Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Romanticizing of Guns in American Culture

This has been stewing in my head for a while. School shootings, mass shootings, racist killings, and more always get me wanting to start and finish this. It took the ridiculous image of the St. Louis couple inappropriately brandishing firearms and peaceful protesters (and social media discussion about it) to get to it.

The discussion around the St. Louis incident seems to boil down to basically 1st Amendment versus 2nd Amendment rights. The first seems to be clear, the protesters had the right. The local Circuit Attorney, Kim Gardner has already supported that: "I am alarmed at the events that occurred over the weekend, where peaceful protesters were met by guns and a violent assault. We must protect the right to peacefully protest, and any attempt to chill it through intimidation or threat of deadly force will not be tolerated," Gardner tweeted.

So then it comes down to, was this an appropriate use of gun ownership by this couple? Is this type of event, the "Self-Defense Gun Use" or SDGU, appropriate or necessary? Let alone legal?

In America, we have romanticized gun use to the point that even rational people get so worked up about the concept of owning guns that they are blinded to whether they are needed, useful, or are they actually dangerous to the owner and loved ones to keep around. Just look at what this couple did, they brandished their guns movie-style, like kids emulating their action movie hero with toy guns, with dangerous lack of discipline.

Caveat: I am not anti-gun. Don't put those words in my mouth because of the above introduction. I don't think no one should have any guns. But like many reasonable Americans, and as we have seen people around the world, I feel that the level of ownership here has gone off the deep end. 

I am against ownership of guns specifically designed to kill people. Here's an interesting stat: in California, 80% of all assault rifles owned are in possession of individuals that own 10 or more guns. What is the deal with these people hoarding these guns?

I'm not going to get into the 2nd Amendment. It's really no worth it. It is so short, and so vague, and from such a different time (when it would take a considerable time to reload a gun with one shot) that it is pretty much impossible to apply to today. IMHO we should amend the Amendment with updated language so as to limit confusion. I mean, to start with, it doesn't even say 'gun' it says Arms which while often means firearms, can also just mean any weapon. And then there's the 'well-regulated militia' opener... but I digress, I said I wasn't going to discuss it here.

So let's start with a basic question:

What is a Gun?

Is a gun just a tool? An instrument or implement used (by a person) to perform a task? Well, maybe, but even if that is all a gun is, we know what the purpose is: to injure something. Something living. A gun is no shovel, there's no benign usage for it, for it to then be misused.

It's a common meme, just a statement, not even really an argument, used to promote the "guns don't kill people, people do" argument. Often compared to a hammer, or a shovel. A hammer is a tool with one or more purposes, but it can be used to harm someone, and if used in such a manner it is the person wielding not the hammer. Of course, yes, that is true. but... 

Guns are weapons. It is the definition.
noun. a weapon consisting of a metal tube, with mechanical attachments, from which projectiles are shot by the force of an explosive; a piece of ordnance.
 
But beyond an official definition, it is what it is. A gun is a weapon. Does anyone want to argue it is not? And if its a weapon, that is what it is, a weapon is not a 'tool.'
A weapon is "any instrument or device for use in attack or defense in combat, fighting, or war, as a sword, rifle, or cannon."

Like many weapons, such as a sword, a gun has a pretty singular purpose: to injure another creature. A sword at least can be used for defense, to block another weapon, but every gun is solely offensive. Of course some guns are designed to hunt, to injure animals and not necessarily other humans, but many guns are designed with the sole purpose of inuring another human, nothing else.

Most pistols are designed to harm (kill) a human. (Yes they can be used to shoot some small critters). Assault Rifles are definitely designed to kill (harm) other humans, as are civilian AR semi-auto rifles. Anything that is repeating, semi-auto or auto is designed with the sole purpose of harming, and likely killing, people. Want proof that guns, whether low or high powered, are made, with their ammunition, to mortally injure other people, not just chase them off by waving them or a well-placed small injury? Gunshot victims require 10x the blood compared to all victims of other trauma.

But that is all 'justified' by gun 'enthusiasts' in the defense, well, defense.  They only have them to protect themselves from intruders, or even the government (as if even all these people combined together with their stash of guns could defend themselves from a state's National Guard let alone the US Military). 

So let's look at:

The Self-Defense Argument

An NPR article on Guns and self-defense, "According to a Harvard University analysis of figures from the National Crime Victimization Survey, people defended themselves with a gun in nearly 0.9 percent of crimes from 2007 to 2011." Now, this is a survey, so this is people's self-reporting of their idea that they had defended themselves.

Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Based on the 2018 NCVS, the violent victimization rate among persons age 12 or older in 2018 was 23.2 victimizations per 1,000 persons." That could be simpler said as 2.32 victimizations per 100 person, which is easily understood as 2.32%. If we take .9% (defenses) of 2.32% (victimizations), we come up (or down) to .02%. In a city of 100,000 people,that would mean 20 people might have thought they successfully defended themselves.

