Thursday, January 10, 2013

Pessimistic about Gun Control

Let me be clear from the beginning: I am strongly in favor of increased gun control in this country, especially the outlawing of assault weapons and guns with high-capacity magazines. I am for such control because I believe it would save the lives of many innocent victims, such as those children shot to death last month in Connecticut.
Specifically, I am in favor of the bill that Sen. Dianne Feinstein is proposing to the 113th Congress. That bill is basically the same as the one that was signed into law by President Clinton in 1994 and then expired in 2004.
Surely something needs to be done. For many years now the U.S. has averaged nearly 11,000 homicides per year by firearms. That is over 30 per day! That is more people shot to death every day of the year than were murdered on that terrible morning in Newtown, CT, on Dec. 14. Perhaps most of the daily homicides are not innocent children—but some of them are.
But I am not optimistic that meaningful gun control will soon be enacted. Both the power of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the opposition by owners of firearms are likely too strong for new gun-limiting legislation to be passed. I hope I am wrong.
There is one other cause of many tragic, and needless, deaths every day in this country, and that is the wrongful use (overuse) of alcoholic beverages. If there are those who think guns should be controlled in order to lessen the number of homicides, as I do, there are also those, such as I, who think that if alcohol was also banned there would not only be fewer murders but also far fewer people killed in traffic accidents.
Even though I haven’t heard them say so, I am sure that my friends who regularly drink alcohol, as some of my best friends do, would say that the problem is not alcohol but drinking irresponsibly. And that, no doubt, is true.
But that is exactly the same argument used by the NRA and others opposing gun control: the problem is not guns, they say, but the irresponsible use of guns. As you probably have heard, they often declare, If guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns. That might be true to a large extent.
Even though there are laws against driving under the influence of alcohol, DUI is quite common—and many people are killed each year as a result. Nationwide there are about 28 people a day who are killed in drunk-driving accidents.
Many years ago, long before there were so many deaths because of drunk driving, alcoholic beverages were outlawed in this country. But Prohibition was repealed 79 years ago last month, and there is virtually no chance of it being enacted again.
Reflecting on what happened with Prohibition and on how so many people drink in spite of all the problems caused by alcohol makes me pessimistic about any meaningful new gun control laws being passed by Congress.
Sadly, I’m afraid people in this country will just have to learn to live with, and many to be killed by, both guns and alcohol.

29 comments:

  1. There probably needs to be some change regarding guns. But I have a BB gun with a 500 BB capacity magazine (a fun target gun) - sounds like an assault rifle by description.

    However, it seems the two real issues to address are not what law-abiding citizens own and use, but those who use them for the wrong purpose - violent criminals and the mentally unstable. Interestingly homicides using hammers and baseball bats exceeds those by any type of rifle by 50%. And by far and away the largest killer out there is automobiles (not just from DUI).

    I don't see any really good answers since the underlying issues won't be addressed significantly. Just more polarity among the good citizens.

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    1. I'd like to see your statistics on baseball bats and hammers. But assuming you are correct, let's consider the most publicized mass murders — all by guns. I think the public is most outraged by these mass events, and it would be hard to imagine a person with a bat or hammer in both hands could create as much mayhem and not be restrained.

      If reducing polarity among us is the highest goal, then just agree with me and all will be well! I think wisdom comes from dialogue/debate/polarity. I say, the more dialogue, the more progress.

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  2. The analogy to Prohibition is interesting from two perspectives, at least. I like to cite the Repeal of the 18th Amendment as a precedent for a repeal of the Second. We can collectively change our minds and try new policies.

    The second perspective is to consider unintended consequences of any change. There was a long and passionate campaign to pass Prohibition in the first place, as there is developing for gun control. The status quo argues that life with fewer guns would be worse, but let's try it, I say. Other countries with similar cultures to ours get by fine with fewer guns. We are not proposing a far-out social science experiment as with Prohibition. And the compulsion to drink is in a different class than the desire to own guns.

