Friday, December 14, 2012

Yes, this is as good a time as any to demand gun control

Shall I repeat myself? When people who did not grow up around guns have the audacity to suggest that guns are too readily-available in this country, we immediately stand accused of a) making a tragedy political, b) not actually hating guns, just hating those who aren't coastal elites and using the gun issue as a socially-acceptable way to hate on "Real Americans" or c) being out-of-touch with Gun Culture.

The first two items are basically bad-faith accusations, in that they suggest the outrage that I, for example, feel at a time like this (and add on the usual human emotional provincial thing of, this happened near where I live and grew up, in a place very much like where I live now, and I'm a teacher myself, reading about this between grading final exams) is somehow inauthentic, a mere opportunity to say Go Dems, or to express some kind of pride in not being "flyover" or who knows. This isn't even worth engaging with.

But I'll readily confess to not quite being able to wrap my head around the pro-gun stance. I'm not proud that I don't come from a pro-gun family/community, because this was just chance. I don't have any way of knowing how I'd feel if I'd grown up in a different family/community, any more than I know where I'd have stood had I been born to a slave-owning family in the antebellum South (ha! considering my family's actual conditions at that point in history), or take this to the obvious Godwin conclusion. We are all products of circumstance. Fine. This tells us that we shouldn't consider ordinary people evil, who just believe in what they're told is normal.

But I'm under no cultural-relativist obligation to pretend that being pro-gun is just as valid a stance as wanting the things possessed only by military, law enforcement, and some well-regulated hunting lodges (preferably far, far from any schools). It's obviously necessary for those involved in this from the really pragmatic side, the people who feel as I do but for strategic reasons pretend to only want illegal guns, or certain types of gun, off the streets, to really, really get where the pro-gun contingent is coming from, so as to sensitively, respectfully address their concerns. But me personally, I'm not in the mood to strategize, nor to apologize for a lack of rustic credentials. Just to say my piece on this.


caryatis said...

The point isn't that your stance is automatically wrong because you're not from Kentucky. But people's opinions are influenced by their background. If someone grows up exclusively in an urban setting, that tells me they're likely to know little about guns.

And when someone reflexively dismisses the possibility that guns are valuable for self-defense, that seems to me more a reflection of that person's personal experience with guns that a reasoned examination of the evidence.

The real question, in my mind, is not pro-gun or anti-gun, it's: do people have the right to defend themselves with lethal force? And if you say they do, then clearly they should have access to technology allowing them to do so. And if you say "why can't they just call the police," then you're probably a city-dweller. With a remarkable degree of trust in the cops.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

As I recall from the last time around, it's unclear whether guns are in fact of any use for self-protection. What stops me from wanting a gun isn't that I live in a city (not at all -I live outside a small town, in the woods), but because it seems far more likely that I'd accidentally shoot myself/someone nearby with one than that I'd protect myself from intruders.

But broadly speaking, there's a right to self-defense, within reason. Obviously I can use more than a spoon, but can I use a nuclear weapon? Wouldn't where we draw the line need to involve looking into all the possible tragedies misuse of whichever implement could make possible?

caryatis said...

I'm not telling _you_ to buy a gun, just to allow those who think they would be useful for self-defense to keep them. Personally, I've been wishing for a gun today, because I happen to have a downstairs neighbor whose PCP use seems to cause violent manic episodes, and he keeps getting out of jail.

You're completely right that the right to self-defense doesn't include rights to any and all weapons. Nuclear weapons and machine guns would be excluded because of the high risk of hurting innocent bystanders. But a handgun actually works pretty well for self-defense. It's useful at short range, easy to use and easy to secure against unauthorized users, and a lot more effective than a knife or Mace would be.

And then we get into the question of how many gun murders need to happen before they justify taking away a valuable technology from law-abiding people. I don't see any kind of consensus developing on this anytime soon, since it relates to all sorts of subjective factors, like your (generic you) personal experience with guns, your willingness to use lethal force to defend yourself, your trust in the police, and your tolerance for risk in general.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"I'm not telling _you_ to buy a gun [...]"

OK, but my point was that my not wanting one (it's likely not allowed for me to have one where I live, for 100 different reasons) has nothing to do with living in an urban environment. I see deer basically every day. (The best argument for having a gun would be, I suppose, that venison's allegedly delicious, and that these particular animals, if allowed to roam as they please, are the tick-propelling kind.) I don't think there are cops nearby (traffic cops near-ish), so that really doesn't enter into it.

caryatis said...

