s responding to the substance of the post and comments. I can’t respond to everything immediately, but I’ll address as many of the points as I can.

    There is no tool made for human use which we would not choose to forgo if we looked only at the costs. Without consideration of the benefits that attach we would all want to ban toasters, paint, boats, elevators, arterial stents, penicillin, CT machines, roller skates, ambulances, CF light bulbs, hammers, fire, mercury, vitamin D, the Internet, and guns.

    I agree – but the approach to all of these things has been what I hope we can do with guns: figure out ways to minimize the costs and maximize the benefits. Cars are a great example. Instead of banning cars, we use traffic laws and vehicle safety standards to reduce accidents and harm from accidents.

    Some people might think of speed limits and traffic signals as an unfair restriction on car owners, but I think most would agree that having them allows a large number of people to enjoy the benefits of driving.

  16. #16 Linoge
    March 20, 2008

    I think we are arguing at the same purposes, Gregory… I, too, am firmly against crime, and would be more than willing to help decrease its frequency and severity… so long as it was not at the cost of the law-abiding individual, much like you seem to be. However, bans, waiting periods, purchasing limits, and all the rest of the tried-and-failed methods have done nothing for overall crime rates (and had dubious effects of firearm crime rates), while further limiting personal freedoms – something that we simply cannot abide.

    I am not sure if anyone so far has said they unequivocably do not care about public safety in this comment thread yet, Brett, but they have accurately stated that “public safety” should not, and, in fact, cannot be the rationale of and basis for an argument that would sacrifice personal safety and freedoms. And I agree with you – making firearms more difficult to come by, for criminals, is vitally important, but making it more difficult for your average, law-abiding Joe? Well, that is governmental intervention where none belongs, and that only leads to one eventual future.

    And, Liz, I think Gregory has already addressed the fallacy of comparing firearm legislation to car legislation, but to further drive the point home, what the District of Columbia is doing with their current firearm laws is roughly (and I do mean “roughly” – all analogies are imperfect) equivalent to banning all cars with its borders, and saying that trucks and SUVs must be stored with their engines and wheels separated from the body/chassis. And this is a “reasonable” restriction?

  17. #17 Sailorcurt
    March 20, 2008

    The one thing we need to do is remain respectful, and I don’t feel most you guys are.

    Who was being discourteous? I see people who have little respect for the good Doctor’s positions, but have seen no disrespect directed toward herself. If you can point out the name calling and ad-hominems I’ll be happy to recant, but I simply haven’t seen any. Just passionate discussion about the points and issues at hand.

    Unless, of course, your point is that it is disrespectful to disagree.

    Most of us passionately disagree with the seemingly arrogant and elitist notion that our liberty may be offended at the whim of those who would fancy themselves our betters.

    “I think one must be careful in assuming that intellectuals have some kind of insight. In fact, if the track record of intellectuals is any indication, not only have intellectuals been wrong almost all of the time, but they have been wrong in corrosive and destructive ways.”
    –Sander L. Gilman, University of Illinois at Chicago

    Moving on:

    There’s no way for us to have a functioning society if we insist on absolute liberty to do anything we please.

    That is nothing more than hyperbole resulting in a straw man argument.

    No one here is suggesting anarchy. There are appropriate limits on liberty…namely assessing consequences for actions that infringe upon the rights and liberty of others.

    The dichotomy is that Ms. Borkowski’s suggestions amount to infringing upon the liberty of others not as a consequence of any illegal or inappropriate acts…but as a prior restraint upon liberty in an effort to prevent potential future illegal or inappropriate acts.

    Therein lies the problem. A just and free society does not attempt to restrict liberty on the off chance that said liberty may be abused…it assesses consequences only against those guilty of such abuse.

    “One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation.”
    — Thomas Brackett Reed

    As has already been pointed out several times: life is not risk free and any attempt to make it so results in nothing less than totalitarianism and ultimately tends to defeat its own ostensible purpose.

    “The man who asks of freedom anything other than itself is born to be a slave.”
    — Alexis de Tocqueville

  18. #18 Robb Allen
    March 20, 2008

    You’re speed limit analogy is flawed as well.

    Speed limits are applied to everyone, equally as well as the limits are placed based on observable, verifiable, repeatable data. The faster one travels, the less information they are able to process. On open roads, you don’t need to be able to navigate turns or watch out for people coming into the road as much, therefor speeds can be higher. Neighborhoods have turns and unexpected things popping out, so slower speeds are required.

    When you break the limits, you generally get a ticket, not a felony. Also, you’re allowed to own cars with 500 horsepower and as many as you can afford even though you’re not allowed to drive them at 180 MPH on public roads.

    And, how often do you speed? How often do others speed? A lot and the reason is because there’s actually very little chance you’ll get caught. So, even the speed limits do not stop people from speeding.

    We ALREADY have “traffic laws” for guns. You pull a gun on someone without cause, you go to jail. Shoot someone? Go to jail. Murder someone? You may forfeit your own life.

    270,000,000 guns are estimated in civilian hands in the US. You cannot make them disappear. That toothpaste is already out of the tube and there is no way to get it back in. Even if you were to implement a police state that could track every new gun purchased, you’d have 270,000,000 unaccounted for firearms. I’d not turn mine in, that’s for sure. So, the easy availability argument is moot.