    I say, therefore, let's seize the moment and accomplish what we can on gun control. Regarding sensible alcohol policies, let's expand educational and treatment capacity. Can we abolish alcohol ads on TV and billboards, etc., as we have with tobacco? And if we keep the owning of some guns legal, can we abolish gun advertising and gun shows?

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    1. Pip (I still like your name as Phil better), I basically agree with you, especially with what you wrote in the last paragraph. I keep wondering when society is going to start realizing all the harmful effects of alcohol in much the same way it has with tobacco.

      There has been a tremendous decrease in the use of tobacco in my lifetime, largely due, I think, to the recognition of its harmful effects. At the same time, there has been a sizable increase in the use of alcohol, at least in the percentage of people who drink alcohol in this country, it seems to me. (I haven't tried to find any statistics on this.)

      Most (or at least most that I hear when watching sports contests) alcohol ads mention drinking responsibly. And that is good. Of course part of the problem is that the more one drinks, the less able one is to determine what is responsible.

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    2. Phil, one more thing: while it is no doubt true that "the compulsion to drink is in a different class than the desire to own guns," partly in light of what Brent wrote below, I think that probably a sizable segment of those opposing gun control legislation are far more opposed to banning guns than they are (or would be) to banning alcohol (again).

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    1. Kevin, thanks much for your comments.

      What you wrote at the end of the second paragraph accents one of the main points I was trying to make in today's posting.

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    2. I'm glad you distinguish between guns as a hobby and alcohol as an addiction. I think most of us will comply with laws that restrict/regulate our hobbies (guns, biking, hiking, blogging), and I wish we would submit to treatment for our addictions (alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography). Let's be sensible about what we can regulate and what we must treat. And when a tragedy arises, let's be willing to rethink our current policies and make corrections.

      To attribute tragedies to parental irresponsibility and general moral decline is a recipe for inaction. And to say mental illness is the fault of parents and our culture is not a justification for business as usual. What reforms do you suggest?

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    3. The comments by Kevin are re-published below. (I made a mistake in introducing them the first time.)

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  4. Statics indicate since the 1960s 150 children have died from gun accidents. That is more than all the children killed in our schools. We can expect this to increase with the massive buying of more guns. The NRA serving the gun manufactures' profits have defeated every effort toward gun control. It scares people into thinking all guns would be taken away which is not true. Someone asked me,"Well what about knife control or car controls?" In the past there have been laws against switch blades (I don't know that they were effective.) About cars, they have to have adequate brakes, lights, safety belts, etc. These controls have not eliminated deaths but they have reduced them greatly. And as noted laws are in place against one's driving when drunk. The numbers dying from DUI's have been reduced.

    Gun controls over assault weapons and magazines, data kept on criminals' use (opposed by the NRA) and mental illness care can reduce the number of deaths. It will certainly not prevent them all. But how important to a Christian is the freedom of the 2nd amendment to be open ended in light of how many deaths that can be prevented? What if we could prevent 10 of the 30 daily deaths--how much gun freedom would I give up for that (2 a day--730 a year?)

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    1. Les, thanks for your significant comments, which approach the matter quite differently than Kevin did above.

      You mentioned the Second Amendment, which is a large factor in the problem of banning guns. And because of that, I think that banning guns is going to be even more difficult than it was to ban alcohol.

      At this point, I am planning to write about the Second Amendment on my Jan. 25 blog posting.

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    2. Amen, brother. And while you are considering the cost-benefit ratio for increased gun control and reduced deaths, might you also consider another related controversial policy: increased involuntary commitment of at-risk individuals. Can you remember the 1988 campaign of Michael Dukakis? (See quotation from Wikipedia below.) Well, there may be support to lock up more of us who show erratic behavior as preventative detention. I think I might favor this, in a carefully monitored setting. How about you?

      "During his first term as Governor, he had vetoed a bill that would have stopped furloughs for first-degree murderers.[11] During his second term, that program resulted in the release of convicted murderer William "Willie" Horton,[12] who committed a rape and assault in Maryland after being furloughed. George H. W. Bush mentioned Horton by name in a speech in June 1988, and a conservative political action committee (PAC) affiliated with the Bush campaign, the National Security Political Action Committee, aired an ad entitled "Weekend Passes", which used a mug shot image of Horton, although the Bush campaign refused to repudiate it. That ad campaign was followed by a separate Bush campaign ad, "Revolving Door", criticizing Dukakis over the furlough program without mentioning Horton. The legislature canceled the program during Dukakis's last term."

