Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mass errors about mass shootings

It's a scene we've all watched over and over in countless movies. Dangerous brutes are closing in on a mother and her infant children corned at the end of a cold, dark alleyway. She defiantly holds up a broken piece of wood in front of her hoping to ward off her attackers, but the threat is laughed off. Her children close their eyes as they wait for the assault to come.

But wait, a hero emerges from the streets. He is going to do everything he can to save the innocent woman and children the only way he knows how. With legislation.

This un-dramatic scenario is what you get when you boil down all the current cries for more gun control following the shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 children and six adults were murdered last week. However, as emotionally pleasing as it is to make calls for action, any action, the specific ideas for action I've seen emerging are nonsensical and ignore the facts.

The biggest misstatement is the claim that we are seeing more mass shootings over time. This idea is being advanced by writers at Mother Jones and the Washington Post, but has been refuted by criminologists. From the Associated Press:

"There is no pattern, there is no increase," says criminologist James Allen Fox of Boston's Northeastern University, who has been studying the subject since the 1980s, spurred by a rash of mass shootings in post offices. 
The random mass shootings that get the most media attention are the rarest, Fox says. Most people who die of bullet wounds knew the identity of their killer. 
Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections who has written a history of mass murders in America, said that while mass shootings rose between the 1960s and the 1990s, they actually dropped in the 2000s. And mass killings actually reached their peak in 1929, according to his data. He estimates that there were 32 in the 1980s, 42 in the 1990s and 26 in the first decade of the century.

Violence itself is going down, as most people should be aware. The pattern has been very steady for four decades.

There's a clip being passed around of semi-conservative Joe Scarborough citing this phony increase in mass shootings and violence as his reason to make vague anti-gun platitudes, along with calls to censor Hollywood and video games. It's all for the sake of the children, of course, even though we know that entertainment does not cause violence.

There are calls to ban certain types of guns, which people are erroneously referring to as "assault rifles." Assault rifles are fully-automatic. There is an artificial political term called "assault weapons" that uses arbitrary details of weapons to make certain semi-automatic weapons sound deadlier. This is a term used by activists, not gun experts. The requirements include things like a pistol grip (who cares) and bayonet mounts (ever heard of someone getting bayonetted? The president hasn't). One problem with calls to bring back these bans to prevent mass shootings is that some states already have them, including Connecticut where the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting took place.

Handguns, not assault weapons were used at Fort Hood, Virginia Tech, the Wisconsin Sikh Temple, and the Tuscon shooting that targeted Gabrielle Gifftords. The Columbine shooters used several shotguns and one TEC-9. The Auroro 2012 shooter used an AR-15 that would meet the ban, but he also had a shotgun and two pistols. The flawed Mother Jones report that erroneously claimed mass shootings are  on the rise also said weapons that fit the fake "assault weapon" category were only used in a third of the mass shootings.

The fact is, guns that could be used for a killing spree have been available since the 19th century. Just look at this video comparison of the AK-47 and a Winchester Model 1894:

There are some people who oppose gun control who made the mistake of listing a mass stabbing of children in China that happened the same day as an argument that we will still have killing sprees even without guns. The problem is that no one died in the Chenpeng Village Primary School stabbing spree, and it proved a point gun control advocates make, that it's easier to outrun a blade than a bullet.

While gun control in England has brought the horror of "knife crime," guns and pointed weapons are not the only tools mass killers have on hand. This is a false dichotomy. The killer in the Akihabara massacre rammed people with a truck before switching to a knife, killing seven total. The Happy Land fire killed 87 people from a single can of gasoline. A staggering 18 other people were injured inside a high-ceiling Walmart when a woman poured two common cleaning products on another woman to try to kill her. Be glad she didn't mix those chemicals in a smaller space when no one was watching. What about the 9-11 attacks where 3,000 people were killed with airplanes hijacked with box cutters? Are we going to ban blades, van rentals, fuel and cleaning products?

