Thursday, April 19, 2007

Gun Control, Part I

Our friend across the pond, Gert, has some points he would like to examine regarding my last post. I truly welcome this for two reasons:
1) It forces me to re-examine my positions in light of another's viewpoint and again evaluate the data sets upon which I draw my conclusions. I do this because I hate to sound like an idiot.
2) Because I undergo the process as defined above, it strengthens or corrects my world view. I like being right (or at least be able to present a valid argument that I am correct).

Sig:Although US gun culture is somewhat alien to the old fogies (like me) over in the Old Continent, I fully accept that the debate isn't simple at all and that there's a lot to be said for and against the right to bear arms.

Amen and amen. And I can take responsibility for some of that. We need to identify what the stakes are for the opposing sides, because both feel threatened. My take is this: the anti-gun lobby feels threatened because gun violence is at unacceptable levels and they want all guns confiscated or restricted to a point where they feel safe; the pro-gun side feels threatened because an activity they enjoy in a responsible manner may be taken away. They feel that they are safer defending themselves rather than depending on sketchy police response and, more importantly, they are of the opinion that the Constitution has given them the right to bear arms of their choosing.

But what is happening is this, gun violence in this country are going down, not up
It seems though that the debate, as debates tend to do, has spiralled into very partisan mutual entrenchment with virtually no one listening to the other side. There is therefore a lot of extremism on both sides of the divide.
This is quite a formula; it is virtually guaranteed to produce embittered positions on both sides of the coin. Everyone has their experts that they trust because they offer proof that their position is unassailable. It is very similar to a courtroom where the prosecution and the defense bring out their "hired guns" (please forgive the analogy) to sway the jury. I guess one has to make a better argument than the other, but the only minds capable of being swayed are the undecided...

What good does it do for anyone to own a collection of (modern, active) fire arms, including several hand guns as well as assault rifles, as some very clearly do? How can that be justified in the name of the legitimate right to self-defence? Are these people expecting half an army of criminals to raid their homes? It seems somewhat "overkill" in my view.

As they say, "Beauty is in the Mind of the Beholder." Some firearms are purchased legitimately for self defense. Other firearms are purchased for other reasons. I will assume that you accept self-defense as a valid justification for possessing a firearm. Thus your question is in two parts:
1) Other than self-defense, are there any other legitimate reasons for owning a firearm?
2) How many firearms does someone need to own? What is "enough?"

As a retired police officer I believe that everyone should be acquainted with the proper use of firearms. Cops can't be everywhere and when it comes down to your personal safety, cops can't guarantee it. We can guarantee that we will be sympathetic to your next of kin and bust our asses to find your killer.

Firearms are simply an effective centuries old method of protection from someone bigger, stronger, faster, younger, more determined, nastier, better looking, or nuttier than yourself.

As for reasons other than self-defense; I have a very small collection of Civil War era black powder firearms. They are working replicas, not the actual pieces. I am somewhat of a history buff and I love the weaponry of this era. As I hold them I imagine what the infantryman of that day must have experienced during a battle. He could only load and fire three times a minute if he was good at it. Loading the powder charge, positioning the ball, ramming it home, putting the percussion cap on the nipple -- and doing this while all hell was breaking lose around you. It staggers the imagination. I shoot these weapons to remember that untold thousands of lives depended on the relatively simple mechanisms of weapons technology over 150 years old. And it is a hoot to produce all that smoke at the range.

Quite frankly, I get a little teary eyed as I consider the sacrifices of our armed services throughout the history of our nation. If I were a Brit, I would feel exactly the same way about your country's armed services and the long, rich history behind the English ground pounder.

I have other firearms also. I consider the technological prowess of these weapons for their time and the men who used them -- the convergence of function and beauty. Some firearms are just butt ugly and I wouldn't buy one for love nor money. I did purchase one just because I thought it is cool looking and I love to shoot it. So do my kids. We have a ball at the range.

Question is, does the US not need much more restrictions on who can and who can't and what can and what cannot be legally owned in terms of fire arms, and not, as some are now arguing in the wake of the massacre at VA Tech, more freedom with regards to an individual's right to bear arms?

