Skepticism on Anti-Gun Studies

I’m a bit skeptical on a new study. The BBC says,

Researchers claim a new study provides some of the most compelling evidence yet for tighter gun controls in the US.

The team followed the consequences of the State of Missouri repealing its permit-to-purchase handgun law in 2007.

The law had required purchasers to be vetted by the local sheriff and to receive a licence before buying a gun.

Reporting soon in the Journal of Urban Health, the researchers will say that the repeal resulted in an immediate spike in gun violence and murders.

The study links the abandonment of the background check to an additional 60 or so murders occurring per year in Missouri between 2008 and 2012.

This seems a bit strange to me: gun buyers are still required to undergo a NICS check at the gun dealer (even if they don’t need to get a permit from the sheriff, who also presumably runs the buyer through NICS), so how would doing away with a duplicate check and permit from the local sheriff result in an increase in gun murders?

The team said it took account of changes that occurred in policing levels and incarceration rates, trends in burglaries, and statistically controlled for other possible confounding factors such as shifts in unemployment and poverty.

The team counted a doubling of handguns shortly after sale being recovered from scenes of crimes or from criminals.

Interesting, though I wonder how they define “shortly after sale”. The article does not mention if the handguns being traced were originally purchased in Missouri or brought in from other states. Also, it doesn’t mention how they were able to get access to trace data in the first place, what with the Tiahrt Amendment still being in effect.

According to the article, the study was conducted by “Prof Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.” I note that they forgot a key part of the research center’s name: the proper name is the “Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Center for Gun Policy and Research”.

Being a scientist myself I’m a big fan of science, but I’m skeptical of research produced by think-tanks, particularly those with major funding from a heavily-biased source.

Either way, the study is irrelevant: owning a gun is a Constitutionally-protected right. Requiring a permit or license to exercise any right, even if such permit or license is routinely granted, is wrong, period.

America currently has more than 300 million handguns in circulation. But the issue of gun control remains a hugely contentious one.

I was under the impression that the US had somewhat more than 300 million guns of all types, not just handguns. This was probably just an editing error on the part of the BBC.

Great news from California!

As the Washington Post reports,

A divided federal appeals court on Thursday struck down California’s concealed-weapons rules, saying they violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

By a vote of 2 to 1, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said California was wrong to require applicants to show good cause to receive a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Outstanding. I was born and raised in California and the restrictive gun laws there always chafed a bit (though I later moved to Arizona, where things were better). Although the gun laws in CA have ratcheted ever-more-restrictive over the years (“assault weapons” ban, .50 BMG ban, etc.) it’s nice to see a combo-breaker in the form of this case.

Honestly, this decision (and the recent one out of Illinois that struck down the prohibition on carry) is something I did not expect: I’ve been so used to states like California having increasingly restrictive gun laws, even in the wake of Heller and McDonald, that I more or less gave up hope for those states. I am pleasantly surprised and, to paraphrase Sebastian, I hope this is a step in bringing certain states back to America.

I will also join in with everyone else congratulating Clayton Cramer for having two of his law review articles cited by the court.

Although court decisions like this one are baby steps, they’re steps in the right direction and lay down a good legal precedent for the future.

Update 1: Bob Owens has some choice quotes from the decision here.

Naturally, the Brady Campaign is not happy. They statement claims that, “Neither history or precedent supports this aberrant, split decision that concocts a dangerous right of people to carry hidden handguns in public places to people whom law enforcement has determined that they have no good cause or qualifications to do so.”, which is somewhat strange since the court has, in support of its decision, cited numerous historical and legal precedents. Do the Brady’s offer any sort of citations to legal precedent, court decisions, or historical claims in support of their position? No, they go straight to emotional arguments: “The parents of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin, whose children were killed by licensed concealed-carry holders, could educate the Court about the real dangers posed by this legal error.” That’s pretty weaksauce, even for the Brady’s.

Detroit police chief reiterates pro-CCW stance

From The Detroit News:

Police Chief James Craig responded Thursday to a citizen who criticized his pro-gun stance by reiterating his opinion that “good citizens” who legally carry firearms could help deter violent crime.

[...]

Craig stressed that he doesn’t support vigilantism.

“This is not often talked about: responsibility,” he said. “I do not condone vigilantism. I don’t support individuals arming themselves and doing the work of police officers. Police officers are trained to enforce the law. I think you put people at risk when you have people that are out playing police. I do see that a concealed weapon is an opportunity for self-protection only; not to go out and enforce the law.”

