Posts Tagged ‘Gun laws’

The gun rights movement and its lunatic fringe

June 9, 2014

I am not a gun person, but I don’t consider myself an enemy of  gun owners or gun rights advocates.

I’m philosophically in accord with much of what the gun rights movement says, while not in sympathy with some of its manifestations, including people in public places who carry around deadly weapons as if they were fashion accessories.

I believe that:

  • Self-protection is a fundamental human right.
  • The Constitution gives Americans an individual right to keep and bear arms.
  • Firearms have useful and legitimate purposes.
  • Ownership of firearms by responsible, law-abiding people is not a social problem.
  • Down through history and across many cultures, denial of the right to own weapons is a defining mark of a subjugated people.  (The other is denial of the right to testify in court).
  • Guns are an icon of American culture, just as swords are an icon of Japanese culture.

A lot of gun-related legislation seems to me to be “security theater”—aimed at making people feel safer even though it doesn’t actually make them safer.

Here in New York state, where I live, the SAFE law requires a background check on the private sale of a firearm to someone not a close relative.   Which means that if someone in rural New York sells a hunting rifle to a neighbor down the road he’s known most of his life, he has to go through the rigamarole of a background check.  That is a big nuisance and adds little, that I can see, to public safety.

I haven’t followed the Open Carry movement in Texas, but it does seem to me illogical that if you can carry a concealed handgun and you can openly carry a firearm much more deadly than a handgun, you can’t openly carry a pistol in a holster.

open-carry-txWhat I don’t understand is why gun rights advocates insist on bringing the deadliest and scariest-looking military-type weapons into public places where they have no useful purpose.

If I saw one of these guys come into my favorite diner while I was eating lunch, my reaction would be to wonder whether I was about to witness a holdup, or the next psycho gun massacre.   The person might say he was making a political point, and the gun is actually unloaded.   How am I supposed to know that?

Besides, one of the main things my father taught me about guns is that the most dangerous gun is the one you assume is not loaded.   Guns have a way of going off when you don’t expect them to.   That’s why they should be treated with respect, as you would treat any other potentially hazardous machine.

I’m well aware that gun deaths are declining.  So are deaths in motor vehicle accidents.  The latter fact does not reduce my responsibility, as a motorist, to drive with care.

Gun ownership in the United States is declining.   I don’t see how the gun rights cause is advanced by its supporters behaving in a way that alienates the public.

There is a lunatic fringe to the gun rights movement.   I am certain it does not represent the majority of gun owners, and I hope that it does not represent the gun rights movement as a whole.  Its effect on public opinion is not to make people more favorable to gun rights.


Gun deaths and gun laws

January 21, 2011

Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, made this chart for The Atlantic Monthly’s web site.  It shows gun death rates by state, and indicates which states have laws to assault weapons, require trigger locks or require safe storage of guns.

His chart shows gun deaths, not gun killings, because the majority of gun deaths are suicide.  In 2006, 16,883 Americans committed suicide with guns, while 12,791 Americans were victims of homicide with guns.  There were 642 accident gun fatalities, 362 killings by law enforcement officers and 220 unclassified.

The rate of violent crime, gun-related crime and gun-related deaths have all been declining in the United States since the early 1990s.  In 1993, there were 1 million gun-related crimes; this fell to 500,000 by 2005.  The proportion of Americans keeping guns in the home also is declining, according to some surveys.  That is not to deny that United States has a high gun death rate compared to other advanced countries.  Our gun death rate is higher by some estimates even than Mexico’s or Brazil’s.

Florida said his chart showed that low gun death rates are statistically correlated with assault weapons bans, trigger lock laws and safe storage laws.  This is not obvious to me as I look at his map, but I am not a trained statistician, so I’ll take Florida’s word.  What the chart tells me is that there are states with gun restrictions with high gun death rates and low gun death rates, and states without gun restrictions with high and low rates; that means there are other factors that are more important than gun restrictions.

I don’t see anything wrong with trigger lock laws and safe storage laws. Without getting into the complexities of the legal definition of “assault weapon,” I don’t see why anybody needs a rapid-fire weapon with a 30-shot magazine such as Jared Loughner, the accused Tucson shooter, had.  Nor do I see anything wrong with banning gun ownership by people who’ve been convicted of violent crimes.

Personally, I would ban gun ownership by anyone in civil life who killed an unarmed person or whose gun was used to kill an unarmed person.  This would include law enforcement officers who kill unarmed civilians because they feel threatened.

I wonder if gun design can be made safer.  One of the reasons the highway death rate has fallen is safer automobile design.  It would be nice, for example, if guns could be keyed to biometric data so that they could only be fired by their owner, but I suppose that is still in the realm of science fiction.

Here is another Richard Florida chart from the same article.