Rushing to Be Part of the Gun Problem

There are other countries, other cultures where guns are owned and handled more responsibly than they are here. There could be a healthier gun culture here I think. I see bits of it among friends who own guns. I think my household is part of it, mostly.

Still, it’s something that lives largely only in its potential. Good culture, good gun practices and attitudes can only grow so much in isolation. The more minds dedicated to building a healthy culture, the faster and better it will grow.

We don’t have many minds dedicated to a healthy gun culture in our country. Those there are don’t have many opportunities to get together and share ideas, which is also required for growth. Why? Because every time the conversation starts, people jump up to defend and reinforce one of the unhealthiest gun cultures in the world. [Read more…]

Stand Your Ground: White Men Only

You already know about John McNeil, the black man in Georgia who was imprisoned for shooting a man who had just threatened his son with a knife.

The afternoon of December 6th, 2005, Brian Epp showed up in John McNeil’s yard. McNeil’s son, La’Ron, testified that Epp threatened him with a knife, and La’Ron ran into the house to call his father on the phone. McNeil immediately called 911 for help, and when he arrived in his driveway, Epp was getting something from his own truck. John McNeil grabbed his handgun from the glove compartment, as Epp quickly approached him. McNeil fired a warning shot into the ground, trying to keep Epp back. As Epp kept coming towards him, he reached into his pocket, and John McNeil shot Brian Epp once in the head.

A neighbor who witnessed the incident corroborated McNeil’s statements to the police, and John McNeil was not arrested. Georgia has a Stand Your Ground law, and John McNeil’s actions-defending his family against a threatening and violent intruder-were the classic Stand Your Ground case. A year later, John McNeil was on trial for murder, he was convicted and is now serving a life sentence in prison. The prosecutor received “anonymous” emails, including one discovered to be from Brian Epp’s widow, demanding the state try John McNeil. And the prosecutor gave in.

Now meet Marissa Alexander, who is waiting to be sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison for aggravated assault. [Read more…]

Who’s the Hero?

So you’ve seen that some guy with a grudge and a gun shot up a school board meeting before killing himself. If you haven’t seen the video (and the standard macho posturing about how the guy had to be a horrid shot because he missed all the people and some dumbass blog commenters can hit a paper target while under no stress whatsoever), check out Greg’s post on the event.

Checking out the news coverage, I was struck a bit oddly by all the articles referring to school security chief Mike Jones as a hero.

Don’t get me wrong. The guy did his job and did it well from what’s being reported. He held off firing his gun until the board members were in more danger from the hostage taker than they would be from his bullets flying around the room. He kept his head and his aim and managed to fire at another human being, which is (and should be) much harder than gun nuts generally give credit for. He lived up to his training and his responsibilities.

However, there is also Ginger Littleton:

Ginger Littleton took about 30 seconds to decide she was going to use her hand-me-down purse to try to knock a gun out of the hands of the man threatening her colleagues on Tuesday.

In the hours afterward, she’d concede it probably wasn’t the best idea. But at the time, she worried she was the only person in position to stop a slaughter at the Bay District School Board meeting in Panama City, Florida.

So Littleton — the one board member the gunman had released, because she was a woman — re-entered the room, sneaked up from behind and swung.

This. This is heroism. Stopping and turning around to go back, totally unprepared, because you’re the only person in a position to make a difference. Taking action despite the risks. Doing what you can because you must.

Yet Littleton is only rarely being touted as a hero, while Jones is everywhere. Sure, Jones is what we’ve been told a hero is. He is male and armed and was generally successful. One of those is a good thing generally, but it does not a hero make.

So why isn’t Littleton being hailed as the hero she is?

Gun Factoids–Concealed Carry

One of the tidbits you often hear in gun control arguments is that states with concealed carry laws have lower rates of violent crime. Based on 2006 data from the Census Bureau and the FBI, here’s how things broke down.

