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.

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): 210,708 ((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.))
  • 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.

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.

Dick Metcalf gets Zumboed

Dick Metcalf, a writer for Guns & Ammo was fired from that magazine today after his “Let’s Talk Limits” (281kB PDF) column advocating (admittedly limited and minor) gun control went over like a lead balloon with the gun-owning community, though his column did elicit praise from the Brady Campaign and its supporters.
Why did gun owners react so harshly to Mr. Metcalf’s column? Miguel at GunFreeZone explains:

Some will say: ?Well shit! That is rather harsh. What about his right to free speech??? Sparky, we are right now in the equivalent of a Cold War between a powerful enemy and our side: and constitutional platitudes are all nice, warm and fuzzy and to be used in-house only. To use one of the oldest and most visible gun magazines to sport and antique and expired train of thought that might be used by the enemy is just sheer stupidity? no, I don?t think Metcalf was a spy or a sell out, just stupid.

Something something “house divided”, anyone?
While there are certainly some changes or improvements that can be made to gun laws that don’t infringe people’s rights ((A state could require dealers conduct both a state and federal background check, states could improve their reporting of prohibited persons to NICS, etc.)) (not to mention the numerous changes that could increase people’s rights), advocating for regulations (even supposedly “common sense” things like requiring training to exercise a right) that restrict people’s rights is a sure-fire way to give ammo and sound bites to the anti-gun side.
A public figure like a columnist at a major gun magazine should choose their words carefully: the anti-gun folks will never be satisfied — there’s no “Goldilocks gun” that’s “just right”: guns will either be too big, too small, too powerful, too weak, to accurate, too inaccurate, etc. — and they will happily use such statements as an endorsement for any extreme measures they propose. If you give them an inch they will take a mile.
This is not a call for rigid ideological purity (gun owners are large and diverse group after all), but rather a call to be aware of your public statements and to consider how they might be used out of context, particularly if you write for mainstream media like print magazines.
On a more practical note, annoying the people who support you (read: people who buy your magazine, other gun owners, etc.) is a great way to lose business.
Hat tip to The Truth About Guns for the original posting about the subject and their 8MB PDF of the Guns & Ammo column. I tweaked the PDF a bit to make it a bit smaller and the modified, smaller version is here — everyone should feel free to use it as they see fit. Also, thanks to The Bang Switch for reporting on the follow-up from Guns & Ammo.

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.

ShotSpotter in DC

David Hardy found an interesting article by the Washington Post, who reports on the use of strategically-located “ShotSpotter” devices which can automatically detect and localize gunshots being fired within an area (Washington DC, in this case). These devices have been installed in roughly one-third of the District.
From the Post,

About 39,000 separate incidents of gunfire [over the last 8 years -AZR] have been documented by ShotSpotter?s unseen web of at least 300 acoustic sensors across 20 square miles of the city, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. The data, obtained through a public-records request, offer an unprecedented view of gun crime in a city where shooting a firearm is illegal in virtually all circumstances.
The gunfire logged by ShotSpotter overshadows the number of officially reported felony gun crimes by more than 2 to 1. More than one-half of the incidents detected by the network have involved multiple rounds of gunfire. In 2009 alone, ShotSpotter captured more than 9,000 incidents of gunfire.

That sounds really interesting, and they probably get a lot of cool data from it. If it works as advertised (that is, it only listens for gunshots and isn’t snooping on conversations and whatnot), ShotSpotter seems like a powerful tool for crime detection and public safety.
In the comments section of the article, user Wiggan has an interesting proposal:

Now the follow up piece should develop a similar map for registered gun owners, as the District requires them to be fingerprinted and registered at their local police stations.
The plot I would like to see would be an overlay between registered gun owners and shooting density. 2nd amendment advocates say carry permits reduce crime. Gun control advocates say gun ownership contributes to crime. Here we could have an objective test to see who is right.

I for one would be highly interested in seeing such a map. While it might not be completely conclusive, it’d certainly provide fascinating insight.
Another commenter inquires if the ShotSpotter sensors are connected to surveilance cameras operated by the police. While CCTV can provide useful information in regards to crime (particularly if they are able to focus in on an area where shots were just fired, or are placed strategically based on ShotSpotter data), I have some reservations in regards to privacy rights. Still, with proper privacy protections in place, such a system could be a valuable crime-fighting system.

Robb Allen on gun liability insurance

Robb talks a bit about why the proposals that “gun owners should carry liability insurance, just like car owners” are a bad idea.
Here’s a quick summary for those who don’t want to read the whole thing:

  • The vast majority of damage, injury, and death stemming from cars is accidental. The vast majority of damage, injury, and death stemming from guns is intentional (e.g., suicide, assault, murder, etc.). Insurance does not cover intentional acts.
  • Existing liability insurance (e.g. homeowners or renters insurance) already cover true accidents (not intentional acts) both in and away from your home.
  • Damage, injury, and death due to guns is — while certainly meaningful to those affected — statistically rare enough that mandatory gun liability insurance would be extremely inexpensive.
  • Those proposing additional liability insurance are not doing so in good faith: their goal (based on the context of their other gun-related statements, proposals, history, etc.) is to price people out of being able to lawfully on firearms.

Robb goes into a bit more detail and I recommend reading the whole thing.