A commenter on my most recent blog entry asked me to read her blog entry (here) and give my thoughts. My thoughts grew too lengthy for a comment box, so I present them here. Please read her entry for full context; otherwise, I will quote portions in order to respond to them.
The overall theme of her blog entry is the common defense: Guns don’t kill people; people kill people, but there are a few finer points within that I thought worth addressing.
(It is my impression that English is not the writer’s primary language, so I refrain from pointing out errors in grammar and punctuation. I have always thought it rude to comment on someone’s English when it isn’t the language they grew up with.) This turned out to be a huge misunderstanding. The writer, SRILEYLC, assures me that English IS her primary language. My apologies.
Early on, the writer says:
This is called a “straw man”. It’s arguing against something that no one is claiming. Literally no person has ever claimed guns have a mind of their own, that guns plot violence, or that guns sneak out in the middle of the night and kill people without any human intervention.
Straw man arguments are pointless. Listen to the arguments and claims we’re actually making, and argue against those points.
Everyone — literally every human with the capacity to reason and communicate — knows that guns don’t cause violence. So why waste your time arguing against an imaginary position that no one holds?
She then turns to another argument we’ve heard before: most gun owners haven’t used their guns to commit crimes. She phrases it like this:
First, I will address the “people collect all sorts of things” phrase. I used to collect records (vinyl audio recordings). I have a friend who collects rocks — yes, actual stones she picks up while hiking or exploring. She organizes them by type, shape, color, etc., and makes cute decorations by artfully placing the rocks in Mason jars. In high school, more than one person known to me collected baseball cards. Is it really honest to put gun collecting in this same category?
I imagine that somewhere, there is a gun collector who only has very old, no longer usable weapons. His collection is harmless. But today’s gun collector, on average, does not have a stack of rusted muskets dating to the Revolutionary War. Today’s typical gun “collector” is amassing working firearms. This is NOT the same thing as collecting baseball cards or thimble-sized stones. No matter how angry or mentally disturbed I someday become, I cannot gather a wad of vinyl LPs and kill 40 people at the nearby shopping center.
Second, I must address the “waiting for the moment they are needed” part. The phrase implies that these millions (more than 300 million in the U.S. alone) of firearms sitting around might someday be “needed” for something. Let me ask: what could they possibly be “needed” for? Will you someday need decorative holes in your wall that only a gun can properly create? Do you think that in a few years, you might wake up too tired to flip on the light switch and you’ll attempt to tap it with a carefully fired bullet? No, of course not. That would be absurd. The only use the gun could possibly serve would be to damage, destroy, or kill something — because that is, in fact, ALL IT CAN DO. Your gun can’t play music, transport you to the supermarket, or cook food. It can ONLY fire bullets.
Despite using the word “needed”, the writer never mentioned what purpose or necessity might arise that the gun would fulfill.
Thirdly, and more to the point, I will address the “never been used to harm anyone” phrase, because I think that was her main point. It is quite obvious that almost all guns have never been used to harm anyone. As I noted, there are more than 300 million of them in the U.S. If each of them had been used to harm someone, every single one of us would be walking around with a gunshot scar and a story to go with it. (“There I was, eating ice cream at the corner store, when the woman next to me pulled her gun…”) I have mentioned elsewhere that my neighbor owns a stack of guns, which he sometimes cleans on his front porch while drinking Coors Light. To my knowledge, he’s never used any of them for anything.
This isn’t actually an argument though. It’s just stating facts that everyone is aware of. It’s also a fact that most houses don’t burn down. And it’s a fact that most people don’t die by drowning. None of these facts affect my safety concerns in any way.
Then she claims:
Is this true? She made no citation to a survey, so I googled. According to a Pew Research Center national survey in 2013 (the most recent I could find), “protection” was indeed the most popular response to “Why Do You Own A Gun?” Nearly half of respondents answered thusly, with 32% saying “hunting”, 7% answering “target-shooting”, and the rest split between “other”, “collecting”, and “because it’s my constitutional right”. So “mostly” might be inaccurate because it’s only 48%, but it is still the most common answer. Among gun-owning households, 79% answered that having a gun in the house made them feel safer, and 78% answered that it’s “something I enjoy”.
She goes on:
Note she doesn’t state that guns have actually saved people’s lives; just that it should be looked into. I agree. Let’s look into whether guns actually save lives. Is it even possible?
When the phrase “saving lives” is used without context, images that enter my mind include (1) rescuing people from natural disasters, (2) auto safety improvements, (3) hospitals, (4) vaccinations, (5) talking someone out of suicide, and (6) general safety items like smoke detectors in homes, CPR classes, or lifeguards at public pools. Notice that none of these cause violence or death; they are all aimed at either prevention or reaction.
Though guns are clearly designed to cause violence, I CAN actually think of a scenario in which a gun could save lives. For example, a terrorist is about to press the red button on a detonator for a bomb in a crowded location but someone shoots him dead first. Untold lives would be saved, despite the loss of one life.
However, this is clearly not the scenario which gun owners are thinking of. If it was, they wouldn’t be sitting at home with closets full of guns; they would be applying for counter-terrorist law enforcement positions. Because the average guy with a closet full of guns is statistically NEVER going to be in that crowded place with a bomb and an obvious terrorist with his finger on the red button while also being armed. Never.