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    3. I think the original comment has a type-o in it. Only 150 gun deaths among children since the 1960s? there must be some zeros missing. This article http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1215606 cites 6,570 gun deaths of people ages 1 to 24 in 2010 alone.

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  5. My son Keith (who is also a Thinking Friend!) sent an e-mail that contained the following striking statement:

    "America thinking about gun control is like a morbidly obese person thinking about dieting."

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    1. Good for us, then. It's high time we look in the mirror and stop blaming all the world's problems on fundamentalism or communism or greed (the one percenters) or tax-and-spend liberals, etc.

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  6. I've written quite a bit on this issue recently in other contexts. I don't have much to add to what's been said above, except I would argue for much, much stricter gun control. I would point out that actually no type of gun need be banned entirely, but assault-type weapons could be kept out of private homes and under guard and then used by the sportspersons in controlled sporting events. I wouldn't mind if we would regulate guns as thoroughly as we do cars--with annual inspections, a minimum-age requirement, required training, personal property taxes, gun titles, and so on. One recent article, by the way, showed that there are very nearly as many gun-related deaths per year as traffic-related, and it predicted that by 2015 gun deaths will outnumber traffic-related. I'll try to find that article again and post it here. Of course, gun control inconveniences people who like guns. Les Hill has asked the right questions, it seems to me, and I would transpose them to ask, How much inconvenience are we willing to tolerate to cut the death-rate by ten or twenty or thirty per day?

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  7. Here are a couple of inks about the stats on gun- and traffic-related deaths:
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-19/american-gun-deaths-to-exceed-traffic-fatalities-by-2015.html
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/01/09/guns-traffic-deaths-rates/1784595/

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  8. Thinking Friend (as well as personal friend and former missionary colleague) Melvin Bradshaw sent by e-mail the following comments with his permission for them to be posted here:

    "I strongly agree with your views on gun control. The Second Amendment was not vaguely intended to mean what the NRA and others who support the right for everybody to own any kind of gun - especially the greatly popular assault rifles.

    "Even if alcohol is not completely outlawed, why in the name of common sense should it be advertized at most athletic events where many youth and other not responsible adults are encouraged to use it. The bottom line is, of course 'the almighty dollar' which for so very many is the 'God In Whom We Trust.'"

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  9. Dr. Glenn Hinson, one of my most esteemed Thinking Friends, gave me permission to post his comments, sent by e-mail, here:

    "I'm not quite as pessimistic as you are, Leroy. My Congressman, John Yarmuth, [D-KY] has left me feeling that meaningful legislation will limit the manufacture and sale of guns.

    "Obama has also promised to use his executive powers to limit weapons like the one used to murder 20 children and 8 adults.

    "This differs from Prohibition in that the legislation would not ban all guns. It would be more like laws regulating automobiles."

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  10. I agree with what most have said, but I come from a more Spiritual direction.
    I know it is unlikely that those in power will turn to the guide book and manual we should All look to for our Wisdom, but I think we should contuinually stress the importance of Not negelecting this approach.
    We hear people say All the time that they don`t want to leave Any option off the table; well, this is certainly one that should be addressed.
    Us Believers should make our feelings known and maybe eventually some of those in power will have enough courage to at least bring it up as a viable option.
    I also agree on the alcohol issue and that something needs to be done about this.
    We need to remember that God expects us to speak out and HE and the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

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    1. John Tim, thanks for your comments. But the problem is that those who claim to be spiritual and "turn to the guide book and manual we should all look to for our wisdom" come to different conclusions.

      My guess is that a majority of those who oppose additional gun control legislation are Christians who claim to follow the teachings of the Bible (or at least say that they believe the Bible).

      But many of those on the other side (as I am), those who strongly believe that since gun control would most likely save lives, believe that their position is clearly based on the teachings of Jesus.

