Guns and Truth

I first posted this on September 30th 2009. It’s topical again in the wake of the Tucson massacre by a madman. I apologize for the defective  format. I don’t know how to fix it and I am too lazy to learn. Please, share this posting if you can.

On my last radio show, I made the subject of gun control come up. I did it because I had heard one of my colleagues, a liberal talk-show host on the same station make a statement that sounded bogus to me. (The station is KSCO A.M. In Santa Cruz; it’s available on-line. My show is called “Facts Matter.” It’s every Sunday 11a.m. – 1p.m.)

The statement that caught my attention was this:

For every time a gun is used in legitimate self-defense, a gun is used nineteen times for illegitimate or illegal purposes.

The figure was just too pat. It was calculated to be remembered by regular folks who are assumed by the Left to have no head for numbers. It sounded like pure propaganda. I thought it might also be trivially true, correct but without any meaning.

I called the liberal host during his show and challenged him to produce a source. He could not. We had eleven email exchanges. The other guy says he gave me the references. I say he did not.

If you insist on you shoring up your argument with figures – a good thing- you had better be prepared to explain where they come from. I think the Left is forever quoting imaginary numbers and numbers they misinterpret. Some just cheat and make up facts. Others are just conveniently loose with numbers, making mistakes always in the same direction.

Gun control is a favorite issue on the Left because it can’t stomach the bare fact that courts have affirmed over and over that the Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to own and to carry guns.

The Left makes a simple argument: The abundance of guns in the US makes its population much less safe than it would be if there were fewer guns around.

Here are some relevant facts:

The US has more homicides than every western European country, two and half times more than France, for example Yet, it has four times fewer homicides than Russia and three times fewer than Mexico. In fact, this country is pretty much average for homicides. Thus, South Africans are ten times more likely to die by homicide than are Americans. Notably, Americans are four times more at risk than the Swiss. This is notable since Switzerland almost certainly has more guns – long guns- in private hands than any other country because its army is primarily a militia.(All figures above from 9/29/09).

In 2008, there were about 11 homicide per 200,000 people (computed from FBI’ s Uniform Crime Statistics). Two thirds involve firearms of some sort. That would include long weapons such as rifles and shotguns. Thus, if restrictive laws were passed, as desired by gun control advocates, effective enough to cut by half the murders by firearms, they would save the lives of 4 people out of each 200,000 Americans. (2/3 of 11 is about 8 – generously. Half of eight is 4. – Figures from FBI) This calculation assumes that, in the absence of a firearm, all murderers would simply give up and not seek an alternative means of homicide. The assumption is obviously untenable but we don’t know by how much. So, I will keep it in order to avoid biasing my reasoning against gun control.

The paragraph above ignores completely the possibility that guns in private hands may deter homicide. Hence, stricter gun control laws might increase the number of homicides on one side as they would reduce it on the other side. The two effects would be contradictory in their results but they are not logically inconsistent with each other. So, simplistic predictions based on basic arithmetic seem inappropriate.

Let’s put the issue of death by firearms in general in perspective. First, accidental death by firearms. It’s the nightmare of every parent and a frequent topic of liberal talk-shows, I think because it’s an emotionally brutal issue.

In 2004, accidental death by firearms were 80 times less frequent than death by automobile accident (Statistical Abstract of the US. Table 1130). Death by drowning was 4 times more frequent than accidental death by firearms. (Same source.) The figures are similar for latter years.

In spite of the fact that automobiles and water threaten the lives of Americans to a greater extent than do accidental discharges of firearms, no one is proposing to limit pleasure driving. or swimming, or boating. No one at all is proposing restrictions although those activities are not constitutionally protected like the right to bear arms.

Now, let’s give the problem of other deaths by firearms its proper dimensions. There are two main kinds, homicide and suicide.

Homicide deaths, about 2/3 by firearms, were 6,2 per 100,000 in 2006 (Other years data don’t differ appreciably.) To put it another way, a person dying in 2006 had only one chance in 130 of dying from assault at all, one chance in 170 of being killed by another person using a firearm.

For 2006, about 11 people per 100,000 people died from suicide. Half used a gun of some sort. About one person of 65 who died in that year committed suicide. (All figures in the two preceding paragraph from the Center for Disease Control FastStat.)

To put things in perspective again, deaths by alcohol, excluding accidents, was just as common as death by homicide, in 2006. (Both were very rare.) Being killed by a firearm wielded by another person was slightly less  likely than death by misuse of alcohol.