So what scenario are they thinking of? It has to be home invasion, right? I perused a few pro-gun websites and this is indeed the one mentioned most often in articles like “Why Won’t The Mainstream Media Cover All The Times Guns Have Saved Lives?”
The writer I’m responding to didn’t list a scenario, but instead referred to:
So I’m going with home invasion. (If there is some other realistic scenario I’m missing here, feel free to chime in.)
How common, really, are home invasions? According to a 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Justice, there are about 3.7 million “household burglaries” each year. Sounds like a lot. But in only 28% of these burglaries was a household member “present” — so, about a million per year. In only 266,560 of those did a household member become a victim of a violent crime. It still sounds like a lot, to someone unversed in statistics. If you consider that there are over 100 million households in the country, and if you assume each burglary takes place at a unique household, there’s a 97% chance that your household WON’T be burglarized in a given year. (Or, put another way, every household would be burglarized once every 33 years.) But it turns out that households aren’t all equally likely to be burglarized.
Reading through the rest of the report, it’s clear that the people buying the most guns are also the people least likely to be burglarized and least likely to be home when it happens. White people. Living in rural areas or suburbs. In single-family units (detached houses). In higher income brackets. Owned properties. In other words, you can almost guarantee you won’t be burglarized by fitting into these categories. (Also, nearly half of burglaries would be prevented if people simply locked their doors and secured keys — 40% came in through unlocked doors/windows, and another 8% used a key.)
But going back to those 266,560 burglaries per year in which a household member was victimized. In sixty-five percent of those cases, the burglar was known by at least one household member — they were current or former intimate partners, relatives, friends, and acquaintances. Only 28% of perps in these cases were complete strangers. And about two thirds of all them were unarmed.
Do you really want to shoot an unarmed acquaintance who entered your house through an unlocked door to steal your wedding ring? Because that’s what’s most likely to happen here. And if you did, would you call that “saving lives”?
I like that the writer acknowledged something that many people don’t:
This is undeniable. And not only is it “a chance”, it’s a pretty good one. People who carry guns are FOUR AND A HALF TIMES more likely to get shot than people who don’t carry guns. When researchers looked at “shootings in which victims had a chance to defend themselves, their odds of getting shot were even higher.”
This is a very important point. Not only legally, but morally. Remember that acquaintance who slipped in during the night to acquire your jewelry? Does his crime warrant instant death by your hand? Many juries won’t think so. Even in states like Texas, you will have to be able to convince local law enforcement that you had a legitimate reason to fire on the alleged intruder.
Strangely, she then interjects:
This, of course, isn’t true. On average, our streets and cities are safer than ever before. Violent crime has experienced steep drops since my childhood, by anyone’s count. If you’re looking out the window and seeing streets “full of crime” on a daily basis, statistics show you’re in an extremely tiny minority. And few of these acts of violence are “mysterious”; almost all of them are easily explained.
In this, we in almost complete agreement. I would only like to add that a “right to bear arms” is quite a bit different than the right to carry any weapon you can imagine, which is what the NRA lobbies for.
Again, I don’t think anyone’s blaming the inanimate object. You, me, and everyone else agrees that it’s the person who picked up the gun, not the gun itself, that committed the crime. Yet, if that person reached out and didn’t find a gun because gun ownership had been strictly limited and regulated, but instead found a pair of binoculars (or just about any other object), they would simply not be able to commit the same crime. It’s just a fact that if you’re going to do a job, you’ll get more done with a better tool. The contractors who built the shopping center behind my home didn’t use manual hammers and hand-cranked drills; they used pneumatic nail guns and cordless electric drills. If the “job” is killing people, I want you to have a less efficient tool.
She finishes by listing a bunch of other ways to hurt people, including poison, rope, strangling, knives, and blunt objects, and asks:
So we’re back to the beginning. Will people kill without guns? Sure. But it’s a LOT more difficult, and I want it to be as difficult as possible.
I am NOT encouraging you to try this at home; I only want you to imagine it: Imagine a strangler going into a school, while at a nearby school a man enters with an AR-15 and plenty of loaded magazines. Got that picture in your head? Okay, let’s give them each 15 minutes before a cop shows up. Which one do you think will have killed more people? Just guess. I know you can do it. Did you guess the guy with the AR-15? You’re right! The guy who tried to strangle students didn’t get very far, did he? It took a couple of minutes for each victim, requiring plenty of physical strength (and speed, to catch the victims), and he might have had to fight off would-be rescuers while he was attempting the strangling. The AR-15 guy just kept pulling the trigger.
Now, do the same thought experiment but switch “strangler” to “a guy with a rope”, and compare that to the guy with the AR-15. Then try “poison”. Or “blunt object”. In almost every case, you’ll come out with the AR-15 guy having the larger death toll.
Perhaps the only exceptions on her list are “explosives” or “planes”. But note that both are heavily regulated, restricted, inspected, and require a high level of expertise/training. You can’t walk into the nearest sporting goods store and buy dynamite — for good reason. I’d like similar restrictions on guns.
The writer clearly gave this a lot of thought, and it looked like she tried to see “both sides” of a complex issue.
But her primary point is a straw man. We liberals don’t actually believe the guns are at fault. We just think it’s pretty obvious that certain guns make it easier for people to cause more violence, and that there’s no real need for them outside an actual war zone.