Sen. Reid proposes more gun control, time to contact your Senators/Representatives

From Guns.com:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid challenged lawmakers on Capitol Hill Monday to expand mandates on background checks for guns, citing the recent murder of two police officers and a concealed-carry permit holder in Las Vegas.

Reid, senior Senator of Nevada’s delegation in that chamber, voiced sadness for the loss of life in the incident, and then called for additional gun control laws.

“We in Congress, we do need to put in place legislation that helps prevent these deranged, these weird, these evil people who carry out such savage acts of violence,” said Reid Monday.

The legislative solution proposed by the Senator?

“Background checks so that people who are criminals, who are deranged can’t buy a gun,” explained Reid. “The American people are depending on us to pass legislation to prevent gun violence and safeguard communities, schools, and families.”

According to the senator, future incidents such as the Las Vegas attack could be mitigated by a move to require all firearms transfers, even those between two otherwise law-abiding citizens, be subject to a background check. At least one of the suspected murderers from this weekend’s violence is known to have a criminal record, although it is currently not known how he obtained the weapons used in the ambush.

“A step in the right direction would be universal background checks, so that people who are criminals, who are deranged, can’t buy a gun,” contends Reid.

It’s probably a good idea to contact your Congresscritters and let them know you oppose such ineffective, feel-good measures. It probably wouldn’t hurt to contact Sen. Reid and let him know too. (I tried contacting him via the website, but the contact form seems unresponsive. Awesome.)

From his own words, it’s clear Sen. Reid (and no doubt others, like Sens. Feinstein and Schumer, not to mention the various gun-control groups) considers banning private sales and mandating all sales be conducted via a licensed dealer as only a “step” towards even more restrictive policies. Better to keep that camel’s nose out of the tent entirely.

Taking a couple minutes to call and express your opinion carries a lot more weight than an email, and sending a brief, polite letter or postcard is also an improvement.

In my case, Sen. Flake of AZ is solidly in the pro-gun-rights camp. McCain is a bit iffy. The senators representing my extended family in California and Massachusetts are essentially lost causes.

As usual, keep up the pressure and let them know that we want “Not One More” gun control law.

Because Vermont has such a crime problem

Supporters of increased controls over guns in Vermont accepted the fact that legislation was going nowhere in 2014.

When lawmakers declined to vote this year on gun-control charter changes passed by Burlington voters in March, gun control supporters opted against raising a ruckus.

Next year will be different, they said Tuesday.

“2015 will be the year,” Ann Braden, president of Gun Sense Vermont, at a Statehouse news conference. The group’s singular focus next legislative session will be to pass a law requiring criminal background checks for all gun transactions, she said.

- Burlington Free Press, via Jeff Soyer.

Obviously, with its lax gun laws Vermont is a violence-infested hellhole. Oh, wait. It’s not. At all.

Considering the blowback that politicians get whenever they propose gun control and its unpopularity among the public, it’s no surprise that this group wants to wait until after the midterm elections before pushing their extreme agenda.

Pretty much any group that says “Everyone loves us and the ideas we espouse, but we’re going to wait until after the election to push those ideas.” is a group you want to avoid. If it’s a good idea and you think you have public support, why put it off until later?

No surprise – Hillary Clinton dislikes freedom

Yesterday, Politico ran an article about Hillary Clinton commenting, in detail, on domestic policy. No surprise, she was pushing for more gun control:

“We have to rein in what has become [an] almost article of faith, that anybody can own a gun anywhere, anytime. And I don’t believe that,” [Hillary Clinton] said.

Why? If people are peaceful, non-violent people, why does it matter if they have guns or not?

Should violent criminals and the dangerously mentally ill be blocked from possessing firearms? Certainly, but considering that the vast, vast majority of people are ordinary, responsible, peaceful people it seems silly to worry about them responsibly owning and carrying arms.

Clinton, who argued it was possible to hold her position and still support the right to gun ownership, warned that unfettered access to guns could have dangerous consequences. She called the country’s approach to guns “way out of balance,” and referred to cases in which gun violence has erupted over minor issues.

I fail to see how overturning restrictive, unconstitutional laws and restoring liberty is somehow “way out of balance”.