It probably has more to do with your childhood experience of guns and level of experience and comfort with using them than with your current, adult surroundings.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

In the interest of not entirely rehashing the last go-around, I do say in this post that background enters into my opinions on this issue. I address this head-on, and say that be that as it may, I'm not going to use that fact as a point of departure for a relativist, everyone-is-equally-right-about-this-issue approach.

caryatis said...

That's not what I'm saying. We all have biases, and I'm biased in favor of guns. But the two sides can still have a discussion about how to balance the right to self-defense with the danger of accidents, although I don't see an ultimate consensus because the conclusion rests on subjective considerations. Fortunately the Constitution settled this question for us.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"Fortunately the Constitution settled this question for us."

Sarcasm, I assume?

It's not that there can't be any discussion, and when my blood pressure isn't what it is right now, I'll no doubt be capable of it. I do mention in the post that the issue isn't that I think those with a pro-gun bias based on their upbringings are somehow worse people than I am - I don't think this at all.

It's that I refuse, at times like these, to do the liberal thing of apologizing. Apologizing for where I grew up, for my bizarre bias against everyday citizens possessing lethal weapons.

Flavia said...

I come from a military family, in a hunting state. My husband is a police brat, from an equally hunting-friendly state. We both grew up with guns in the house (though my dad's was locked away and my husband's mom's was on the kitchen counter every night). That said, I don't think there's anything absurd about people who didn't grow up around guns calling for greater gun control.

My spouse and I (along with our weapons-trained parents!) are completely agreed that gun control is necessary. At a minimum, the return of the assault-weapons ban, and/or restrictions on magazine capacity, seem like a reasonable compromise that does not infringe in any meaningful way on the rights of citizens to bear arms.

Assault weapons are meant to assault. It's not just unarmed civilians, but actual policemen and -women (people who are highly trained shooters, with regular weapons training) who have basically no recourse in the face of a weapon that is specifically designed to overwhelm returning fire, and that permit an assailant to keep shooting without reloading.

On the other hand, UNARMED civilians (or armed civilians or police personnel) CAN overwhelm someone who has to reload, when he has to reload, by taking advantage of the period when he can't shoot. Assault weapons with huge magazines do not give you that opportunity. It's that simple.

What we need to do is bring back the assault weapons ban, pronto--or for God's sake, reduce magazine size. Other restrictions are debatable. This is just common sense.

(Sorry to get shout-y. It's been that kind of day.)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Interesting perspective!

"[...] a reasonable compromise that does not infringe in any meaningful way on the rights of citizens to bear arms."

I guess where I'm coming from on this, though, is that I'm thinking that while we'll ultimately need to look for middle-ground, the current landscape is such that the really fervent pro-gun-control side wants... background checks, closed loopholes, bans on assault weapons. If there were some contingent arguing that there is no individual right to bear arms (plenty feel just fine arguing that abortion is murder despite Roe v Wade), then that would shift where this middle-ground would fall.

Point being, one approach would be for all who are for gun-control to calmly educate themselves on the nuances, to speak really respectfully not just of the individuals who currently own guns (which is proper) but of gun-ownership itself.

Another, though, would be for at least some in this camp to take a far stronger position. A position I, incidentally, happen to hold, and not for any strategic reasons.


I don't remember if I'd brought this up before, but I was wondering why you see home invasion (by a stranger, presumably) as a greater threat than domestic violence. Those most keen on killing/injuring any of us are people we know. And if it's one's boyfriend/husband/girlfriend/wife, that person's going to know where you keep the gun, and the self-protection to danger-at-home ratio would seem to shift.

Andrew Stevens said...

Phoebe, you are being misled by bad statists and statistical analysis by ill-informed media types. A survey of 1988 homicide victims by the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed only 6.5% of murder victims are killed by spouses, 3.5% by parents, 1.9% by children, 1.5% by siblings, and 2.6% by other family members for a total of only 16%. 64% are killed by "friends or acquaintances" which would include such people as the rival drug dealer down the street or that guy in the bar who's always looking at you funny. The other 20% are killed by strangers.

Despite the obvious truth that spouses have much more opportunity and probably motive to kill you than anybody else does, they're still far less likely to than someone else.

Andrew Stevens said...

Left out the "ic" in statistics, obviously.