    I’m not against background checks, but I am against them when they’re used as a registry and when the system goes down I’m automatically declined. I’m not against keeping them out of the hands of criminals, but you’ve provided not a single way of doing that. If you’ve forgotten, I’ll remind you that criminals don’t obey the laws anyway. They’ll continue to steal them. They’ll continue to sell them to others. And those who are willing to violate the #1 human law of Thou Shall Not Kill are NOT going to be quelled by some half-assed law that will add 5 years onto their sentence for buying 2 guns in a month.

    Instead, we need to focus the blame on the individual who commits the crime. It’s their fault, not the gun industry, not the NRA, not the state. And if they’re not trustworthy enough to walk the streets with a weapon, they are not trustworthy enough to be free anyway. You solve the problem by keeping the criminal element off the street. Not one of your solutions would have even a fleeting effect on criminals, just us law abiding citizens.

  19. #19 Joe Huffman
    March 20, 2008

    I have Just One Question for people suggesting more gun regulation is a good thing, “Can you demonstrate one time or place, throughout all history, where the average person was made safer by restricting access to handheld weapons?”

  20. #20 Gregory Morris
    March 20, 2008

    Regarding the concept that “criminals will break the law anyway”, let it be known that when I say this, I am primarily referring to gang members and drug users. If you look at the numbers, you’ll find that people involved in gang- and drug-related activity make up an overwhelming majority of those murdered and those committing murder. “Gun violence” in and of itself is very rarely a primary crime, rather it usually accompanies a gang- or drug-related crime.

    Eliminating the drug black market and crushing gangs would do more to end “criminal violence” than any gun regulation.

  21. #21 Nan
    March 20, 2008

    Robb Allen’s rather blase attitude about many gun deaths being suicides and by implication therefore should not count towards assessing the cost of gun violence in this country displays a remarkable level of both ignorance and callousness. Most suicides do not want to die; suicide intervention programs have shown repeatedly that people who attempt suicide are hoping desperately that someone stops them. Saying, in essence, “Lets just let mentally ill folks off themselves; they don’t count” is, to be blunt, morally repellant.

    That said, I think the key point Liz is trying to make is that we really don’t know one way or the other just what the public health costs associated with gun violence are — existing studies on gun deaths and/or death by violence in various forms are often flawed, contradictory, and often lead to more confusion, not less. That’s why efforts by the gun lobby to stifle research that might contradict their biases are misguided. To me, when the NRA tries to prevent the CDC or other agencies from compiling data it just makes it look like they already know the answers aren’t going to be what they want to hear. If guns are so good and wonderful and are protecting law-abiding citizens from hordes of marauding lawbreakers, then lets see some solid research supporting that fact instead of anecdotes like that provided by Bob Liebowitz (he’s used his gun, but it was never reported to the police so statistically it was a nonevent).

    In the meantime, I’m with Gregory — eliminating the root causes for violence for could do more for ending criminal violence than any additional gun regulations.

  22. #22 jeff
    March 20, 2008

    Bob Leibowitz writes -

    “Finally, the three times that I’ve had occasion to use a gun to defend my family or myself, no shots were fired, no police report of the usage was filed, no pollster took a number. Each ended well, the good guys in control, without a need to shoot. ”

    I’m curious in what kind of situation you would use your gun in self-defense and not want to call the police afterward. Not saying at all that you made a bad decision to “use” your gun (“use” since you didn’t acutallly fire it (thankfully)).

    I would just think that you would want to report any bad guys or that you would want to make a report in case YOU ended up being reported as a “man with a gun”.

  23. #23 Nomen Nescio
    March 20, 2008

    I think the key point Liz is trying to make is that we really don’t know one way or the other just what the public health costs associated with gun violence are

    then we really don’t have any good, public health-based reason to want to ban guns, now do we?

    but i’m finding this ignorance very difficult to believe. gun control efforts in the USA go back over 70 years, with localized full-on gun bans over 30 years old in (for instance) Washington, D.C. how can we possibly, after so much time and experience with gun control, still not know what the effects of gun control are? less generous people than myself might begin to speculate that the effects are in fact nil, but ignorance being feigned for the purpose of pushing further gun control.

  24. #24 Del
    March 20, 2008

    Uh … we know very well what the public health costs of gun violence are. That’s in the third paragraph of the post.

    It’s not that simple to say you know what the results of gun control laws are. Sure, we know what the DC homicide rate has been like over the past 40 years, but how much of the change is due to the gun law? Enforcement has varied, so have national and regional crime rates.

    Now, if you look at the U.S. homicide rates compared to other developed countries, our rate is way higher. The best explanation is that other countries have stricter gun laws.

  25. #25 Robb Allen
    March 20, 2008

    Robb Allen’s rather blase attitude about many gun deaths being suicides and by implication therefore should not count towards assessing the cost of gun violence in this country displays a remarkable level of both ignorance and callousness.

    Callous, I’ll gladly accept. Ignorant I will not. I know a lot more about that subject than you care to imagine.

    Saying, in essence, “Lets just let mentally ill folks off themselves; they don’t count” is, to be blunt, morally repellant.

    And equally morally repellent is putting words in other people’s mouths to try to make a point. At no point in my comment did I say that mentally ill people should kill themselves or that we should make no effort to stop them.

    Those who use firearms are not crying for help. They are finished and wish to end it as quickly as possible, leaving little possibility of survival. Japan has an extremely high amount of suicide yet a very, very low amount of guns.

    Again, the gun itself causes nothing. Unless you actually believe that crystals have healing powers, I’ve yet to see an inanimate object use mind control to cause events to happen.