One idea that's being floated around is to limit the size of magazines. This seems like symbolic legislation because reloading is an incredibly fast, easy maneuver. I honestly don't think my life would be worse off if I was unable to buy a 100-round drum magazine, but there's a big misunderstanding to how useful they are. The military doesn't use them, partially because they jam easily, and surprise surprise that's exactly what happened in the Auroro shooting. Of course, none of the gun controls advocates are trumpeting that important detail. If someone isn't good at changing magazines, they can always switch to another weapon, something people have been doing for ages.

Nate at CongressShallMakeNo Law likes to remind us that 3-D printers will eventually make gun control obsolete. It will be much easier to fashion a high-capacity magazine than a full firearm, so don't expect this restriction to change anything.

Some moderate positions include more gun registration procedures and in-depth background checks. These wouldn't have stopped the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting because the killer stole the guns from his mother, but if people want to be opportunistic with the momentum from this tragedy, they do have to come to grips with how any effort to make guns harder to get legally will affect the peaceful, non-violent majority of gun users as well.

I cringe when pro-gun advocates make the simplistic argument that criminals don't follow the law, so why bother making guns laws. Right or wrong, these laws do make it harder for people to get their hands on guns. It just so happens that any major gun restrictions or legal hoops to jump through will disproportionately affect people that follow the law, and encourage the odds that an armed criminal will encounter an unarmed victim.

The anti-gun advocates have a big advantage because they can make emotional arguments centered around victims. Well, we have people like 18-year-old mother Sarah McKinley of Blanchard, Oklahoma who shot and killed a knife-wielding attacker who had been creeping her out for days while her husband died of cancer. When he finally came for her, she was on the phone with police for 21 minutes and had barricaded herself and her child inside their home. Two men broke in and she shot one and the other ran.

Imagine if she wasn't allowed to have that gun, or if her ability to have a gun was delayed. That is the scenario gun control advocates are fighting for. A brutal, stone age world where young gay men, old women and people in wheelchairs are at the mercy of big thugs. That would be a primitive, dangerous world.

As a famous essay said, the gun is civilization:

The gun is the only weapon that's as lethal in the hands of an octogenarian as it is in the hands of a weight lifter. It simply wouldn't work as well as a force equalizer if it wasn't both lethal and easily employable.When I carry a gun, I don't do so because I am looking for a fight, but because I'm looking to be left alone.

Being able to defend oneself empowers people. Waiting around helplessly for a hero to save you does the opposite. The ability to possess a weapon is a human right, and not just because it is enshrined as one in the Bill of Rights. It is unjust and immoral to rob innocent people of that right. Gun ownership is, and always will be, a civil rights issue.

There's a rather silly article being passed, mostly to mock it, that claims shooting sprees reveal something evil inside white males. Don't expect the diversity police to come to our aid, but did these people miss Virginia Tech, Fort Hood and the DC sniper attacks? Do they really want to start that conversation in a country where blacks are seven times more likely to kill someone than whites? It's not a road anyone wants to go down.

If you want to be an advocate for gun control than you have a responsibility to learn some basic facts about guns and gun violence. Otherwise, you are attempting to legislate from emotion, not reason, and nothing good comes from that.


  1. This is very interesting. I especially like the article: "The gun is civilization" as I was sent an article only yesterday claiming literally the exact opposite. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/16/the-freedom-of-an-armed-society/

    You make a lot of great points. There are a couple other points I think are important.

    About 2/3 of gun related deaths in the US are suicides which presumably would have happened regardless of firearms. So if when someone says there are "x" number of gun deaths per year, chances are you can throw out about 2/3 of those as not exactly relevant to the current debate.

    People love to talk about how many fewer gun deaths there are in England. What these same people do not like to talk about is how many more violent crimes there are in the UK proportionate to population. About 4x more common than in the US. Not looking so great now. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1196941/The-violent-country-Europe-Britain-worse-South-Africa-U-S.html These stats are three years old but I'm not aware they have changed significantly.

    It is also important to note that CT has the 5th most strict gun laws in the US. So that should also be considered when debating the effectiveness of gun control.

  2. I think every misconception, fallacy, and lie ever told is right here.