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?na?ve 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.