Guns Again.

Americans buy a bunch of firearms.[1]  In 1994, 25 percent of American households owned at least one firearm; and 44 million people owned 192 million firearms.  That is an average of 4.36 firearms per firearm-owning household.  In 2015, 22 percent of households owned at least one firearm; and 55 million people owned 265 million firearms.  That is an average of 4.81 firearms per firearm-owning household.  However, this apparent increase in firearms per owner may be deceptive.  About half of all firearms are in the hands—well the extensive gun-safes—of only 3 percent of owners.  That means—I think that 19 percent of the population owns the other 50 percent.  Roughly—watch my math, never my best thing—3/22 of Americans own 50 percent of 262 million guns.  So, 3 percent own 131 million firearms.  On the other hand, 19/22 own 50 percent of the firearms.  So, 19 percent own 131 million guns.  So, of 55 million owners, 1/7 or 7.8 million owned 131 million firearms for an average of about 16 weapons each.  Therefore, of 55 million owners, 6/7 or 46.8 million, owned 131 million firearms, for an average of about 2.8 weapons each.  If, 42 percent of these are hand-guns, 33 percent are rifles, and 20 percent are shot guns, then that suggests that the typical forearm-owner has a rifle, and either a couple of hand-guns or a hand-gun and a shot gun.

Americans started buying guns in increasing numbers during the 1960s, with the numbers rising from about 75 million total firearms in private hands in 1965 to almost 200 million by 1995.  Soaring rates of violent crime and civil disorder appear to have driven the boom in firearms sales.  Violent crime and homicide rates have been dropping for almost a quarter century.  All the same, some Americans felt safer in 1994 than they do today.  In 1994, 46 percent of gun-owners who responded to a national survey cited self-defense as a major reason for owning a firearm; in 2015 63 percent cited self-defense.  While total homicides are down, highly-publicized mass shootings are up.  The expansive definition of mass shootings used by the EffaBeeEye and gun control groups have helped overstate the danger to ordinary citizens.[2]

This shift in motivation is reflected in the composition of the stock of firearms in private hands.  In 1994, 34 percent of firearms were hand-guns (revolvers and semi-automatic pistols); in 2015 42 percent of firearms are hand-guns.

The composition of ownership also is interesting.  Women firearms owners are almost twice (42 percent) as likely as men (22 percent) to own a hand-gun.  African-American firearms owners are almost three times as likely (57 percent) to own a hand-gun as are white firearms owners (20 percent).

Media coverage adds more heat than light.  While the New York Times article cited above conjectured that a “24-hour news cycle has made the world feel more dangerous,” the only human being in their article is a woman who bought her first pistol after a man with a gun invaded her daughter’s middle school and took five girls hostage.  Recently, some members of the media reported the discovery of a previously unsuspected “gun culture” of people who like shooting, know something about it, and talk about target shooting and hunting the way golfers talk about golf.  Now their attention has shifted to a “concealed carry culture.”

These numbers suggest that the contentious debate over firearms and gun-control is likely to continue for some time.  Worse, Americans are talking past one another on this issue.

[1] Julie Turkewitz and Troy Griggs, “Looking for Security, More in U.S. Pick Up a Handgun,” NYT, 15 October 2016.

[2] As best I recall, the current standard has become four or more people shot in a single event.  However, this allows many crime-related gang shootings to be assimilated to events like Newtown and Orlando.


The Gun Show.

Since 2009, when President Obama first began talking about gun control, gun sales have increased. The stock market value of gun manufacturers like Smith and Wesson and Ruger rose by 900 percent.[1] Now the president has begun taking executive action to extend federal control.

How big is the problem of unlicensed gun sales? A study of “” found that 600,000 guns were offered for sale on-line by unlicensed dealers. Of these, 4.5 percent were sales by “high volume dealers”–people who sold 25 to 150 weapons a year.[2] So there are a small number of people knowingly skirting the law in much the same way, perhaps, as many drivers ignore the speed limits[3] or sell marijuana. Guns purchased on-line will not be sent directly to the purchaser. They will be sent to a licensed gun-dealer who can carry out an on-line background check before turning over the gun to the purchase. Many, if not most, gun show sales also require a background check. (Lots of people have a Wi-Fi connection.)