Violent Crime Total (incidence per 100,000)
Unrestricted Carry: 425
Shall Issue (state law requires issuance of permit): 476
May Issue (issuing authority allowed some discretion): 475
No Issue: 481

So, yes, states allowing concealed carry did have slightly lower violent crime rates in 2006. Violent crime here means attempted and completed assault, murder, robbery, rape, and sexual assault. Let’s see how concealed carry does with completed crimes. Note that the lowest numbers here are going to fluctuate the most from year to year.

Robbery
Unrestricted Carry: 8.3
Shall Issue: 1.9
May Issue: 1.3
No Issue: 4.2

Aggravated Assault
Unrestricted Carry: 310
Shall Issue: 294
May Issue: 277
No Issue: 272

Forcible Rape
Unrestricted Carry: 51
Shall Issue: 35
May Issue: 24
No Issue: 24

Murder
Unrestricted Carry: 3.7
Shall Issue: 5.8
May Issue: 5.4
No Issue: 6.1

Hmm, not looking great for concealed carry, except for unrestricted carry in the category with the lowest, most variable numbers. While it’s not a violent crime, let’s also look at the breakdown for suicide.

Suicide
Unrestricted Carry: 18
Shall Issue: 13
May Issue: 9
No Issue: 9

Ouch.

Now, for caveats: This is one year of data. Rates vary from year to year. None of this is meant to suggest, on its own at least, that a strongly interpreted right to carry is bad for you or makes you less. What it is meant to do is demonstrate how small a piece of the picture the cited (slightly) lower rate of violent crime actually is. It doesn’t do nearly enough to prove that guns make you safer or stop crimes from being completed.

Remember that the next time you hear it.

How Well Does Your Gun Protect You?

The last time there was a discussion on Greg Laden’s blog regarding the necessity of firearms, the topic turned to home invasion, which is the classic protect-the-women-and-children fantasy scenario for gun nuts (which are a distinct subset of gun owners). I pulled some statistics to find out what kind of protection guns afforded. Since the subject of relative safety continues to come up, I’m reposting and expanding the information here for handy reference.

In 2006, approximately 447,000 robberies were reported to the FBI. Of these, 14.3% occurred in the home and 42.2% involved a firearm, for about 27,000 home robberies involving a firearm annually. I’m assuming, in the absence of better data, that firearm involvement is evenly distributed between home and non-home robberies, although a higher level of injury encountered in workplace robberies suggests that this may be overstating the involvement of firearms in home robberies.

This translates to an annual, per capita, U.S. rate of firearm-related, home robberies of about 0.0001. Given a risk of injury in all robberies of about 35% (pdf) (with the same caveats about workplace robberies given above), that gives us approximately 9,000 firearm-related home-robbery injuries annually, or an annual per capita risk of 0.00003. Given that the FBI reports only 1,000 deaths during any robberies in all of 2006, the total annual per capita risk of death during robbery during home invasion, using the same assumptions, would be 0.0000002. In other words, tiny.

There are other elements of real crime patterns that don’t match the heroic family-saving home-invasion scenario. Random violence is rare compared to our expectations, with only 60% of the robberies in 2006 (pdf) being committed by strangers and with almost no difference in the rate at which victims require medical treatment between stranger and nonstranger interactions (12% versus 10%).

Also, heroics aren’t guaranteed to succeed. In less than 30% of all 2006 robberies in which another party tried to intervene did the action have a positive effect on the situation. In about 16%, it had a negative effect. This is definitely a net benefit, but it isn’t a certain one, and the statistics on resistance with all weapons accounts for less than 2% of the situations evaluated.

In contrast, the CDC reported 2006 firearm-related deaths at about 31,000 (pdf), roughly the same as the total number of home robberies–not injuries, just death. Approximately 60% of these were accident (1,000) or suicide (17,000). Yes, some of those suicides would have tried another method, but firearm suicides are about three times as likely to succeed as the next most successful method, bringing specifically firearm-related non-homicide deaths in around 13,000.

