The Gun Game

18Apr07

I am so pained to feel inspired to write another post about death, but after Monday’s events…I feel resigned to do so. Thoughts and prayers to VA Tech’s campus will not heal the wounds, but there is little else we, collectively as a populace, can immediately do. Stunned, shocked, lost, scared, worried, troubled…enraged. You name it, the emotion is provoked.

And out of all of this, an old debate keeps on brewing, bubbling a bit hotter: gun control and the right to bear arms.

I love our civil liberties; let’s just get that out of the way. But I can’t stand reading another comment about how not easy it is to possess a gun. The deregulation of gun laws logically leads to more guns in circulation in society; is it all that strange to make the leap that perhaps as owning a gun becomes more common place, so does shooting? Oh wait, that’s right. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Really? As the comedian Eddie Izzard (perhaps it’s in poor taste to reference comedy but…) says “I think the gun helps, you know? I think it helps. I just think just standing there going, ‘Bang!’ That’s not going to kill too many people, is it? You’d have to be really dodgy on the heart to have that…”

Here’s a story. A 78 year old WWII veteran in rural Kentucky was in possession of three guns, two of which had been purchased at the local Walmart. Deaf in one ear, blind in one eye, he legally obtained these weapons. Going out to shoot a skunk, he unloaded five deadly shots into his neighbor, the recently retired elementary school principal.

Set aside the criminality of this case, or even the extreme sadness over the end of essentially two lives. Why on earth did this man have THREE guns? When was the last time a man of his age, frail in health and mind, with a list of prescription drugs three pages long, went on a hunting trip? He was held while awaiting trial in a guarded hospital room as it was feared he would not survive within a prison.

I am not linking this man with the motives and actions of Monday’s gunman, outside of the commonality of guns and death.

But let’s move the subject away from middle-American whiteness and into a black urban-setting. Specifically, Washington DC, which in its non-statehood status is regulated by federal opinions, often setting precedence for the nation.

For thirty-one years our capitol has banned the sale and possession of guns unless stored in a manner which renders them useless. On 9 March 2007, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District categorized this stance as unconstitutional, citing the Second Amendment. Filing this case were six DC residents who believed guns to be a necessary form of self defense. Now this comes at an odd time; DC, once positioned as murder capitol of the country, has seen a marked decrease in violent crimes over the last seven years. In typical, confusing District form, Mayor Fenty is now calling for an appeal of the appeal, which could result in the case coming before the Supreme Court. With the current national climate as it is, this could turn into quite a battle.

So I guess part of the confusion over this whole thing comes from DC’s past. If guns have been outlawed for so long, how (or why) has violence persisted? A typical answer seems to conclude that if someone wants to kill, he or she will find a weapon whether or not they are legal. Ok, so explain to me the purpose of laws. By that logic, they are useless as people will simply do whatever they want. Here’s the thing with guns. If we put more of them legally in circulation, doesn’t that naturally make them more easily accessible?

This debate divides most of the country and legitimately so as it’s linked to the foundation of the documents which define us as a society. Even so, I find that many of the folks in defense of lessening gun control forget another underpinning of our government: those documents are meant to be interpretative and evolve over time. We no longer need a militia in hopes of protecting against the crown.

Speaking of interpretation, at the heart of each polarized view lays statistics. Pro-gun folk often refer to John Lott’s book More Guns, Less Crime for support. The conclusion of his findings is fairly self-explanatory based on the title, but I’d like to call attention to one point he makes that I find almost offensive. Lott concludes his findings by saying “many factors influence crime, with arrest and conviction rates being the most important. However, nondiscretionary concealed-handgun laws are also important and they are the most cost-effective means of reducing crime. The cost of hiring more police in order to change arrest and conviction rates is much higher” (page 160). He’s serious. We need to arm the public so we don’t have to pay for police. So I guess you either behave or die, eh?

Of course, that logic doesn’t fly in DC. We have a city budget surplus.

Ron Paul, a Congressman from Texas, references this book in support of overturning the DC ban. It’s his belief that strict gun control is the root of the capitol’s violent crime rate. Hm.

Mark Duggan published an article in The Journal of Political Economy in 2001 entitled “More Guns, More Crime.” Now that’s a contrast. He investigates the social status of gun owners and potential ones. An interesting finding links education with guns; his empirical research points out that the more school one survives, the more likely that person is to legally own a gun. And typically, the more education, the higher on the socio-economic ladder one is.

Let’s look at this. DC’s poorest neighborhoods experience violent crime at a rate six times higher than its lowest-poverty areas. The education level of students in these areas show that only 20% of children score at or above national levels. So, the people who need to self-regulate their neighborhoods (in the manner which Lott proposes) the most are the least likely to actually legally obtain guns. And our vice president demonstrated nicely how safe politicians, who are generally the make up of the nice neighborhoods, are with guns. (Side note: perhaps we do still need a militia to defend ourselves against the “crown?”)

But I’m not advocating for guns to be released in “troubled” areas. No, Duggen also points out that most people buy guns in hopes of protecting themselves against rising crime rates. Wait, DC’s crime rate has fallen. I’m confused.

I don’t know what the hopes are with normalizing shooting. Hunting is one thing, but last I checked, you can’t shoot deer in Rockcreek park, no matter how over-populated they become. And shooting people is illegal. Why are we decriminalizing crime?

I do believe that everyone involved with this debate feels compassion for victims of violence. Unless of course we are talking about Fred Phelps.

Here’s your can o’worms for the day.

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4 Responses to “The Gun Game”

  1. 1 Tom

    I recently learned that guns are used in the us more commonly for suicide than for homicide. Lets reduce the number of unnecessarey deaths by reducing the number of guns in circulation.

  2. This is a excellent post.

    In the UK guns laws are very different to the US. I have never seen a gun there with my own eyes, unless carried by certain identified police officers. We do have gun crime. But the gun related deaths in whole of the UK are the same as for the whole of DC. Lets think about that. A country where guns are easy to get vs one where they are not. A city of 800,000 commits more gun related deaths than a country of 60 million! Guns are lame. Their only intent is to kill people, not deter. And yes i think the guns themselves are as much to blame as the people who pull the trigger.

    One unfortunate consequence of the freedom to own guns in the US is once guns are in circulation they are out there and will not generally dissappear. If the US stopped selling guns tomorrow there are still more than enough, and there will continue to be more than enough, to continue the gun violence we’re all becoming desensitised too.

  3. 3 Trish

    our hilarious trans friend Eddie Izzard had another bit that i liked on the subject. in order to test the whole ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ idea, he suggests we give a gun to a monkey and let him loose in Charlton Heston’s house… ’cause if we’re lucky, (in addition to scaring the shit out of Heston) we might have definative evidence that guns do indeed play a role. although the monkey might get shot. and that would be sad.

  4. Why is it that you have to do more to earn the privilege to drive a car than to earn the privilege of owning a gun? Why is it that one needs to practice, go take a test, and pass that test before obtaining the right to drive? And you need to continue to retake that test every few years in order to keep that license. However, I can go into a gun shop, fill out a form, permit a criminal background check, and in 10 minutes walk out with a gun? No practice required. No education required. No test required. Nothing further is required of me to keep that gun for the rest of my life, so long as I do not become a felon.


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