I’m not sure what sort of cognitive gymnastics are needed to simultaneously think that restricting the right to keep and bear arms is somehow also supporting that right, but such a performance would be worthy of an Olympic-level gymnast.

And yes, while violence involving firearms has arisen over minor issues, overall gun violence is way, way down since the time her husband was in office, even though the number of guns in private hands has dramatically increased and gun laws have been liberalized.

She painted a dark picture, warning that, “At the rate we’re going, we’re going to have so many people with guns everywhere, fully licensed, fully validated, in settings where [one] could be in a movie theater, and they don’t like someone chewing gum loudly or talking on their cell phone and decide they have the perfect right to defend themselves against the gum chewer or cell phone user by shooting.”

Clinton continued, “That’s what happens in the countries I’ve visited where there’s no rule of law.”

So people who undergo the training and checks needed to get a carry permit — that is, they’re following the law — are somehow more apt to fits of violence? Seems unlikely to me. Certainly, such incidents have happened but they are the exception rather than the rule, and the people who committed such acts are either in jail or facing criminal charges.

It’s nonsensical to compare people who obey the law, get training, background checks, and permits with people in lawless countries.

The proliferation of guns combined with few restrictions on where they can be carried can “give someone the means to respond in the moment in a way that he wouldn’t if a few minutes passed and there was no means to inflict harm … We really have got to get our arms around this,” she said.

I agree with her but not in the way she intends.

I wholeheartedly agree that widespread carriage of arms by the public “give[s] someone the means to respond” that they would otherwise lack if they had “no means to inflict harm”. I think that’s a good thing, because honest people can defend themselves from violent criminals. Without a gun, the honest person is considerably less able to offer meaningful resistance.

While it was always obvious that Mrs. Clinton was never a friend of the Second Amendment or legal gun owners, this is pretty clear-cut evidence that she’s opposed to gun rights.

Bill Maher: “Why Doesn’t The Democratic Party Come Out Against The Second Amendment?”

From Real Clear Politics, National Review, and Sebastian comes this gem:

ELLISON (D-MN): I mean, 27 children were mowed down. Isn’t that enough for us? One of our colleagues, [former Congresswoman] Gabby Giffords, shot in the face.

MAHER: Then why doesn’t your party come out against the Second Amendment? It’s the problem.

ELLISON: I sure wish they would. I sure wish they would.

MAHER: Really? Because I never hear anybody in the Democratic party say that. But they say, ‘I am also a strong supporter.’

I expect Maher to say something like that, but I’m surprised that a US Representative who has taken the Oath of Office to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States” would be so forthright.

Immediately following the above exchange, Rep. Ellison encourages Maher (and the audience) to “[c]heck out the progressive caucus. We have come out very strong for common-sense gun safety rules.” to which Maher replies, “Common-sense gun safety is bullshit.”

For once, I agree with Maher as he defines “common-sense gun safety” as, “It means there are 3,000 types of guns available in the U.S. and you want to ban about 200 of them. [...] It’s not going to change anything.”

Rep. Ellison replies, “No, what it means is that if you want to have grandpa’s shotgun, have it, but get rid of those crazy military-style assault weapons. [...] You can’t solve the problem with just one little thing. You’ve got to make sure that the CDC can issue reports on gun killings and hand gun violence. You’ve got to make sure that we can get rid of assault weapons. You’ve got to close the loophole at gun shows.”

Wow.

If you are interested in seeing your blood pressure rise, click the links and see the video.

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.

Popularity of pro-gun and anti-gun groups on social media

Gun control groups routinely tout that they’re representing some large fraction of Americans in order to boost their claims to legitimacy. I’ve always been a bit skeptical about this, since various public records seem to show extremely low numbers of paid members among gun control groups, and high numbers of paid members of gun-rights groups.

I generally consider paid membership numbers to be more reflective of actual interest, as paid members are putting their money where their mouth is. Still, knowing how popular various groups are on the two major social media services — Facebook and Twitter — can yield some insight, particularly into how interested slightly-to-moderately motivated subset of the population is in what they say. Clicking a button to “Like” something on Facebook or “follow” them on Twitter requires basically no effort and allows one to get updates from those that they “Like” or “follow”. Since there’s essentially no barrier to entry, I’d expect that social media numbers would be a good way to measure the relative interest in what the different groups have to say.

