Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The G word

German Lopez for Vox offers a good overview of the problem of gun violence. One indisputable fact that immediately cuts through the bullshit is that the U.S. has far more homicide deaths by firearm than all the other developed countries -- and that is by an astonishing margin. Homicides by firearm per year per 1 million people are 29.7 in the U.S. The comparable number in Australia is 1.4.

The U.S. is also unique in that it has -- again, by far -- the highest proportion of privately owned guns per person in the world -- not just the developed world, the entire planet. Number 2 is Yemen, by the way. The data are a bit old and I'm sure the number has increased, but Lopez tells us that in 2007, there were 88.8 guns in the U.S. per  100 people. If you subtract children, that's more than one gun per adult. The highest comparable numbers in any developed country are around 30, and most have far fewer.

Finally, the linear association between the number of firearms in a country and the number of firearm homicides is astonishingly strong. Here it is:

The U.S. is actually not an outlier in the overall rate of violent crime. What's different in the U.S. is the rate at which people die from it. The difference, in other words, between a gun, and a knife or a club or a fist. The homicide rate in the U.S. is about 5 times that of comparable nations.

Finally, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is taking his gun away. In Australia, after a mass shooting in 1996, the government banned all semi-automatic weapons, and, yes, confiscated them. (They paid for them.)  It also required registry of all guns owned in the country and a permit to purchase guns. The homicide rate fell immediately by 42%, and the suicide rate by 57%.

So, what are the implications for U.S. policy? This discussion is often framed by the ammosexuals in the language of rights. Well, I have a right not to be shot. I have a right to be safe in my home, school, workplace and public places. That's my liberty interest here. At the same time, I do want people in my town to be shooting deer, of which there are far too many, since the Indians and cougars and wolves are gone. I would be delighted to see Americans do well in the biathlon. I might even want to shoot a gopher that's eating my vegetable garden. If people think it's fun to go to the gun range and shoot paper cutouts of people, I guess that's okay even though I don't get it.

So all this is achievable. There is no reason for civilians to legally own automatic or semi-automatic weapons of any kind, forget about the meaningless "assault rifle" concept. There is actually no reason for civilians to legally own handguns, which have no purpose other than to shoot humans. There was no such thing as a semi-automatic weapon in 1789, and the arms they were talking about were muzzle loading muskets in the hands of militia members. The purpose of the militia was to kill Indians, round up escaped slaves and put down any slave rebellions, and to provide for defense given the lack of a standing federal army.

So I'm willing to give a lot on this. The militia is now the National Guard, so the entire 2d Amendment is anachronistic and has no application to contemporary reality. But we should allow people to obtain permits to purchase bolt action rifles if they have an appropriate use for one, subject to sensible disqualifications, required training and compliance with regulations on such issues as keeping the weapons secure. (Nobody claims their rights are infringed by requiring a driver's license.) Licensed shooting ranges can hold other weapons for recreational use on site.

That's common sense.


Justin Cohen said...

What? Common sense? What place is there for common sense in 2018 in the USA, run by corporate donors of the spiritually bankrupt, soulless Republican party?


mojrim said...

The problems with this argument are both historical (the 2A is a fact) and factual (Australia experienced no such thing) and leaves us at zero.

To begin with the 2A was never about state militias, which were equipped by their states and which the constitution requires congress to support, but the unsupported local militias which self-organized at the town level. The history of those is deeply racist, of course, with Virginia using them to hunt escaped slaves and the northern states to murder natives that resisted expropriation. These irregular units had nothing to do with the formation of the modern national guard.

The legal history is more important, of course, and it's equally grim. The Bill of Rights, as originally ratified, applied only to the federal congress not the state assemblies. Those bodies went right along holding religious tests, carrying out warrantless searches, banning associations, and so forth until SCOTUS adopted the doctrine of incorporation under the 14A. It did this piecemeal, beginning with Burlington Railroad v Chicago in 1897 (though Gitlow is better known) and continuing through McDonald v Chicago in 2010. It's hard to make a coherent legal case that the other seven should be incorporated while specifically excluding the 2A.

This is especially true given that the 14A's principal author, Congressman John Bingham, was explicit in stating that his amendment would make the 2A (among others) into an individual right. The committee which considered the amendment discussed and agreed that, as written (and later passed), the 14A would convert the 2A into an individual right. Given that it was never about hunting, but to permit human killing by individuals (first whites against POC, then for freed blacks against whites) it's hard to imagine a ban on semi-automatic weapons passing muster.

As for Australia, I really don't understand where this ridiculous canard came from. Australia's homicide rate peaked in 1988 at 2.39 and was still dropping in 1997. In point of fact that country went through the exact same violent crime curve as all other OECD countries in the post war era - more than doubling, then receding to baseline over a 40-ish year period. This holds true despite wildly different responses to violent crime. Given that the US has twice as many guns in circulation as in the 1970's yet less than half the murder rate, it's hard to see a direct correlation.

Data table:
Full report:
OECD data smoothed:

I'm as appalled as anyone by shit like Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, etc... but we're going to make exactly zero progress if we persist in telling each other these comforting myths.

Gay Boy Bob said...

We hire (elect/appoint) professionals to interpret the laws and while you may not agree with their findings, the one thing I've learned is the law is whatever the judges say it is. And right now, they say the second amendment is an explicit constitutional right of the individual.

I don't see any wiggle room, here. If you do, I'd really like to hear it.

And mojrim is correct. Correlation is not causality. The false comparison of Australia is a fool's argument.

Mark P said...

It seems clear to me that if you remove the guns most often used in crimes, those crimes should decline. It also seems clear to me, as mojrim's links show, that the US has an unusually high rate of assault/violence compared to the civilized world. The US's approach to controlling gun violence, as GBB so helpfully points out, is a political matter, not a matter of common sense or even a matter of human decency. I am certain that if enough people showed through their votes that they are decent people and demand gun control, the Supreme Court would somehow find it acceptable in their constitutional interpretation.

mojrim said...

Why, Mark, do you believe those crimes will decline? The data from Australia shows a very clear substitution effect, with non-firearm homicides jumping from 222 in 1996 to 250 in the three years after and remaining above the previous low until 2004 when the general downward trend finally caught up.

Gay Boy Bob said...

I am certain that if enough people showed through their votes that they are decent people and demand gun control, the Supreme Court would somehow find it acceptable in their constitutional interpretation.

That's the same theory that the right to life people are using to enable restrictions on abortion.

Mark said...

GBB, yes, public opinion can work both ways, for things that are right, and for things that are wrong.

Gay Boy Bob said...

OK, everyone who holds a different opinion than Mark is just WRONG.

Got it!

Seriously, that's the dumbest statement you've made to date.

mojrim said...

You're such a useless twat, GBB.

Gay Boy Bob said...

This reminds me of the age old question:

If a man speaks out loud in the forest and there's no woman around to hear him, is he still wrong?

Justin Cohen said...

I'm a man, and I'd like to add that GBB is, in fact, a useless ... idiot. (Trying to avoid body-negative pejoratives.)

Mark P said...

Did anyone else hear the wind whistling through an empty cranium?