After Thursday’s meeting, Police Commissioner Lisa Carter and her husband, Tyrone Carter — both former police officers — said they agreed with Craig.

“There are a lot of seniors in Detroit who are victims,” Tyrone Carter said. “It’s not vigilantism for people to protect themselves.”

Added Lisa Carter: “That’s all we’re talking about: The right for people to be able to protect themselves.”

Excellent.

You’re on your own

Unfortunately the people calling the police in an active shooter event (or an armed robbery, or a home invasion, etc) don’t have three minutes. Lethal violence typically happens in seconds, not minutes. The bad guys do not announce their presence or intentions ten minutes before they start the fireworks. The police are almost always going to be reacting to an act of violence that is ongoing, meaning they are going to be rushing to the scene where people are already bleeding in a valiant effort to limit the carnage. Not to prevent it. To quote from the report: “Approximately half of the events (49 percent) ended before law enforcement arrived on scene. This points to the phenomenal speed with which these incidents occur.”

The FBI report is acknowledging a simple, inescapable truth: You are on your own.

- Tim at Gun Nuts Media (Emphasis in original.)

Read the whole thing.

On Useless Laws

Slashdot user MBGMorden has written one of the most concise, insightful summaries of why gun control laws are essentially useless. I’ve reproduced their post here for posterity:

 

Murder is against the law, and rightfully so, but that’s because the actual act being outlawed is exactly what you want to prevent. Once a murder has occurred grave harm (literally) has already occurred to another party. Same with theft. Same with rape. Same with assault.

See, all those things are directly harmful to another individual. Making laws against them certainly won’t ever stop such crimes from being committed at all, but it will reduce the frequency.

The issue with plastic guns (or gun laws in general) is that the very act of having a gun isn’t harmful. You can do harmful things with it, but just having one doesn’t cause any harm in and of itself. The people that would use those guns to harm another person are already willing to break laws to do so – laws with much stiffer legal consequences.

Think of the number of guns in the US. There are more guns in this country than there are people. The VAST majority of them are never used in a harmful way, and the vast majority of gun owners are law abiding citizens. Passing gun laws affects most of them (because most of them actually follow the laws), but it does nothing for the tiny fraction of them that do not adhere to the law anyways, and those were the ones you really needed to worry about.

Its not that laws in general are useless – merely that laws that exist solely as an attempt to keep someone from breaking another law are useless.

 

Emphasis mine. That last line sums things up quite nicely.

Veterans for Responsible Solutions: a new anti-gun astroturf group

So, Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords have started a new branch of their gun-control group, Americans for Responsible Solutions. This group is supposed to bring “the experience of military veterans who’ve sworn to defend the Second Amendment and have themselves been well versed in the use of firearms”, according to CNN, who continues with the following:

“I’ve been shot at” while flying, Kelly told reporters on a conference call organized to promote the initiative.

Moreover, there are guns in the Arizona home Kelly shares with Giffords he said, guns used for self-defense and target shooting.

The point Kelly was trying to prove is that neither he nor any member of his organization is looking to repeal or limit Second Amendment rights, likely because the perception of any move against gun ownership in the United States is bound to incite fierce opposition from the powerful pro-gun lobby.

Ok, let’s focus on the last paragraph, where Kelly says he and this group are not trying to repeal or limit Second Amendment rights. While I agree that he’s not trying repeal the amendment (you can’t repeal rights), I’m curious how he can claim to not want to limit the right when his group states that its policy goals are:

  • Criminal Background Checks
  • Limiting High Capacity Magazines
  • Limiting Assault Weapons
  • Stopping Gun Trafficking

The only one of the four policies that wouldn’t infringe or limit the Second Amendment is the last one, as it focuses solely on criminal traffickers of guns. The other three goals seriously infringe on people’s rights: mandatory background checks on all sales would be ineffectively without a registry (else how would you know if a check had been performed?), limiting magazines with a capacity greater than some arbitrary limit (7 in NY, 10 in CA, 15 in CO) puts artificial limits on what people can use for sport or self-defense, and banning the most popular types of guns in the country (which are almost never used in crime) serves no purpose at all except to restrict people’s rights.

In short: essentially everything this group wants to do ends up restricting and limiting the rights of ordinary, law-abiding people while doing essentially nothing that would be effective against crime.

Also, CNN talks about “the powerful pro-gun lobby” as if it were some nebulous, diabolical group instead of tens of millions of law-abiding, gun-owning (and/or gun-rights-supporting) fellow Americans.

