Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Guns don't kill people,

people kill themselves. With guns.

I haven't had a whole lot to say about the big gun safety debate going on right now in part because, if I'm going to be contrarian, I want to take the time to get my ground under me.

First, I actually find highly offensive the repeated calls by people who are ostensibly progressive and ought to know better that a priority should be to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. As I have repeatedly discussed here, according to the American Psychiatric Association, half of the population is mentally ill at some point in their lives, and almost 1/4 of us are "mentally ill" right now. I actually think that's preposterous and largely consists of fake "diseases," but that's more or less beside the point. It does happen to be true that rampage killers are usually diagnosable with something, but that's pretty much tautological. The question is whether psychiatrists or anybody else can actually predict who will act violently and the answer to that is, the only really useful predictor of violent behavior is past violent behavior.

So no, preventing "mentally ill" people from buying guns is a) useless and b) offensively discriminatory. Keeping guns out of the hands of people who have been convicted of violent crimes is potentially useful, but that's already generally the law in most states as far as I know. Whether this is actually possible, however, given that guns already outnumber people in the U.S., is another question.

Second there is the nonsensical issue of assault weapons. An assault weapon is just a semi-automatic rifle with certain largely cosmetic features, such as a bayonet mount. There is something culturally repellent about them - the only reason people want to own them is so they can fantasize about being soldiers or committing mass mayhem. But they aren't functionally more dangerous than other semi-automatic weapons. Rifles in general are far more accurate at more than modest distance than are handguns, but handguns are actually responsible for most gun injuries and deaths in the U.S. I just don't see banning the sale of particular categories of firearms as being meaningful.

Large capacity magazines? Okay, those have no purpose other than killing large numbers of people in a short time. There's a perfectly good case for banning them, although again, it's probably too late to stop people who want them from getting them on a secondary market, given how many gazillions are already out there.

But now here's the real truth about gun violence. Congress has prevented the CDC or NIH from funding studies of gun injuries, because ignorance is patriotic, but people study the issue anyway. Most gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides, not homicides. If you have a gun in your house, I don't know exactly what the chances are that you will ever use it to defend yourself against an intruder. As we've seen lately in too many cases, the intruder you shoot is likely to turn out to be your own spouse or son, but that aside, I'm going to take an educated guess and say that the likelihood you will kill yourself with your gun is at least 4 orders of magnitude, i.e. 10,000 times as great, than the likelihood you will successfully defend yourself with it.

Most people who haven't studied the issue assume that people who commit suicide are determined and will spend time and effort to find a way. Mostly, that just isn't so. It's an impulsive act. It's also usually unsuccessful -- unless you use a gun. The reason is pretty obvious. The purpose of guns is to kill people. They work very well. And they work quickly. Grab the gun, point at your temple or put it in your mouth, and shoot. Badabing badaboom. You haven't been convicted of a felony, you haven't been committed to a secure mental institution as a danger to yourself and others, and the gun you're using is perfectly legal, probably a handgun with six rounds. You only need one. If you had been forced to take time to plan a way, or tried a less effective method, you would probably be alive.

That's the real truth about gun violence. The best way to keep yourself safe is not to have one; or failing that, keep it locked in a safe and unloaded in between bouts of shooting cans off the top of the fence. Really. Other than that, I can't see banning any particular products as making much of a difference.


Anonymous said...

Original analysis and hard to dispute. One thing's for sure--as that asshole Thomas Jefferson said, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."

Let the studies flow!!

kathy a. said...

yes. quite a lot of suicide survivors end up not feeling so blue, after all. but a gun to the head does not give any time for reflection. bam.