Monday, June 13, 2016

Sorry, But Guns Do Kill People

"Cars don't kill people, people kill people." It's a take on a common phrase used for those against increased gun control. Stop for a minute and think if that was our excuse whenever someone was killed by a car.

In this space I usually try to stay away from personal opinion on issues and just promote men doing good things for other men (and women, and children, and animals). But with the recent escalation of gun-related tragedies in our country (and me taking a few risks to be more personal here) I finally think silence is no longer an option.

So, back to that thought. There was a time when we looked the other way for issues with cars whether it be drunk driving, poor quality control, safety standards and so on. Yet at some point we realized we needed change, we needed to start proactively controlling and penalizing certain things with cars. We created laws for inappropriate operation such as using drugs, now even texting. We ban people from using then, even owning them, and often legally take them away from them if they break the laws, or just because they have a condition not conducive to proper operation of the vehicle. We required car companies to make them safer, adding many features. Everyone is supposed to have a training, and a license to use it, and register it, even often are required to have insurance on it. And when things go badly we not only go after the operator, but in some cases depending on the situation on the manufacturer. The same thing happens with drugs - you could say drugs don't kill people, it's how people use them, yet we heavily regulate them as well.

We can do the same thing with guns. If only we could even have the discussion.
To me one of the strangest things about the gun control discussion is that taboo surrounding it. Gun rights activists (I won't call them 'pro-gun' as that makes it sound like they want a gun in everyone's hands when they really just want it in their own), especially the lobbyists and any politician connected - really all politicians - take the word 'control' to mean 'ban'. And there comes that phrase: "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." To me that saying always rings about as ridiculous as the Affluenza defense.

Sorry, a gun is not a tool, a gun is a weapon
I have seen various versions of the thought - mostly comparing to other tools. "Guns are tools." Really? Sorry, they aren't. Let's call a spade a spade. Literally. Guns are weapons. Look it up. Or don't, just be thoughtful and honest. What is a gun designed to do? Kill. Sure, maybe not necessarily people - yes, yes, I know because hunting - but let's not kid ourselves. Guns were and are made to do one thing: kill. And most are designed to kill people. A rifle could be argued that though made to kill its to kill animals, to hunt, but a pistol is made to kill people, a semi- to full automatic firearm is made to kill people.The argument is that as a tool it is an inanimate object and the decision of the owner is the only thing that makes it dangerous is ridiculous.  Let's take this quote to the right. It basically says that a gun is like an ax or a shovel. What is a shovel? A tool. A tool designed to move (dig, carry, throw) loose matter. Can a shovel be used to kill someone? Sure. But can a shovel, or an ax, or even a chainsaw, kill a half-dozen people minimum from a range with little skill? You know what can? Explosives. Do we allow pretty much anyone - most of the population - to buy, own, borrow, or otherwise get their hands on explosives easily? No, we don't. Poison can too, or other drugs, things that could be dispersed fairly easily in a way that would quickly and fatally effect many people. And do we allow the general public the ability to possess these easily? No, we don't. We have strong but reasonable and understandable regulations on obtaining, storing, and moving these items and for the most part it is really, really hard to get them if you are not supposed to and then use them to

B... but, we have the right to defend ourselves, the 2nd Amendment! Let's get into the whole militia defend yourself from a tyrannical government thing, the 2nd Amendment, in a bit, or not, to me its irrelevant. First let's address what people usually mean when they say 'defend': home or personal defense of an intruder or attacker. Know how well that idea works? Not well. In the event of a home invasion, or public space such as school or theater or club, or even a personal attack, the chances of actually using a firearm if you have one to defend yourself, hit the attacker, not hit others, and fend them off is exceptionally low, its much higher to cause a health risk to the household (this article too). In 2012, per the Violence Policy Center, there was one justifiable killing for every 32 murders, suicides or accidental deaths. There's this number too: about half of all suicides are committed with guns, and seven in 10 by men, who also account for 74% of gun owners in the country.

The truth is, ownership of a gun is far more likely to cause an accidental death, maybe a child getting their hands on it, a suicide by the owner or someone else with access to it, or even in cross-fire or missed shot in a defense situation. The New England Journal of Medicine found that living in a home where guns are kept increased an individual’s risk of death by homicide by between 40 and 170%. Death certificate data indicates that 680 Americans were killed accidentally with guns each year between 2003 and 2007. Half those victims were under the age of 25. Finally, there's also the escalation factor. Americans seem to have a hero-complex, thinking that if they have a gun they can save themselves or someone else. This picture of a social media post hits at that, to paraphrase 'I have a gun, I will go out guns a blazing, not as a coward, and by having it will make you me and you safer'. But, possession of a gun is likely to cause an escalation of an attack and create more problems. The gun may be seen or detected, the defender may have bravado for having the gun, and may draw the gun even before an attacker - causing them in turn to draw and use a gun that may not have ever been fired and the situation resolved. Individuals who were in possession of a gun are about 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession. Want me to go on? I'm done. I could post a lot more statistics that are easily found in a search, but I think these numbers already speak for themselves.

In the scenario of the picture, someone enters a store with a rifle, a far more heroic thing to do would be to help others escape. If you have the wherewithal at that moment to draw and fire the gun, you definitely can ave the awareness and guts to check out the scene, find others, and help them get out. Instead this person seems to think it better to stand and draw, fire knowing they will likely die themselves, and then be useless to others there at that moment and after. There may well be friends there, or family, and of/when you die for taking a stand with a gun you will leave them without you in their lives. Sorry, but that is not heroic. Plus the scenario says the person pulls out a rifle, not comes in firing. They might have had no intention of using it, probably hoping the wouldn't have to. But now you draw a gun in return. This makes them nervous. You drawing may cause them to fire first. Or maybe they don't and you do. Now you just shot someone that may have just been carrying a gun with no intention to fire it. But you are all bravado, the brave and fierce American with a gun who drew it and stood and fired, instead of helping others you just died.