Homicide deaths from all methods were about 19,000. Gun homicides accounted for 13,000 of these. Given that 12% of homicide victims in that year were known to have been killed by family, that gives us another 1,000 or so people killed by guns kept by them or someone close to them, for a total of 14,000. For death, not injury.

I’ll take the risk of injury during robbery.

Tin Revolutionaries

Apropos of the discussion here and here.

If you ever have to rely on the Second Amendment to save you from a tyrannical government, you’ve left things too late. Several decades too late, in fact.

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but the world has changed since the days of the Revolutionary War. Most of these changes are improvements, such as the availability of clean, safe water and the ability to communicate nearly globally nearly instantly. Some changes, like a globalized food chain, are more a matter of cost improvements. Whatever the reason for the changes, they’ve come, and dragging behind them have come the changes in our infrastructure to support them.

Changes, not additions. We’ve dismantled the older, simpler structures that we used to rely on, abandoning redundancy for efficiency. How many people can still draw water from wells if they want to? How many have even a kitchen garden? How much commerce can we still support via unpowered water travel? How many people know what to do about a high fever in the absence of NSAIDs or how to know when a doctor is really needed without referring to the internet or a nurse line?

Not to belittle the sacrifices and hardships of the American revolutionaries, but by virtue of their decentralized infrastructure and economy, they didn’t face the same kind of collapse that we would under a modern armed revolutionary scenario. There was a time when the question of who was in power made so little difference to the average citizen (i.e., peasant) that revolution was a game for only nobles and anyone unlucky enough to be drafted into their armies. That time is no more. Any militia that wanted to overthrow our government by armed force would have to be very well-organized indeed in order to avoid a massive humanitarian catastrophe.

They would need to have a plan in place to keep the water flowing, the lights turned on and supplies coming in from outside. (Napoleon’s problems in Russia were nothing compared to our global, just-in-time supply organization.) They’d also need to be able to communicate that plan convincingly to the rest of the population. If they didn’t, the population would–rightly–view them as nothing more than criminals willing to sacrifice everyone else’s lives to further their own cause. The revolutionaries would very quickly be fighting on two fronts.

In other words, in order to be successful, any revolution would have to be so well-organized as to be the thing it wanted to replace. It would have to be a true revolution of the people, even if it were directed from above.

What would a popular revolution look like? In fact, I’ve seen one take hold during my lifetime. The regressive movement that sought to undo the cultural changes accompanying our switch from an agrarian to an industrial economy and to roll back the economic regulation designed to keep industrialization from reinstituting oligarchy showed the true shape of a modern American revolution. The conservative movement, as they prefer to be known, seized power in this country through the perfectly legal means of making sure they had representatives at every level of government, from schoolteachers to city clerks to the Supreme Court. Nary a gun in sight.

Sure, political and bureaucratic takeover isn’t as sexy as a cold, sleek piece of metal that makes noise and holes, but it’s the reality. Eric Rudolph didn’t change anything for any length of time except his own address. Same with the mountain militias. Same with every idiot who ever shot a government agent performing their duties.

Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols did make a difference, but it was only to persuade others to allow more restrictions in movement around and access to government buildings. They ultimately increased the number of people and vehicles subject to government searches. That wasn’t what they were after. That isn’t what anyone who points to the Second Amendment is after.

No, the people who have done the most to fight the tyranny of the U.S. government in my lifetime have used other amendments in their cause. They have spoken. They have assembled. They have reported. They have filed suit over unreasonable search and seizure or over unequal treatment.

More recently, they have staged the beginning of a counter-revolution to remove the regressives from power. Again, it was done without guns. It did, however, provide a glimpse of what the American populace thinks of having its infrastructure and economy threatened. Ask McCain or the wave of retiring Republican representatives about the kind of political support offered to anyone associated with a person or movement responsible for jeopardizing people’s standard of living. They’ll tell you how quickly decades of popularity evaporates and how loudly the hounds bay for blood.

And that’s a lesson to which any would-be revolutionary should pay attention.