Also, your spouse rarely just gets up one day and kills you. Invariably there will have been some sort of violence in the relationship prior to that. It is simply inconceivable that my wife is secretly harboring some desire to off me and I have no idea. And I'm the same person who frequently argues that many people are very, very good at deception and it's quite possible that your spouse could be cheating on you/secretly gay/a closet pedophile without your having any idea (and that we shouldn't judge spouses in this position because "they should have known"). If your spouse is likely to kill you, though, you are almost guaranteed to have big red flashing warning signs. It is virtually unknown for a spouse to kill another without previous violence in the relationship.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Not sure where you're going with the second comment - that we can't know which strangers/acquaintances have it in for us, but that if our spouses do, we'd know? I mean, most of the time? But given that a certain number of people in all societies do have it in for their family members (and if my French-history studies are correct, there are such things as crimes of passion, inspired by suddenly-acquired new information, i.e. catching one's partner in bed with someone else), seems best for there not to be a really, really easy way of committing murder.

Re: the first, the info you provide (from 1988) doesn't really address the home-intrusion-in-the-wilderness scenario Caryatis keeps coming back to. People you know might or might not know where you keep a gun. Family members likely would, complete strangers likely would not.

Andrew Stevens said...

What I am not saying: that you will know that your potentially violent spouse is going to kill you. This is obviously false. Lots of people who are capable of killing in a fit of passion never do so.

What I am saying: that if your spouse is not violent and never loses his/her temper, then you can know to almost an absolute certainty that he/she won't kill you in a fit of passion.

If you are married to the sort of person who has any real possibility of killing you in a fit of passion, even when exposed to new information, you will almost surely know that within the first couple of years of the relationship. My wife, for example, knows that I am capable of killing her dispassionately and in cold blood if I became convinced that she needed to die, but she can also be 100% sure (or as close as humans can come to that) that I am not going to kill her in a fit of passion. I am not a passionate man. Similarly, I am morally certain my wife is not going to kill me out of passion, though I can't be 100% sure she wouldn't kill me for some cold-blooded motive, but in that case it doesn't matter whether we have guns in the house or not.

Home invasion statistics are hard to come by, since they're not reliably classified as a separate crime category by most jurisdictions. Best figure I was able to find is that about 14.5% of homicides are home invasion-related, but I have good reason to believe that the majority are actually "victim kills invader" rather than vice versa. Invaders seem to much prefer committing aggravated assault and homicides don't appear to be very common. Probably more common than being killed by one's spouse though.

Stendhal said...

Sorry that I'm a little late to the party, but I would like to address one of your statements (that I think explains why the gulf of reasonability between you and caryatis seems wider than it actually is):

"What stops me from wanting a gun . . . [is] it seems far more likely that I'd accidentally shoot myself/someone nearby with one than that I'd protect myself from intruders."

This seems to stem from the oft-quoted statistic that "you are 40 times more likely to be killed with a gun than to kill someone in self-defense." But let's unpack this a little bit, shall we?

25.6 of that 40 are suicides. Personally I think suicide is something we shouldn't be regulating. But, in arguendo, if it were, there is very little correlation between method and probability of committing suicide (Iceland and Japan, the two all-time control champs both have over twice our suicide rate). There are simply far too many effective and readily available ways to off yourself for a gun to make much difference.

13.4 out of the 40 are murders. But notice: most of these murders mean you are being murdered with *someone else's gun* not your own. As for the risk of domestic homicide (only 14% of all homicides), I don't think guns really change things. If you're going to *sleep in the same house* with a homicidal person, it doesn't really matter if it's a gun, or a knife, or a random blunt object (or in the case of a male assailant, bare hands) that does you in. There are plenty of domestic murders in Europe/Japan and a higher rate in Ukraine (which has excellent gun control, nearly no firearms-related homicides and an overall murder rate only a little higher than ours).

Okay, so now we're down to somewhere between 0.9 and 1.2 to 1 (depending on the year): accidental deaths vs. killing in self-defense. This is about a wash (around 600-700 of each a year).

However, the vast majority of defensive gun uses (most estimates are over 99%!) do not involve a gun being fired. The deterrent effect of being able to draw a weapon is very high and it's actually rare that someone has to fire a shot.

I live in a urban area with a high crime rate and (like most states in America) a "shall-issue" concealed carry policy (meaning that if you pass the background check, the police have to give a specific reason to deny your permit). For women and those who live in areas that are under-served by police (read: minorities and the LGBT community), this ability to draw a weapon often makes the difference between being brutally assaulted and walking home safely.