    The other issue is that there is no way, short of government monitoring of your life 24×7, that you can effectively prevent people from killing themselves. That’s not callous, that’s simply the truth. And the cost of liberty that entails far outweighs the benefits.

    As for the root causes, I’m all for it only if you also punish the offenders and keep the off the street when they can’t maintain a level of civility.

    Jeff – I’ve had the misfortune of defending my life as well with a firearm. There was no need to call the cops because there wasn’t much I could tell them that would help them capture the men threatening to kill me. It was a stressful situation as it was, adding on a bunch of cops who might want to throw their weight around (many cops don’t like the “little people” having guns) just wasn’t worth it.

  26. #26 Sailorcurt
    March 20, 2008

    To me, when the NRA tries to prevent the CDC or other agencies from compiling data it just makes it look like they already know the answers aren’t going to be what they want to hear.

    I’d like to see that contention backed up. At what point has the NRA tried to prevent the CDC from compiling data…and with what amount of success?

    Or perhaps you are referring to the Tiahrt amendment…which, by the way, the very organization responsible for the data in question, the ATF, supports?

    If that’s the case, what does gun trace data (which, as is readily acknowledged by the department that compiles it, is not useful for drawing conclusions about crime trends because all crime guns are not traced and all traced guns are not crime guns) have to do with public safety?

    If guns are so good and wonderful and are protecting law-abiding citizens from hordes of marauding lawbreakers

    That’s actually irrelevant. Increased lawful gun ownership does not correlate with increases in crime. Gun ownership is a right under the US and most, if not all, state Constitutions. Therefore, there is no need to prove that guns are inherently good…only to prove that they are NOT inherently bad. Since lawfully exercising the right to keep and bear arms cannot be demonstrated to cause harm, there is no compelling reason to restrict that right.

    It doesn’t matter one whit whether the overall crime rates are affected by my personally owning and carrying a firearm. It only matters that I am able to defend myself and my family when needed.

    Not to mention the basic premise that communal statistics should have no bearing on the treatment of individual rights. The entire concept of “inalienable rights” is that the rights of a minority can never be infringed upon by a majority, even if the majority feels it has sufficient cause to do so. And, of course, the smallest minority is the individual.

  27. #27 Liz
    March 20, 2008

    To everyone who’s talking about the root cause of violence, I absolutely agree we should be addressing it – that’s what the last third of the post is about. At the same time, I’d like to see us taking steps that can reduce the death and injury toll from the crime that does occur, because all history to date suggests that crime will continue to happen, even if the rates drop. These strategies are not mutually exclusive.

    Bob Leibowitz brought up the issue of scarce resources, and that’s a good point. I’d like to see more analysis of the relative effectiveness of different interventions; I mentioned several different ones that seem promising, with the point of demonstrating that there are a lot of potential solutions that do not involve passing DC-style gun laws. As far as the resource allocation goes, though, it’s not as though there’s a single pot of money and a single decision-making body that will determine how we tackle crime as a whole and gun violence in particular. There are several different agencies and different levels of government involved, and there’s no reason that having the ATF do more inspections to catch corrupt dealers should keep the CPSC from regulating firearms for safety design.

    A couple of specifics:

    Gun show loophole:
    It’s true that this loophole isn’t confined to gun shows alone. Private sellers are able to sell guns without doing the same paperwork required of licensed dealers, whether or not the sale takes place at a gun show – unless the gun show is in one of the states that have closed the gun show loophole. Gun shows present a unique opportunity for purchasing large quantities of firearms in relative anonymity. Between one-half and one-fourth of the dealers at these shows are unlicensed. ATF explains, “The access to anonymous sales and large numbers of secondhand firearms makes gun shows attractive to criminals.”

    It’s hard to get numbers on how many guns from unlicensed dealers end up being used in crimes, because so much of the data on crime guns comes from ATF traces. ATF relies on retail sales records, which unlicensed dealers are not required to keep. Gun shows as a whole, though (including sales from both licensed and unlicensed sellers), were associated with approximately 26,000 illegally diverted firearms during a two-year ATF study.

    Assault weapons:
    I’m considering assault weapons to be those with high ammunition capacity that produce rapid, controlled firing for a sustained period of time. These are military-style weapons designed to kill many people at once, and I’m having a hard time understanding why a law-abiding gun owner would want one.

    We did have a national ban on semi-automatic assault wepons from 1994-2004, and the major law enforcement organizations and 68% of the public supported renewing it. Both advocates and opponents of the renewal evidently cited the same study, which includes the 1% figure:

    Assault weapons make up only about 1% of the 200 million guns that federal officials estimate are in circulation in the USA. In a Justice Department survey of state and federal inmates in 1997, less than 2% said they had used assault weapons during their crimes. The NRA has long cited the survey in arguing that banning assault weapons would have little effect on crime.

    But gun-control groups cite the same study in noting that only 20% of criminals use guns in the first place. And among gun crimes, they say, the percentage involving assault weapons is disproportionately high. They also say that since the ban, federal data that traces guns used in crimes show a two-thirds drop in the use of assault weapons.

    Police officials, siding with gun-control groups, say semiautomatic weapons were favored by gangs that terrorized cities during the late 1980s and early 1990s. They now fear a resurgence of such violence.

  28. #28 Joe Huffman
    March 20, 2008

    Check out what the ATF says about trace data. For example paragraphs (1) and (2) in this report.

    ATF trace data includes guns that were recovered stolen property as well as being a sample that is not random. If you read the anti-gun organizations material with care you will see they chose their words very carefully to mislead people on the trace data. They will say something like “guns connected to crime”. Using trace data as indicators of the types of guns used in crime is going to give erroneous results.