No one is talking about prohibiting alcohol, which is also not constitutionally protected. (Thank God!)

Defenders of the Second Amendment point out that the right to bear arms is to protect me from bad people, and eventually, from government illegal use of force against me and against my neighbors.

Liberals laugh about the latter. “You can’t fight an army with a handgun, they say.”

Two things about this. First, don’t assume the armed forces, or the whole of the armed forces would be on the side of a tyrannical government.

Second, I know for a fact that the first thing dictators do everywhere is to confiscate privately-held weapons. The second thing they do is to create parallel armies because they can’t count on regular forces to repress citizens. See, Hitler and his SS, and Ahmad the Camel and his Revolutionary Guards.

Digression: I am not, not advocating sedition. President Obama is the constitutionally elected president of this country. However, some of his followers are clearly fascists who might throw him under the bus when they realize that he is not fulfilling their program.

What about the issue of self-defense against bandits and serial murderers? Even if it were just an illusion, I would fight for my right to do so. It’s a matter of dignity. It turns out it’s not an illusion. The evidence on this is More guns, Less Crime, published in 2000, by John Lott, a law school professor who really looked at the data with a thoroughness gun control advocates rarely ever demonstrate. Lott used up-to date statistical techniques seldom found in gun control advocates’ work.

(There is a long empirical article published in 2003 critiquing More Guns… pro-gun conclusions by Ayres and Donohue. It’s linked to Wikipedia entry on More Guns, Less Crime. I have not read that negative treatment.)

How about guns and suicides?

Again, about half of the firearms deaths are suicide. I will agree right away that my carrying a gun does not deter my neighbor from doing away with himself.

Gun control advocates make the argument that that suicide may be easier with a gun. Half the suicide deaths are by firearms (Miller and Hemenway, New England Journal of Medicine; September 2008 – ) Advocates of regulating guns say that if guns were less common, there would be fewer successful suicides. It’s true that a gunshot is quicker, requires less preparation, and is less likely to be reversible than attempted suicide by most other means. The arguments is plausible. This does not make it true. A lot of things that are plausible are not true. The sun does not dive into the Ocean west of Santa Cruz every night though I see it do it with my own eyes.

You can gage roughly the factual correctness of this arguments by making comparisons between countries because we know that different countries practice very different forms of gun control, or no gun control.

Countries with more arms regulation, or tighter regulations, than the US should have less suicide, by and large, if the argument is correct. The fit does not have to be perfect but there has to be a pattern: More gun control= fewer suicides.

The World Health Organization, a specialized UN agency with a good reputation, gives cross-national suicide figures for 2008 on its website. According to WHO numbers, the US has a higher suicide rate than all the sunny countries on the list, except two: Cuba and Sri Lanka (the latter has 2.5 times the US rate).

The US has a lower suicide rate than all of the following countries: Czech Republic, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, France, and Finland.

I focus on those because I am reasonably sure, without having researched the issue, that those countries all have stricter gun laws than does the US.

South Korea and Japan, where I am certain guns are scarce, have suicide rates respectively 65% higher and twice higher than the US.

Gun control advocates will claim that I am cherry-picking in this case, choosing the cases that support my argument. Two answers: First, If you pick enough cherries, it ‘s not picking; it’s using the evidence. Second, if the pattern were reversed with exactly the same countries, you can be sure the enemies of the Second Amendment would claim victory.

The usual rational-sounding arguments for gutting the Second Amendment are not supported, except at the cost of ignoring masses of important facts. All those facts are readily available on the Internet, from reliable sources.

It’s hard not to suspect bad faith.


About Jacques Delacroix

I am a sociologist, a short-story writer, and a blogger (Facts Matter and Notes On Liberty) in Santa Cruz, California.
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7 Responses to Guns and Truth

  1. jacquesdelacroix says:

    Richard Schwindt
    A good deal of your argument is based on international comparisons. I guess you can take some comfort from the fact that the U.S. homicide rate is much lower than Mexico’s or Russia’s.

    Here is a better comparison. Arguably, Canada is mor…e comparable to the U.S. than any other country (e.g., in terms of income, culture, history, but, of course, not weather). Canada has strict gun control. Here are some numbers (from Statistics Canada) for 2000. Deaths per 100,000 from injury involving firearms, Males, U.S. 17.8, Canada, 5.3; Females, U.S. 2.9, Canada 0.4. More
    13 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    My response:

    Jacques Delacroix: Yes, I agree, Canada is probably more like the US that any other country. There is a host of unspoken theoretical assumptions behind your list of variables though. Why income, for example? And why not make this a comment on my blog so others can benefit? You make a good point but this is far from the end of this discussion.