You may not agree, for but me the question is this: do I trust the government to defend me when I need protection? And who is going to protect me from the government? Our Founding Fathers were very concerned about the last question and for good reason. They feared the permanent tyranny of the government more than the temporary madness of an individual.

In the interest of public safety, the VT campus was restricted to anyone other than a police officer bearing a firearm. It proved to be not safe. The madman on the VT campus killed 32 innocent lives. The madmen in Russia, China, Cambodia and Vietnam took 100 million lives.

Gun control is not a force of nature. It is not like gravity or the speed of light or electro-magnetism. It is an entirely artificial legal construct that is utterly dependent upon the compliance of those upon whom it is imposed. And even when complete compliance is achieved, it is still relatively useless.

Moreover, once a single person chooses to ignore this limitation, he automatically assumes a position of absolute power over everyone who is in compliance. And that is what happened on the Virginia Tech campus.

Look at human history before the invention of gun powder and firearms. People have been killing each other for a long, long time. Gun control is relatively useless because there are plenty of weapons other than firearms that are readily capable of inflicting a death dealing wound. It is just that these weapons are not as concealable and many require a good deal of training and/or strength for the user to become proficient.

Firearms are far superior to these other weapons because they are deadly at far greater distances and the strength/training cycle needed to become proficient is greatly shortened. You can become proficient with a rifle or a handgun in five days. And this is why handguns are an excellent source of protection for women and the elderly.

Violent crime statistics in Great Britain and Australia indicate that while murder may decrease somewhat, other violent crimes actually increase. Aggravated assault and robbery are two of them. Since Australia instituted comprehensive gun control laws in the late 1990's, violent crimes have increased by 35%.

And out of interest, what does this UN ranking actually mean? Does it have a measuring unit, or is it an index?

The author of this section, Don Kates, is using this chart to address the anti-gun rhetoric emanating from the public health sector. In particular, the author addresses elements of the shibboleth that "more gun availability results in more homicide, suicide and gun accidents whilst strict gun control will result in fewer such tragedies." Gun availability in the US has increased dramatically in the thirty years betwen 1967 and 1997 - the number of civilian handguns increased by 273% and the total number of firearms increased by 162%, yet there was no corresponding increase in the number of homicides or suicides.

Even the Center for Disease Control (CDC) gets into this action by artifically inflating homicides and suicides in the US.

"This, for instance, when the CDC discusses homicide alone, international comparisons are made, but whenever the CDC combines honicides and suicides, data is given only for the US."

The US suicide rate is actually much, much lower than the European suicide rate. But the CDC includes the homicide rate to "bump up" the numbers.

These are the suicide rankings:
1) Estonia (39.9)
2) Finland (27.3)
3) Russia (26.6)
4) Latvia (26.0)
5) Lithuania (26)
6) Austria (22.2)
7) Denmark (22.0)
8) Switzerland (20.8)
9) Ukraine (20.6)
10) France (20.2)
11) Belgium (19.3)
12) Sweden (17.2)
13) Germany (15.8)
14) Luxembourg (15.1)
15) New Zealand (13.9)
16) Canada (12.9)
17) USA (11.5)
18) Israel (7.3)
(ARMED, pg 61)

What this shows is that the health advocates have it all wrong when equating gun availability to suicide. The nations with the highest suicide rates have the tightest gun control laws while the nations with the lowest suicide rates have greater access to civilian firearms.

So American suicide rates cannot be blamed on the availability of firearms as the anti-gun advocates try to do.

"By the same token, readers of health advocacy articles blaming American suicide increases on guns would never learn that while suicide amoug American males aged fifteen to twenty-four increased 7.4 percent in the period 1980 to 1990, the increase amoung English males of this age was over ten times greater (78 percent), car exhaust poisoning [being] the method of suicide used most often."

(Teenage Deaths Increasing Across Europe," CJ-Europe, November-December 1994)

I also look upon this as an index, especially since the unfolding of events at VT. There are a number of murder/suicides taking place across the country. I suspect that anyone disposed to taking their own life may also be more disposed to taking someone with them. I certainly would propose that anyone who has threatened suicide or attempted suicide not be considered eligible to purchase/possess a firearm. Even then, someone determined to kill another person and take his own life in the process is going to be able to procure a firearm. All we can do is make it more difficult for them to do so.

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