I reviewed the numbers of Facebook “Likes” and Twitter “followers” (hereafter referred to as “subscribers”) for gun rights groups, gun companies and industry trade groups, and anti-gun groups on November 8th, 2013 at about 9:00pm UTC. Here’s what I found:

Gun Rights Groups:

  • National Rifle Association (Facebook): 2,748,839
  • National Rifle Association (Twitter): 191,692
  • Gun Owners of America (Facebook): 276,867
  • Gun Owners of America (Twitter): 22,786
  • Second Amendment Foundation (Facebook): 119,810
  • Second Amendment Foundation (Twitter): 4,962

Gun Industry:

  • National Shooting Sports Foundation (Facebook): 157,718
  • National Shooting Sports Foundation (Twitter): 21,104
  • SHOT Show – run by NNSF (Facebook): 44,573
  • SHOT Show – run by NSSF (Twitter): 23,649
  • Glock, Inc. (Facebook): 614,185
  • Glock, Inc. (Twitter): 63,336
  • Smith & Wesson (Facebook): 680,937
  • Smitth & Wesson: (Twitter): 54,447
  • Sturm, Ruger & Company (Facebook) 345,734
  • Sturm, Ruger & Company (Twitter): 18,310

Gun Control Groups:

  • Americans for Responsible Solutions (Facebook): 89,414
  • Americans for Responsible Solutions (Twitter): 210,7081
  • Mayors Against Illegal Guns (Facebook): 19,271
  • Demand Action – MAIG on Twitter (Twitter): 26,860
  • Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America (Facebook): 122,938
  • Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America (Twitter): 12,254
  • Brady Campaign (Facebook): 58,650
  • Brady Campaign (Twitter): 17,170
  • Violence Policy Center (Facebook): 20,571
  • Violence Policy Center (Twitter): 1,934
  • CSGV (Facebook): 46,314
  • CSGV (Twitter): 9,575

What does this tell us? First off, it’s noteworthy to point out that all groups except Americans for Responsible Solutions had far more subscribers on Facebook than on Twitter. Perhaps the ability to post arbitrary-length messages on Facebook is preferable to the 140-character limit imposed by Twitter?

The fact that the NRA has the largest number of subscribers is unsurprising: they are a huge organization and have ~5 million dues-paying members and a very active public outreach group. They also have a substantial number of subscribers on Twitter.

I was surprised by the number of subscribers to the Gun Owners of America Facebook account: the GOA is a no-compromise group that, while having about 300,000 dues-paying members, also has nearly that many Facebook subscribers, about 77% the number of Facebook subscribers to all the gun control groups combined.

I was also surprised at the number of subscribers to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The NSSF is the firearms industry trade group and I don’t normally think of it catering to the general public. Still, it has more Facebook subscribers than all but one of the gun control groups. The SHOT Show, an annual trade show for the shooting sports industry, is not open to the public yet still has more Facebook subscribers than the CSGV, VPC, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns and more Twitter subscribers than all but two of the gun control groups.

Glock and Smith & Wesson, both gun companies, each have roughly 2x the number of Facebook subscribers of all of the gun control groups combined. Each has more Twitter followers than all but one of the gun control groups. Ruger has roughly as many Facebook followers as all the gun control groups combined, and more Twitter subscribers than half of the gun control groups.

Even though there’s essentially no effort involved in subscribing to a group’s Facebook or Twitter feed and people can subscribe with a single click, the gun control groups have a rather poor showing: the only group to exceed 100,000 subscribers on Facebook (something achieved by every pro-gun or industry group, with the exception of the SHOT Show) was Moms Demand Gun Sense in America. They are roughly tied for subscribers as the Second Amendment Foundation, a group more normally found successfully fighting legal battles in courtrooms rather than reaching out to the public on social media. MDA has fewer Twitter followers than any individual pro-gun or industry group with the exception, again, of the SAF.