    We should not base public policy on fears–particularly when considering infringing on a fundamental right. A lot of racists in the deep south had fears of blacks attacking their women, disease transmission from sharing the same water fountains, and even of interracial marriage. The fears of semi-auto firearms are no different. In both cases the bigots advocating restrictions rely on myths, deception, half-truths, and derogatory names to push their agenda. Get valid data, show a compelling case that takes into account the realizable benefits as well as the risks of the restrictions and then we can talk about it.

    But until you can answer Just One Question there is no point in discussing implementing restrictions based on the fear you or anyone else has of firearms.

    See also Mental problems of anti-gun people.

  29. #29 Joe Huffman
    March 20, 2008

    In regards to “corrupt dealers” I would like to know how people think there is a problem in that regard. The national average “time to crime” for a gun is over 10 years. See any of these reports (for example page seven on the D.C. report. If it took two or more years for a gun sold by a dealer to be used in a crime then I question the claim the dealer could have any premonition the gun was going to be used by a criminal. This “time to crime” statistic also supports the hypothesis that guns used in crime are obtained via theft rather than direct sales from “corrupt dealers”.

  30. #30 citizenbrain
    March 20, 2008

    watch this video, it sums up the flaws of gun control nicely.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyoLuTjguJA

  31. #31 Sailorcurt
    March 20, 2008

    Ms. Borkowski,

    First I’d like to congratulate you on the tone and civility of this discussion. As most of the other rights supporters involved in this discussion will attest, it is a rare case to find someone who takes your position but does so in a courteous, respectful manner. It generally doesn’t take long before the discussion devolves into name calling, insults and deleted comments. Thank you.

    Down to business. You brought up too many issues to address them all in one comment.

    I’m going to concentrate on the Gun Show loophole and leave the other issues to others. I may come back and revisit the other points you raised in future comments if no one else hits them adequately.

    First of all, the term itself is an inaccurate construct of the gun control lobby. A loophole, by definition, is a flaw that allows one to skirt the spirit and intent of the law without breaking the letter.

    That is not the case here at all as the law was specifically written to allow private individuals the liberty to dispose of their personal property without governmental interference.

    The term “loophole” was adopted by the gun control lobby to intentionally (and misleadingly) evoke an emotional response.

    A private individual selling his private property to another private individual without permission or interference from the government is not an unintentional flaw in the law…it is specifically written into the law as an intentional provision to protect the private property rights of individuals.

    Gun shows present a unique opportunity for purchasing large quantities of firearms in relative anonymity.

    Have you ever attended a gun show? There are no “large quantities” of firearms for sale by private individuals. There are generally a few tables with firearms for sale by private citizens but they are usually vintage, collector’s items. A World War I Enfield rifle is not typically something that your average bank robber would find useful.

    You may also find a few individuals walking through the show with a modern firearm for sale, but hardly in any substantial quantity.

    The only place you will find large quantities of modern firearms for sale at a gun show are from the licensed vendors.

    Also, it must be considered that the Police and ATF regularly attend gun shows in an effort to ferret out illegal sales. The legal definition of one “in the business” of selling firearms is relatively subjective. It makes little sense to believe an unlicensed individual would be openly attempting to sell large numbers of firearms at as public a venue as a gun show as they would be at very real risk of exposing themselves to serious criminal charges.

    Between one-half and one-fourth of the dealers at these shows are unlicensed.

    That is a misleading statement promulgated by the gun control lobby. It is derived from THIS 1999 DOJ study which stated:

    “Both FFLs and nonlicensees sell firearms at these shows. FFLs make up 50 to 75 percent of the vendors at most gun shows.” (page 4)

    Followed by: “Some of the vendors offer accessories and
    paraphernalia only and do not sell firearms.” (page 5).

    The “25 to 50 percent of dealers” contention is arrived at by assuming that every vendor who is not licensed is an “unlicensed dealer”. If you ever do attend a gun show, the utter ridiculousness of that assertion will be apparent as soon as you walk in the door and realize that the vast majority of those “unlicensed dealers” sell Beef Jerky, T-shirts, toys, collectibles, ammunition, accessories etc, etc etc…not firearms, The percentage of private individuals selling firearms is no-where near the level indicated by that particular piece of misinformation promulgated by the gun control lobby.

    Based upon my anecdotal experience, I would estimate the percentage of unlicensed persons selling firearms at these shows to average somewhere below 10 percent…the VAST majority of whom are walking the show offering one firearm from their collection for sale.

    The ATF report that you linked I’ve covered in detail many times in the past and I’m not going to go through the details of it again. The passage you quoted perfectly illustrates the basic conclusion:

    It’s hard to get numbers on how many guns from unlicensed dealers end up being used in crimes…Gun shows as a whole, though (including sales from both licensed and unlicensed sellers), were associated with approximately 26,000 illegally diverted firearms during a two-year ATF study.

    From that one statement, I can boil down my analysis of the entire document…it demonstrates exactly nothing. It is full of conjecture and innuendo with very little concrete evidence of anything other than that, yes…some guns which are sold at gun shows do, at some point in their existence, make it into the hands of criminals.

    Whether those guns were sold by a licensed dealer or private seller is unclear. Whether the gun was sold at a gunshow to a lawful owner and then later entered the criminal market through theft or third party sale is unclear. Whether criminals regularly directly purchase guns at gunshows or utilize straw purchasers to do so is unclear.