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  11. Thinking Friend Kevin Payne sent the following comments by e-mail, and I post them here (corrected from an earlier posting) with his permission.

    "It’s a sobering thing, isn’t it? I am often repulsed by the 'anti-gunners' who refuse to even acknowledge the problem with alcohol in our country – as you noticed, they usually do so with a drink in their hands (or on their breath)!

    "The issue, I guess, is the tension between personal freedom and responsibility, and the safety and welfare of the society. People are messy, and careless, and sinful. Even though I’m a gun owner (with various types of weapons), I would accept increased background checks and even magazine restrictions; banning an entire category or caliber of weapons is probably a waste of time in reducing crime; it would only punish hobbyists such as myself. (The ban on alcohol failed, as has the ban on controlled substances.)

    "one of the bigger issues here is the way in which we as a nation treat/don’t treat mental illness; as our culture continues its decades-long slide into parental irresponsibility and moral decline, this will only become a more challenging issue.

    "I do appreciate the fact that you did not make the comment that NRA members are responsible for the shootings in Connecticut; as an NRA member, I am outraged by these ridiculous comments often seen in the media. I understand the emotions, I just don’t understand condemning an entire group for the actions of a very small number of individuals.

    "I’m not always proud of the NRA spokesmen, or of every member, but most of us are pretty common and responsible folk. We like guns as a hobby – period."

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  12. I am not a gun owner. I have shot a gun once in the last 30 years. In that sense I do not have a dog in this fight. I also fully understand the danger of guns. I had a niece killed in the Virginia Tech shooting 6 years ago. From a pure defense standpoint there is not a need for an assault rifle. They are simply not needed unless you have the intention of really hurting alot of people. Therein lies the real problem. The argument from those strongly opposed to stricter gun laws has nothing to do with safety. They are simply, and arguably for good reason, wish to maintain their right and ability to engage in anarchy against their government if need be. Many feel that need may arise. They see our government so out of touch, so out of control, and lacking in a desire to manage itself and be better that they believe the need may arise to stand up and overthrow thier own government. We can argue whether that is a legitimate concern or not and we would certainly have to question whether they could ever be succesful in this endeavor. But I believe there are a sizeable number of people who, though more than likely are not expressing it, see this as the main issue. Likewise there are those in favor of gun control who understand this and desire to do what they can to limit this threat. I think we are quickly moving to a point where armed annarchy is a very viable possibility. The current debate will have little effect upon this either way. We will end up passing a law that limits a few guns that we can legally own and use but the law will be full of loopholes. We will seek great control over who can own and use a gun. But in the end we will have spent a lot of time debating about nothing and will have done nothing to make the country safer.

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    1. Brent, thanks for your significant comments. I think you have made an important point, although I disagree with one aspect of what you wrote.

      First, though, let me say that I agree with your conclusion: part of the reason I am pessimistic about new gun control legislation is that in the end, as you wrote, we will probably have done nothing, or very little, to make the country safer.

      I think you are right in saying that many of those who oppose new gun control legislation do so because of their desire to have guns if (or when!) they are necessary to use in fighting the federal government. (Perhaps I will write some about this in my 1/25 blog posting.)

      I doubt, though, that most of the people favoring gun control legislation do so because of the felt need to take (or keep) guns away from people who would use them for anarchy. I think gun control legislation is sought primarily to reduce homicides, especially mass murders like we saw at Newtown.

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  13. After reading all the comments, I was surprised no one mentioned legalizing marijuana or the calls to end the war on drugs. Some have called for a ban on guns and alcohol while the mood seems to be for removing restrictions.

    While I cannot personally compare the effects of marijuana to those of alcohol, I imagine they are similar. For that reason, I do not know how one is banned but the other legal. However, I have always thought that smoking marijuana would remain illegal since I would expect similar impacts as those from tobacco, which I think would be illegal if introduced now rather than centuries ago.

    I personally think more restrictions on guns is needed and has a chance. I only hope marijuana becoming more available does not make these other issues even worse, but I am probably as pessimistic about that as Leroy is about gun control.

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    1. Dennis, thanks for posting your comments, and I appreciate you bringing up the marijuana issue (and more broadly the "war on drugs").