And what about concealed carry? Every study shows that it either has no significant overall effect, or is correlated with a decrease in violent crime (presumably due to the deterrent effect). Yes, there's the occasional George Zimmerman, but concealed carry is widespread now and the fear of every fender-bender and bar room argument turning into the O.K. Corral simply hasn't materialized. Also note that banning concealed carry wouldn't have affected Friday's events at all -- the killer didn't have one (and presumably couldn't get one if he tried -- the background checks are very thorough).

So, do guns overall make society less safe? Yes, of course, absolutely (I'm a reasonable gal). But does *you* personally owning a gun make *you* more safe? It's hard to arrive at any other conclusion based on an unbiased reading of the relevant statistics.

Personally, I think this ability to take ownership over your own safety is worth a society that is slightly more dangerous overall (NB: the overall murder rate in the UK and elsewhere did not decline substantially after gun control was implemented -- murderers are apparently rather determined people). But I understand if you disagree.

And I've rambled long enough. The point is that this actually *is* a case of "both sides have valid points." This isn't just an obvious and reasonable public safety measure vs. "real 'murica."

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


What I'm left wondering (I obviously don't know where you've gotten these stats, but will assume for the sake of argument they're absolute uncontroversial Fact) is, surely situations - domestic, or outside - can escalate. The world isn't divided neatly between people who would or would not commit murder, such that the ease of doing so has no impact. Do you really not think there are lots of cases where what, in the absence of guns, would be a punch-in-the-face, ends with one or more people killed or far more seriously injured?

As for both sides having valid points, the pro-gun side loses credibility when it attempts by and large not to make whichever points, but to preemptively silence any debate. As in, it's too political to talk about guns. Or, as in, no one from a city/a coast has the right to weigh in. Whereas the pro-gun-control side if anything spends far too much time trying to placate the other side, assuring that no one wants to take away your precious guns, before tentatively suggesting that maybe existing laws should be better-enforced, or otherwise being tepid.

Moebius Stripper said...

I was commenting the other day on Twitter that I've fired a gun (Gadna, back in the day). Hit the target most of the time, too. Not an overwhelming majority of the time, sure - maybe 60%. But that was after barely any time on the range, and I assume that with a bit of practice, I could get to be a pretty good shot. Yet I absolutely do not expect I'd be able to perform well with a gun *under tremendous amounts of stress*.

And, hey, look, I said this back in July during that thread. But it was only a personal anecdote then.

Turns out that civilians who carry concealed weapons aren't any better than I think I would be at deploying their weapons appropriately when confronted by criminals. The main difference between them and me isn't skill with weapons, or actual ability to perform under pressure; it's self-awareness.

PG said...

We could have stricter guns laws (like those in Norway) and it wouldn't decrease planned mass shootings so much as it would "regular" shootings.

But the experience of Hawaii (only state in the Union really able to control the flow of firearms thanks to lack of land border, length of boat ride from mainland) seems to indicate that a "well-regulated" system of gun ownership can reduce per capita crime. Particularly interesting with regard to mass shooting events, Hawaii requires a permit before buying firearms (the permit has a two week waiting period, medical record release, handgun safety training course), registration of firearms, and any carried firearm to be unloaded. So if you're a law-abiding person, no pulling a loaded handgun from your glove compartment because you're scared of black teenagers blasting rap music and talking back to you when you object.

easy to secure against unauthorized users

How are guns other than the kind in the latest Bond movie (can only be used by someone with Bond's palmprint) "easy to secure against unauthorized users"?

I did grow up in an area with high rates of gun ownership, lots of hunters plus people who are sincerely terrified of federal tyranny/ one-world government. (There used to be a billboard on my way to school that said "Get the UN out of Texas." When the UN had taken up residence in Texas was left unstated.)

I was talking to my mom earlier tonight about how little I walk now that I live in a high-crime area. I reassured her that (a) according to the local paper, almost everyone who got shot this past summer had at least an arrest record (I don't assume all those folks actually did anything illegal, only that they belonged to demographics (poor/ black or Latino) that I do not that are associated with crime); and
(b) I live in a fairly secure high-rise and haven't heard of anyone's car or apartment being broken into, whereas acquaintances in much nicer neighborhoods are complaining of burglaries and car break-ins.

She said, "Well, you never know" and told me that a professional acquaintance of my dad's back in my hometown recently had had his house broken into while his family was away, and the burglars had taken his guns.

So how are guns easy to secure against unauthorized users? Because I'm sure Dr. H would like to know for any guns he acquires in the future. I suspect he's going to be hearing some sad stories in the next few years about guns that might be traced back to him as purchaser. They probably won't be used to shoot up an elementary school (those weapons usually are legally acquired), but they may take out some minors, mothers, grandfathers.

caryatis said...

