Guns Ownership and Control: Newtown is one more last straw in a series of many

I have been writing about this topic for years. Lately, I have been ignoring it. Last few massacres, I didn't say or do anything. I think Gabby Gifford's shooting was a last straw for me; I became too disgusted with our situation and I became too disheartened with the number of people who require that we Americans remain an utterly unique society in that we shoot each other at record rates. Somehow, it seems, that makes us good. Others claim that because there are problems in the world with higher body counts, this problem of guns in the US should not be addressed at all. That is utterly stupid, of course. If a person's leg was being chewed on by a dog, and that person also happen to have cancer, would we require that the person not complain about the dog? Same logic.

Anyway, I will write something about Newtown. The timing strikes a bit close to home for me, as someone not affected at all, in ways that are true for many others. I've got kids in school or going soon enough. My daughter lost a classmate a number of months ago to gun violence, and my wife lost a student this week in the same way; A few years ago, a few blocks away a gun nut killed a teenager in what was essentially an ambush, and a few weeks ago, another gun nut a couple of towns over executed two teenagers in a similar situation. (The former was lauded as a hero, the latter will go on trial for murder.)

But even that amounts to nothing compared to what many people face every day. We are a heavily armed society and we resort to guns too easily.

At this point, I just wanted to point out two sets of prior blog posts on gun ownership and related issues, one here and one on the X Blog:

Scienceblogs posts on firearms

X Blog posts on firearms

My opinion about guns has not changed, but my preferred strategy to deal with the problem has. That's been coming for a while. Newtown is just one more last straw in a series of many.

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And there was I thinking you were going to advocate locking up the mentally ill.

Greg, I appreciate all the writing you have done on gun control. I agree with your stance and your posts have strengthened my position. And now I see there are a few I missed.

By Matt Bowman (not verified) on 15 Dec 2012 #permalink

I spent this morning sitting with my 18 month old great grand daughter, drinking my 4 shot latte. It is becoming our tradition to make my coffee together and then for her to dip her almond cookie into it. I am having trouble not weeping. I own guns. I enjoy shooting them. I would gladly have that enjoyment restricted or eliminated if it would reverse what has happened. I would give them up to prevent it ever happening again.
I spent this morning sitting with my 18 month old great grand daughter, drinking my 4 shot latte. I want to start a conversation, today, as to what we know we can do to begin to resolve this issue, massive changes to gun control and licensing, better health care, a societal commitment to social justice…., and what we need to gain better understanding of ,the contribution of violence in media, and such.
I spent this morning sitting with my 18 month old great grand daughter, drinking my 4 shot latte. We need to start, today, to look at what we can do, now, and examine, fearlessly, what we can do tomorrow. That there are 100s of years of guns in circulation is daunting, but if we do not start to do something, even if at the start it is not enough, it will never get better.
I am having trouble looking at my great grand daughter and not weeping.
Perhaps that is because I should be.
It is indeed way past time.

By Robert B. Estrada (not verified) on 15 Dec 2012 #permalink

I am disappointed in most atheists (I am one myself) that they don't seem to use their logic and common sense when it comes to gun control. Less gun control is the solution, not less.

Correction: *More* gun control is not the solution.

I agree with that assessment. I also think there are other dimensions to the problem that need addressing, social justice for one, complete health care and decent education and nutrition as well. AND for the critics, yes I am a socialists as regards the value in investing in the welfare of our children. Yours and mine.

By Robert B. Estrada (not verified) on 15 Dec 2012 #permalink

Sorry I misread. I agree only in that gun control is not the complete solution but it is an important part of it.
Do you think otherwise?
I am going to be starting a dialog and want honest reasoned conversation.

By Robert B. Estrada (not verified) on 15 Dec 2012 #permalink

I got an email from the White House Friday, probably a few hundred thousand others did too, containing BHO's statement on Newtown. Since they contacted me, I thought I could respond; the following is what I told them:
"Tonight, send out every soldier and cop in the country and confiscate all the ammo ... send 'em out again tomorrow and confiscate every goddamn gun right down to Daisy airguns... anybody hanging on to a gun or a bullet gets 50 years without parole after Sunday... and after all the guns and bullets are in, the cops can turn in theirs too."

By hans howe (not verified) on 15 Dec 2012 #permalink

Seems to be that living in a country under a government that is the most violent in the world today by an order of magnitude over any other government creates citizens who are violent.. Something like 172 children have died under the Obama administration alone under the use of Robot drones! So, now we are upset when US citizens mime the actions of their arrogant government!!?

By Theo Dzielak (not verified) on 15 Dec 2012 #permalink

Yes, Theo, we are. I'm not sure I even want to know why you would not be .

