The long gun registry and safe communities
I have received comments to my blog recently from Gerald Wry, who is one of my readers, if only by chance. He came across one of my earleir pieces of April 2011 when Stephen Harper announced that his government, if reelected, was going to do away Canada’s long gun registry and destroy all of its records. Of course, the majority Harper government has now introduced legislation to do just that. I am staunchly opposed to this measure but had not had time to write about it. Interestingly, when I looked at hits to my blog last week I found that many people had been looking at previous pieces I had written about the gun registry. Mr. Wry came across one of these earlier pieces and made this comment:
“You expertise at statistics and drawing scientific conclusions from random ‘facts’ is impressive. Here are some actual facts for you: In every state (US) where shall issue laws have been implemented, violent crime against the innocent. (ie: regular citizens) has taken a nosedive. So yes, arm everyone. In England where private firearms ownership is all but banned, violent crime, including “hot” home invasions have risen by HUNDREDS of percentile points. Same in Australia. So yes, arm everyone.
“The ridiculous notion that banning something inanimate will reduce crime has been disproven time and time again (drugs, alcohol, prostitution, etc.). Please stop with the rhetoric. If you don’t like guns, don’t own any. Please don’t attempt to remove my means of defending myself and those I care for. Feel free to dial 911 and wait for the police to arrive while your family is raped or murdered. Just don’t tell me I have to do the same thing. My guns and I are no danger to you unless you attempt to harm or steal from me (or infringe on my freedoms).”
Opinions but no research
My experience in debating people who believe that there should be no registration of firearms is that they usually have opinions but no research. So, I asked Mr. Wry to provide me with some information to back his claims. Here is his reply:
“Information is readily available. Feel free to do your own research. I’d start with FBI and NIJ and go from there. One of the most telling and obvious examples would be two college shootings in Virginia, one where the students fought back and one where they could not due to school policy.
We all know what happened at Virginia Tech… and just for good measure, here is a more recent one.”
I have looked at those links (and I invite you to do so a well). They do not constitute anything approaching research. They draw on bloggers, who believe in the unfettered right to bear arms, talking to readers who believe the same thing. They constitute an “echo chamber” where people who agree with one another are convinced that if they just say something often enough it must be true.
Gabrielle Giffords shooting
Mr. Wry says to me, ” Feel free to do your own research.” Well, actually I have done some of that and I will share it here. I have written a number of pieces about the wisdom of registering firearms in the interest of safer communities. One of those pieces, which I posted on this blog on January 23, 2011, followed the shooting in a Tucson parking lot of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by a young man named Jared Lee Loughner. Giffords received serious brain injuries but, thankfully, she is still alive and making a slow and partial recovery.
I mention this piece because following that shooting, some people in Arizona, including several politicians, concluded that the best way to prevent gun crime and to keep communities safe is for people to have more guns. That, in essence, is Mr. Wry’s position. “Arm everyone,” he says, and we will all safer as a result.
I am going to select excerpts from the piece that I wrote about Gabrielle Giffords to show how this argument simply makes no sense. Here goes:
Far from having doubts about the disastrous effects of the nation’s gun laws, or lack of them, there were calls in the wake of the [Giffords] shootings to make it even easier for people to carry concealed firearms. Arizona state representative Jack Harper was quoted as saying, “When everyone is carrying a firearm, nobody is going to be a victim. “This implies that someone at the shooting scene who was armed would have shot Jared Lee Loughner before he killed and wounded others.
Guns on the scene
Timothy Egan, a New York Times columnist, points out that there actually were others on the scene who were carrying guns. One of them, a young man named Joseph Zamudio, was leaving a drugstore when he saw what was happening in the mall’s parking lot. He rushed to the scene with his semiautomatic pistol at the ready. He saw people wrestling on the ground, including a man with a gun. “I kind of assumed he was the shooter,” Zamudio said in an interview. Then, “everyone said, ‘no, no, it’s this guy.” Had he pulled the trigger, he would have shot a person who was struggling with Loughner. Zamudio added that he felt “very lucky” to have avoided shooting an innocent person.
Columnist Egan says, “It defies logic, as this case shows once again, that an average citizen with a gun is going to disarm a crazed killer. For one thing, these kinds of shootings happen far too suddenly for even the quickest marksman to get a draw. For another, your typical gun hobbyist lacks training in how to react in a violent scrum.” He adds: “. . the Tucson shootings should discredit the canard that we need more guns at school, in the workplace, even in Congress.”
But that is exactly what certain American politicians are proposing. Some Arizona legislators want university faculty and students to be allowed to carry concealed weapons at school. A Texas Republican representative has proposed a bill to allow fellow members to carry firearms into the Capitol Building in Washington. The argument – and it has echoes among some people in Canada – is that we would all be safer if more (not fewer) people carried guns.
Columnist Egan cites two recent studies to show that this is a dangerous fantasy. In one survey, epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine reviewed hundreds of muggings and assaults. They found that those people with guns were four times more likely to be shot when confronted by an armed assailant than those without guns.
Egan also cites a Harvard University study, which illustrates that states with the highest rates of gun ownership also have much higher gun death rates than those where only a small percentage of people carry arms. Hawaii, where only 9.7 per cent of the residents own guns, has the lowest gun death rate in the country. Louisiana, where 45 per cent of the public is armed, has the highest. Arizona, where it is easy to get a concealed weapons permit, is one of the top 10 states for gun ownership and death rates by firearms.
Gun violence is all too common in the United States. James Brady was an aide to Ronald Reagan when in 1980 a gunman tried to kill the president. Reagan took a bullet in the lung but Brady was shot in the head. He survived although his health and physical abilities are diminished. He and his wife founded the Brady Foundation to Prevent Gun Violence.
Consider these statistics from the Brady Foundation:
– There are 283 million guns in civilian hands in the U.S. (the U.S. population is 309 million). One-quarter of American adults own at least one gun.
– In 2007, there were 31,000 gun deaths in the U.S., and 12,600 of those were homicides (in Canada there are about 200 killings a year with guns).
– The firearm homicide rate in the U.S. is 19.5 times higher than rates in 22 other populous high-income countries combined.
– Over a million people have been killed with guns in the U.S. since 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.
If “arming everyone” were the best way to prevent violence in society, then the U.S. would be the least violent country in the industrialized world — but in fact, it is easily the most violent of those societies and has by far the most gun related deaths.
A better way
So, I have done some research. I did not create it but at least I found it, and it is pretty convincing. And it amounts to more than a few like-minded bloggers talking to one another. Opinion does not equal fact. But all of this goes beyond facts to the deeply moral issue of how we best keep our families and communities safe. I believe that arming everyone to the teeth is not the best way to do that.