Vance Coleman, a retired Army major general, said on the call that he also owns guns. But not everyone should, Coleman continued, namely criminals and the mentally ill.

“They should not own guns and the Congress needs to do something about that,” Coleman said.

Incredibly enough, it’s already illegal for criminals and the mentally ill to own firearms. Their rights can be restricted after due process (e.g. being convicted of a disqualifying crime or being adjudicated mentally defective, involuntarily committed to a mental institution, etc.).

The exact functions of the veterans initiative remains fluid.

In short, it’s an astroturf group that intends to use appeal to authority (that of military vets) to push it’s unconstitutional agenda, but they haven’t quite worked out the details.

Politically, gun control has proven largely unpalatable, particularly with the successful recall elections in September of a pair of Democratic legislators in Colorado who helped push gun control measures.

Indeed. It’s probably wise for politicians to remember this point.

Hat tip to Sebastian. How he keeps up with all the news to find these stories, I have no idea.

WSJ: How to Stop Mass Shootings

I recently read a post by John over at No Lawyers – Only Guns and Money referring to an article by the Wall Street Journal regarding mass shootings, why they take place, and what can be done about it.

If you forgive my quoting from the article, I found this part particularly interesting:

[M]assacre killers are typically marked by what are considered personality disorders: grandiosity, resentment, self-righteousness, a sense of entitlement. They become, says Dr. Knoll, ” ‘collectors of injustice’ who nurture their wounded narcissism.” To preserve their egos, they exaggerate past humiliations and externalize their anger, blaming others for their frustrations. They develop violent fantasies of heroic revenge against an uncaring world.

Whereas serial killers are driven by long-standing sadistic and sexual pleasure in inflicting pain, massacre killers usually have no prior history of violence. Instead, writes Eric W. Hickey, dean of the California School of Forensic Studies, in his 2009 book “Serial Murderers and Their Victims,” massacre killers commit a single and final act in which violence becomes a “medium” to make a ” ‘final statement’ in or about life.” Fantasy, public expression and messaging are central to what motivates and defines massacre killings.

Mass shooters aim to tell a story through their actions. They create a narrative about how the world has forced them to act, and then must persuade themselves to believe it. The final step is crafting the story for others and telling it through spoken warnings beforehand, taunting words to victims or manifestos created for public airing.

Mass shooters aim to tell a story through their actions. They create a narrative about how the world has forced them to act, and then must persuade themselves to believe it. The final step is crafting the story for others and telling it through spoken warnings beforehand, taunting words to victims or manifestos created for public airing.

What these findings suggest is that mass shootings are a kind of theater. Their purpose is essentially terrorism—minus, in most cases, a political agenda. The public spectacle, the mass slaughter of mostly random victims, is meant to be seen as an attack against society itself. The typical consummation of the act in suicide denies the course of justice, giving the shooter ultimate and final control.

We call mass shootings senseless not only because of the gross disregard for life but because they defy the ordinary motives for violence—robbery, envy, personal grievance—reasons we can condemn but at least wrap our minds around. But mass killings seem like a plague dispatched from some inhuman realm. They don’t just ignore our most basic ideas of justice but assault them directly.

The perverse truth is that this senselessness is just the point of mass shootings: It is the means by which the perpetrator seeks to make us feel his hatred. Like terrorists, mass shooters can be seen, in a limited sense, as rational actors, who know that if they follow the right steps they will produce the desired effect in the public consciousness.

All right, that’s a lot of good detail on why people commit these horrible crimes, but what can we do about it? Here’s what they say journalists and police should do:

  • Never publish a shooter’s propaganda.
  • Hide their names and faces.
  • Minimize specifics and gory details.
  • No photos or videos of the event.
  • Talk about the victims but minimize images of grieving families.
  • Decrease the saturation.
  • Tell a different story.

While there is a brief mention of guns (“Massacres also would not be nearly so lethal without the widespread availability of guns and high-capacity magazines designed more for offense than for defense.“), overall the article discusses what motivates mass shooters and some practical, sensible methods of breaking the cycle of killing. The issue is not one of what tool is used to commit such a heinous crime, but why the killer decided to commit it.

The article concludes with the following hope for the future:

The massacre killer chooses to believe it is not he but the world that is filled with hatred—and then he tries to prove his dark vision by making it so. If we can deprive him of the ability to make his internal psychodrama a shared public reality, if we can break this ritual of violence and our own ritual response, then we might just banish these dreadful and all too frequent acts to the realm of vile fantasy.

I agree wholeheartedly and share that same hope.