      Actually, my original intention was to do a posting on "Guns, Alcohol, and Marijuana," but I soon realized that that was too much to deal with in one posting. I do hope to write some about the issue of legalized marijuana soon.

      Basically, even though I don't know much about it (and have no personal experience!), I see marijuana being more like alcohol than tobacco. And I think it should probably have the same legal status as alcohol.

      From what I said on the blog, you know that I think that society would likely benefit if both were banned (assuming that those who broke the law could be convicted; but, alas, that is that is a large part of the problem). But since alcohol is most likely not going to be banned, marijuana probably shouldn't be either. I find it quite hypocritical for legislators who freely drink alcohol to pass laws prohibiting marijuana.

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  14. Here is an updated reason why I am pessimistic about meaningful gun control legislation: I just now saw that "the NRA has attracted 100,000 new members since the December mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut."

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  15. I would look to the evolving laws on tobacco as the best model forward for the many dangerous products discussed above. Tobacco is strictly restricted in how it is sold, advertised, and used. Yet it is legal, and widely available. The rules are tailored to the product. The laws on alcohol lag behind, because way too much advertising remains legal. The war on drugs is a catastrophic failure, and like prohibition deserves to end. Why did we never learn the lesson of Al Capone?

    When I bought my house in 1979, there was what I suspect is a BB gun hole in one pane of a storm window. It is still there all these years later, a monument to the fact that any gun can be dangerous. At the other end are guns that no one is claiming should be legal, such as machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, bazookas and cannons. They belong in the discussion, because they put perspective around assault rifles. There are many military weapons that are simply far too dangerous to sell on the civilian market. Can you imagine Nukes-r-Us? Assault rifles are in the gray area between traditional civilian weapons such as rifles and shotguns, and the obviously military weapons. What is at stake is not the right to bear arms, but the boundary line between restricted military hardware and civilian weapons. So the first plank in my gun control suggestion would be, No automatic or semi-automatic weapons. You get one shot in a rifle, two shots in a double-barrel shotgun, six in a handgun, and all you want in your BB gun. Although it is tempting to go original intent on the Second Amendment, and only allow 18th century muskets! But I am a liberal, so I believe in updated interpretations.

    Background screenings and improved mental health care are also important. It is tragic that the shooters are often on the radar of mental health providers, but out of reach of effective help, and restrictions, until it is too late. Raising the age requirement for purchase and possession would also be a good idea, perhaps to age 21.

    For several years my wife and I taught a kindergarten Sunday school class. It was amazing the innate obsession many young boys had with guns. Perhaps we should look at the failure of abstinence-only training in sex education, and learn something for guns. In America, we need age-appropriate gun education, for many of the same reasons we need sex education. Not only are many children killed by misuse of guns by their elders, many are killed and wounded by guns discovered by children who do not comprehend the extreme danger of what they have found. If we can teach stranger-danger to young children, we can teach gun-danger. If we can teach safer-sex to older children, we can teach safer-guns. And for the teenagers who really are drawn to guns, put them in classes where they can train and mold that fascination into a more mature relationship with guns. And where, just maybe, a carefully trained gun instructor could spot some of the children with a truly unhealthy obsession, who need further help, for everyone's sake.

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  16. I am very late in posting (with his permission) the following comments by Thinking Friend Ed Kang (and personal friend from the days we lived in Fukuoka, Japan, at the same time):

    "Thanks for another good blog, though your last paragraph is too pessimistic. For alcoholic problem goes back to history, Noah got drunk and shamed and Lot got drunk and raped by his daughters.

    "But for gun control, I think, we should move on with hope. I think, we should push for the goal of zero tolerance on firearms. I know, there are many countries, where no one is allowed to own guns and people live happy. You and I have lived in one, Japan and even Korea.

    "Americans are afraid of even saying gun control and they could barely say assault weapons. Not only assault weapons but all hand guns should be target of control. I think, there are countries like Great Britain, which have achieved meaningful gun control. I think, we can do it also though it might take a longer time.

    "We build a big building one brick at a time."

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