Guns

Yosemite Sam shooting pistols into the airAfter a full week of silence following the tragic shooting in Newtown, CT, the National Rifle Association (NRA) finally held a press conference. They didn’t take any questions, so they might as well have just posted a statement or video response online.

In their statement, they blamed everything but guns for killings: video games, music videos, movies, mental illness and… well, not having enough guns.

There is so much to say about all this. Given my propensity for wordiness I could spend the next several hours writing and still leave some stones unturned. So I will focus in on one thing in this post: The notion that having more guns is a deterrent for violence. It’s an idea completely not rooted in reality.

Let’s start with some anecdotes. Now, anecdotes by themselves do not prove anything, but they can still be very informative.

In November, 2009 Major Nidal Hasan wounded 29 and killed 13 at Ft. Hood, the most populous U.S. military base in the world. Military bases are not know for having a shortage of firearms. (Update: After subsequent shootings at more military installations, I learned that most servicemen on bases in the U.S. aren’t armed. There are, however, armed military police on the bases.)

In March, 1981 president Ronald Reagan, his press secretary James Brady, a police officer and a Secret Service agent were shot. None of them were killed, but Brady and the cop were seriously wounded. The presence of many highly trained, armed men didn’t deter John Hinckley, Jr., the shooter. In the end, he was stopped by a civilian, not by using a gun, but by hitting Hinckley in the head and pulling him to the ground.

INTERMISSION. From the NRA’s statement today: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Oh, really?

In February, 2005 David Hernandez Arroyo Sr. opened fire (with a MAK-90 semi-automatic rifle) at his ex-wife and child, outside a courthouse! And courthouses, as the NRA correctly pointed out, are already protected by armed security. A civilian, armed with a pistol, attempted to intervene and was shot and killed. Arroyo was able to escape from a gunfight with police, including a trained sniper, and take officers on a car chase before eventually being taken down.

Less than a day after the shooting in Newtown, a gunman shot a police officer and two employees in a hospital in Alabama before being fatally shot by a second officer. Alabama is a state with relatively lax gun laws. It’s not clear what the gunman’s intentions were, but it sounds like he didn’t open fire until being confronted by police.

These are all instances where the presence of guns did not act as a deterrent to gun violence. In fact, mass shooters often turn their guns on themselves or are shot and killed by police anyway. So while it’s possible that more guns might mean the bad guy gets taken out sooner, it takes some serious denial of facts to say it would be a deterrent.

As an aside, let’s talk about guns stopping the shooter… in August, 2012 in New York City, a workplace dispute turned violent and a shooting in an office near the Empire State Building lead to police shooting at a fleeing suspect–a suspect who had shot the one person he wanted to shoot already. The officers managed to shoot and wound 9 bystanders before killing the gunman. None of the bystanders died, which was more a matter of luck and–probably modern medicine, than anything else.

Back to deterrents. The homicide rate in Chicago is very high. It’s on pace to hit 500 this year, and many of them are gang-related shootings. Now gang members are known for having guns. Surely whoever starts the fight has to know that their targets (or their nearby friends) could well be armed, right? That doesn’t stop them from shooting and it doesn’t stop innocent bystanders, including children, from being killed.

Our neighbors to the north, Canada, have much tougher gun laws. According to the CBC, “It takes up to 60 days to obtain a firearm in this country, after registering, taking a course and going through background checks.” Oh, dear! By the NRA’s logic crime in Canada must be out of control! Is it? No. In fact, there were 598 homicides in the entire country in 2011! How about in the USA? According to the FBI that number was 14,612 last year! OK, to be fair let’s adjust for population differences.

Homicides per 100,000 population (2011):

Canada: 1.73

USA: 4.7

Shockingly, this rate in the US has been decreasing for the last 5 years, and was 9.0+ in the early 90s!

Well OK, do stricter laws really mean fewer guns in Canada? Yes, as a matter of fact.

Gun ownership per 100 people (2007):

Canada: 30.8

USA: 88.8

I suggest clicking the link above and checking out the infographic, which is quite informative. You can find countries with low gun ownership and high gun-related homicides, but they are mostly places where drug cartels or other criminal organizations are strong and the police/government is weak, such as Mexico, South America and South Africa. You can also see many countries like Canada (and better), like Sweden, Norway, France, New Zealand, Greece, Armenia, Jordan, Spain, Israel, Algeria, the UK, etc. Note that this infographic deals only with firearms and firearm-related homicides, so it doesn’t tell a complete story and should thus be taken with a grain of salt.

The point is that the U.S. should, as the country with the most guns per capita in the world (oh, did I forget to mention that little takeaway from the infographic?) have one of the lowest if not the lowest homicide rates in the world. That is, if the NRA is to be believed. And clearly, without a doubt, it should not.

If you haven’t read enough yet, I will leave you with this little gem, a collection of things Wayne LaPierre, CEO and VP of the NRA–who spoke today–has given us over the years: via ThinkProgress.

Full text of said address is here.

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