    But what IS clear through numerous other studies, surveys and evidence, is that the number of firearms that enter the criminal world as a result of a private citizens selling their legally owned firearms to criminals…whether at gun shows or in the living room…is so small as to amount to statistical noise.

    In order for private sales of firearms to be a legitimate problem, one must assume that the majority of private sellers don’t make any effort of due diligence in ensuring that they don’t sell firearms to prohibited persons.

    That is simply ridiculous. We, in the gun rights community, don’t want guns to fall into the hands of criminals any more than you do. We also don’t want on our conscience the possibility that a gun that we sold was used to kill or harm an innocent. Furthermore, we know that if we DO become a part of the problem we are adding ammunition to the arsenal of those who would further infringe our liberties. We may be knuckle dragging, neanderthal, redneck gun nuts…but we aren’t stupid.

    This was borne out perfectly by an article in a local paper just a week or so ago. During a series on gun laws in Virginia, they interviewed a convicted gun trafficker. Here’s what he had to say:

    They all knew that in Virginia, they could avoid the background checks if they purchased secondhand guns from private sellers – either at gun shows or through the classifieds.

    But, Headlam said: “We never bought from any of them. That one-on-one stuff gets too complicated. People want to have a conversation. They get all skeptical. For real, it was less hassle at a gun shop. Show your two forms of ID, fill out the forms and that’s it. No questions asked. Besides, new guns were my thing. They were more in demand on the other end.”

    Private sales of personal firearms, whether at gun shows or at home simply are not the problem.

  32. #32 Bob Leibowitz
    March 20, 2008

    Jeff — You misquoted me. I’ll presume that it was innocent.

    In my three uses of a gun, none of which included firing, police were called twice and were on the scene at the third time. It was not a case where I “did want to call the police.” They had already been summoned. In one case it was the police who needed a helping hand. In the others, the police arrived after the crime had been deterred.

    Since I had not fired, there was no “need” on the part of the police to report a “use” of a gun.

    It apparently happens all the time.

    In fact, the majority of crimes in “no gun zones” that have ended without a suicide, have happened because an armed citizen intruded. One really has to dig into the press accounts to find this, though.

    I think Kleck or Kopel has created a pretty interesting paper on the subject, the under-reporting of violent crimes, particularly multi-victim shooting sprees, that have been stopped by armed citizens.

  33. #33 Bob Leibowitz
    March 20, 2008

    Liz — You cite laws and regulations on the use of an automobile as being a good analog. I’ll go along with reasonable laws on the use of a gun.

    You didn’t cite anything showing laws on ownership of automobiles reducing crime or deaths. I’m not aware that any evidence exists and I doubt that many voters would support a ban based on safety.

  34. #34 Liz
    March 21, 2008

    Well, now we seem to be using the same sources to support different sides of the argument, so I can see where these discussions end at an impasse. But it’s been instructive to hear the very impassioned arguments from gun owners.

  35. #35 Gregory Morris
    March 21, 2008

    Liz:
    “I’m considering assault weapons to be those with high ammunition capacity that produce rapid, controlled firing for a sustained period of time. These are military-style weapons designed to kill many people at once…”

    Keep in mind that any “statistic” regarding “assault weapons” is going to be meaningless because there is no good agreed-upon definition for the term. Of course, there is no agreed-upon definition because the term was invented to define how scary a firearm is, not anything functional. Your intention is to define them by capacity and rate of fire, but this was NOT the criteria used by the Clinton-era ban. Some anti-gun groups want anything “semi-automatic” to be considered an assault-weapon. Of course, that would result in a ban on a number of legitimate hunting rifles and shotguns, not to mention sporting and self-defense tools. As for the “rate of fire”, it is possible to fire a pump-action shotgun fast enough that you wouldn’t know the difference between it and a semi-auto. Would you consider this century-old technology that is used primarily for hunting and self defense to be an “assault weapon”?

    Next question: what does “military style” mean? To me, that indicates your belief that somehow cosmetics are as important as function. There are non-”military-style” rifles that can shoot just as fast as ones that look like military rifles. There are, in fact, no differences in the functionality of “scary black rifles” and common hunting rifles, except for the “big magazine”.

    That leads to the next question: If we can agree that cosmetic details don’t really matter, and simply being semi-automatic cannot be grounds for banning a firearm, then where should we look to define an “assault weapon”? Let’s look at ammunition capacity. Most modern firearms (scary and non-scary) have removable magazines (or clips, as you may know them.) This is a simply the best design and does not directly affect capacity. However, since a magazine is removable, you can clearly make magazines that hold as little or as much ammo as you want. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (as well as the current California and New York bans) limited magazines to 10 rounds. Consider first of all that this is the government telling me how many rounds of ammunition I should need to end a threat on my life. While you may say “when would you ever need more?”, my answer is simply “I don’t know, but neither do you.” Regardless of my personal beliefs on tactical issues, there is something more important… it is simple and fast to reload many popular firearms. The shooter at Va Tech reloaded his weapons mid-shooting. The size of his magazines didn’t matter. If they had been limited to 10 rounds, he would have just carried more magazines. I simply can’t fathom how a limit on magazine size would somehow deter crime. Also, keep in mind that most violent crime using guns does not involve “spraying bullets.” It is a drive-by where a few rounds are fired, or a robbery-turned-homicide where only a single round is fired. Remember, people have murdered other people with 6-shot revolvers for over a century now. Eliminating high-capacity magazines would only result in more murders with low-capacity magazines. Would you then argue that low-capacity magazines are somehow also “too dangerous” for a citizen to own?