The NRA alone has more Facebook subscribers than all of the Facebook and Twitter subscribers of all of the anti-gun groups combined. Talk about the 800lb gorilla in the room.

It’s pretty clear that the pro-gun-rights side has far more popular support, not only among dues-paying members, but also among people who need only click a mouse button to register their support.

As to whether or not these levels of support hold when extended to include the general public, I leave as an exercise to the reader and the professionals.

If anyone has details on other groups, either pro- or anti-gun that you’d like me to add to the list, please let me know and I’d be happy to add them. I just picked the groups that I happened to be aware of and that had at least a moderate presence on these two social media platforms.

  1. There is no official ARS Twitter account, so this is the sum of followers for Rep. Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, as their individual accounts are mentioned specifically on the ARS website and who have 139,800 and 70,908 followers, respectively. []

Feinstein: “Gun owners” have “hammerlock” on Congress

From Politico:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein says the shooting at the Los Angeles International Airport underscores the need for an assault weapons ban and greater gun control measures.

That’s strange, I thought that “assault weapons” were already illegal in California. Same thing with standard-capacity magazines, transporting a loaded firearm, public endangerment, assault, attempted murder, murder, etc. Go figure.

A strong supporter of an assault weapons ban, the California Democrat said, “the weapon was a .223 MP-15, where the MP stands for military and police, clearly designed not for general consumption … Same gun that was used at Aurora. Would I do a bill? Sure, I would do a bill. I mean, I believe this down deep in my soul.”

She evidently thinks that the name thought up by the S&W marketing guys in 1899 for a revolver means that a modern gun bearing the same brand name is only meant for military and police. That doesn’t really make much sense at all.

But Feinstein said that such a bill would be very difficult to pass. “There’s a hammer lock on the Congress by the gun owners and gun people,” she said.

Good. In addition to “gun owners” and “gun people”, there’s this pesky thing called “the Constitution”, several Supreme Court decisions, and the pesky lack of evidence as to the effectiveness of such a ban.

That said, I like the fact that she credits gun owners and “gun people” rather than the nebulous “gun lobby”.

In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman introduced the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, but the bill stalled.

“Stalled” is putting it mildly. “Was utterly crushed by a 40-60 vote in the Senate” is somewhat more accurate.

Honestly, I don’t know why she keeps bringing it back up: it isn’t going to reduce crime, every time she mentions it gun owners get whipped into a frenzy, and there’s substantial opposition to the bill among both the citizenry and the legislature. Fortunately for the pro-gun-rights side, this often ends up poisoning other less-restrictive-but-still-infringing gun control measures so they rarely gain any headway. You’d think after several years of this she’d learn to avoid this particular topic.

On pro-gun Democrats and the future of gun rights

As usual, Sebastian has a way with words and groking politics that I wish I had:

Part of making the Democrats pro-gun again is just to create a perception that gun control is a losing issue by continuing to defeat anti-gun Democrats, and to do that, we need single-issue Dems that are willing to cross the aisle when it counts. I think the overwhelming defeat of Angela Giron in Colorado is strong evidence that such folks exist.

So that’s what we ultimately need: single issue voters in the Democratic Party willing to vote in Democratic primaries for pro-gun candidates, and become involved enough in their local party races so that the people in the party know that there’s a gun vote to be pandered to. More importantly that those party leaders know that that gun vote will cross the aisle in a heartbeat if an anti-gun candidate wins. There really isn’t any insurgency involved. It just takes winning elections.

Read the whole thing.

Personally, I’m more of a mixed bag when it comes to politics. I’m quite socially liberal, somewhat fiscally conservative (particularly on the federal level or things involving most corporate subsidies, but I support taxpayer funding of things like libraries, education, basic healthcare, etc.), and generally want to be free to live my life as I see fit without my interfering with others (I’m not a terribly nosy person) and without others interfering with my life (at least insofar as my actions don’t harm others). I typically vote for the candidate that I feel would best represent and benefit both myself and my community (or state or country), regardless of what party they belong to.