In the NCV article on SDGU (Self-Defense Gun Use), that found that 0.9% involved a SDGU, "After any protective action, 4.2% of victims were injured; after SDGU, 4.1% of victims were injured." So there is negligible difference in an already low rate of victim injury. Meanwhile in property crimes, "55.9% of victims who took protective action lost property, 38.5 of SDGU victims lost property, and 34.9% of victims who used a weapon other than a gun lost property." So we can see while using some sort of protective action reduces loss of property a little bit, a gun actually had a 4% higher rate of property loss than another form of defense - a quirky statistic to be sure, but there it is. Their conclusion is that "Compared to other protective actions, the National Crime Victimization Surveys provide little evidence that SDGU is uniquely beneficial in reducing the likelihood of injury or property loss." Let's look at those numbers again quick: a .1% less victims were injured if they brandished a gun, and 3.6% more people lost property if they did so. I think that pretty much destroys the idea that guns are some miracle device that protects your home from theft and injury.

Yet the concept still exists. Pro-gun people, led by the increasingly political NRA of recent decades, tout the power of a gun to defend their homes.

What is more likely, in fact, is that a gun in the house will be used for another purpose, accidental harm to someone other than an invader - like a family member or friend, or even more likely, for suicide. 

As the NPR article states, "David Hemenway, who led the Harvard research, argues that the risks of owning a gun outweigh the benefits of having one in the rare case where you might need to defend yourself." Per Hemenway: "The average person ... has basically no chance in their lifetime ever to use a gun in self-defense, but ... every day, they have a chance to use the gun inappropriately. They have a chance, they get angry. They get scared."

The National Safety Council tells us that "Gun-related deaths from preventable, intentional, and undetermined causes totaled 39,740 in 2018." Of those, 14,611 were from murder, while 60% were from suicide. 60% of deaths in America by a gun were from suicide. In fact, accidental gun deaths total 2.7 times the number of intended deaths. 50% of all suicides involve a gun, just think, if a gun wasn't present and a different, usually more difficult, method had to be tried, how many people could be saved. Simply, the presence of a gun in the house is far more likely to be used for self-infliction or even accidental use on a loved-one than to be used for defense, or even a crime. 

And when we compare the US to other developed nations, we are winning. Well, in that we are much higher, which is actually losing. Per the Pew Research Group "The U.S. gun death rate was 10.6 per 100,000 people in 2016... far higher than in countries such as Canada (2.1 per 100,000) and Australia (1.0), as well as European nations such as France (2.7), Germany (0.9) and Spain (0.6)." This starts with the fact that in America we own more guns than nations we think of as violent, and far more than our peers like Canada. We have 120 guns per 100 residents. That's right, we somehow average more than 1 gun per civilian, because those who own guns tend to have many more than one gun. Meanwhile Yemen has 52 per 100, and Canada is 34 per 100.  Germany: 19, England: 4.6. As a quick comparison, in the US we have 81 cars per 100 residents. We own less than 1 car per person, but have 1.2 guns per person..

So what do we do about this? Without outright banning guns, which I said up front I am not for, what steps can we take to reduce gun violence?

Here's one idea:

The Vehicle License Model

When I think of how we can work on fixing this issue, my typical concept is regulation similar to vehicle ownership and operation licensing. There can be a very direct correlation between different classes of vehicles and what we are required to do to pilot one and different classes of guns.

We have to - for the most part - obtain a license to operate vehicles, and there are different licenses for different vehicles: car, motorcycle, commercial vehicles (even split into more classes), planes (helicopters being different). These licenses require proof of understanding, need to be re-tested at certain intervals, and can be revoked for usage or personal wellness factors. Then each vehicle has to be registered. In every state, we are required to have liability insurance at some level, or a bond proof of financial responsibility. And the license to operate, even the vehicle itself, can be revoked and seized based on other actions or statuses of individuals.  

The thing is, we don't even think twice about these types of restrictions when we want to purchase or rent, and pilot a motor vehicle. I don't feel the need to spell out how this is readily applied to handguns, rifles, shotguns, semi-auto, automatic, etc. I think its pretty obvious and easily extrapolated and understood. But, since I am not alone in this thinking and it hasn't gotten off the ground, maybe a different approach is needed.

Instead of the guns themselves, let's look at the ammunition.

Bullets Kill People

In one area I agree with these people: guns don't kill people. Bullets do. The bullet is really the object that does the damage, the gun just propels it. That's why I think an approach to make people safer, and a way we can get around some of the gun ownership arguments, is to better regulate bullets. Make bullets considered a Dangerous substance or good along the lines of drugs, poisons, explosives, corrosive chemicals and the like, especially higher calibers of ammunition. Make ammunition legally considered Controlled Substances.

Require permission to purchase, control the dispensing of it, and set a maximum quantity at any given time. Let them be purchased and used in dedicated locations (like a firing range) but you can't take more than a certain amount home. 

We could even look at some levels of usage as addiction to said controlled substance.

The opportunities are endless if we look at it a different way.

Conclusion

In America we have an obsession with guns. I don't know how we got here and will leave it to experts to argue over what cultural events have had an impact (although this may explain it more than movies or video games, or whatever). Just like with addictions we first need to admit it, then we can look at practical, reasonable solutions to our inflated ownership and inaccurate perceptions of their purpose and usage.

There's so much more I could discuss here, but in my mind at least, it's pretty clear.

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