    “…and I’m having a hard time understanding why a law-abiding gun owner would want one.”

    Because the guns you call “assault weapons” are good for hunting, self defense and shooting sports. Just because someone calls my handgun an “assault weapon” does not change the fact that it is perfectly suited for self defense. Just because a rifle doesn’t look like granddad’s old .30-06 doesn’t mean it isn’t as (or even more) capable of putting food on the table. Just because you don’t see the point in shooting sports doesn’t mean that the required tools for those sports should be banned (that would be like me saying, “I don’t like track and field, so let’s ban javelins.”)

    I could go on, but I’ll give you time to consider and rebut.

  36. #36 Joe Huffman
    March 21, 2008

    Liz, if you want to understand why someone would want an AR-15 (one of the rifles banned from new sale by the 1994 Federal Law) attend Boomershoot this year (April 27th) and I’ll let you shoot mine. Then you will understand. No amount of words and/or pictures will give you the clues you need to finally “get it”. Actually pulling the trigger and hitting your target is the only way to really explain it.

    I’ll even pay for your motel and meals if you attend and do some shooting.

  37. #37 Toxic Reverend
    March 22, 2008

    Blog posted:

    Suicide – Homicide and the Biochemistry of Crime,
    Independent research:
    Suicide – Homicide as it corresponds to the Fight or Flight Response.
    Includes verifiable information on the epidemic of steroid abuse
    in law enforcement and probable influence with police brutality
    and the use of “Deadly Force”
    http://toxicreverend.blogspot.com/2008/01/suicide-homicide-and-biochemistry-of.html

    California to test Super Sized Sicko health care patients for toxic exposures.

    The Biomonitoring Program in California is now underway.

    The upcoming “Public Input Meetings” with the
    nine member scientific advisory panel that will
    decide who gets tested for what and how they
    will get tested is set for A[ril 3, 2008 Oakland California
    There with educational forums, reservations must be made to attend.
    Other dates and locations are posted (with PDF fliers you
    can download) at the

    California Environmental Contaminant
    Biomonitoring Program
    http://www.oehha.ca.gov/multimedia/biomon/index.html

    You must (RSVP) make the reservations with the contact
    information at the above web page. Not with me. I am
    just an advocate spreading the news about this.

    It is extremely important that this next information
    be “un-censored”.

    Many of the schools, jails, hospitals and the Armed Forces
    are using plastic serving trays that ar often washed with
    detergents and “sterilized” with chemicals that can cause
    chemical reactions, making the plastic extremely toxic.

    In reference:

    “Protecting Yourself From Unsafe Plastics”
    Your Health
    By Sharon Levy
    National Wildlife Magazine,
    FebruaryMarch issue, 2004 Vol.42, No.2
    http://www.nwf.org/nationalwildlife/article.cfm?articleId=890&issueId=66

    Blessings,

    The Toxic Reverend
    http://www.myspace.com/toxicreverend
    aka
    Justice Is Homeless
    http://www.myspace.com/justiceishomeless

  38. #38 Sam Wilson
    March 22, 2008

    Strawman purchases: On October 10, 2002 the Atlanta Journal Constitution published an account of the ATFE arresting some people for local multiple gun purchases and selling the guns in NYC.

    The article was entitled “College Students Risk Future for Gun Trade”. The newspaper charges a fee to obtain a copy from its archives. I never saw a follow up story on this incident.

  39. #39 straightarrow
    March 23, 2008

    The one thing I have noticed here is that the anti-gunners or gun control advocates favor emotional hyperbole over provable fact and pre-emptive punishment before any crime is committed.

    I am going to now offer a more relevant analog than the others that have been offered.

    More people have died from AIDS worldwide in the last 30 years than have been killed in all of history through use of all arms, and certainly, by many orders magnitude, more than have been killed by firearms. (remember, only 30 years)

    Ergo, why are not these people who express such concern about public safety not screaming for genital control and regulation? Should not every possible organ useful in the numerous sex acts be registered? Should we not require background checks, health screens, and morality reviews before anyone is allowed to use their genitals for recreation or procreation? Should not every ogan useful in any of the numerous sex acts be registered and licensed? Should not their use be by permit only?

    Remember, these organs have proven to be far more deadly than all the arms in history and they did it in only 30 to 35 years. We can and have accurately calculated the costs in human life and societal decay due the horrible effect AIDS has had on the world. One of this world’s entire continent’s population is at dire risk of extinction due to this horrible disease. It strikes young, old, and even children who have never even matured enough to use their genitals in concert with another person. Nobody has ever defended his family with a penis or vagina, so we can safely say there are no DGU’s (Defensive Genital Uses) to offset the costs of genitals, very unlike the argument about arms.

    I am not asking for a complete ban on genitals, only “reasonable restrictions”. A national database which registers all genitals, full background checks before issuance of any GOP (Genital Ownership Permit), Genital Use Permit, where every instance of desire to use a genital in any manner must be approved by a governing board and a permit issued upon completion of examination by assigns or appointees of the state for each permitted use. Of course, there could be only one gential use per month, no high capacity genitals would be allowed (thank God, I am safe on that one), And all scary Evil Black Genitals would be banned from further distribution to the citizen.(sarcasm, in case you didn’t recognize it)

    If the argument were really about public safety this would take a much higher priority than the gun issue. Ergo, I can only assume the argument is not really about safety, public or otherwise.

