Thursday, April 25, 2013

Rational But Wrong

Yesterday, while stumbling around the web, I visited a blog I catch now and then, written by a friend's son.  He's someone who I'll bet would not think he's a gun-grabber and is being rational, but like the gun grabbers, apparently believes we have too many guns, and the world would be a better place without them.  While there's enough stuff in there to make many on our side mad, there is some good stuff here, the reactions are typical of the kind of people we need to reach: he doesn't know what the current laws are, and doesn't really understand what he wants to regulate. I quote his whole piece here and then my (longer) response.
It’s really as simple as this.

There is one thing guns are for and that’s killing.

There are two ways to obtain a gun and that’s legally or illegally.

There are two ways to use a gun that has been obtained by either method to kill a human and that’s on purpose or on accident.

The 2nd ammendment says we have the right to own firearms, so no wiggle room there. Anyone who suggests guns should be taken away is an uneducated twat.

People who obtain a gun legally usually have no desire to kill a human. People who obtain a gun illegally frequently do want to kill humans. We’ll get back to that in a second, don’t forget this part.

People who want to intentionally kill humans are going to do so no matter what weapons are available. People being killed by accidentally discharging a firearm are not properly handling the weapon.

So far, I think the craziest of gun nuts is still with me.

The solution then, is to require all purchasers of firearms to provide proof of competency with firearms through public certification courses to reduce the number of accidents.

In order to reduce the number of guns obtained illegally, all guns must be kept unloaded with a trigger lock in place inside of a lockbox when not in use OR in a gun safe. Secondary benefit being accidents further reduced.

The mental health care in this country needs to catch up, but long before that happens we can keep guns out of the hands of people who will not properly protect their firearms from being stolen and people that don’t know how to properly handle, store, and care for them.

And how do we pay for certification courses and people to randomly check registered weapons to be secured? Tax ammunition. If ammunition’s sole purpose in existence is to kill, a tax to make sure only the right people are doing the killing needs to be placed on it. Tax it like it’s a goddamn cigarette. It is a public safety issue isn’t it? Similarly, a yearly registration (of the security of the gun, not the gun itself) just like a motor vehicle and accompanying registration fee for each firearm owned. Any gun used in the commission of a crime gets destroyed (if it was stolen, too bad, you lost the privilege of owning that gun by not keeping it secure) and the perpetrator an additional felony count of committing a crime with a unsecured gun.

That’s the real common sense solution.

Now, gun lovers, I haven’t forgotten about you. One of the reasons I hear for people needing their guns is to protect from tyranny. All I really have to say is, if you think you need guns so the government doesn’t overstep its bounds, you don’t understand a microfraction of power the military has. If the US government wanted to pick on you for any reason, it could do so remotely from thousands of miles away or with a SEAL behind you. You wouldn’t know it was coming. No matter how badass you think you are with your gun collection, the government would stomp you like a spent cigarette.

As a certified gun blogger (I wrote the cert card myself!) and recreational shooter, I thought I'd leave some comments from that side of the blogosphere.  I got my first gun when I was 15 (JC Penney, $49.95!) but only recently have gotten interested in sport shooting again.  If there's one overarching theme I hear from gun bloggers the most frequently it's this: the people who are regulating them don't know what they're regulating and don't know what the existing laws are. With all due respect, while your points are rational and obviously the product of some considerable thought, I see some of that here.  While some on my side may just say, "because shall not be infringed, that's why!", since you seem to be trying to honestly reconcile the right and responsibility to bear arms with some measures to fix what you perceive to be a problem. I'll try to introduce some facts you're missing.

First off, the categorical statement There is one thing guns are for and that’s killing is a bad opening. If that's all they're good for, every single gun I've ever seen is defective. Obviously they can kill, but if the purpose of a thing is the use they are bought for, intended for, and used for - in the vast majority of cases it's not killing or even self defense. 

There's probably over 200 million guns in America (it's awfully tough to get a real hard number there) and very few have ever been used to kill. The vast, vast majority are used for recreational shooting, which, is a bigger hobby than hunting. There are "3 gun", "cowboy action shooting", "single action shooting", IDPA, IPSC and still more.  Colleges like MIT and public schools have shooting clubs that punch holes in paper.  It's a very big world you're not considering at all. Plus there's the extremely large market for self defense guns, a market that is dominating the gun industry these days.

With the realization that (I'll bet) over 99.9% of guns have never been used for killing, a gun becomes nothing more than a tool like any other tool. It has things it's good for – they are extremely effective force multipliers, enabling the smaller or weaker to have a chance against bigger and stronger – and things they're not good for.  Statistically (Gary Kleck, FSU criminologist), guns are used far more times to prevent a crime than to commit one, and in the vast majority of "Defensive Gun Use" cases, the gun isn't fired, it's simply drawn. The fact they can be used to kill doesn't mean that's all they're good for.