For various reasons, gun rights seems to more connected with the American political right (likely due to the Republicans having a strong presence in rural areas with large numbers of gun owners, while Democrats tend to have a strong presence in urban areas with fewer gun owners, and suburbs being a mixture of the two to varying degrees) and I think that’s unfortunate, as I consider gun rights to be a “liberty” issue, similar to free speech, privacy, etc.

Linking gun rights to a specific party is dangerous: civil rights should not depend on a particular party’s success (or failure) in the polls — such links end up being highly divisive and can have a significant negative effect. As an example, look at the recent Virginia gubernatorial election: McAuliffe is publicly anti-gun and mentioned that in his campaign. Cuccinelli, on the other hand, was pro-gun but also had a lot of political baggage that turned off pro-gun Democrats who might be willing to vote for him otherwise. That is, in the minds of pro-gun Democrats, the cost of voting for Cuccinelli in terms of non-gun issues would exceed the pro-gun benefit. Since it’s difficult to separate out the specific issues that motivate voters, I wouldn’t be surprised if McAuliffe (and Bloomberg) trumpets his victory as referendum on gun policy even if it was a relatively minor issue in the election.

Separating gun rights from a specific political party would be far more productive, beneficial, and stable over the long term: if both Democratic and Republican voters nominated pro-gun candidates in their respective primaries, it would be clear that gun rights is something that is widely supported by members of both parties, making it easier to form a consensus, and avoiding divisive party politics on this particular issue.
If we, the gun-owning community, want to preserve our rights in the long-term we need to work to get the pro-gun-rights message heard by all candidates by members of their own party and to separate the pro-gun issue from a specific party and the baggage that comes with it.

Comments on Nick Symmonds’ article in Runner’s World

Nick Symmonds at Runners World (of all places) recently published an article calling for more gun control. Let’s take a look:

I love my Second Amendment right. I was raised in Boise, Idaho, and have been hunting the Treasure Valley for upland game and waterfowl since I was strong enough to carry a gun. I come from a long line of hunters who take pride in the time-honored tradition of stalking game, killing it ethically, and providing food for their families. I was raised to appreciate the awesome power of firearms and to treat all guns as if they are loaded. I own several guns and would be sad to part with them.

Hi there. I was born in San Francisco, and raised just outside the city. Other than shooting some .22 rifles in the Boy Scouts, I never held a gun until I was 21. My family has no history with the shooting sports and I don’t have much interest in hunting. Nonetheless, I also love my Second Amendment right (as well as all the other enumerated and unenumerated rights protected by the Constitution and other laws). I have a deep respect for firearms and I too would be sad to part with them.

All of that being said, I make this appeal to the members of the United States Congress: For the sake of your citizens, please pass some gun-control legislation.

Why? What would that accomplish?

I’m going to channel Joe Huffman by asking, “Can you demonstrate one time or place, throughout all history, where the average person was made safer by restricting access to handheld weapons?”

On Friday, I was booked to fly from Los Angeles to Eugene, Oregon. That morning, a gunman walked into LAX with a semiautomatic assault rifle and opened fire, killing a TSA officer and wounding several other people. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be booked on an afternoon flight.

As I travelled to LAX that afternoon, the scene was chaotic. It was impossible to drive up to the terminals, so people were walking to the airport from the nearest parking lots. With several pieces of luggage, I hiked two miles from the rental car agency to Terminal 7. Inside the airport people were stressed and scared. As I went through security and looked at the TSA officers, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through the minds of these hardworking men and women.

Seriously, that situation sounds pretty bad. I wouldn’t wish such chaos on anyone.

Still, I’m not sure how more laws would have made the situation any different or prevented it: it’s been illegal to own or possess magazines exceeding 10 rounds in California made after 1989 (the shooter had several), many variants of the AR-15 rifle are illegal in California, it’s illegal to carry loaded firearms in California without a permit,  it’s illegal to discharge a gun in Los Angeles (and most places), it’s illegal to break through a security checkpoint at the airport, it’s illegal to possess weapons in the “sterile” area at an airport, it’s illegal to murder (or attempt to murder) people, etc.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, criminals break laws. I’m not sure what making their illegal actions more illegal would accomplish. (And no, just because I recognize that criminals break laws and that I oppose a specific proposal doesn’t mean that I think all laws are useless and we should live in complete anarchy. See here and here for a more detailed discussion on that particular topic.)