I'm Canadian so every time I hear of yet another massacre in the states I tell myself, "This is your own stupid f***ing dysfunctional fault, and it is your problem, not mine". And that is a lie. Horror, shock, grief, tears are not stopped by borders. I just tell myself that lie to try and stop the pain. I am more than angry, but as a citizen not of your country, I don't know how to take any meaningful action. Please, just stop it.

By Dan J. Andrews (not verified) on 16 Dec 2012 #permalink

Eh? Nah, Canadians aren't safe either. Lots of guns, smaller population - but you're likely to get yet another killer gun nut. Australia was in a similar situation to Canada and along came Martin Bryant who killed about 30 people in Tasmania. Australia's gun laws still need work, but at least a number of weapons have been banned (as opposed to "prohibited" which simply means you need the appropriate license). I'm still for gun ownership even though I hadn't owned one for almost 20 years now, but all for far more control of the weapons. For rifles, they must be bolt action and magazines should be limited to 5 or even 3 cartridges. For 0.22, make 'em single-loading - no pump action. Handguns should be limited to magazines of 5 cartridges. A big part of the problem is that the killers can fire off a huge number of shots and can fire rapidly.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 16 Dec 2012 #permalink

Mass shootings, while drawing a lot of attention, are outlier events that are not very indicative of national culture and policy. Ecole Polytechnique and Dunblane say little about the gun culture, or much else, of Canada and Scotland.

What is far more representative of America's gun problem is homicide involving family members or escalating hostility between young men. That kind of thing also happens in, for example, the urban UK. But the typical deadly weapon is a (less effective) knife rather than a gun so the death toll is much lower. Less guns on the street might not mean less assaults but surely will result in less deaths. In the same way that replacing pit bulls with chihuahuas and toy poodles might not produce less dog bites but will certainly produce less disfigurement and mauling deaths.

In other words, the reason why the US needs more gun control is not because of these horrific media spectacles but because of the much more common kinds of gun homicide.

Charge this guy with 40-50 crimes and nothing changes (unless you can stop him in the moment). In China, on the same day, 22 elementary students were brutally attacked. But they have "gun control" there. So they were attacked with a knife.,0,55…

Anyway, in a Darwinian Atheist worldview, what is wrong with the strong overpowering the weak? If we're all just a bunch of random cells, thrown together without meaning, why all the outrage?

Ron, the difference is that in China the students were seriously injured and in Newtown the students were killed. There is a significant difference between the two incidents. I'm not sure you are paying attention to that distinction.

By Matt Bowman (not verified) on 16 Dec 2012 #permalink

@Ron: In addition to what Matt said, we can't charge the gunman with anything. He was found dead at the scene, reportedly by his own hand. Many of these shooters do end by taking their own lives (and many more opt for suicide-by-cop).

Nor can we charge the person who (legally) bought the guns. She, too, is dead--he shot her before going to the school. As happens all too often, she was shot with a gun she had bought specifically to protect herself.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

yes, even though the background check stopped him from purchasing a weapon on his have these laws protected these children?

If you're calling for the forcible disarmament of 40+% of the populace, that's one thing. I'll ask you who you think wants to be on the front lines of that mission.

If you are of the mind that disarming the innocent is helpful, you should be reminded that all of these mass shootings occur where guns are "banned". Matt, are we paying attention to the similarities?

Does anyone want to confront the contradiction of the Darwinist Atheist worldview ( the strong overpower the weak) ? What does this worldview have to say about the Right to Self-defense?

I support the right to keep and bear arms as the framers of our Constitution intended: Only single-shot, muzzle-loading fire-arms should be allowed.

@ Gary...the 1st Amendment doesn't cover the internet, then?

We've had gun control laws since the Civil War. Most laws in the 19th Century were aimed at disarming the millions of newly-freed Negroes then roaming the country. Laws were even passed in the Northern states (Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, etc.) to prohibit Southern Negroes from entering their territories and making the mere carrying of a weapon by a Negro a capital offense.

Starting with the National Firearms Act (NFA) in 1934, the government switched its target from a particular group of people to a particular kind of firearm: e.g., machine gun, sawed-off shotgun, and suppressors. This law was in response to the highly-publicized crimes committed by organized crime figures, e.g., bootleggers, Bonnie and Clyde, Machine-gun Kelly, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and so on.

Of course, the NFA did nothing to reduce illegal use of automatic weapons. After all, if a gangster is willing to commit murder, who in his right mind would believe that a minor firearms violation would deter him?

In the entire history of the National Firearms Act, only one legally owned and registered machine gun was ever used for a crime. One out of tens of thousands. And that crime was a suicide.

In 1968 after a series of political assassinations Congress enacted the 1968 Gun Control Act which empowered the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco to enforce firearms laws, thus turning them into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (now Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives).

