Friday, January 18, 2013

The Gun Debate - Wrongheaded thinking on both sides

It often takes unfortunate (and rare and overly publicized) events to crystallize a controversial topic in the American collective conscience. This is primarily because most people spend their days earning a paycheck and living their lives, as opposed to caring in the slightest about things which do not directly effect them. It's a human trait to be this way.

We can be thankful that we live in relatively non violent times. Though this is not the impression many people have, perhaps due to that very lack of exposure coupled with sensory overload on the topic, it is nonetheless statistically true. As human beings we tend to focus on what we feel, and thus on what we think we know because of that. As anyone who has been through a divorce can tell you, this is a bad way to evaluate the merits of either things or people.

The ownership of firearms is a long standing and strong tradition in America. It is also one guaranteed by The Constitution. Gun ownership is an integral part of being able to exercise ones liberty, even for those who would never own one.

America has one of the highest homicide rates in the western world, at about 10,000 gun related homicides per year. The overwhelming majority of these homicides, according to the FBI, are committed by people who for one reason or another (clinically demonstrated mental instability, felons, and people subverting existing gun law) should have never had a gun in the first place. Why is this so?

Part of this is a sheer numbers equation. There are nearly 300,000,000 guns in the U.S. in private hands. Just as countries who have lower amounts of cars per capita than we do have less in the way of automobile accidents, the same is true of other nations where there are less guns.

It is interesting to note that though we have a high homicide rate, we have a MUCH MUCH lower rate of violent crime overall than most countries that ban or limit gun ownership.

In Australia for instance a woman is 4 times as likely to be raped as in America. You are nearly 5 times more likely to be physically assaulted in Ireland than America. These two are some of the more extreme examples, but in general violent crime is higher, and oftentimes significantly higher in countries where gun ownership is either difficult or prohibited.

The explanation as to why this is so should be obvious, but if it isn't I will spell it out for you. Human beings are often violent. And more to the point roughly 97% of those incarcerated for violent offences throughout the world (the percentages vary slightly) are men.

Men are often violent. It is in our biology to have a greater propensity for violence than females, and in our psychology collectively as a species to be in denial of this fact. A person simply with the willingness to *be* violent has an advantage over....ALL OF US. Someone who is physically stronger than you and willing to be violent can do as he pleases, and can more readily do as he pleases knowing full well the liklihood of you being able to defend yourself is nonexistent.

In other words a certain level of violence is endemic to our species and to think otherwise is just plain naive. Living in our safe little worlds where (thankfully) few of us actually experience violence in no way makes this not true.

I've had enough practical experience in the world to know how precisely true this is personally, and from both sides of the situation. I have been physically assaulted, robbed at gunpoint multiple times, and on more than one occasion been forced to defend my life. I have also had to use my understanding of human nature to bully and coerce people unwilling to behave civilly with not only the threat of violence, but actual violence to defend myself, my property, as well as employees and loved ones.

I've seen many people, in situations where I've had to "take charge" of a caustic situation, cower and panic. Not because they are weak people, but rather because they've had the privilege of enjoying a relatively violence free life and simply have no practical experience with understanding how to cope.

Not knowing something does NOT make one an expert on any subject. And this seems to largely be the case with those who think it's a realistic idea to somehow remove a quarter of a billion guns from the country.

We see colorful interpretations of language used to describe things in this debate as well.

Assault weapon for instance.

What exactly does this mean? The definition is so arbitrary as to be meaningless in any practical sense. The proposals to limit gun magazine capacity, as if this would have any appreciable effect, amuse me the most. Take a peek at this, and realize magazines with only six rounds in them are as deadly as ones with 16.

The skill required to do what is shown in the above video is an easily acquired skill. I can reload a semi automatic pistol nearly as fast, and unlike the presenter above I don't shoot guns every day.

The sad reality that most people are not facing here is this. Anyone with the motivation to maim and kill many people will always be easily capable of doing so. The fact that, from a legal standpoint, schools are considered "gun free zones" in no way makes schools free from gun violence. Violence is ILLEGAL, and no amount of laws passed anywhere will make it less illegal...or less tragic. Had schools not been legislated into becoming gun free zones, perhaps someone on campus might have been able to down an attacker.

It is no small surprise that all major shootings that have occurred successfully in America have taken place in precisely those places where guns are not allowed. As long as guns are available in America (and they always will be unless the country collectively develops the nerve to pass a Constitutional Amendment to the contrary) we have to accept the reasons WHY they are available.

The real crux of the argument is not guns. It is who is allowed to get them, and who gets to decide. The BATF (Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms) is not even allowed to enforce existing law, due to political maneuvering by a misguided NRA to minimalize and restrict the governments say so in these two areas. The BATF's own statistics show that around 97% of all guns that hit the street illegally come from less than 1% of licensed gun dealers. You'd think the BATF would be able to put a stop to this, but they can't. Their hands are tied by existing law that doesn't allow them to do obvious things. Things like a federal registry. Things like inventory level reporting. The BATF isn't allowed to audit gun dealers but once a year. What is worse, due to the BATF being so understaffed as well as their being a ridiculous amount of licensed dealers in the U.S., the real story here is that the BATF on average only gets to these audits about once every 17 years. There are over 51,000 gun stores in the U.S., more than there are grocery stores. Even weirder, there are around 129,000 licensed dealers. So where are these roughly 80,000 "dealers" selling guns? Out of their homes, trunks, and gun shows. There is no such thing as a "gun show loophole", but consider the BATF's inability to police and audit 129,000 dealers with 2500 employees. Legitimate brick and mortar dealers do background checks religiously. And background checks are seamless and quick. My last one took all of 20 minutes. But the current situation basically turns it into an honor system, and as such it is the "hole in the dike" that is feeding inexpensive guns to criminals who do not have to resort to a black market.

In other words, why is it easier to get a FFL license than it is to sell alcohol in most states. It's easier to get an FFL license than it is to get a drivers license in many states. Does this make sense?

Technology has made this a more complex problem than our founders could have ever envisioned nearly two and a half centuries ago. Should we ban "assault weapons"? Perhaps, but only if we can come up with a reasonable argument for this. I honestly do not think a reasonable argument exists, beyond banning automatic weapons.....which have been banned for 80 years already and are not a problem. We do keep citizens from owning tanks and RPG's, but such devices are clearly not for defending an individuals liberties. No building has ever abridged your freedoms, so there's no need for the capacity to destroy one. Keep me from owning a gun? Only if you plan on taking it from my cold dead hands, unless I have been deemed mentally incompetent or been classed as a felon.

We have the mechanisms in place ALREADY to limit the proliferation of guns illegally. What we lack is the political will to do so.