Posted November 13th, 2004 @ 12:53pm by Erik J. Barzeski
My friend Dave sent me an article called "Lock and Load" from the NY Times (username: macnn, pass: macnn if you can't log in). It's pretty silly, but I haven't written about guns in awhile, and so here's a chance.
Nothing kills Democratic candidates' prospects more than guns. If it weren't for guns, President-elect Kerry might now be conferring with incoming Senate Majority Leader Daschle.
The American public isn't stupid. If you've got a "gun control" position as Kerry clearly does, you can't pose in a field with a shotgun that'd be against a law he wanted to pass. You just can't. People will call you on it. Better to just ignore it and not be defeated as Gore was than to rile up the people with false claims.
Since the Brady Bill took effect in 1994, gun-control efforts have been a catastrophe for Democrats. They have accomplished almost nothing nationally, other than giving a big boost to the Republicans. Mr. Kerry tried to get around the problem by blasting away at small animals, but nervous Red Staters still suspected Democrats of plotting to seize guns.
It wasn't so much as suspect, but the bills he's signed, has his name on, and so on. He got an F from the NRA and voted against gun owners something like 89% of the time. That's not "suspect," that's Proof with a capital "P."
Moreover, it's clear that in this political climate, further efforts at gun control are a nonstarter. You can talk until you're blue in the face about the 30,000 gun deaths each year, about children who are nine times as likely to die in a gun accident in America as elsewhere in the developed world, about the $17,000 average cost (half directly borne by taxpayers) of treating each gun injury. But nationally, gun control is dead.
A high percentage of that 30,000 (a number I don't care to verify) are suicides. An even greater portion of that 30,000 are inner-city gang-bangers; people living in impoverished areas with high crime rates all around. "Children" in this instance is "anyone aged 0 to 18" and you can bet the numbers are tiled way up towards the 16, 17, 18 age bracket. Why? Because that's when inner-city kids get into gangs.
Statistics are great, but not when they're misleading. To wit:
- If you remove black-on-black gun crimes, the US is on par with Japan's gun crime rate (and many other countries that, typically, best us handily).
- Canada owns the same or more guns per capita than the US, yet has almost no gun crime. Gun ownership in some other countries (like Israel) is mandatory, yet their crime rates are horribly low as well. These countries also have very few or no inner-city impoverished areas as we do in this country.
- Suicides are often counted to boost numbers, and when you factor suicides into the statistics of other countries (like Germany, etc.) then our gun crime rate falls right in line with other countries.
- "Children" is an emotional tug, but nearly every statistic that uses "children" includes everyone up to the age of 18 - which nicely lumps in the aforementioned inner-city gang-bangers.
- Areas with higher gun ownership have less crime, across the board.
"You can tell whether a camera is loaded by looking at it, and you should be able to tell whether a gun is loaded by looking at it," said David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.
You can't always tell whether a camera is loaded by looking at it, and:
- You can tell whether a gun is loaded by looking at it. Open the chamber. Responsible gun owners do this without even thinking about it.
- Guns shouldn't be loaded! Duh. Guns should never be loaded, yet should always be assumed to be loaded. It's one of the first things you learn in gun safety.
I applaud Mr. Hemenway's efforts, but when he bases his argument on something which is not true, you have to wonder how much credibility he deserves. I don't recall the stat or the specifics off-hand, but more kids are killed or injured by staircases each year than guns. Or more white children (who are more likely not to live in the inner-city) die in the bathtub than by guns each year. Something like that… You can tell a camera is loaded? No, sorry. A particularly dumb statement in the age of digital cameras.
We take safety steps that reduce the risks of everything from chain saws (so they don't kick back and cut off an arm) to refrigerators (so kids can't lock themselves inside). But firearms have been exempt. Companies make cellphones that survive if dropped, but some handguns can fire if they hit the ground.
Find me a gun that can fire when it hits the ground and I'll show you either a gun that shouldn't have been loaded in the first place or a gun that's in bad service, was tampered with, etc. Guns don't just go off and guns don't load themselves.
Professor Hemenway notes that in the 1990's, two children a year, on average, died after locking themselves in car trunks. This was considered unacceptable, so a government agency studied the problem, and General Motors and Ford engineered safety mechanisms to prevent such deaths.
Guess what? In 2002, four children locked themselves in car trunks and died. Anti-gun literature is full of lame stuff like this. An unloaded gun can't do much but give you a bruise (if you drop it on your toe). An unloaded gun is a hunk of metal and wood.
In contrast, 15 children under the age of 5 die annually in fatal gun accidents in the U.S., along with 18 children 5 to 9 years old. We routinely make aspirin bottles childproof, but not guns, even though childproof pistols were sold back in the 19th century - they wouldn't fire unless the shooter put pressure on the handle as well as the trigger.