In 1994, the Clinton administration passed an assault weapons ban that limited sales of firearms that looked like certain military weapons, magazines that held more than 10 rounds, and a few other firearms characteristics that looked threatening.

The assault weapons ban, which really did not ban assault weapons, had a sunset clause and expired on September 13, 2004. It also contained a clause that would allow its extension if it could be shown that the law had had any positive effect on crime. Supporters of the law could not produce any such evidence, so the law expired.

The Brady Bill was passed on November 30, 1993. It provided for a waiting period for firearms purchases and eventually led to a national instance check system for firearms purchases. Crime continued to increase after its passage.

As of today, we have all of the above laws plus some, but violent crime continues to increase.

There are examples of laws which have fulfilled their intended purposes, and in every instance their positive effects were immediately evident.

Early in the 20th Century when governments took over the marriage system with the intention of controlling venereal disease, a resultant decrease in the transmission of these diseases was experienced almost at once.

In the last half-century, increased enforcement of drunk-driving laws has resulted in a slight but real decrease in drunk driving fatalities.

Since the 1960s when seat belts were first mandated for privately-owned vehicles, a decrease in traffic fatalities has been experienced.

Since the advent of cheap smoke detectors and legislation requiring their use in new home construction, there has been a decrease in fatalities resulting from fires at home.

Since the first gun control law in 1934, and with every subsequent gun control law since, the violent crime rate has continued to increase.

Oops. Odd one out.

Some laws have been found to be effective in reducing violent crime. Incarceration is the most obvious because it simply removes the offender from society. Counter-intuitively, it has been found that laws empowering citizens to carry concealed weapons and defend themselves actually reduce the violent crime rate. Laws based on the Castle Doctrine (ancient Anglo-Saxon Common Law) have resulted in noticeable decreases in burglary rates in many states.

Gun control in its many forms is costing the nation billions of dollars each year. The result has been an increase in violent crime.

If a little gun control does a little harm, and more causes greater harm, a lot of gun control promises only to be a disaster, a fiasco, an exercise in concentrated stupidity and waste.

Even the most obstinate and unreasonable gun control fanatic should question the logic behind his position.

Rather than more bad medicine, this country should look at ways to fight the violence, not merely suppress one of the tools lunatics, criminals, and sociopaths use to perpetrate their violent crimes.

A first step would be to abolish gun-free zones (a.k.a. victim disarmament areas) and empower teachers and administrators to defend themselves and their charges, the children.

The next step would be to train students in teachers colleges to use firearms and then require teachers and administrators to go armed when they are on the job.

The police wear body armor and carry guns to protect themselves, not to protect you. The police are not required to protect anyone prior to the commission of a crime. So why pass more laws reducing the your ability to protect yourself?

Remember, as in the case of Columbine High School, the Century 16 Theater, and Sandy Hook Elementary School, when seconds count the police are only minutes away.

Especially in a gun-free zone.

Gun control laws have been demonstrated not to work. Gun control laws have been proven to be a huge waste of money. Gun control laws disarm the law-abiding and empower the criminal. Gun control laws are legal booby traps for the unwary, but rarely hinder the criminal.

Gun control laws actually lead to increased violence.

How can anyone but an idiot want more gun control laws?

We have to face the ugly truth that there are evil people out there, and that the only way to prevent them from carrying out their evil intentions is through physical force.

By Charlie Tall (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

Gun control laws have been demonstrated not to work. Gun control laws have been proven to be a huge waste of money. Gun control laws disarm the law-abiding and empower the criminal. Gun control laws are legal booby traps for the unwary, but rarely hinder the criminal.

Except in every other country in the world where the gun laws are so stringent they basically prohibit routine ownership of weapons. Your argument only works in the vacuum of addressing the US attempts at firearm regulation.

States with more restrictive gun laws have less of people routinely shooting each other up. Also, gun law implementation and acceptance is part of the larger pro/anti gun culture, which does not break down as well by state as some might think, but does break down by county or region. The spree killings tend to be outliers in this regard, but the day to day killings seem to follow that pattern.

Greg, thank you for your usual insulting reply. It is reassuring that you reacted exactly as I imagined you would.

Your other article, the one you were proud enough of to reference in your reply, was sickening. Particularly, your little faked graphs citing "bad stuff that happens because of guns."

Those were absolute gems, but we are accustomed to you carefully selecting your words in an effort to change the truth. You're very good at that.

The whole premise of my comment is that we have gun control laws and they haven't worked.

We have background checks.

We have age requirements.

We have prohibitions against criminals, addicts, drunks, wife-beaters, and lunatics owning guns.

We have laws about the legitimate use of guns for defense.

We have stricter penalties for gun crime.

Hell, we even have laws requiring the expulsion of children who draw pictures of guns in school.