Your column doesn't say anything about self defense, so rather than my assuming your answer, do you grant the idea that humans are allowed the right of self defense?  Virtually everyone, not just hikers and campers, have heard not to get to between mamma bear and her cubs. Do you think humans have the rights bears do? If Joe Schmo accidentally got between mamma grizzly and her cubs and mamma mauled Joe, would you say the bear made a disproportionate response or didn't have the right to defend her cubs?  I've seen mice rise on their hind legs and threaten cats; do they have that right? Do people?

If you grant that humans are allowed self defense, a gun with a trigger lock in a safe is just about useless for home or personal defense. There are solutions to storage which you don't mention that don't compromise the ability to use it in a hurry as badly. It's a fact of life that you're more likely to have a negligent discharge if you're unloading and reloading a gun everyday to store it. Unless you think having it ready overnight is "in use" and your "safe storage" laws don't apply.

As for taxing ammunition, the statement that “the only purpose of ammunition is to kill” ignores recreational shooting and ignores the fact that even in the military, the vast majority of rounds don't kill. Between practice and other uses, the military shoots (conservatively)  250,000 rounds for every insurgent they kill. Besides, ammunition already is subject to a federal excise tax. The excise tax revenue is typically used for wetlands conservation, and causes friendly to hunting. There's no reason that money couldn't be re-purposed to pay for training for shooters, or providing ranges where they can safely shoot, except that this is overlooking the biggest change in firearms in the last 20 years, the concealed carry movement.

Gun show producer, writer and blogger Michael Bane (I think) coined the term "Gun Culture 2.0" for the “new” gun owners; folks who don't come from a heritage growing up hunting and around guns all the time. These people are largely well educated, often women, or minorities. The 2.0 buyers are the root cause for the surge in gun sales, ammo shortages and many of the other dynamics at play today. State requirements to carry vary but they almost always involve a training class and range time (exceptions for Constitutional Carry in Alaska, Vermont, Arizona and Wyoming). Since Florida started the move for concealed carry laws in 1987, the number of states allowing it has grown to where there is only one, Illinois, with no laws allowing carry at all.  Illinois has had its prohibition struck down and is currently under a judgment from the Federal courts to either draft one, or the federal court will do it for them.

The take home point is these people are happily paying for the training themselves and don't need the tax money or other government involvement. We don't require that the state provide all drivers' education, just that they test drivers to ensure they know the rules of the road; why should we require the state do this training? The state supervises the permitting, completes a background check, and in many cases takes fingerprints.

Essentially what you're describing is the way most states implement their concealed carry programs, only expanded to cover all gun purchases. We don't have to renew our licenses every year - somewhere around 7 to 10 seems the norm - and we don't have your over-the-top registration scheme. Considering the actual numbers of licenses issued vs. the number revoked for a gun crime, annual renewal seems punitive, as do most of your suggestions.  While the goal of reducing accidental death is laudable, the CDC says accidental gun deaths represent 0.6% of the US Accidental Death Rate - about 1300 (2007 WISQARS). I'm from the Pareto school of problem solving: attack the causes of the top 80%, lather, rinse repeat. Accidental gun deaths aren't going to show up in that test anytime soon.

In the case of any law, I think we should always ask if the proposal will actually make a difference, but with an enumerated right in the constitution's bill of rights, we should also ask whether the burden we put on the law abiding is worth it.  As you point out, only the law abiding are going to be following your laws.  Will doing these things really make a difference? You're clearly trying to reduce the supply of illegally held guns.  Excellent; we all want only good citizens to have them.  But I've been told that in the cities in America where guns are most strictly regulated, anyone could buy a gun in under an hour.  What do you do about those?  Will this make a difference or just create another tax-sucking bureaucracy that never goes away? 

In general, guns used in commission of a crime are held as evidence and then "disposed of" in some way, so, again, that's already what's being done. I don't see the sense of penalizing someone because they've been burglarized - who has control over whether their house is burglarized?  You also assume safes are secure and if someone broke in you were being careless.  That's not how safes work.  Even the excruciatingly expensive safes we had when I worked for were not guaranteed unbreakable.  The people who make safes rate them for a certain amount of time being worked on.  Given enough time and tools any safe can be opened.  And having agents of the state come into everyone's house to check that their guns are stored properly is going to be a non-starter in a lot of people's view. After all, people steal cars all the time and injure other people while driving stolen cars: do we penalize the car owner? Do we make them store their distributor cap somewhere else?

Finally, I would submit that the overriding lesson of the wars since WWII is that determined resistance fighters win against large armies. It is ugly, bloody, horrible fighting, but determined minorities have run the occupying forces out time and time again. Our high tech weaponry and "the best military on earth" has basically been run out of Iraq and Afghanistan because, as Clausewitz said, "War is politics by other means" and the political will is not there. The horrible toll that an American civil war would bring would make Iraq look pretty nice, I'm afraid, and the same politics of not wanting to be involved in a long bloody insurgency would be likely here. Remember, too, that a large number of those same SEALS, Delta Force, Rangers, Marines and more will be on the constitution's side.

