In our extended family we celebrate our similarities and differences on philosophical and policy matters by occasionally engaging in rounds of email discussions on a particular subject. Among us are liberals and conservatives, progressives and libertarians, believers and secularists. We’ve been at it for quite a while, and most of us enjoy the fray, always keeping in mind that the relationships are more important than any particular subject.
Following the terrible events in Oregon, Paris, San Bernardino and Chicago this fall, we launched into a discussion on guns and gun control, triggered by an article in The New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. Many of the arguments and positions were what you would expect, but my brother Jim, a former police officer, held back and finally wrote the following thoughtful response to points made by others.
With his permission, I am reprinting Jim’s input here as a bonus guest post this month. I hope that you enjoy his perspective on this important subject:
I think I’m the only person in our thread who has been shot at, returned fire, actually shot another human being at close range, and been wounded by someone shooting at me, so I probably have a different perspective than most. A friend of mine standing directly in front of me was killed, and my partner was grievously wounded and almost died, when we were fired upon by a sociopath armed with an assault rifle. He also had several more assault rifles in his house. So I have a firsthand perspective on the assault rifle issue as well.
Finally, I have a degree in Criminology which is supposed to mean I know what causes crime and violence from an academic perspective, and am trained in understanding the statistics involved. You can take that for what it’s worth, which after being on the front lines of crime, I consider to be not much.
Part of the problem with our discussion is that many different issues get mixed together as if they are the same thing. For example, gun ownership in your home is not the same issue as carrying a concealed weapon into a movie theater. They need to be discussed separately.
Owning a Gun at Home. I’ll start with one of your comments. “If we get to the point where everyone is armed, including teachers, then I’ll be moving to a place that has way lower mortality/gun violence … like Chile, England, Ireland, Australia, Israel, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Austria, China, Spain, New Zealand, Poland, Norway, Iceland, Scotland, South Korea, Japan, or basically ANYWHERE else.”
Part of the problem with this statement and the accompanying NYT article is that the statistic being examined is gun homicides, not all homicides.
There is no direct relationship between the gun ownership percentage of the population and the all-cause homicide rate.
There are certainly examples where there seems to be such a relationship, like in the US, but there are enough examples of high ownership rates and not only a very low all-cause homicide rate but even a very low gun homicide and gun death rate, like Switzerland, or Norway, Finland, Sweden, France, Germany. It is NOT cause and effect.
And note that one of the countries in the world with the LOWEST gun ownership rate is Rwanda,
scene of one of the most horrific mass murders of an entire population in the last 50 years. In 100 days 1,000,000 people chopped up with machetes and scores of survivors are missing arms and legs. See: Small Arms Survey and Guns Per Capita Per Country; and Rwandan Genocide. If you haven’t read the Rwandan link, it’s extremely chilling. Probably only Pol Pot was worse in that time frame.
Which brings me back to the initial email and linked article that started this whole discussion: Nicholas Kristof. “We can improve public safety without eliminating guns. Switzerland has guns everywhere because nearly all men spend many years as part time members of the armed forces (it’s said that Switzerland doesn’t have an army; it is an army). Yet while military weapons are ubiquitous, crime is low.”
To expand on Switzerland, if you aren’t familiar: All able bodied men of sound mind are required to join the Swiss army, and when their active duty status is up they are in the reserves until age until age 30 (age 34 for officers). As part of their reserve requirement each man has a government issued assault rifle and ammunition in their home. After their reserve duty is finished they can ask to keep their assault rifle for life, which most of them do. Not to confuse this with Switzerland’s other gun laws, they have some very strict ones. My intent is to point out that virtually every household can have an assault rifle in it and still have a very low gun violence rate. And of course they have a very low crime rate too.
Americans have had a very high gun ownership rate since before we were a country, and, unlike Switzerland, yes, there is something wrong in our country.
It’s not that we own too many guns, it’s much deeper than that. And to be blunt if you remove black on black homicide from the statistics, we probably match favorably with many countries previously cited. I’m not being racist at all. I spent almost half my career in the black community risking my life and health to protect our black population. It’s simply a fact that if we don’t address black on black crime we’ll never get a handle on the violent crime issue in the US.
America’s Mass-Shooting Capital Is Chicago, but it isn’t in the white neighborhoods. There are neighborhoods there that eclipse the worst countries in the world. Baltimore and
Washington DC are right up there too. And I can promise you, taking guns away from old ladies living alone in those neighborhoods is not the answer. They all have guns to protect themselves.
In Washington D.C., for instance, the death rate associated with firearms is more than thirteen and a half times for African-Americans what it is for whites.
