A Response to CNN’s Anti-Gun Rhetoric

CNN opinion writer, E. J. Dionne, Jr., Wednesday wrote a broad declaration on “How America Can Free Itself from Guns.” The title itself suggests that guns are an albatross around America’s neck, an assertion I vehemently disagree with, but that propaganda is not my real issue with the editorial. The real issue is that Dionne makes assertions that are either irrelevant or untrue and that he cites evidence that is disingenuous or outright corrupted.

What’s needed is a long-term national effort to change popular attitudes toward handgun ownership. And we need to insist on protecting the rights of Americans who do not want to be anywhere near guns.

This first point is generally true. Broad social propaganda – whether factual or not – is unfortunately often quite effective at mass behavioral and cultural modification, particularly in this age of information. And this effort is already underway, primarily at the hands of billionaire gun control magnate Michael Bloomberg’s various organizations and the government itself. However, the second portion of his opening remarks are disingenuous, or at least so inconsistent as to render them irrelevant, since he fails to address how he would protect “the rights of Americans who do not want to be anywhere near guns” from agents of the state who routinely carry guns. If law-abiding concealed or open carriers should be shunned even when they are not/have not committed any violent act, as he implies here, why not shun police officers who are open carrying as well? Also, what would Dionne think of this approach with respect to other individual rights, such as the right to orient toward a behavior that nature and biology themselves do not support? Would his perspective change if someone asserted that “we need to insist on protecting the rights of Americans who do not want to be anywhere near gays?” Or how people feel if we launched a broad social campaign to protect “the rights of Americans who do not want to be anywhere near Muslims?”

Careful what you wish for Dionne. Only consistent and unshakeable principle prevents these pit falls from developing and principle in this context demands that one who truly wishes to defend liberty must do so for all individuals and rights, not just those with which one agrees or which fit one’s ideological agenda.

Lest anyone doubt that gun control measures can work, a study released this month by the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University found that a 1995 Connecticut law requiring a permit or license contingent on passing a background check was associated with a 40 percent drop in gun homicides.

Sadly, this “study,” another in a long line of so-called science being wholly corrupted for a political agenda, has already been thoroughly debunked. Because the study’s authors omitted relevant data in order to presumably bolster the conclusions they preemptively sought to obtain (generally known as confirmation bias), a real analysis of the available data actually suggests the opposite outcome occurred in Connecticut and elsewhere.

After correcting for the cherry-picking of data and timeframes, the true trend is better revealed: Connecticut’s gun homicide rate was already steeply declining prior to the background check law being implemented, and at a much faster rate. Further, that 40% rate referenced above was for the first 10 years of the law’s existence, an arbitrarily chosen timeframe that more nicely supports the authors’ assertions; a simple expansion of the timeframe to its first 11 years of existence reduces the rate dramatically to just 16%, well below the rate of decline that existed prior to the law’s passing. Is there any wonder why the study’s authors chose a 10-year window as their sample? During this same 11-year window, the overall U.S. rate fell by 27% (notwithstanding that many states do not have universal background check laws) and the rest of the Northeast fell by 22% (despite most of this region embracing draconian gun laws). Both are clearly higher than Connecticut’s real rate of decline, and an area of the country with strict gun control laws had a slower rate of decline than the rest of the country. These outcomes present an odd confliction with gun control advocates’ central premise in this case.

Also, why did the authors choose Connecticut of all the states? Certainly it could be because of the emotional relevance that the Sandy Hook tragedy presents, but it could also be because the state’s neighbor, Massachusetts, which implemented similar legislation in 1998, has seen a dramatically opposite effect. In the immediate 12 years following that state’s implementation of such laws, it saw an 88% increase in gun homicide rates. Following Michigan’s recent dismissal of its licensing laws in 2012, that state saw an immediate 15% decline in the gun murder rate. Missouri saw a 50% decrease after easing gun control restrictions in 2007.