For reference, in just the last two months of 2012, Americans bought enough guns to give one to every member of the Chinese and Indian armies.  If you add up the number of hunting licenses issued in the US, it's easily the largest army in the world by a large margin. It was stated in many places a couple of years ago that the hunters in only four states, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are the largest army in the world. (source).

You also might want to look at the FP-45Liberator pistol, which the US used to air drop behind Nazi lines in WWII. And if you're in the mood for an essay on this topic,"What Good Is a Handgun Against an Army?" is considered an excellent summary.

And if you want more education, Kevin Baker at The Smallest Minority has put up an excellent post on gun control at his place.  Kevin is one of a handful that can make me seem to write short pieces, and this is no exception. 

But actually, the thing that would do you the absolutely most good would be to go get your concealed carry permit and buy a gun.  Immerse yourself in the thousands of pages of existing laws and learn what gun owners have to put up with.  It's not as simple as walk into the Mountain of Geese, plunk down your money and walk out of the store.


  1. The military can absolutely kill me. Or you. Or just about any other individual out there. But can they keep it up a million times? Five million? Ten million? At what point will the remaining folks say enough is enough and start shooting first?

    The sum total of all military AND law enforcement personnel is out numbered at least twenty to one by honest, law abiding gun owners. And almost all of those gun owners are embedded in a non-combatant population. How many innocent bystanders would wind up dead as well?

  2. People who dismiss the limiting effect an armed populace has upon predators, including government predators, are beneath contempt. As powerful as the American military is, it is small compared to the American gun-owning populace, and it is composed of Americans far more likely to stand down than to shoot when confronted by a mass of righteously enraged fellow citizens. Indeed, I rather think enlisted men would turn upon their commanders and execute them rather than act against a legitimate insurrection.

    I could be wrong. Obviously, I don't think I am -- and I pray we won't find out the hard way.

  3. For all those who imagine a world without guns, please remind them that we've already experienced that it. That time was called the Middle Ages and it was a time when the lion laid down with the lamb and the lamb had better well take it if it knew what was good for it.

    Sorry, can't remember where I first read that...Tam's?

  4. Folks like you are the reason I don't bother blogging about guns. Y'all say it so much better than I can.

  5. Excellent reply to a misguided person. However, I think you lost him after the first four words. Sad. 73's

  6. I don't mind saying that guns are for killing. They're weapons, a subclass of tool made to destroy things. It's the idea that killing is a categorical wrong that I take issue with. Also, aren't most shooting sports designed around demonstrating your ability (in a non-lethal setting) to use the weapon lethally?

  7. Thanks for the kind words, y'all. Xenocles, I'm with you on that, and the idea that there's nothing wrong with guns being designed for killing. I suppose I was trying to convince him to think about the idea that off the 2 to 300 million guns in America very, very few of them were a problem.

    I assume most of you missed it, but he wouldn't accept a thing I said and went with the old "anybody who would carry a concealed weapon in movie theater or shopping mall is paranoid" type of response.

    I tried.

  8. "All I really have to say is, if you think you need guns so the government doesn’t overstep its bounds, you don’t understand a microfraction of power the military has."

    Always a fascinating argument, a real Tokyo Rose here, "I support our overlords fully, you should too, or you will be crushed."

    So compelling I had already forgotten about the Soviet Army killing (another) tens of millions before the fall of the Soviet regime (who/what?) or the Marcos's Philippine Army crushing his political opponents. Yup the military always kills their own wholesale to support the elite. Been that way for millenia. That is why the Romans always used local forces to win hearts and minds before ordering them to kill their kin.

  9. Holy cow, GraBear, it is like you took over this kid's blog. All of your stuff is good, and I hope that you got through to him, but short is sweet.

    How many of the kid's readers read all you wrote?

    Again, I hope some of his readers took your point. As for me, my rights come from the Creator, and I don't appreciate anyone, ANYONE - holding any discussions on common sense grounds negotiating them away.

    No part of anyone's rights are negotiable.

    Milton in Bippus, Indiana

    1. You're right about the length, of course. I submitted it with a note that said, "if this is too long, just delete it". I also said I'd cover it here.

  10. You know wouldn't it be nice if we could put his ideas into practice in another country, one that was substantially like us, except maybe on an island so it wouldn't be influenced by the "lax laws of it's neighbors" in creating this utopia? Wouldn't it be nice if we could watch his proposals work, exorbitant taxes on guns, hell ban handguns altogether, and then we could just watch the crime rate and death rates plummet.

    What you say? Such a place exists? Those policies he wants were put into place? And they didn't work? This is my shocked face.