Phoebe, a bit late but to answer your question regarding domestic violence, I realize that domestic violence is more likely than an attack by a stranger, and you're right that a gun is less useful in that situation. A gun won't solve all your security problems, but I don't see that as a reason to discount the value of guns.

However, I personally have decided on the cheaper and more legal solution of a rope ladder, so that I will have an alternate exit to my apartment.

CW said...

Your hostility to the beautiful sport of Winter Biathalon is troubling. We don't all have the luxury of growing up in the big city away from sporting venues that combing cross-country ski trails and firing ranges.

On a serious note, the unwillingness of the gun lobby to agree to the sorts of sensible limitations suggested by Flavia convinces me that a group pushing for the repeal of the Second Amendment might be needed. Right now, the NRA doesn't think it needs to compromise.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I don't think anyone's saying that a gun has never helped protect anyone ever, under any circumstances. The issues are that a) guns purchased to provide a sense of protection often perfectly well end up killing or injuring someone, often the person who so wanted to be kept safe, and b) the reason we-in-this-country assume we need to go on having guns isn't because it has been proven that they make us safer, but because people already have and want to go on having guns.


It's telling with this, that you and others weighing in (here and elsewhere - I noticed this with Kristof as well) need to first establish your regional, gun-culture credentials. On the one hand I appreciate it, and on the other, it does serve to reinforce the idea that anything someone who grew up in a coastal, urban environment says about this is automatically discounted.


"the unwillingness of the gun lobby to agree to the sorts of sensible limitations suggested by Flavia convinces me that a group pushing for the repeal of the Second Amendment might be needed. Right now, the NRA doesn't think it needs to compromise."

Precisely. This should be appealing both to those interested in compromise and to those who really do think private citizens shouldn't be allowed to have guns.

PG said...


I gave the credential (and I suspect others on your blog have as well) because caryatis began this thread by saying, "But people's opinions are influenced by their background. If someone grows up exclusively in an urban setting, that tells me they're likely to know little about guns. And when someone reflexively dismisses the possibility that guns are valuable for self-defense, that seems to me more a reflection of that person's personal experience with guns tha[n] a reasoned examination of the evidence."

In particular, people who own guns but who also think it would be reasonable to regulate them more heavily give that bona fide because they want to make clear that they have skin in the game, that they are not just wanting to take something away from an Other. So, for example, Robert Wright suggests banning detachable magazines and guns that accept more than 6 cartridges at a time -- and notes that he owns such a gun himself. He is suggesting a law that takes away his own property.

Anyway, still curious as to how non-James-Bond handguns are "easy to secure against unauthorized users."

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Oh, my intent wasn't to fault you for providing credentials. I get that if only non-gun-owning urbanites (and by Caryatis's definition I count, despite the quasi-rural place I currently live) want gun control, there's no gun control. But I do find in this discussion that without credentials, you can't say anything without being accused of snobbery. When it's like, this issue really isn't like thinking everyone should eat more organic arugula, or listen to music produced in Bushwick, or who knows.

PG said...

I don't know if it's snobbery exactly, so much as an assumption that if you have little personal experience with guns or gun-owners, you're not-knowing-anything-about-it. It's the same response that parents tend to have when the childless bitch about babies' crying on planes: you are affected by this but you have a simplistic idea of what would prevent your being negatively affected.

PG said...

Also, credentials are useful in questioning dubious-sounding claims like a handgun being "easy to secure against unauthorized users," which may not be as obviously dubious to people unfamiliar with gun ownership and its woes, such as criminals stealing your evidently-not-perfectly-secured handguns.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


The credential thing doesn't add up, though, if the idea is that guns as an everyday household item is a societal evil. Were the only people qualified to speak on slavery those whose families owned slaves? After all, they knew most about it. I do see why it's bonus points if one can speak to knowing all about guns and all about pro-gun arguments and yet favor gun control. But there's also a sense in which, to be qualified to speak on this issue, one must not only know about Gun Culture but respect gun ownership. The whole 'we're not trying to take away your guns,' disclaimer, often with an 'after all, we ourselves own guns' added on. That I, for example, respect the individuals who legally own and properly store their guns, but do not respect private gun ownership, puts me effectively outside this debate.

As for your example re: theft, I think city-dwellers are well aware of the phenomenon of unauthorized users of guns.