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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7DhFhzkjcA

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What can be done?

What can we do? Solutions—in my mind—divide between the nonsensical (but effective) and the practical (but imperfect).

Nonsensical.

The Constitution allows for Amendment. Prohibition was instituted by Constitutional amendment and it was repealed by Constitutional amendment. The same could be true of the Second Amendment. So, amend the Constitution to repeal the current Second Amendment and replace with something that allows for more effective regulation.

This is where a lot of the push-back originates. Part of this reflects a deep distrust of the federal government.[1] Sales of semi-automatic, civilian versions of “assault rifles” have been booming. One type rose from 4,600 sold in 2006 to 100,000 sold in 2010. “The weapons that would be most suited to overthrow a dictatorial federal government would, of course, be weapons of war, and not sports equipment.”[2]

Part of it springs from a realistic belief in self-defense. The number of justifiable homicides by civilians is not great and has declined. From a high of about 325 in 1980, the number of justifiable homicides while disrupting a crime had fallen to about 150 in 2008. Among murder victims age 40 or older, the proportion of homicides committed during a felony began increasing, accounting for 32.8 percent of homicides of 64-year-old victims and 40.3 percent of homicides of 76-year-old victims. That is, some old person is at home or returns home while someone is breaking into their house and gets killed.

Between 1980 and 2008 the number of justifiable homicides while resisting attack bounced up and down between 50 and 100 a year. In sum, civilians kill with legal justification 200 to 250 times a year.

Regulate gun-ownership by age. The drinking age (21) is higher than the age to vote, to enlist in the military without your parents’ permission, to get married without your parents’ permission, and to be charged as an adult for whatever stupid thing you did last Saturday night (all 18). The courts have already approved an age distinction. So, if young men under 25 are the chief source of the murder problem, raise the age of legal gun ownership/possession to 25. For that matter, require men to surrender their guns when they hit 50, hold them in trust until they are 60, and ban gun sales to men in that age range.

Practical: Regulatory.

Greatly tighten ATF regulation of gun-dealers to eliminate the 8 percent of them (in the estimation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)), who supply the black market in guns. This will mean repealing or amending the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986.

A lot of prescriptions for anti-depressants are written by primary care physicians, rather than by psychiatrists. Push primary care physicians to aggressively inquire of their male patients aged 50 or more, about their state of mind. Look for signs of depression, ask whether they have guns in the house (pediatricians already do this), and require them to report cases where they fear someone may harm themselves (psychiatrists already have to report cases of potential violence to the police). Sure, there are privacy issues here. But who wants to be scrubbing brain-matter off bathroom tile?

Practical: Political.

End the “war on drugs.” One effect of the “war on drugs” has been to increase the supply of drugs and reduce the price. Another effect has been the “war for the corners” that has led to so many deaths. How is this a successful public policy? We’ve tried a “war on alcohol,” a “war on abortion” before Roe v. Wade, and a “war on drugs.” They all end in the same place.

Roger Lane, author of Murder in America: A History, tells us that, between 1865 and 1917, the “police, the temperance movement, the public schools–the items on the reform agenda designed to discipline the population–were successful as never before. And underlying all of them were the direct demands of the new kind of work itself, which helped create a whole new social psychology.” (p. 182.) Police departments got control of the streets after the Civil War, suppressing riotous behavior. Temperance movements cut down on the amount of alcohol consumed. Young people spent a lot more time in school (and out of trouble) learning how to put up with being bored. Most importantly, industrialization created enormous employment opportunities, even for the semi-skilled and unskilled, so they went to work instead of hanging around the street corner and boozing.

The same thing could happen again now. De-militarize the attitudes—not the weapons—of the police. Whatever you think of Planned Parenthood, fund Narcotics Anonymous. Reorganize the funding of public schools to transfer resources from suburbs toward inner cities. (You can always change your mind if it turns into a rat-hole.) Finally, make thoughtful choices in elections. Which candidates are actually likely to promote a renaissance of the American economy so that there is broad-based prosperity? Both parties claim that to be their goal. Both may have policies that would achieve that goal. It is up to each voter. You’re not a potted plant.

[1] Which criminalized Japanese ancestry in 1941.

[2] David Kopel, Cato Institute, quoted in “The assault weapon,” The Week, 15 February 2013, p. 11.

Murder.

In murders, the United States ranks 91st among countries, with a rate of 4.7 per 100,000 people. However, Japan has 0.3 homicides per 100,000; South Korea has 0.9; Britain has 1.0; France has 1.0; and Belgium has 1.6.[1] Saying, “well, at least were not Venezuela” isn’t much consolation if you’re trying to think of yourself as living in a civilized country.

What is the death toll from guns? In 2012, about 11,000 people were murdered with guns.[2] This is pretty much our current “normal.”

Who are the killers and who are the killed? From 1980 to 2008, young men (18 to 24 years old) have provided most of the killers. Better than a third (34 percent) of victims and almost half (49 percent) of the killers were under age 25. In cases of gun homicide, 59.7 percent of the killed were between 18 and 34, and 65.9 percent of the killers were between 18 and 34. In cases of drug-related homicides, 70.9 percent of the killed were between 18 and 34, and 76.4 percent of the killers were between 18 and 34.