    Even though my analogy is in exact accord with the claimed logic and principles advanced by gun control advocates, I cannot see them ever agreeing to such an egregious assault on the personages of citizens, even while they call for what is an identical assault on other citizens who actually have a defensible argument for their DGU’s (in this case, Defensive Gun Uses)

    To tell the truth, I’m not for it either. But this is exactly the same dynamic they are trying to set up, just so long as they get to choose who is abused of their rights. Seems just a tad hypocritical to me if they really want to cloak themselves in the robe of “public safety”.

  40. #40 Turk Turon
    March 23, 2008

    When a bank robber and a police officer, both wounded in a gun fight, arrive at the emergency room, they get the same level of care from dedicated health professionals. But when the two mens’ conditions are stabilized, there is a radical change.

    The bank robber will be handcuffed, taken to a jail cell and guarded round-the-clock. The police officer will receive a medal, give interviews, and be photographed with the mayor. This is because, outside of the healthcare profession, society recognizes right and wrong. Most of society, except healthcare, rewards good and punishes evil.

    It’s the Hippocratic Oath and thank goodness for it. But don’t try to press it on the rest of society. We just aren’t going to buy it. It’s OK in the clinic and the hospital, but it is not something we want in our courts and jails. Or our homes.

    Homicide in America

    Many criminologists who study homicide say that about seventy percent of homicides are “criminals killing other criminals”. Studies have been done in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, DC and Charlotte, NC, by health researchers, police departments, the FBI, the National Institutes of Justice and academic sociologists and they conclude that 60% to 70% of homicide victims have arrest records, histories of illicit drug use, severe alcohol abuse, domestic violence and documented histories as members of violent criminal street gangs. And that’s the victims, mind you; the perpetrators are, obviously, much worse.

    When comparisons are made between American homicide rates (the number slain per hundred thousand population), and rates in Western Europe, there is no question that U.S. homicide rates are much higher. And most of those nations have much tougher gun control laws. But it would be wrong to assume that the U.S. has higher homicide rates because of our “weak” gun control laws and here’s why: even if we in the U.S. were somehow able to eliminate all gun homicide (not just handgun homicide, ALL gun homicide), the resulting homicide rate, just from stabbings, beatings, stranglings and all other causes, would STILL be higher than the overall homicide rates in most of those Western European countries. This means that the U.S. doesn’t have a gun problem, the U.S. has a homicide problem. And millions of Americans have chosen to arm themselves rather than face the prospect of being helpless when confronted by a Ted Bundy, a Jeffrey Daumer or a John Wayne Gacy.

    I think that it would be immoral for society to say to gunowners, “We can’t protect you from people like Bundy, Daumer and Gacy, and we’re going to make sure that you can’t protect yourself, either!” People in the U.S. have a choice to arm themselves for self-defense or not.

    But to healthcare professionals, the only goal is to lower the total number of shooting deaths, and if in doing so criminals end up murdering more innocent victims, that’s acceptable as long as the total number of deaths is reduced. The rest of society would consider this a ridiculous, even a perverse result. But in the healthcare profession it makes perfect sense.

    I’m no conservative, but the late William F. Buckley once said that he would rather be ruled by 5,000 people selected at random from a phone book, than by the 5,000 members of the faculty at Harvard. Amen to that!

  41. #41 RAH
    March 23, 2008

    Liz,

    I would like to compliment you on the civil tone, but also your willingness to check the cites and arguments of those who are defending the right to be armed in a lawful manner.

    Suicide, as a health professional it is heartbreaking to see people destroy themselves, especially if they are young. To the rest of us it is a waste. I have seen the increase in suicidal thoughts amount teens, especially girls from anecdotal evidence.
    On My Space pages there is a vast amount of young girls who fantasize about death and injuries. Many girls get into cutting themselves. I have felt this is primarily a device to get attention. This gets sympathy from their peers, other girls that age. It is called being emo. Also the Goth culture is anchored in worship of death. Having a teenager, I have cruised my children’s friends MY Space accounts and have notice this seems to be common. Personally I believe that is a lot of self-indulgence by theses girls.

    One girl made a halfhearted attempt to suicide. Since my son was very unsympathetic, she realized that this did not get her the attention she wanted and she changed her attitude.

    Our culture is very indulgent to over emotional behavior by our teenagers. I think we have acerbated the problem. Those people who use a gun for suicide are not the ones who want to be saved. They are the ones that will make sure they are successful in ending their life. Personally I don’t know if I have the moral right to stop them. I prefer that is they are determine do kill themselves ,not do it in a blaze of glory like Mr. Cho at Virginia Tech.

    Like the rest, I cannot agree to lose basic freedoms for the purpose of public safety. I once had a discussion with my son’s pediatrician about certain safety requirements and to her dismay, I did not agree that the state had any authority or rights that preempted my parental right to determine the correct level of safety regarding my children. Having been scout leader, I have taught young boys and young men how to handle varying levels of risk. I believe that they should be allowed to take risks.

    Criminals in urban situations do most of the gun shot wounds. Most of them are criminals shooting each other. Some of the injuries and death are innocent bystanders in DC. This is not the situation in rural areas where many people not only own guns but also the children are trained in their use, yet there is a lack of criminal use of guns.
    The real issues are crime not guns. How to reduce the amount of criminals? One way is to lock up and not release them as is common in DC and San Francisco once they are caught. The big problem is how to reduce or eliminate the criminal culture. Urban areas glorify gang culture. Rap music is full of it. Kids emulate gangsters with baggy pants and wearing pants below the underwear.