When President Obama issued his executive order on gun-sales, he sought to bring all those who sell or trade guns under federal control.[4] Specifically, anyone who sells guns could be considered a “gun dealer.” Any of them who do not have a federal license—which will not be issued to applicants in the same way that federal lands are to be closed to coal miners by executive order—could be subject to heavy fines. White House spokes-person Josh Earnest[5], claimed that the penalties to be levied on people “hiding behind the hobbyist exemption” would force many people to seek federal gun-dealer licenses. So, that’s the end of that. These dealers are thought to sell hundreds of weapons a year. Some of these hundreds of weapons may be used in the thousands of gun homicides that happen each year. Both small gun dealers and knowledgeable federal officials doubt that the new order will have any effect.

How does it play in Peoria? As of early January 2016, 51 percent of Americans were opposed to tighter gun laws; while 48 percent supported tighter laws.[6] As of mid-January 2016, more than half (54 percent) of Americans opposed President Obama’s use of executive orders to alter the gun laws [relating to who is a gun-dealer], while 44 percent approved it. So, Americans are clear in their own mind about what they believe on this matter. At the same time, however, two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans supported President Obama’s directive for expanded background checks for gun-buyers.[7] What about the party-affiliation breakdown? Well, virtually all Democrats (85 percent), two-thirds (65 percent) of Independents, and just over half of Republicans (51 percent) support expanded background checks. 

What’s the difference? Well, we have an existing system of back-ground checks and anyone can see that the system doesn’t catch enough of the killers. So extending it makes sense without changing the law by presidential ukase. Changing the legal definition of who is a gun-dealer smacks of President Obama’s all-too-evident belief that he is the ruler of the French Second Empire, rather than president of the United States. The former adjunct professor of law appears to have a problem with many Americans about how he understands the Constitution.

[1] Compared to 800 percent for Apple and 147 percent for the benchmark Standard and Poor’s 500 index.

[2] The NYT did not report on the hand gun versus long gun balance of this trade. Hand guns are the chief killers.

[3] See: Route 202 southbound at 6:30 AM. Just reporting on what I have seen.

[4] Hiroku Tabuchi and Rachel Abrams, “Obama’s Gun Initiative Seen as Having Limited Effect on Unlicensed Dealers,” NYT, 8 January 2016.

[5] “Josh” is an old term for “joke.” “Earnest” is an old term for “I’m serious.” So, which is it?

[6] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 15 January 2016, p. 17.

[7] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 22 January 2016, p. 17.

American opinion on gun control.

Americans are divided on the utility of stricter gun laws to stop shootings. In September 2015, 46 percent of Americans thought that stricter gun-laws were the best way to reduce the number of shootings, while 36 percent thought that the best way would be for more Americans to carry guns for their own protection, and 18 percent weren’t sure.[1] By late-October/early-November 2015, about one-third (35 percent) thought that tighter laws would reduce all forms of shootings, while another third (35 percent) thought that tighter laws would have no effect, and almost a third (30 percent) weren’t sure. On the subject of “mass shootings, however, Americans were clearer in their mind. Almost half (48 percent) thought that mass shootings can be stopped, while one-third (35 percent) think that these events are “just a fact of life in America today.” That means that only one-sixth (17 percent) weren’t sure.[2] However, that was before the San Bernardino shootings[3] and President Obama’s ill-received speech seeking to reassure Americans. By mid-December 2015, 71 percent of Americans believed that both mass shootings and terrorist attacks have become a permanent part of American life.[4]

That is, the share of Americans who believe that mass shootings are just a fact of life more than doubled and moved from a minority to a majority position in about a month. It’s easy to se why they think so. About twice a day for the last twenty years somebody gets killed in an act of workplace violence. More specifically, 14,770 people between 1992 and 2012. Mostly, they were shot.[5] Between 2007 and the end of 2015, 29 people legally entitled to carry a concealed weapon committed “mass shootings.”[6] In the wake of the shooting incident at the Planned Parenthood site in Colorado Springs, CO, people started doing the math for the umpteenth time. Using the expansive definition of “mass shootings” (at least four people including the gunman are killed or wounded), there were 351 mass shootings from 1 January to 30 November 2015.[7] However, this isn’t what most people mean by “mass shootings.” Most people mean “somebody goes postal.” The expansive definition includes criminals who shot up everyone inside of or in front of a row-house in Bal’mer.[8]

Similarly, in Fall 2015, almost half of Americans (46-48 percent) thought that stricter regulation of who could own a gun would reduce shootings by some uncertain amount, while just over a third (35-36 percent) thought that such restrictions wouldn’t be effective. The size of the uncertain group bounced around from 18 to 30 percent. However, the number of the uncertain rose as the issue was discussed in public. The increased size of the uncertain group came at the expense of the supporters of stricter gun laws.

