The Fears Behind…

Last week I watched a gun advocate claim that household guns deter crime. Like most political claims, there is a small grain of truth behind this enormously misleading assertion, but in only one area.

Statistics from the National Crime Victimization study show that having and using a gun did reduce the loss of property against theft. Looking at crimes where the perpetrator’s intent was to steal, the victims lost property in only 38% of the incidents when using a gun in “self-defense,”compared with 56% of the incidents when taking other actions against the thief.

In all other crimes against households, having a gun seems to make little difference in the outcomes. Using a gun in self-defense doesn’t reduce the risk of injury in the case of a break-in or assault in the home. Just over four percent of victims were injured during or after a self-defense gun use — the same percentage as were injured during or after taking other protective actions.

Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) indicate there are fewer than one hundred burglaries resulting in a homicide in the U.S. each year. BJS statistics also show that there were only 1,600 defense gun uses in the U.S. in 2014, but there were more than 200,000 firearms stolen in household burglaries and property crimes each year.

Studies of all fifty states have also shown that the higher the rate of firearm ownership, the higher the rate of gun deaths. When firearms ownership goes down, so do gun deaths. Likewise, when firearms ownership climbs in an area, increased gun deaths follow, indicating that gun ownership creates more deaths, rather than the contention that people buy guns because they’re reacting to firearms violence.

Nearly two-thirds of the people in the U.S. live in homes without guns, and statistics show no evidence that they are at greater risk of being robbed, injured or killed by criminals compared with citizens in homes with guns. Instead, the evidence is overwhelming that a gun in the home increases the likelihood not only that a household member will be shot accidentally, but also that someone in the home will die in a suicide or homicide. In the case of sexual assaults, in less than one half of one percent of the assaults did the victim use a gun in self-defense.

So… given all these statistics, why is there such opposition to even modest gun control measures?

The first reason is fear. People fear being victims, and they want to take action so they won’t be, even if that action creates the certainty of greater gun deaths. It’s in effect a form of selfishness, of saying, “I don’t give a damn about what my actions do to other people; I want to protect myself and my family.” The problem is, as the statistics show, having a gun usually does just the opposite.

Over the years, I’ve seen people lobby and complain about seat-belt laws, initially insisting that seatbelts would trap you in a burning car and otherwise create more deaths. I’ve seen motorcyclists complain about helmet laws and claim that such laws restrict personal freedoms. Or companies complain about environmental laws restricting their emission of harmful pollutants because those laws would make them unprofitable or put them out of business. A tremendous percentage of the opposition to measures that make society safe comes out of the very human motives of fear and not wanting to lose control.

What the NRA and the gun lobby people don’t want to admit is that they don’t really care about anyone or anything else. Their crusade for “second amendment rights” is based on appealing to people’s fear of losing control and becoming victims. We all have that fear. It’s fundamental to human existence.

The problem is that more guns, especially guns with larger magazines and more rapid rates of fire, just make the likelihood of more people becoming victims even greater. And the more victims there are, and the more widely those shootings are publicized, the more fearful people become, and the more guns that are sold, if to a smaller percentage of households.

Fear based on irrational feelings leads to more guns and more deaths by than guns than is the case without guns, and that’s something that’s gotten overlooked in all the furor.

5 thoughts on “The Fears Behind…”

  1. Sam says:

    My understanding – as an outsider – about the issue of gun laws in the US is that the issue isn’t just about self-defence against criminals but self-defence against the government should the government become corrupt and unjust and need to be overthrown.

    Given that the US was founded on a revolution it’s almost hypocritical for the government to argue that the people don’t have the right to defend themselves against it.

    I haven’t read the constitution but wasn’t the text something like “the right to for a well-armed militia”?

    I’d argue individuals with guns aren’t militias. Perhaps the solution is to allow militias to have armouries but to require them to make sure that their weapons are kept securely underlock and key and do not leave the premises in the hands of a deranged individual. If they do then the militias weapons can be seized and the leadership of the militia held accountable for allowing the individual to remove the weapon/s from the premises.

    If and when a militia decides to rise up against government and start shooting at government officials/servants/employees/soldiers etc. well then that’s war and members of said militia become legitimate targets to shoot on sight.

    Until then if they keep their weapons secured in an appropriate facility in an appropriate manner they get left alone – as far as weapons not on other matters such as drugs or other crimes.

    As far as the rights of the individual to guns in their home, in an ideal world I’d say it would be better if their were none at all but that’s unrealistic. My biggest grievance is with automatic weapons that can spray hundreds of bullets in minutes. I cannot see any legitimate need for such a weapon for an individual in their home. If you are going to shoot someone you should aim at them not just spray an area with bullets and hope you hit them. Your just as likely to hit innocent bystanders or your own family members at that rate.