Why do we allow ourselves to live in this kind of environment? Are we seriously going to let a small, radical contingent of our population keep us living as if in the Wild West? I would gladly hand in all of my weapons if I knew that doing so would prevent any more gun-related murders in this country.

I don’t know about Mr. Symmonds’ life in particular, but crime statistics show that for the vast majority of Americans not involved with gangs, the drug trade, or efforts to combat them, violence occurs incredibly rarely. Indeed, gun-related homicide has decreased to historically low levels. In an article for the Washington Post, Randolph Roth, professor of history at Ohio State and author of a landmark study on the history of killing in the US, says the nation’s homicide rate in 2011 was as low as it’s been in the past 100 years. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, the 2011 homicide rate was the lowest of any year since 1963.

And yet, even with homicide at such historically low levels, the public is largely unaware. In a March, 2013 survey, the Pew Research Center found that 56% of Americans believe that crimes involving a gun have increased over the last 20 years (in fact, gun crime has dropped significantly).

In short, the environment of chaos, violence, and confusion that Mr. Symmonds is referring to is, in fact, quite rare — gun crime has dropped by roughly 50% since he was born.

In regards to his comment about a supposed radical group of people trying to keep us living in what he imagines the Wild West to be, I’m not sure what to say, so I’ll quote Mr. Granderson in his opinion piece at CNN: “The folks spraying our cities with bullets are not NRA members or legal gun owners. And despite the tendency to tie it all together, they have nothing to do with the Adam Lanzas of the world. [...] This is why gun-control advocates need to abandon the routine of using mass shootings to turn law-abiding citizens into social pariahs and instead focus on something that could work.”

Considering there’s been essentially no negative effects resulting from the liberalization of concealed carry laws and the expiration of the federal AWB in 2004, advocating for the continued legality of handguns and modern rifles for lawful purposes hardly seems “radical”. If anything, it would seem to be “common sense”.

Mr. Symmonds is welcome to hand is his weapons if he thinks that would help prevent murders. Unless he’s inclined to murder people (which seems unlikely), I don’t really see how that action could have much of an effect on murder rates.

Moving on.

As Americans, we have a long history with firearms. We also have a government built on compromise, so here is the compromise I propose: Ban assault rifles and handguns for everyone except police and military personnel. These weapons are made to kill humans and should be strictly limited. At the same time, allow responsible citizens to own rifles and shotguns. Rifles are for hunting big-game animals, shotguns are for hunting birds; non-automatic versions of these weapons should be available for those with an interest in hunting or target shooting.

(Emphasis in original.)

Perhaps Mr. Symmonds is unaware, but hunting is no longer the top reason why people own guns. I’ll refer to a different study conducted in February, 2013 by the Pew Research Center, in which they find that 48% of gun owners say they own a gun for “protection” (vs. 26% in August, 1999). Hunting is listed as the top reason by 32% of gun owners in 2013 vs. 49% in 2013. Target/sport shooting, collecting guns, owning guns as a hobby, and owning guns simply because it’s one’s Second Amendment right, each garnered single-digit percentages. (An October survey by Gallup has similar results, with “protection” being listed as the primary reason by 60% of those polled.)

That’s not to say that hunting is not popular, but people are primarily buying, owning, and using guns for non-hunting purposes these days and the market reflects that. Concealed carry is now available (to greater or lesser extents) in every state in the country. The very properties that make a handgun dangerous in the hands of a criminal (e.g. its light weight, ease of concealment and carriage, and modest power) make it ideal for private citizens, police officers, and others for defensive purposes. Fortunately, there are far more good people in the country than there are criminals, and handguns are overwhelmingly used for safe and lawful purposes. (As with any population, there are exceptions, but the vast majority of gun owners are peaceable, law-abiding people and exceptions to this rule are exceedingly rare.)

The AR-15 is among the most popular models of guns in the United States, as it’d easily adapted to a wide range of shooting activities, sports, and, yes, protection. Hunting rifles and shotguns are quite popular as well, but they tend to be less flexible in their uses.