15 children and 18 children - that's 33. By now they're hoping you've forgotten about their "children are nine times more likely" gig, because they're moving the goalposts by changing the specifics. I could dig up stats too, like "children are twice as likely to die from bee stings than gunshot wounds." Most of these children (I'll agree to call them that this time) are again from impoverished neighborhoods, unfortunate accidents of drive bys or ready access to an older sibling's or parent's gun.
And hey, the main point here is this: we routinely make aspirin bottles childproof, but we do to guns too. You can buy trigger locks. You can buy gun cabinets and gun safes. You can put your gun out of reach. You can put your ammo somewhere else. You can make a gun one of the safest things in your house. It's inexpensive and requires a little common sense. Very, very, very few kids around their suburban neighborhoods with ready access to guns. They're locked up, they're tucked away, and in the majority of cases, the kids know how to handle a gun. My dad taught me as soon as I could understand full sentences, and the education continued throughout my childhood.
Require magazine safeties so a gun cannot be fired when the clip is removed (people can forget that a bullet may still be in the chamber and pull the trigger). Many guns already have magazine safeties, but not all.
What percentage of guns (that have magazines) fire without a magazine? Very, very few. And the majority of those that do are also single-shot rifles that don't need a magazine. Most of the rest are civil-war, WWI- and WWII-era, etc.
My father and I own 11 guns with magazines. One - my .22 target pistol - fires without the magazine loaded. All of course will fire with an empty magazine. No gun will fire without ammunition in it. Not a single one.
Finance research to develop "smart guns," which can be fired only by authorized users. If a cellphone can be locked with a PIN, why not a gun? This innovation would protect children - and thwart criminals.
And cost three times as much, when more effective measures can already be put in place: gun cases, safes, and common sense. You want a PIN? Put it on your gun safe. Protect all of your guns with one padlock, PIN, or whatever.
Start public safety campaigns urging families to keep guns locked up in a gun safe or with a trigger lock (now, 12 to 14 percent of gun owners with young children keep loaded and unlocked weapons in their homes).
The "12 to 14 percent" figure includes homes in which a gun is located in a parent's room for protection. I won't deny that a startlingly high percentage of US gun owners with kids do not take the proper, necessary steps to protect themselves and their children. Then again, a startlingly high percentage of US parents don't put those little covers on their electrical outlets either. Just as you can't make people put those little covers on, you can't regulate gun laws inside of someone's homes.
And hey, who spends the most amount of money on public safety campaigns and gun-owner education? The NRA. The National Rifle Association. I'm all for public education campaigns - this is the only thing I agree with. But is it worth $100,000,000 in taxpayer money to fail to reach the sector that is most affected by guns: those in inner cities? Probably not.
Encourage doctors to counsel depressed patients not to keep guns, and to advise new parents on storing firearms safely.
The second one is fine. A gentle reminder may get someone who is busy thinking of other things, like where to buy a crib, to take care of their guns. The first one is just common sense, but then again: if someone wants to kill themselves, they'll find a way to do it whether a gun is handy or not. People who use guns to commit suicide are not unsure of their intent. If you're unsure, or crying out for attention, you use pills or something. You don't punch large holes in your head with chunks of metal.
Make gun serial numbers harder for criminals to remove.
That would accomplish… what exactly?
Create a national database for gun deaths. In a traffic fatality, 120 bits of data are collected, like the positions of the passengers and the local speed limit, so we now understand what works well (air bags, no "right on red") and what doesn't (driver safety courses). Statistics on gun violence are much flimsier, so we don't know what policies would work best, and much of the data hurled by rival camps at each other is inaccurate.
Or use the works of established criminologists, who have pretty much already created databases (albeit not national). Furthermore, so many people lie about gun deaths that it'd be impossible to construct an accurate database. Do we really care to collect 120 points of data on an inner-city gunfight that leaves four people dead? What percentage of those crimes are solved?
Would these steps fly politically? Maybe. One poll showed that 88 percent of the public favors requiring that guns be childproof. And such measures demonstrate the kind of fresh thinking that can keep alive not only thousands of Americans, but the Democratic Party as well.
So right after we're told that "much of the data… is inaccurate," another piece of data is hurled at us. Great.
Of course people favor that guns be childproof. I do too. But mine already are: they're locked. The ammo is locked up and stored separately. They're not loaded. You could hit my guns with a hammer and you'd do nothing more than annoy me (and dent the gun). They're safer than my stove, my bathtub, and my basement stairs.
A ridiculous article, fluffy and misleading.
A few things are true, folks. First, gun crime is closely linked to poverty. Areas with high proverty have high, high gun crime rates. This isn't an "average American" problem - it's an impoverished American problem. Second, guns are pieces of metal. If unloaded and properly cared for - an effort that requires seconds at a time - they're some of the safest things in a household.