    1. RRRea says:

      The problem with what you are saying the definition of “militia”. The organizations calling themselves militias in the US currently are the LAST people you would want to have stockpiles of weapons. In fact, they are considered the greatest danger to national security, when considering the alternatives (including foreign actors) And they certainly aren’t the people to whom that term was applied when the Bill of Rights was passed. Legal scholars who have tried to discern the original intent (the more impartial ones) have some degree of agreement where “milita” in the Second Amendment sense would be the standing army, the National Guard/Reserves and/or state/local police. Not individual actors.

      That’s not the way the Second Amendment has been interpreted, but that’s largely because the second clause has been read without reference to the first for several decades. (Which is bad law all around, and outright hypocrisy by the USSC Justices who have made those interpretations, who purport(ed) themselves believers in “original intent” and “strict construction” of the Constitution)

    2. R. Hamilton says:

      Private ownership of full automatic firearms is, illegal save for those with a federal background investigation and tax stamp, and limited to pre-1985 firearms already in private hands then (very high priced due to scarcity – $10K or more is not uncommon). Some states impose additional restrictions – I believe some do not allow them to be kept in a home, for example, and secure storage is a common requirement. There is also a requirement for ongoing accountability of them, and to report to ATF when carrying them across state lines (e.g. to attend some competitive event).

      Semi-automatic (one squeeze, one shot) is generally legal, although states and locales may impose some restrictions on certain models or features. While firing rates significantly less than a hundred a minute (upper limit varying depending on design) are possible with legal if impractical add-ons, or with generally inaccurate technique that’s not typically taught, those offer a negligible advantage in MOST situations, i.e. unless the shooter is totally non-selective. Accurate use of a semi-automatic can offer advantages over bolt action (one very manual cycling per shot, much lower maximum fire rate) in self-defense scenarios and even sometimes in target shooting (non-competitive, or timed).

      BTW, despite mass shooters, most firearms murders (and probably accidents, too) involve handguns, and not long guns (rifles or shotguns). Nevertheless, a large handgun has practical uses, such as when walking in the woods and surprised by a bear.

      Mass murderers do not need firearms at all. The Boston bombers didn’t; the 9/11 hijackers didn’t. Legal firearms require some skill to use, so impulse mass murder (contrasted with single murders or accidents) is not applicable – almost all such acts required a degree of planning. If someone is willing to die in the process of a planned attack, the amount of objects to be banned to prevent, limit, or even seriously hinder them, would be utterly impractical. Moving cars have been, both accidentally and intentionally, the means of multiple fatalities. Roughly 1/3 of murders do not involve firearms at all. A firearm is simply a TOOL to launch projectiles; it’s the selection of target (with some variation due to circumstances such as self-defense) that’s an issue, along with sufficient skill to hit appropriately selected targets without accidental damage to other persons.

      I’ve been in the military (if not in a branch and specialty combination emphasizing shooting skills), and yet never shot at anything but paper targets…thankfully. But I’m decided in advance that I’m not going to give an attacker any advantage, nor renounce any tool that might deny me an advantage. And I know which end is which, safe handling procedures, and am if not competitive at least reasonably accurate; and close calls while driving have shown me that I don’t get rattled until after a crisis is over. Neither I nor anything I own are a threat to anyone who doesn’t initiate the use of force.

  2. darcherd says:

    The point about “well-regulated militias” is moot anyway, because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a few years ago that the clause had no bearing on the rights of individual gun ownership, thus effectively nullifying half of the text of the 2nd Amendment.

    I understand the need to feel in control; it’s the same reason people feel safer driving their car than they do in an airplane even though all the statistics show they’re more likely to die in their cars.

    But the notion that private citizens armed with guns are going to somehow stand up to a government – however tyrannical – armed with tanks, bombs, fighter jets, fully automatic weapons, grenades, etc. seems frankly ludicrous.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      “nullifying” presumes that the militia clause was ever a restriction, rather than merely a particular (and not necessarily the ONLY) justification – the variety of opinion on that is hardly new.

      Also – both tradition and 10USC311 (as modified by 32USC313) refer to and define the scope of the unorganized militia (contrasted with e.g. the National Guard):
      https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/10/311
      https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/32/313

      Under those definitions, many of people are part of the militia and probably don’t even realize it. 🙂

      The notion of lightly armed individuals standing up to well-armed professional forces is not so ludicrous. The Vietcong were fairly effective, for example – as were the American forces during the Revolutionary War, by no means all of which were formally trained or better equipped. The basic premise is that you don’t stick around to be targeted by heavy weapons.

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