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Lock and Load

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. "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.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

12 Responses to "Lock and Load"

  1. If you remove black-on-black gun crimes

    You mentioned this in one of your previous posts also. I'm really curious how you feel justified in disregarding these crimes.

    This isn't an "average American" problem - it's an impoverished American problem.

    And America needs to make an investment in these parts of America to make us all safe. You mentioned Japan earlier: they make an active effort to bring up the impoverished because they know that society as a whole will benefit. You've previously stated that you feel that you pay too much in taxes. How do you propose we do this without spending money on it?

    While I think the 2nd Amendment has been grossly misconstrued by the NRA crowd, I do agree with them in that gun control will do very little to reduce crime. It's similar to the war on drugs that way.

    So my question to you is what do you propose as a way to reduce violent crimes for all Americans.

  2. If gun crime is tied so closely to poverty then why isn't more money invested into solving the poverty issue?

  3. I'm really curious how you feel justified in disregarding these crimes.

    I'm not "disregarding" them. I'm using that fact to point out that gun crime is an inner-city issue. Inner cities are comprised, primarily, of blacks and other minorities. If anyone wants to get into facts, this is one possible place to start. I'm not "disregarding" them at all. I'm using that fact to stress the point that "poverty = gun crime" more than any other factor I've ever seen (and more than most criminologists have ever seen).

    And America needs to make an investment in these parts of America to make us all safe.

    Yes. Investing in PINs for every gun in a locked gun safe would be a waste of money. Building up impoverished areas isn't a waste, but it sure would cost a lot.

    I pay too much in taxes because my money is not well spent. Some of my money goes to send welfare checks to people who pop out kids for more money and who are capable of working but choose not to. I'm more than happy to help those that truly need and deserve help. I'm not happy "helping" those that are nothing more than a leech on the system.

    Good of you to ask a question. I won't be answering it, though. I wish that those that have the ability to answer it - elected officials, etc. - would take a look at Canada, Japan, etc. and make changes. How have they done tried to answer it? By writing shitty articles like this one. By trying to control or take away guns. That won't cut it.

    Jeff, you get to ask a question too, but why waste it? Here's your answer: "I dunno." Ask the politicians. My hunch? Solving poverty isn't a "sexy" issue.

  4. You might remember that I was one of the supporters of that whole Cleveland Plain Dealer debacle. Since then, I've changed my stance from being anti-gun to pro-gun for a lot of reasons, and have also switched to condemn the Plain Dealer for posting that list, because a few weeks after that list was posted, a convenience store owner, who had a CCL, was shot fatally when robbers went into rob his store, guns blazing, because they saw his name in the Plain Dealer.

    I realize this is quite off-topic, but I just wanted to redeclare my position on the issue, because it has changed since the last time we've discussed it.

  5. Poverty isn't sexy because poverty isn't a thing, it's the end result of a long, highly variable set of circumstances including (but not limited to): education, social status and role, regional and national economic indicators, regional and national history, physical factors like population density, individual factors like intelligence.

    From a sociological perspective, you cannot solve poverty without solving (more or less) all the ills of society.

  6. 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.

    That's not really a fair comparison… the point of childproof things is generally to make them childproof without common sense. You don't have to buy a special after-market lid for aspirin bottles, and you don't have to put them in a locked cabinet out of reach. You still should keep them out of reach of course, but the purpose of having them intrinsically childproofed is that there's a no-brain-necessary safety net for when other precautions fail or are forgotten. The same is true of the other safety examples you quote.

    Whether or not childproofing should be legislated for guns is another issue, but guns clearly are not childproofed in the sense that aspirin bottles are.

  7. Whether or not childproofing should be legislated for guns is another issue, but guns clearly are not childproofed in the sense that aspirin bottles are.

    No, but they're child-proofed in the way that other things are: car doors (you have to flip a switch to allow them to be opened from the inside), VCRs and TVs (require you to turn on and turn off child protection, or enter codes yourself), and computers (a password).

    The nice thing about protecting your kids from guns is that it's easy to child-proof them in a unique way: don't let you kid near 'em at all. Lock them up. Aspirin they might get at because you don't lock up aspirin, so another deterrent is necessary. You don't leave guns in medicine cabinets or on the bathroom countertop.

  8. I agree. I do wish the Democrats would drop gun control as a major issue. People hate being told what to do, period, on any issue. Dare I say it, look at abortion? Guns should be handled just like booze and smokes, and if the NRA wasn't on one side, and nut jobs shooting up schools and McDonalds on the other, completely polarizing the issue, they probably would be.

    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."

    Uh, Kerry is not the senator from Wyoming. He's the senator from Massachusetts. His constituents are overwhelmingly pro gun control. I'd hope he'd vote for, and sponsor gun control bills. I'm not sure what that's proof with a capital "P" of, other than the he's doing his job.

    Phil

  9. Well Phil, try to read the stuff above before giving me "uh" quotes. The article said people "suspect" him of trying to take their guns, and I responded by saying it's not really suspected, it's pretty much proven. So… that's it.

  10. I think what Phil was saying is that in a representative democracy, representatives should vote how their constituents would themselves. So, according to how our government is set up, Kerry is actually doing what he should be.

  11. Our country needs to shift its focus. Peace and poverty, not War and Wealth.

    Gun ownership is not a natural right, it was written in by folks in the 18th century in a time of revolution and disorder. I do not dispute the capability and necessity of men to handle firearms, but the big question is, *Why do you need a gun?* If your answer is self-defence, then perhaps you should reexamine the source of your paranoia and look at statistics. Millions of Americans do not own guns and live safely day to day without fear of homicide. If you need a gun to feel secure, perhaps you should take a deep breath and look around...

  12. If your family were to be raped/beaten/murdered (or all of the above in any order) wouldn't you wish to have a legitimate way to defend them and yourself?

    Maybe not, sounds like you would just want to become another statistic.

    And don't rely on police to keep you safe, all they can do is pick up the body parts 15min after the incident already occured.

    We will never get rid of guns(they are based on an insanely simple technology). People who want to do bad things with them will always have access to them. The only thing you can do is fight fire with fire. It sucks but its reality.


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