In New Jersey black people are four and a half times as likely to die from gun violence than whites. In Illinois African-Americans are roughly four and a quarter times as likely; in Massachusetts, black people are just over four times as likely; and in Michigan black people are just under four times as likely.
Of course Nicholas Kristof did not cover this reality when he wrote the column that sparked this email thread! Why do liberals never want to address black on black crime when it’s clearly the primary driver of homicides in the country? I have a theory that the reason is because virtually all big cities with large black populations are run by Democrats. Solving the problem of why blacks murder blacks at such high rates is another entirely different discussion but must be addressed by both liberals and conservatives.
Kristof recommends more gun laws to solve the problem as represented in the San Bernardino terrorist attack. But which new law would have helped?
- California banned high capacity magazines.
- California requires background checks on all gun purchases, including sales at gun shows.
- California has a ten day waiting period.
- Neither of the San Bernardino terrorists were on any watch-list or no fly list.
- The female lied on her address for her visa to come into the US and was “background checked” by the State Department.
- They both possessed pipe bombs which are illegal to possess both in California state law and Federal law, and by every state law, period.
Does anyone here seriously think that even MORE gun laws would have prevented this attack?
What could have mitigated the losses would have been a couple of folks in the room having weapons to shoot back.
Maybe you feel you don’t need a gun where you live, fine. I don’t want anyone who is uncomfortable around guns and untrained in their use to have one, but of course that is your choice, no one’s forcing you one way or the other. And maybe you don’t need one in the cloister of a university, but don’t tell me elderly men and women, and the majority of decent law abiding citizens in the worst neighborhoods in America, don’t need them. They will be the last folks to give up their guns because they KNOW the criminals will never give up theirs.
Carrying a Weapon Outside the Home. So if owning guns in your home is OK, is carrying a gun outside of your home OK? That’s an entirely different discussion. I’ll try to be more brief on that.
When I was an active duty police officer we assumed everyone to be armed. When doing a routine traffic stop, the computer would tell us before we got out of the patrol car that JohnSmith was a registered concealed carry permit holder. On the one hand that alerted us to the fact the driver was very likely to be armed. On the other hand, it also told us that the driver had gone thru a background check and firearms safety class, so the net anxiety level for us was neutral. Sure if the guy is drunk and your stopping him for DUI and he has a concealed permit that added a great deal to the anxiety level and we would move to separate the drunk from his gun as fast as possible. But for a speeding violation, no, we wouldn’t take their gun, even temporarily for the duration of the stop. Most of the time a concealed permit holder would be responsible enough to tell us that he was carrying a weapon and where it was before anything else was said.
So as far as I’m concerned every US citizen of good standing (no criminal history, no mental
illness) who has passed a background check, and has passed a firearms safety class, shall be accorded the right to a concealed carry permit. Notice I used the operative shall, not at the discretion of the sheriff or any official.
One of the things we DID do that is probably unconstitutional and maybe even illegal: When we would go to a domestic “family beef” we would immediately scoop up all he guns in the house and take them for “safekeeping”. The owner could go to our property room the next day and reclaim their guns. Now keep in mind this is not the same as a domestic violence call where at least one spouse has been assaulted; clearly we could take the guns in that situation. I’m talking about when the neighbor calls the police because next door there is a very loud family argument going on. Typically there was alcohol involved and that was our best legal justification for taking their guns away for the evening. It’s one of those things police do that the law doesn’t really cover, but keeps the family and their neighbors safe for at least one night.
Alcohol + Guns, like Alcohol + Cars/Trucks, and Alcohol + many things, can be deadly not only for the person consuming the alcohol but anyone they come in contact with. The real public health problem driving homicides, assaults, accidental death, and suicides is not guns, it’s alcohol. But that’s an entirely different discussion.
Gun Free Zones. Possibly the dumbest idea that liberals have ever come up with. The ONLY people who obey that law are responsible law abiding citizens. The criminals love gun freezones because that means they can operate without opposition!
However I do support a private owner’s right to ban guns on their establishment’s premises. If the owner wants to post a sign that says no guns allowed, that’s his/her right to do that. It just means I won’t shop or dine there. Personally I feel much safer in the restaurant that has a sign that says gun owners are welcome.
Revoking the second amendment and criminalizing gun ownership. If a gun free zone is one of the dumbest ideas, then this one takes first prize. It’s wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to start. I would think that our liberal progressive friends would recognize that if Prohibition was a failure because it criminalized millions of Americans for nothing more than drinking alcohol, and that the War on Drugs is a dismal failure, then a War on Gun Owners would make these two policies look like a walk in the park. This is Res Judicata and not worthy of any further discussion. Except to say the Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Assad, Putin, Saddam, and a host of other dictators would agree that it’s a great idea.