In contrast, the numbers for those who favor carrying personal weapons for protection, who doubt the effectiveness of stricter gun control laws, and who believe mass shootings are just a fact of life are all the same at 35 percent. This matches up with the one-third of Americans who are estimated to own guns.

Gun control advocates are losing the debate. The more they talk, the more they lose. Is it time to re-think strategy and discourse?

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 11 September 2015, p. 19.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 6 November 2015, p. 21.

[3] So far as I can tell, the NYT never referred to the recent attack in Paris as a “mass shooting.”

[4] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 25 December 2015, p. 21.

[5] “Noted,” The Week, 11 September 2015, p. 18.

[6] “Noted,” The Week, 6 November 2015, p. 20.

[7] “Noted,” The Week, 11 December 2015, p. 16.

[8] See:


No Duty to Retreat.

“Here’s the thing about rights—they’re not actually supposed to be voted on. That’s why they’re called rights.”–Rachel Maddow, August 2010. Still, people try to justify the “right to keep and bear arms.” One justification is that of self-defense. Is there anything to this justification for individual gun-ownership?[1] It’s controversial. Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of people believe that having a gun in the house will make a person safer. Over half (56 percent) believe that people would be safer if more people carried concealed weapons. Basically, people think that dialing 911 doesn’t save people who are already dead or those who will die between the time you make the call and time the cops make an effective response.[2]

There are a lot of risks involved in keeping a gun in the house. For one thing, the risk of death from suicide is much greater. Although gun-owners are no more likely to attempt suicides than are non-gun-owners, they are much more likely to succeed if they do try it. Guns play a large role in the roughly 20,000 suicides in the US every year. Then, one study calculated that people who keep a gun in the house are 90 percent more likely to die of homicide than are people who do not keep a gun in the house. Another study found that an armed person was 4.5 times more likely to be shot during an assault than are people without a gun.[3] Not having a gun makes one more likely to run away in the face of danger than would be the case if one had a weapon.[4]

Florida State University criminology professor Gary Kleck ran one survey that led him to believe that guns are used in some form of “self-defense” up to 2.5 million times a year. “Nonsense,” say the critics. The FBI reports that there were only 258 “justifiable homicides”[5] in 2012 out of 14,827 total homicides. Another study found that there were fewer than 1,600 self-defense shootings—fatal and non-fatal–in 2014 out of a total of 52,000 shootings.

What if somebody breaks into your house (a “home invasion”)? In theory, your chances of getting killed in such an incident are virtually nil. In practice, between 1980 and 2008, the percentage of homicides that occurred during a felony—a home break-in or a street assault–was higher for elderly homicide victims age 65 or older than for homicide victims of other ages—rising from 30 percent at age 60 to 40 percent at age 85.[6] They died of not shooting back.

Back of the envelope, if there were about 50,000 shootings a year and about 15,000 deaths, then there was a wounding-to-death ratio of about 2 to 1. If that ratio were applied to “justifiable homicides,” then 258 “justifiable homicides:” would yield a figure of non-lethal “justifiable shootings” of maybe 550 shootings in addition to the “justifiable homicides.” That makes for an annual total of about 800 shootings in which the civilian shooter was “justified” in using force. However, the 2014 figure of 1,600 self-defense shooting indicates a much higher share of woundings to deaths.

So, broadly, there isn’t much ground for claiming that guns provide self-defense.

Unless you’re one of the people who saved your life by shooting some son-of-a-bitch.

[1] “Firearms and self-defense,” The Week, 6 November 2015, p. 14.

[2] In only 7 out of a total of 160 “active shooter” incidents catalogue by the FBI between 2000 and 2013, armed people shot the assailants to bring the slaughter to an end. Only one of those cases involved an armed civilian, rather than an off-duty police officer or an armed security guard. Obviously, gun-rights advocates will argue that this small number results from people not being allowed to carry weapons in many public venues.

[3] Those are correlations, not causation. Maybe people who keep guns in the house do so because they know violent people.

[4] This raises all sorts of psycho-cultural issues about “manhood” (and “womanhood”/dealing with abusive males).

[5] “The killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.”

[6] See:


Gun-ownership in America.

There are a lot of firearms in the United States. Roughly about one per person. What percentage of Americans own these firearms?

Survey data suggests a range of answers. A study done by a Harvard University team suggested that 38 percent of Americans own guns.[1] A study done by a Columbia University team suggested that about one-third of Americans own at least one firearm.[2] A study done by the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey suggests that the figure is 30 percent.[3] Arguably, there’s a broad convergence of estimates around the one-third figure.