    • Bruce says:

      Richard, I would ask you to consider that the population of Canada is around 31 million, California alone has 32 million. Canada has 3.4 people per square kilometer of land, in the United States it is 29.8 people. The reason they have fewer gun deaths is obvious. The farther away the target is, the harder it is to acquire and neutralize. Here are a few other pointers on fighting in general and gunfighting in particular:

      Bring a gun. Preferably, bring at least two guns. Bring all of your friends who have guns. Bring their friends who have guns.
      If you can, make friends with those on the crew served weapons. Bring them as well. Borrow money from them, it gives them an added incentive to protect you.
      Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice. Ammo is cheap. Life is expensive.
      Only hits count. Close doesn’t count. The only thing worse than a miss is a slow miss.
      If your shooting stance is good, you’re probably not moving fast enough nor using cover correctly.
      Move away from your attacker. Distance is your friend. (Lateral and diagonal movement are preferred.)
      If you can choose what to bring to a gunfight, bring a long gun and a friend with a long gun.
      In ten years nobody will remember the details of caliber, stance, or tactics. They will only remember who lived and who didn’t.
      If you are not shooting, you should be communicating (calling for arty or air support), reloading, and running.
      Accuracy is relative: most combat shooting is more dependent on “pucker factor” than the inherent accuracy of the gun.
      Use a gun that works EVERY TIME. “All skill is in vain when an Angel pisses in the flintlock of your musket.”
      Someday someone may kill you with your own gun, but they should have to beat you to death with it because it is empty.
      In combat, there are no rules, always cheat; always win. The only unfair fight is the one you lose.
      Have a plan.
      Have a back-up plan, because the first one won’t work.
      Have a back-up, back-up plan in case CentCom or SecDef finds the first two plans “unacceptable”.
      Use cover or concealment as much as possible. The only visible target should be in your gun sights.
      Flank your adversary when possible. Protect your flank.
      Don’t drop your guard.
      Always tactical load and threat scan 360 degrees.
      Watch their hands. Hands kill. (In God we trust. Everyone else, keep your hands where I can see them).
      Decide to be aggressive ENOUGH, quickly ENOUGH.
      The faster you finish the fight, the less shot you will get.
      Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everyone you meet.
      Be courteous to everyone, friendly to no one.
      Your number one Option for Personal Security is a lifelong commitment to avoidance, deterrence, and de-escalation.
      Do not attend a gunfight with a handgun, the caliber of which does not start with a “4.”

      If only the police are allowed to have guns it’s called a police state. It’s another stroke of genius by our Founding Fathers who spelled it out so clearly in the Second Ammendment. It’s one of many reasons why we’re the greatest nation on God’s green earth. If a criminal breaks into my home I will do my best to make sure it’s the last criminal act he does.

  2. jacquesdelacroix says:

    The Canadian professor of economics who made these comments produced others figures to the effect that Canadians are as murderous as Americans when it comes to non-gun homicide. That’s a strong point in favor of gun control if it’s the whole story. I asked him kindly to provide absolute figures because they might get into very small numbers which are not reliable. I am awaiting his response. I hope he will oblige so we can improve our understanding away from the reigning hysteria. (JD)

  3. schwindt says:

    Jacques, let me know if you can read this (I don’t know how to paste tables into blogs).

    2008 Canada US
    Total Homicide 611 16,272
    Rate of Homicide 1.83 per 100,000 5.4 per 100,000
    Total Homicide with Firearms 200 10,739
    Rate of Homicide with Firearms 0.59 per 100,000 3.56 per 100,000
    Homicides without Guns 411 5,532
    Rates of Homicides without Guns 1.23 per 100,000 1.83 per 100,000
    Total Handgun Homicides 121 7,647
    Rates of Handgun Homicides 0.36 per 100,000 2.53 per 100,000
    Total Rifle and Shotgun Homicides 34 813
    Rates of Rifle and Shotgun Homicides 0.1 per 100,000 0.26 per 100,000

    Source: US Department of Justice, “2008 Crime statistics, Expanded Homicide Data,” September 2009. Table 20. US Department of Justice, “2008 Crime statistics, Expanded Homicide
    Data,” September 2009. Table 1. Sarah Beattie. “Homicide in Canada
    2008,” Statistics Canada. Juristat, vol. 29, no. 4, October 2009.

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