Those EXISTING laws have not produced any improvement in any crime rates.

Greg, your claim that yet more laws will make any difference is fantasy. Your statistics are fiction. Your logic is incomplete. Your ethics are nonexistent. Your prejudices and bigotry are astounding. Your arrogance is breathtaking. In short, you are a fool, a highly educated, totally opinionated fool with perhaps a touch of evil and deceitfulness thrown in for good measure.

Criminals, you see, do not obey laws. That's what makes them criminals. And you know that.

Here's an indisputable fact: if someone had shot that lunatic through the head when he first walked into the school, there would have been no massacre.

The truth about gun control is that IT DOES NOT WORK.

By Charlie Tall (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

Your wrote, "Except in every other country in the world where the gun laws are so stringent they basically prohibit routine ownership of weapons. Your argument only works in the vacuum of addressing the US attempts at firearm regulation."

Would you care to discuss gun control in the former Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Cuba, China, Niger, Nigeria,Congo, Ghana, Angola, Sudan, Iran, and Kenya? You know, all those places where private ownership of firearms is partially or totally banned in order to give the government, political parties, or certain tribes a monopoly on deadly force.

By the way, Sudan and Niger still practice slavery despite having laws prohibiting it.

Then explain Switzerland and Israel where citizens are REQUIRED to be armed with machine guns furnished by the government and where the criminal violence is extremely low, except for terrorism in Israel.

Or let's talk about Japan, where private ownership of firearms is almost unheard of and gun crimes are unknown except for the organized crime syndicates that use firearms and operate semi-legally. They're big on human trafficking, too.

Yes, Mark, there's lots to be said for gun control laws, only none of it is good.

By Charlie Tall (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

@ mark

You mentioned other countries have extreme gun control/people control laws. What you said is true, but you left out one important little thing ...

The United States of America is a FREE nation with a BILL OF RIGHTS and a DECARATION OF INDEPENDENCE that GAURUNTEES that every American CITIZEN has rights that come from the CREATOR, and not from government, One of those rights is to bear arms.

We do not care what other countries laws says. We do not live there and they do not live here. We are a sovereign nation with out own laws, and rights and other countries can just kiss our butts if they don;t like our laws and God given, not government given laws and rights.

We are a free nation. Some counties that you speak of are not. We adhere God given freedom, not control of the masses. Sorry, communism should be dead.

Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence. The church, the plow, the prairie wagon, and citizen's firearms are indelibly related.
From the moment the Pilgrims landed, to the present day, events, occurrences, and tendencies prove that to ensure peace, security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable.Every corner of this land knows firearms, and more than 99 99/100 percent of them by their silence indicate they are in safe and sane hands.The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference; they deserve a place of honor with all that's good.When firearms, go all goes; we need them every hour.

George Washington

Oh, and if you are a history / quote denier, even if you say GW didn't say this, it still holds true.

Let freedom ring. Let tyranny fall.

By Kevin Sanders (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

Despite charlie's and kevin's rabid dislike of facts (and honesty, as seen from the end of kevin's mindless screed), it remains the case that the lowest death by firearm rates correspond to areas with the most stringent gun control laws. Direct causation - nobody says that: with changed laws come many other changes. (It will be interesting to see the fact free, poorly written responses from the two of them.)

Do we need to be afraid of every gun owner? No, certainly not - but given what seems their be their unhinged personalities, i would be concerned about kevin and charlie.

@ dean Illinois, California, and DC have huge murder rates along with their "gun control"

so...we can call people who own and want the freedom to utilize weapons ("unhinged personalities) as "mentally ill", but if we block the "mentally ill" from having weapons...we can have our circular reasoning and eat it too!

From a British perspective the US is seen as a backward primtive society which has dug itself into such a deep hole humouring these gun wackos that there would apepar to be almost no way out of it. Even many of their feeble excuses for having these guns mark them out as total fruitcakes who should never be permitted to have deadly weapons.

To protect me from tyyrannical government? The civilised world deals with unpopular government at the ballot box and that's working out perfectly well for us. That's democracy not the anarchy you have when a bunch of mentally unstable nuts with guns appear to think shooting them is a reasonable alternative.

Number of Murders by Firearms, US, 2009 = 9,146

Number of Murders by firearms, Britain, 2008 = 39

THAT'S what happens when you remove this curse from a society and you don't need to be an Einstein to figure that out.

Thank you all for this great dialogue. Shootings such as this one horrify and deeply sadden me. A time to re-evaluate many of our services and systems as well as gun control. My sister worked at 101 California, SF, Ca and lived thru that horror, barely. She lost many of her colleagues and all of their lives changed forever. my concept of reality changed that day as well.Support gun control.

By Linda Arnold (not verified) on 28 Jan 2013 #permalink