    The schools are full of children who think it is cool to be “gangsta” and not to do well in school since that is “being white”. If we change the culture, then I believe crime will be lowered and less shootings and injuries will occur. So from a public health perspective it would be a good idea to change the urban culture where most of this criminal activity happens.

    Gun bans are just a failed way to address a symptom not the cause.

  42. #42 Sailorcurt
    March 23, 2008

    You are right that both camps tend to use a lot of the same source data.

    What’s interesting to me is that one side pretty consistently is caught misconstruing, misstating or flat out making up the data that they use to “support” their points and the others side spends a lot of their time ferreting out these inconsistencies.

    Case in point is the “25 to 50% of dealers at gun shows are not licensed and don’t have to perform background checks” canard. As I so easily demonstrated by looking at the source data, that is patently misleading as the source data itself clearly states that at least some of those “dealers” don’t sell guns…unless the VPC contention is that one should have to submit to a background check to buy beef jerky.

    The point being, by directly quoting VPC and Brady talking points as you seem to do so regularly, you may be technically using the same source data as pro-rights advocates…but if you put your pre-conceived notions aside and really evaluate that source data with an open mind, you will rapidly discover that VPC and Brady are not telling you the whole story…in fact, in many cases, they are blatantly misleading you.

    Here is one of the most simple and telling tests that someone not already devoted to the anti-gun agenda and is truly primarily concerned with reducing violent crime. Look at the Brady campaign state ratings and compare them with the overall violent crime rates.

    You will see a striking correlation. In general, the better the Brady Campaign rates a state, the worse it fares in terms of violent crime.

    Does that indicate that the anti-gun lobby is REALLY seeking ways to reduce violent crime? Or are they just wedded to their political agenda with little regard for the true societal effects of that agenda?

  43. #43 Bob Leibowitz
    March 24, 2008

    Here’s another account that, like my personal stories, didn’t count, from yesterday’s Orange County Register.

    Gun Statistics You Seldom See, by Gordon Dillow, Register columnist

    If someone breaks into your home, and you have a justifiable fear that he might kill or harm you or someone else, you have a right to defend yourself with lethal force.

    It was the sort of incident that never makes it into the official crime statistics – that is, an incident in which a crime may have been prevented by a firearm.

    It happened earlier this month in Irvine. Police were looking for a man suspected of raping an 18-year-old woman in her home. As the cops searched, the fleeing suspect, a 27-year-old L.A. gang member, tried to hide by breaking into another home. Inside, the homeowner, a man who had recently undergone defensive firearms training, heard the commotion, grabbed a handgun and confronted the suspect.

    The homeowner didn’t shoot the alleged rapist, although legally he almost certainly could have. If someone breaks into your home, and you have a justifiable fear that he might kill or harm you or someone else, you have a right to defend yourself with lethal force.

    But as I said, the homeowner – for security reasons, he declined to be interviewed or identified by name – didn’t shoot. Instead, he shouted at the suspect to stop, at which point the guy ran out of the house. Shortly thereafter he was caught and arrested by the police.

    “The homeowner took the appropriate safety steps,” Irvine Police Lt. Rick Handfield told me. “And he had had some firearms training, which is an important part of gun ownership.”

    But did the homeowner’s use of a gun prevent another crime from occurring – perhaps an assault on the homeowner or his family? Or would the suspect, who turned out to be unarmed, have fled when confronted by the homeowner, gun or no gun? The police can’t definitively say.

    So how will that incident be reflected in the crime statistics?

    Yes, the rape will be added to the grim numbers of that despicable crime, and the successful arrest will appear in the Irvine Police Department’s annual statistics. And ironically, if the homeowner had justifiably shot and killed the intruder it still would have been listed in the overall statistics as a gun-related homicide – the same statistics that anti-gun activists use to promote stricter so-called “gun control” laws to keep firearms out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.

    But police departments and other government agencies don’t collect hard numbers on crimes that may have been prevented by armed citizens – because, as in the Irvine case, they’re difficult and sometimes impossible to quantify.

    And that’s unfortunate. Because crimes prevented by firearms are as important in the debate over guns as crimes committed with firearms.

    As you probably know, last week the U.S. Supreme Court took up the 2nd Amendment question. The case could finally decide whether the U.S. Constitution gives individuals the “right to keep and bear arms,” as opposed to a collective right afforded only to organized state “militias” such as the National Guard.

    (By the way, California law defines our state’s “militia” as “all able-bodied male citizens … between the ages of eighteen and forty-five” – which, at age 57, I find somewhat insulting and discriminatory. And in any modern application I guess we would have to include the gals in the militia, too.)

    Well, I don’t have enough space to go into all the 2nd Amendment arguments. But to me it’s obvious that a homeowner in Irvine – or any other law-abiding citizen – has a constitutional right to have a firearm.

    Of course, whenever gun ownership rights are debated, anti-gun activists like to point out that about 30,000 people are killed by guns in America every year — although they seldom note that about 60 percent of those deaths are suicides, or that the firearm murder rate has dropped by 40 percent in the past 15 years, or that far more people are killed by motor vehicles or medical malpractice every year than are killed by guns.

    And they never mention how many crimes have been prevented by citizens bearing arms.

    Once again, that’s a hard thing to quantify. One U.S. government survey in the 1990s estimated that more than 80,000 Americans a year used guns in an effort to protect themselves or their property against crime. Other estimates put the number far higher, at more than 2 million crimes prevented each year by the presence of privately-owned firearms.

    – Bob