According to a study funded by the Department of Justice, AR-15s and other modern sporting rifles are use in only a tiny fraction of crimes involving a gun (typically around 2%). The same study concluded, “Should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement. [Assault weapons] were rarely used in gun crimes even before the ban.”

Why should millions of ordinary, non-criminal gun owners give up a specific model (or group of models) of gun when there’s no evidence that they are in any way responsible for crimes or that such guns are widely used by criminals, nor any evidence that their giving up those particular guns would have any meaningful effect on public safety?

Of course, none of this takes into consideration that handguns and other firearms in common use are protected by the Constitution (see DC v. Heller) so banning them is off the table anyway.

On a related note, I find it somewhat ironic that he proposes banning common semi-auto guns while he, in the picture included in the original article, is holding a semi-auto shotgun.

It’s true that guns don’t kill people; people do. But when deranged individuals decide to kill, they too often use assault rifles and handguns.

Mr. Symmonds is correct about the criminal use of handguns: a majority of homicides involving a gun are committed with a handgun. The criminal use of rifles is extremely uncommon, and his statement involving rifles is not correct.

As runners, we cover a lot of territory. Our runs take us from “safe” neighborhoods to more “dangerous” parts of town and everything in between. We pound the pavement, hearts pumping, lungs aching, unarmed with only a millimeter of dry-fit shirt to protect us. To some, we look like good targets, as was the case of Christopher Lane in Oklahoma. While out for a jog in August, Christopher was shot to death by several “bored” teenagers – and the autopsy indicated the shooter used a handgun.

Runners do indeed cover a lot of territory and it’s true that criminals may well regard them as good targets. Still, such crimes are so rare as to be exceptional. As a personal anecdote, the runners I know dislike running with more than they absolutely need, so they tend to run without carrying any valuables so I’m not sure how good of a target the typical runner would be.

That said, it’s certainly not uncommon for runners (or other people) to carry various means of self-defense (including handguns) while out and about. I doubt that Mr. Symmonds intends that more people carry rifles or shotguns (even those of a more traditional style) while in public for self-protection, but in the absence of legally owned and carried handguns, what other effective means of self-protection would be available to the public?

Christopher was one of us, and we owe it to him and others to make sure his death wasn’t in vain. I have decided I will not vote for any political candidate who does not support gun-control legislation – and I implore you to join me in this stance.

It’s noble for Mr. Symmonds to honor the memory of a fellow runner and, while I have no doubts about his his sincerity, I do question the effectiveness of his proposed actions.

Murders involving a gun are typically committed by people who have an extensive criminal history (it’s quite rare for someone to just “snap” and commit a murder) and who would, under current laws, be prohibited from owning or possessing guns. Even though their possession of a gun (not to mention the act of committing murder) is illegal, they still manage to acquire guns. The federal government banned a large number of so-called “assault weapons” between 1994 and 2004 (and several states had state-level bans from even earlier that are still in effect) and there was no meaningful effect on crime rates. Several states have (or had) extremely strict laws on handgun ownership, again with essentially no effect on crime rates.

The actions that Mr. Symmonds proposes would overwhelmingly affect ordinary, peaceful, law-abiding people who own handguns and modern rifles while likely having no significant effect on criminals. For that reason, I think that his proposal is naïve and would be ineffective at achieving his goal of reducing murders (and presumably other violent crime). There’s tons of things that would be far more effective at reducing the rate of murder and violence than banning commonly-owned firearms: helping the poor and downtrodden, providing meaningful alternatives to gang life, removing the economic incentives behind drug trafficking, to name but a few.

In summary, forcing law-abiding people to give up their most effective means of self-protection is unlikely to stop criminals from getting or using guns for nefarious, illegal purposes. I’m not sure what Runner’s World hoped to accomplish by stepping into the discussion over gun laws, but it seems that there’s a lot of people who are unhappy about their decision.

On gun control via government purchasing

As I do on occasion, I was perusing some of the various gun control groups sites and seeing what they were up to. In so doing, I discovered an interesting proposal that I had not previously known about: using the purchasing power of government agencies like police departments to implement gun control.