Back to the right to defend, to bear arms, the 2nd Amendment. I'm not going to argue over the wording of it, its intent, as there are plenty of others doing that out there already, instead let's look at with some common sense. First let's explore what it is: an amendment. An addition. It is thrown around as if it was one of the base ideas of the very constitution, the first signed draft, but its not. It was added in four years later. While I understand that in the life of our country that's not very much time, and that many - most - amendments are good things - and yes it is included as what is considered the "Bill of Rights", amendments are things that are added and can be changed and even removed/repealed. Just as articles of incorporation, or other legal documents can be edited as time goes along to reflect the policies and opinions of its members, so too can the Constitution, so don't hold it up as an infallible, uneditable feature of the Constitution. Sure, only one amendment, 18 - concerning the prohibition of alcohol - was repealed later, but the fact the amendments exist at all itself is the evidence and proof and even impetus to review and change it as time goes on. To correct it, to clarify it. The English Bill of Rights (1689) was an inspiration for the American Bill of Rights which includes the 2nd Amendment, but guess what? The English over time strengthened their control of firearm ownership until now they have very tough laws. And most other countries see a big difference to the US in terms of firearm fatalities, even when factoring in population size. If we look at mass shootings, the current tragedies that get attentions, the numbers are telling. This article by PolitiFact portends to say President Obama's claim that mass shootings don't occur like they do in the US is mostly false because they show numbers in other countries. But if we look at the numbers over the 14 year study they tell a certain tale. If we look at 8 European countries + Mexico (yes Mexico!) that total 393 million to the US's 318, they have had in total 19 mass shootings compared to 133 in the US. They had 351 total victims to 992 in the US. If we go beyond mass shootings and just look at homicide rates, the US is at 4.7 per 100,000 people. Other than Mexico (you will allow me to exclude their homicide rate won't you, in fairness?) every other one is half at 2.2 or less and most are under 1 per 100,000 - 4 times less.

I could go on with many other statistics, but you can look them up yourself and I doubt you will find much to show that guns truly help in anything close to a majority of situations. The meaning and intent of the 2nd amendment aside, we can and should change it if need be, though we likely don't even have to. The Supreme Court already ruled that the right is not unlimited and does not prohibit all regulation of either firearms or similar devices. I.E. regulation would be well within the bounds of the government to control the types, number and frequency of gun purchases and ownership. The problem is that people 'pro-gun', or anti-gun control, won't even begin let alone sustain conversation about the fact that maybe, just maybe it would be a very good thing to control gun ownership more.

Back to cars. I never thought I was the first person ever to think of it, but a few years back it occurred to me that there is an existing model to a better way to look at gun ownership: car licensing and registration and laws of operation. In order to drive a car I have to have a license which to get I have to take a written and operational test. If I want to operate a different vehicle like a motorcycle, or a commercial vehicle I have to take a different test and be registered for it. For each vehicle I own I have to have a title on it and for 48 of 50 states (Wisconsin not surprisingly is an exception - New Hampshire is the other) have to, legally have to, have liability insurance on it. We accepted those new regulations and moved on. Few now argue if we should wear seat belts. Few would argue whether its bad or not to text and drive. But laws for those have evolved, been added, to keep up with our social mores. Regarding drugs, many drugs are harder to get than firearms, even when prescribed.

Look. I get it the thought process, up to a point. I get the fear of losing a 'right'. I get those who truly want one for defense, or those who hunt. And I, like most, am not anti-gun, just pro gun control. I have no problem with people who are properly licensed and checked out having a small arm in the house or even on their person, or a rifle to hunt. In the scenario above, if they guy wants to carry - as long as he has no record, is not mentally ill, and has registered and insured the gun and himself - knock yourself out (though I still wonder if its a great idea to whip it out just because another guy walks in with a gun). But no one needs an automatic or semi-automatic weapon, pistol or rifle, and the amounts of ammunition the killers usually have. You also don't need many different weapons. You shouldn't be able to buy more than one gun in say more than every 90 days, and some number per year. This type of purchase history usually portends something bad is going to be done with them. Check out this article on the ownership methods of recent mass murderers where one owned 14 guns overall and another bought four guns over a period of 60 days - how can that be someone who isn't looked into and put on some list. Even an avid hunter isn't going to go out and buy himself 4 guns in two months.

I have a new take on the meme. "Guns don't kill people, ammunition does." To fire a weapon you need ammunition. You want to take it to the firing range and practice? Buy it there but you can't take it with you. Hunting season, sure you can now buy a certain number to take with you, but once its over severely limit rounds purchasable. There are so many ways to look at this as one solution. In the NY Times article on the mass murderers' weapons, it details that over four months, one of them legally bought more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition for handguns, 3,000 rounds for a semiautomatic rifle and 350 shells for a 12-gauge shotgun, all over the Internet. You can't tell me that buying that amount of ammunition in that amount of time shouldn't arouse suspicion, let alone even be possible.

If you are pro-gun you are now going to search the internet for articles, numbers somewhere, somehow that will show that there a majority of people have a number of guns, thousands of rounds, and nothing comes of it. Fine, I am sure they exist, but they won 't show that they can't, won't, be used for nefarious purposes by the wrong person, likely not even the one who bought them such as at Sandy Hook where the killer used his mother’s guns to kill her and 26 others.

So, please, all I am asking is to talk. Let's start the conversation. Let's be reasonable, and truthful, and respectful - respectful of life if not each other. And let's be honest, guns indeed do kill people, its kind of what they are designed to. Can we talk?