A collection of rambling posts about gaming, running, and politics. (and, in 2009, photography.)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Guns, guns guns!

America has a love affair with guns.  Who can blame us?  Our nation was founded on armed insurrection.  The second amendment to our constitution is regarding armaments.  We love our guns.

But they keep killing us.

On July 20, 2012, James Holmes killed 12 and wounded 58 others in Denver.  He was carrying an assault rifle (with a 100 round drum), a shotgun, and at least one pistol, and had recently purchased 6,000 rounds of ammunition.  The youngest to die was a 6 year old girl.

On January 8, 2011, Jarred Lee Loughner killed 6 people and wounded 13 in Tuscon.  His youngest victim was 9 years old.

On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded 23 others at Virginia Tech.

On October 2, 2006, Charles Roberts killed 5 and wounded 5 more, all children, in Pennsylvania.

In 2010, out of 12,996 murders in the US, 8,775 were committed by a firearm.

I'd stop right there, but the pro-gun crowd will quickly point out a few things.  For one, I have neglected to include any cases of people defending themselves with guns.  It happens.  There's the case of Samuel Williams, who drove off two robbers.  But there's also the case of Zimmerman and Martin, or the case of Raul Rodriguez, or Andrew Scott or even David James.  In each of these situations, someone was shot and killed during a "defense" situation, and in each of these cases, it was completely preventable.  Guns do sometimes save lives.  But far more frequently they are used to murder, rape, rob or intimidate.  In 2006, there were almost 400,000 gun crimes.  

The pro-gun crowd answers each gun related tragedy by some shaking of the head, a few tales about how if more of us were armed, this kind of thing could be prevented, and preemptive declarations that gun control laws won't do a thing about it, yet this is full of conjecture and muddled truth.  The NRA would seemingly like to see every "law abiding" citizen armed.  "That will prevent gun violence", they say.  Sure - if every bank customer was packing heat, someone might be less likely to try robbing the bank.  Yet this handy answer ignores a great deal.  How useful is a handgun in the hands of a relatively untrained user?  A hero stops the bank robber in his tracks.  It's tough to call him a hero though if one of his bullets catches another customer in the crossfire.  And besides, this ignores that the US is already considered the most heavily armed society on the planet.  So if having so many guns makes us so safe, why do I keep reading about murder/suicides, and children being slaughtered by people with guns?

The pro-gun crowd points out that gun control laws will only keep guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens.  "Criminals don't follow laws!" they cry.  And sure enough, as much as 80% of firearms in the hands of criminals come from "family, friends, a street buy, or an illegal source", but this quick statistic deserves more scrutiny.  Unless criminals are robbing the Smith & Wesson factory, these firearms are being legally purchased at some point in time.  According to the Bureau of Justice, 40% of these guns come from family or friends, 40% from illegal street purchases, and almost 10% from straw buys.  So its true that gun control laws will not stop someone from purchasing a gun on the black market.  But what if gun control laws could prevent that gun from ever reaching the black market?    In 2010, a staggering 5.4 million firearms were manufactured in the US.  As I said, the black market, and criminals, get their guns from somewhere.  Some are stolen - almost 75,000 over a three year period.  But that leaves a remarkable disparity.  If 5.4 million firearms were manufactured in one year alone, and 75,000 were stolen over three years... that means that there are a whole lot of legally owned guns out there.

What's the difference in a criminal and a legal gun owner?  One crime.  Until early on July 20th, James Holmes was a law abiding citizen and a legal gun owner.  Then he shot 70 people.

The pro-gun crowd plays a zero sum game.  They accuse the left of trying to take their guns away.  They claim that any restrictions on gun purchase and ownership will "let the bad guys win!".  But its all smoke and mirrors.  And it doesn't make any sense.  I simply cannot comprehend how you can nod your head at the death of a 6 year old in a movie theater, shot by a fellow with an assault rifle and a 100 round magazine, and not think that maybe there's a problem.  The Federal Assault Weapons Ban specifically prohibited high capacity magazines, exactly like the one used in the Denver massacre.  Let me say that more clearly: He was able to buy a 100 round magazine because we let a gun control law expire.  Now tell me that gun control laws have no bearing.

I have a serious question:  How many kids have to get killed by guns before we change the laws?  Seriously, 100?  1,000?  10,000?  How many kids have to eat a bullet to convince you that we have a problem?

Gun society in America puts so much emphasis on having nearly unrestricted access to firearms that this is simply intractable, and to be honest, no light-weight gun laws will fix this problem.  While gun laws can limit the type of firearms and accessories purchased, or block purchases for people with mental illness or criminal history, or even put in place mandatory training or long waiting periods, no law will change the number of guns available to Americans, short of something drastic that makes gun owners quiver in anger and fear.

Every time someone is victimized by gun crime, the pro-gun crowd will write it off as a fluke.  Either it was just a criminal, so "Gee, there's nothing we can do about that", or its a pity that there weren't more gun owners nearby who could have solved the problem right away (James Holmes was dressed head to toe in body armor, it is unlikely that anyone with a pistol would have been able to stop him).

The pro-gun crowd needs to do a little navel gazing.  Sure, sometimes guns are used by bad people to murder people they don't know, or to commit other crimes.  Other times they are used on a spouse.  Or discovered by a curious 3 year old.

Something needs to change.