Another gun control post

So I ran across an article about a study conducted by a group (Violence Policy Center) that is calling for tighter gun control.

Their report is here.

Now, in all fairness, I will mention that I am pretty opposed to gun control laws. I believe that it is a fundamental right of every human being to protect their lives, and any law that restricts my access to a tool which might be used to protect my life is not something I will ever support.

That being said, I also believe that there are reasons to require training so that I can use the tool wisely as opposed to recklessly which could endanger the life of some innocent bystander.

According to the numbers in the report (which come from the FBI), between 2008 and 2012, there were 38 criminal homicides for every 1 justifiable homicide. A justifiable homicide is one where the person committing a felony crime is killed in self-defense. During those 5 years, there were approximately 1100 justifiable and over 41,000 criminal homicides.

In that same period (actually 2007-2011… according to the report, so not completely identical, but close), there were over 29 million violent crimes committed, and during those, a self-protective behavior where the victim threatened or attacked the criminal with a firearm occurred 0.8% of the time (about 235 thousand times).

The report draws two conclusions:

  1. “The reality of self-defense gun use bears no resemblance to the exaggerated claims of the gun lobby and gun industry.”This is in response to a claim by pro-gun groups (including the NRA) that claim that guns are used defensively 2.5 million times per year.I agree with this conclusion.
  2. “The idea that firearms are frequently used in self-defense is the primary argument that the gun lobby and firearms industry use to expand the carrying of firearms into an ever-increasing number of public spaces and even to prevent the regulation of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Yet this argument is hollow and the assertions false. When analyzing the most reliable data available, what is most striking is that in a nation of more than 300 million guns, how rarely firearms are used in self-defense.”

Here’s where I disagree with them. This statement, even though it is accurate, is NOT the basis for making an informed decision about whether guns should be controlled or not, and what types of restrictions are appropriate.

The report does not include data that is necessary to be able to propose a legitimate response.

Let me ask a rhetorical question. During the 5 year period of time, there were 235,000 reports of self-defense using a firearm. 1100 of them resulted in a justifiable homicide. Of the remaining 234,000 incidents, how many of them would have resulted in a criminal homicide if the victim had not had a firearm? We cannot answer that question of course.

For the sake of completeness, let’s ask another question. How many of those 234,000 incidents resulted in a criminal homicide which would not have happened if the victim had not been armed (i.e. the fact that the victim had a gun pushed the criminal to commit homicide when he would not have if the victim had been unarmed)? Again, we can’t answer that question.

The report states that guns are not used in self-defense very often, but that’s not surprising. The likelihood that a criminal who sets out to commit a violent crime will have a gun (and therefore the ability to commit a gun-related homicide) is MUCH higher than the likelihood that a non-criminal will have a gun available, so the number of guns out there is not a useful number. The only number that counts is guns that were available at the time a crime was being committed.

So let’s ask some questions that COULD be answered I believe (though they were not answered in the report).

First, I want to know how many gun-related homicides were committed where the criminal had a gun and the non-criminal did NOT have a gun.

Second, I want to know how many gun-related homicides were committed where the both the criminal and the non-criminal had guns.

In the first situation, almost all of the homicides will be criminal. There is the possibility that the victim manages to disarm the criminal and then use the gun on the criminal resulting in a justifiable homicide, but those will certainly be a small minority of the homicides. The criminal homicides will certainly account for more than 99% of the total homicides.

Now, look at the second situation. What percentage of the homicides are criminal? It will be less than the first situation, but by how much?

If the percentage drops only a couple percentage points, then I would agree that guns are not very effective as a defensive weapon. Basically, the criminal was prepared to use the gun, the victim was not, so it didn’t really matter whether the victim had a gun or not.

If this is the case, then perhaps restricting guns might be a valid response since it might actually limit the availability of a gun to the criminal.

But what if the percentage drops from 99% to 80%? If that is the case, then my response is that a lot more people should be carrying guns. If they were, then based on those numbers, of the 41,000 criminal homicides that occurred, approximately 20% of them (or around 8,000) could have been replaced by a justifiable homicide, and if the object of owning a gun is self-defense, that’s a favorable result!

I’d also want to know another thing. I want to know how many gun-related homicides were committed where both the criminal and the non-criminal had guns and the non-criminal had received training in how to use guns in this type of situation (perhaps a concealed weapons permit training, military or police training, etc.). Now what is the percentage of criminal homicides? I’ll bet that it’s significantly lower than the second case. What if it is 50%? If that’s the case, then the problem is that we’re not training non-criminals how to use guns! We should make sure every law-abiding citizen owns a gun AND provide free training on how to use it in a self-defense situation.

Actually, I’d like to see the free training offered anyway. That would reduce the likelihood of an accidental homicide, which would be great.

My main point here is actually not to discuss gun control laws. My main point is that I wish that people on either side of the discussion would use real numbers and draw legitimate conclusions from it as opposed to the passion-driven but logic-lacking conclusions that they do present. But a secondary point is that I have yet to see an argument based on logical AND relevant facts that lend weight to the gun-control side. Unfortunately, I also haven’t seen much from the pro-gun side either, and that’s too bad, because personally, I believe that that side should be able to support their conclusions quite effectively.