Males represented 76.8 percent of the killed and 89.5 percent of killers. In gun-related homicides, 82.6 percent of the killed were males, and 92.1 percent of the killers were male. In drug-related homicides, 90.5 percent of the killed were males, and 95.5 percent of the killers were male.[3]

Blacks were and disproportionately represented among both the killed and the killers. According to the Census, 12.2 percent of Americans are black.[4] For all homicides, 47.4 percent of the killed were black; 52.5 percent of the killers were black. In gun homicides, 55.4 percent of the killed and 56.9 percent of the killers were black. In drug related homicides, 62.1 percent of the killed were black and 65.6 percent of the killers were black. In sum one of the biggest drivers in American murders is the illegal drug trade. The killings result from the “war for corners.” See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFkWPNJAy14

Since 2000, young (18-24) white males have accounted for about 6 percent of the population, about 10 percent of the killed, and about 16 percent of the killers. While young (18-24) black males have accounted for about 1percent of the population, 16 percent of the killed, 27 percent of the killers. That is, 1 percent of the population accounts for 27 percent of the killers. If you put the two groups together, then 7 percent of the population accounts for 26 percent of the killed and 43 percent of the killers.

In 2008, of the murders committed by killers 14 to 17 years-old, 37.5 percent involved multiple killers; and of the murders committed by killers aged 18 to 24 years-old, 27.5 percent involved multiple killers; while of the murders committed by killers aged 25 or older only 13.7 percent involved multiple killers. Is murder the price of admission to a gang?

From 1980 to 2008, 57.7 percent of homicides occurred in cities with a population of 100,000 or more; more than a third of all homicides in large cities occurred in the biggest cities (those with a population of 1 million or more); and two-thirds of all drug-related (67.4 percent) and gang-related (69.6 percent) killings took place in large cities.

The “war on drugs” is driving the killings in big cities and, thus, in the nation.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate

[2] “Noted,” The Week, 26 September 2014, p. 16.

[3] Apparently, drug-dealing is not subject to Title IX.

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_States#Race_and_ethnicity

Assault weapons.

In America, a lot of people own guns, but most people don’t own any guns.[1] Therefore, most people get confused by the terminology bandied about in public discourse. Government estimates are that Americans own 310 million guns: 196 million “long guns” (110 million rifles; 86 million shotguns), and 114 million hand guns (pistols). Perhaps 4 million of the “long guns’ are what might be called “assault weapons.”[2] A semi-automatic weapon fires one round each time the trigger is pulled. Semi-automatic weapons are fully legal, whether pistols, rifles, or shotguns. In contrast, an automatic weapon fires continuously as long as the trigger is depressed. So, an automatic weapon is a machine gun. These have been banned since 1934.

There is nothing like war to encourage innovation. One of the weapons that made the First World War so appalling was the machine gun—a heavy weapon served by the crew of three or four. Toward the end of the war, weapons-designers invented single-man-portable machine guns: the Thompson sub-machine gun and the Bergmann machine pistol. Other countries soon followed. Toward the end of the Second World War, the German weapon-designer Hugo Schmeisser (yes, that one) produced the “Sturmgewehr” (“storm rifle”). The Russkies soon adapted this into the AK-47.[3] The US countered with the M-16. Both weapons are “selective fire”: they can fire on either automatic or semi-automatic.

There is a semi-automatic version of the M-16 that is known under the generic label of the AR-15. The civilian version of these weapons still fire at a high rate (up to 50 rounds per minute) and they have little recoil. The latter facilitates a different kind of “gun control” than what liberals have in mind.

Sales of semi-automatic, civilian versions of “assault rifles” have been booming. One type rose from 4,600 sold in 2006 to 100,000 sold in 2010. Part of this reflects a deep distrust of the federal government.[4] “The weapons that would be most suited to overthrow a dictatorial federal government would, of course, be weapons of war, and not sports equipment.”[5]

Homicides rarely involve “assault weapons.” In 2011, there were 323 murders committed with any kind of rifle, but there were 6,220 committed with hand-guns. “Assault weapons” were used in less than half of the “mass shootings” in the last thirty years. On the other hand, some of the most eye-catching mass killings involved “assault weapons”: the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, and the Sandy Hook School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, both used civilian versions of “assault weapons.” One estimate suggests that banning assault weapons[6] would reduce the death toll from shootings by as much as 100 victims per year. That isn’t much in comparison to the 11,000 gun homicides a year in the United States. Unless you’re one of the dead or the bereaved.

On one level, the question is how did James Holmes (Aurora, CO), or Adam Lanza (Newtown, CN), or Jared Loughner (Phoenix, AZ) get a gun in the first place? On another level, the question is why people are obsessed by 4 million weapons that caused 300-odd deaths?

The real issue is hand-guns. Who owns them? Why? Would regulation work?

[1] If you just “don’t like guns,” then my tedious explanation is not for you. I understand your emotions, but do not share them.

[2] “The assault weapon,” The Week, 15 February 2013, p. 11.

[3] See: “The Gun That Made the Nineties Roar.”

[4] Which criminalized Japanese ancestry in 1941.

[5] David Kopel, Cato Institute, quoted in “The assault weapon,” The Week, 15 February 2013, p. 11.

[6] As Australia did after one terrible massacre in 1996.