Although some people, including former Governor of New York Elliot Spitzer, have written about such strategies in the past, I’ve not heard of it before now. Gov. Spitzer’s explains the strategy:

Here is how it could work with guns: The Defense Department and the city of New York are among the largest purchasers of guns. If the president and the mayor truly believe that semi-automatic weapons should not be available to private purchasers, and that magazines with more than 10 bullets should not be sold over the counter, they should simply say that, from now on, the federal government and the city of New York, as a matter of public safety, will not buy any weapons or ammunition from companies that do not agree to pull semi-automatics from their stock and refuse to produce magazines with more than 10 rounds other than for sale to the government. President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg should announce that semiautomatic handguns with high-capacity magazines—the kind used in Oak Creek; Aurora, Colo.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Virginia Tech—can no longer be sold to private citizens by any company that wants to do business with the federal government and the city of New York.

The major gun manufacturers will agree to the limits imposed by their major customers.

Gov. Spitzer’s plan is certainly interesting, but it relies on a few key assumptions without which the entire scheme collapses:

  1. Government sales constitute a sufficiently large fraction of gun sales that manufacturers would be unwilling to lose their business, thus restricting what’s available for public sale to keep government business.
  2. No other manufacturer would step in to fill the gap left by those playing along with the government.

While point #1 may apply to certain companies that are particularly reliant on government sales (what’s the breakdown of government:civilian sales for companies like, say, Colt?), it’s unlikely to matter for a lot of the smaller companies — I doubt that Stag Arms, Mega Arms, Magpul, and other relatively small manufacturers of somewhat “controversial” things like AR-15s, magazines holding more than 10 rounds, or guns with black plastic bits really care much if the Defense Department or the government of the State of New York don’t buy their stuff because they probably don’t buy their products already. They can’t lose sales they’re not already making, so this strategy can’t apply any sort of leverage against them.

Point #1 also breaks down when you look at sales figures: sure, a government agency may be the largest single customer of a particular company, but they make up a relatively small amount of total sales. As an example, let’s be generous and say that the State of New York is a manufacturer’s largest single customer and contributes to 10% of the company’s total income with the rest coming from smaller customers (e.g. local police departments, say a combined total of 10%) and individual buyers (80%). Even if the local police departments play along with the state, why would a company eschew 80% of its sales to appease a minority of its customers? That wouldn’t be good publicity for the company, particularly when the government makes it clear that they’re doing this specifically to apply leverage — what’s to stop the government from asking for more in the future and cutting off purchases if they don’t get what they want?

Point #2 reflects the state of the market: ARs are among the most popular guns in the country for private citizens. Manufacturers have been running around-the-clock to keep up with demand and there’s still a backlog. It would be foolish in the extreme for one company to simply give up their share of that market, generate enormous customer backlash, and allow other companies to take their place. There’s plenty of competition in the market, and while there might be some disruption if one of the big contract forges/casting houses leaves the market, someone else will happily take their place. Again, while the government might be the largest single customer of certain companies, they almost certainly make up a relatively small fraction of their over all sales, and there’s plenty of companies who don’t really care about government sales and so wouldn’t be pressured at all.

This doesn’t even begin to take into account that there’s a huge number of guns that are hugely popular with private citizens but almost never purchased by government buyers — how many governments purchase imported AK clones? Saiga shotguns? Ruger Mini-14s (yes, I know they’re reasonably popular with officers in jails/prisons, but you rarely see police using them outside of that context)? How many agencies buy Kel-Tec rifles, Kahr pistols, M1As, or any of the zillions of other products that anti-gun people would restrict if they could?

Of course, the strategy doesn’t take into account the fact that the government is a purchaser of items, not a manufacturer. If the large manufacturers decided to stop selling their products to the government (Barrett was the first major company I can recall that did this, and now there’s quite a few other companies who refuse to sell guns or accessories to governments in states that infringe the rights of private citizens). I think it’s more plausible that gun companies would band together and refuse to sell or service products to governments that infringe the rights of their citizens (thus applying leverage to change policy for the better) than for governments to use their relatively minor purchasing power to influence gun companies.

As always, I welcome the thoughts and comments of readers.