The Gun Control Debate

The president recently hosted a town hall meeting with a focus on the topic of firearms and the gun control measures he intends to enact by executive order. Distortions, appeals to emotion, and incomplete information is bound to enter into his performance so let’s see if we can address some of the main points.

Tens of thousands of Americans die because of firearms every year.

Well, even more Americans die because of abortion each year. So what’s your point?

Let’s not be casual about the loss of life but the numbers don’t lie and the numbers aren’t even close. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that in 2013 injury by firearm was the cause of death for 33,636 Americans. By comparison the CDC notes that 699,202 legal abortions were performed in 2012. They go on to explain:

Additionally, from 2003 to 2012, the number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions decreased 17%, 18%, and 14%, respectively. Given the large decreases in the total number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions from 2011 to 2012, in combination with decreases that occurred during 2008–2011, all three measures reached historic lows.

So after nearly a decade of decline in the rate of abortion there were still 21 times as many people in the United States that met their end with an abortion as died from injury by firearm. If we are looking to preserve the greatest number of lives, gun control may not be the most effective place to start.

It is important to compare the constitutional backgrounds of these two examples. The right to keep and bear arms is a key part of the Bill of Rights second only to freedom of speech and worship. The founding generation remembered British attempts to disarm the population when they wrote the Constitution and wanted to ensure that the people were protected from encroachment by government. By comparison was quite the emanation from a penumbra. The Court held that a woman’s right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy granted by the 14th Amendment. What ending a life has to do with privacy is anyone’s guess. And the boundary between expendable clump of cells and human being that must be protected under penalty of law borders on the absurd. Jack Cashill wrote in American Thinker:

As I struggled to find the hooks buried beneath the back seat, I had to wonder why the government went to such lengths protecting a child like Phoebe, whose life, just a few months earlier, enjoyed almost no legal protection at all.

Death is the intended product of abortion. While firearms are deadly weapons they can also be life saving. In his book “More Guns, Less Crime”  John Lott explained how increases in gun ownership led to reductions in violent crime.

One reason is a form of “herd immunity” that results from widespread gun ownership. Just like vaccination campaigns don’t need to reach 100% of the population to be effective in preventing outbreaks, gun ownership by the law abiding makes criminals hesitant to ply their trade because they can’t be sure who is armed.

Another reason is that when a criminal or terrorist, or mentally disturbed person does use a gun their would be victim is in a better position to defend themselves. Compare the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 with the Appalachian School of Law shooting five years earlier. At Virginia Tech the student attacker shot and killed 32 people and injured others in the span of two hours; there were only three deaths at the Appalachian School of Law before armed students disabled the shooter. A 2013 study commissioned by the CDC noted:

Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million

A firearm in the hands of a law abiding person can help ward off a criminal and save lives. It can also be an effective equalizer if a victim is facing a much larger criminal.

But so many of the victims of guns are children!

No parent wants to lose a child and senseless killings like what happened at Sandy Hook in Newtown Connecticut in 2012 are outrages. That noted, children under the age of fifteen who died due to injury by firearm in 2013 only numbered 410 or one percent of the fatalities in that category. The issue is with the next age band. Much like the Affordable Care Act allows adult “children” are to remain under their parents insurance plans until the age of 26 the last age band contains some children who aren’t. The fifteen to twenty-four age band has over six thousand deaths for 2013 which is what allows gun control proponents to claim that more than a dozen “children” die each day due to guns. Most of the years in this age band are adults.

It’s like claiming that an elementary school is failing because a quarter of its students can’t read. A damning claim that leaves out the fact that children are still developing their reading skills in second grade.

These years are also a prime recruiting age for gangs. How many, even of the minors in the 15-24 age band, are gang members or involved in criminal activity? Would those numbers look different when the adults are separated from the children?

Expanded background checks are commonsense measures to screen out criminals

Background checks are already required for sales by firearms dealers. What the president appears to be proposing is going after private transfers and sales. Background checks add to the cost of transferring a gun which disproportionately affects the poor. After years harping by gun control activists about the ‘gun show loophole’ the new bogeyman is the ‘private transfer loophole’ but what it seems they want to close is the private ownership loophole.

The other problem with so called common sense measures is that the only people who are disarmed are people who would already follow the rules. A person who is willing to commit robbery, rape, or murder would not likely be dissuaded by tougher gun laws.

We need to improve mental health services

This is an area of broad agreement. The shootings in 2007 at Virginia Tech, in 2011 in Tucson, at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, and at Umpqua Community College in 2015 were all perpetrated by individuals with mental health issues. Key to the balancing act is to identify and help those people that need mental health services while not making a visit to a therapist or doctor cause to take away an individual’s firearms.

This has become routine

After the Umpqua Community College shooting in October of last year the president vented his frustration at not getting congressional support for his gun control plans. From CNN:

“Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine, the conversation in the aftermath of it … We have become numb to this,” he complained.

It has become a routine but not the type that our president suggests. Massacres are distressing for a society and devastating for the people directly involved. The routine that has developed is to speculate about the shooter and call for stricter gun laws before the incident has even ended.

The media practically salivates over the idea of catching an NRA member or a conservative gunman. Consider the shooting at the Colorado Springs offices of Planned Parenthood. Would radio stations outside local markets in Colorado have gone to live coverage of a developing story if that lunatic had walked into a law office and shot three people?

In the aftermath of San Bernadino, noted criminologist Samuel L. Jackson said he wished that the killers had been “some crazy white dude.” Why? Is there an agenda at play beyond just saving lives?

Gun control activists, as well as their supporters in politics and the press, are smart enough to know that disarming law abiding people will not make anyone safer. Bad people, mentally disturbed people, and terrorists on a suicide mission will not be stopped by stricter laws. The rest of us will be sitting ducks.

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