The studies revealed interesting disparities in gun-ownership. There are big differences between states and between regions.

5.2 percent in Delaware.

5.8 percent in Rhode Island.

19.6 percent in Ohio

20.0 percent in California (the lowest rate of Western states).

28.8 percent in Vermont.

47.9 percent in North Dakota.

57.9 percent in Arkansas.

61.7 percent in Alaska. (D’uh.)

An article in Mother Jones[4] elaborated on the findings of the Columbia study.

Almost half (46 percent) reported having received a firearm as a gift.[5]

Only about one-third (34 percent) had taken a formal gun safety class.[6]

A table in the Mother Jones article shows the link between rising levels of gun ownership and rising levels of gun deaths. However, is it possible to have high rates of gun-ownership and low rates of gun violence? Yes. About 45 percent of Hawiians own guns, but it has a rate of gun deaths comparable to Massachusetts, where fewer than 25 percent of people own guns, and lower than New York, where only about 10 percent of people own guns. Is it possible to have low rates of gun-ownership and comparatively high levels of gun deaths? Yes. Only about 5 percent of Delawareans own guns, but it has a rate of guns death comparable to Texas, where 35 percent of people own guns. What explains these divergences from the norm?

Almost half (45 percent) of men own a gun, but only one-ninth (11 percent) of women own a gun. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of gun-owners own at least a handgun. Almost half (48 percent) of gun-owners have at least four guns.

So, is gun violence at high levels here to stay? Probably not. Gun ownership peaked at 53 percent in the crime-ridden early 1970s, then fell to about 33 percent today. Now the person most likely to own a gun is a married white man over 55 with at least a high school education. Gun-ownership may be like smoking: eventually, it may fall out of fashion in a changing culture.

[1] Lisa Hepburn, Matthew Miller, Deborah Azrael, and David Hemenway, “The US gun stock: Results from the 2004 national firearms survey,”  Injury Prevention. 2007 13:15-19.

[2] Bindu Kalesan, Marcos D. Villarreal, Katherine M. Keyes, and Sandro Galea, “Gun ownership and social gun culture,” Injury Prevention, June 2015.

[3] Reported in “The Blaze.”

[4] See:

[5] Requiring back-ground checks for personal transfer weapons is going to meet a lot of open opposition and covert defiance.

[6] No, instead, their fathers taught them. That’s been true for centuries.


Suicide generis.

In suicide, the United States ranks 50th among countries, with a rate of 12.1 per 100,000 people. South Korea[1] (28.9) ranks 2nd; Japan (18.5) ranks 17th; Belgium (14.2) ranks 34th; France (12.4) ranks 47th; Canada (10.8) ranks 70th; and Britain (6.2) ranks 102nd.[2] Within this broad figure are many sub-categories. We can cut up the data by gender, race, age, and region.

Within the American rate of 12.1 suicides per 100,000 people is a big disparity. The rate for men is 19.4 per 100,000; the rate for women is 5.2 per 100,000. American men who attempt suicide are almost four times as likely to succeed as are American women. Almost all firearm suicides are men. Why is this? Possibly because most women don’t like guns and don’t want to know how to use one, so guns aren’t an option when they want to commit suicide—even if the guns are available. Possibly, women just want to make a demonstration that something in their life is terrible, while men really do want to blow out their brains. Why would men, more than women, want to make sure that suicide ends in death?

The highest U.S. suicide rate (14.2) was among Whites and the second highest rate (11.7) was among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Much lower rates were found among Asians and Pacific Islanders (5.8), Blacks (5.4) and Hispanics (5.7).[3]

The highest U.S. suicide rate (19.1) was among people 45 to 64 years old. The second highest rate (18.6) occurred in those 85 years and older. (That I can understand: no months in bed with tubes in you and with somebody wiping your backside just so the doctors can bill your heirs.) Everyone younger than these groups has had consistently lower suicide rates.[4]

In 2013, nine Western states had suicide rates in excess of 18/100,000: Montana (23.7), Alaska (23.1), Utah (21.4), Wyoming (21.4), New Mexico (20.3), Idaho (19.2), Nevada (18.2), Colorado (18.5), and South Dakota (18.2).[5] Conversely, places in the Northeast had suicide rates lower than 9 per 100,000: District of Columbia (5.8), New Jersey (8.0), New York (8.1), Massachusetts (8.2), and Connecticut (8.7). Shoveling snow and warding-off black flies is good.

What is it about being a middle-aged white man in contemporary America that has the same psychological effect as living on an Indian Reservation, among the bleakest places in America? One criminal justice scholar has offered an explanation for mass shootings that may also bear on the suicide rate in the United States. American culture says that hard work leads to success. Except that it often does not (or people persuade themselves that they have worked hard when that isn’t exactly true). At some point, these men come to despair. For mass shooters, “they are in real pain, but they’re eager to blame that pain on those around them.”[6] They lash out. Perhaps far more men conclude that they themselves are to blame for their misfortunes. Hence, suicide. So, is it possible that “the American Dream” is more of a nightmare?

[1] What’s so awful about South Korea? Well, it’s a country that has gone through a dramatic social transformation in less than half a century. Now it’s mostly educated, industrial, urban, and exciting (leaving aside the kim-chee). However, the older generation is stuck in the countryside, farming hard-scrabble land, without much education (or the opportunity that comes with education), and un-exciting. The kids rarely visit; they just send you a TV so you can see what you’re missing. Many older people feel cast-aside or a burden. This is true of both old men and old women: the suicide rate is nearly the same for both genders. Eventually, the suicide rate will drop.

[2] See:

[3] See:

[4] See:   However, in 2013, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 10.9.

[5] See: Ouch! A bunch of these are places I’d like to retire.

[6] John Lankford, University of Alabama, quoted in “The killing contagion,” The Week, 11 September 2015, p. 11.


The Secret History of the Second Amendment I.

In 17th Century England, exponents of “natural rights” held that humans had a “right to life,” so they had a “right to self-defense,” so they had a “right to keep and bear arms.” The English “Bill of Rights” (1689) forced on William and Mary[1] as part of the price for them gaining the throne “restored” this long-standing right after King James II had tried to take it.

No one in colonial British America doubted that the “right to keep and bear arms” was an individual right possessed by all free white men. They recognized that this right could lead to trouble on occasion,[2] but they never questioned it. The American Revolution extended this claim to a right of armed resistance against tyranny, but did not replace it. The prefatory clause in the Second Amendment (1791) about “A well-regulated militia” reflected this blurring of two issues. Post-war rebellions on the frontier[3] led to calls for the creation of a strong army, rather than to a questioning of the individual right to keep and bear arms.

Nineteenth Century America could be a violent place, so efforts to limit weapons arose. The efforts sparked the basic division between those who saw the right to keep and bear arms as an “individual” right and those who saw it as a “collective” right operated through the state militia. Only in the aftermath of the Civil War did this debate reach the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1875 the Supreme Court interpreted the Second Amendment to mean that the federal government could not regulate individual possession of arms, but that state governments were free to do so. The case in question arose out of efforts to disarm freedmen to make them vulnerable to attack by the Ku Klux Klan. The Court upheld this strategy.[4] In 1886, the Supreme Court re-affirmed that the federal government could not regulate arms, but that the states could regulate arms. The case in question arose out of efforts by companies to disarm working men to make them vulnerable to attack by gun-thugs hired by the employers to prevent unionization. The Supreme Court upheld this strategy.[5] There matters rested for 50 years.

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, various local efforts at gun control proliferated.[6] None of these challenged the individual right, but they sought—with uneven effect—to regulate its use. Then came the “Noble Experiment”: Prohibition.[7] Prohibition stimulated violence among black-market liquor dealers.[8] In 1934, in a reaction against the violence, Congress passed the National Firearms Act (NFA). It required the registration and control of private ownership of fully automatic machine guns and sawn-off shotguns. Congress had considered banning hand-guns as well, but decided that was a loser’s game: too many men owned hand-guns for perfectly legitimate purposes.[9] In 1939, the Supreme Court upheld this law.[10] There matters rested for 30 years.

[1] The king and queen, not the highly-regarded university in Virginia attended—ahem–by my god-son.

[2] For example, writs of eviction of frontier squatters often were not served by sheriffs “by reason of a gun.”

[3] Shay’s Rebellion, 1786-1787; the Whiskey Rebellion, 1791.



[6] See: See:

[7] The “war on alcohol” preceded the “war on abortion” before Roe v. Wade, which preceded the “war on drugs.”

[8] See:; see:’s_Day_Massacre

[9] See:

[10] See: In 1968 the Supreme Court found that the law would require self-incrimination if a convicted felon failed to register a weapon he was not allowed to own. Sigh. It was the Sixties. See: “Dirty Harry” (dir. Don Siegel, 1971),