All this can begin to inform us of a few things, if one wishes to understand reality and not just uncritically accept provided propaganda:

a) Background checks are not directly associated with reduced gun violence. This is chiefly because those most likely to commit crimes are repeat offenders and thus already federally barred from legally obtaining firearms; they tend to obtain these guns through straw man purchases (47%), theft (26%), and “retail diversion” (i.e., corrupt, but nonetheless federally licensed, gun dealers, 8%), all of which remain illegal, but go unaddressed by currently mandate or proposed background check requirements.

b) Some examples provided here further suggest that negative correlations exist between the easing of gun restrictions and reductions in firearms homicide, not the opposite.

c) If any direct association can be drawn from a closer examination of Dionne’s cited study, it is that an appreciable correlation exists between Connecticut’s law and a retardation of the downward gun violence trend that was already occurring without it. Once again, government is not the answer and often exacerbates problems it purports to solve.

“We need to build a social movement devoted to the simple proposition that owning handguns makes us less safe, not more,” he told me. “The evidence is overwhelming that having a gun in your home increases the risks of suicide, domestic violence and fatal accidents, and yet the number one reason given for gun purchases is ‘personal safety.’ We need a public health campaign on the dangers of gun ownership, similar to the successful efforts against smoking and drunk driving.”

While quoting a friend here, Dionne does not cite the asserted “overwhelming evidence” that suggests firearms in the home increase suicide, domestic violence, and fatal accident rates. Dionne’s friend has apparently confused definitions here: this is propaganda, baseless conjecture, not evidence. Indeed, a Harvard study definitively debunks these notions, with substantive, meaningful, and quantitative data and analysis, that even the outright banning of guns reduces murder and suicide:

If the mantra “more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death” were true, broad based cross-national comparisons should show that nations with higher gun ownership per capita consistently have more death. Nations with higher gun ownership rates, however, do not have higher murder or suicide rates than those with lower gun ownership.

One reason the extent of gun ownership in a society does not spur the murder rate is that murderers are not spread evenly throughout the population. Analysis of perpetrator studies shows that violent criminals – especially murderers – “almost uniformly have a long history of involvement in criminal behavior” (emphasis in original).

The non-correlation between gun ownership and murder is reinforced by examination of statistics from larger numbers of nations across the developed world. Comparison of “homicide and suicide mortality data for thirty-six nations (including the United States) for the period 1990-1995” to gun ownership levels showed “no significant (at the 5% level) association between gun ownership levels and the total homicide rate.” Consistent with this is a later European study of data from 21 nations in which “no significant correlations [of gun ownership levels] with total suicide or homicide rates were found.”

One study asserts that Americans are more likely to be shot to death than people in the world’s other 35 wealthier nations. While this is literally true, it is irrelevant – except, perhaps to people terrified not of death per se but just death by gunshot. A fact that should be of greater concern – but which the study fails to mention – is that per capita murder overall is only half as frequent in the United States as in several other nations where gun murder is rarer, but murder by strangling, stabbing, or beating is much more frequent (emphasis in original).

To reiterate, the determinants of murder and suicide are basic social, economic, and cultural factors, not the prevalence of some form of deadly mechanism. In this connection, recall that the American jurisdictions which have the highest violent crime rates are precisely those with the most stringent gun controls (emphasis added).

Insofar as studies focus on perpetrators, they show that neither a majority, nor many, nor virtually any murderers are ordinary “law-abiding citizens.” Rather almost all murderers are extremely aberrant individuals with life histories of violence, psychopathology, substance abuse, and other dangerous behaviors (emphasis added).

The only kind of evidence cited to support the myth that most murders are ordinary people is that many murders arise from arguments or occur in homes and between acquaintances. These bare facts are only relevant if one assumes that criminals do not have acquaintances or homes or arguments. … “The most common victim-offender relationship” was “where both parties… knew one another because of prior illegal transactions” (emphasis added).

Acknowledging this does not, however, blunt the force of two crucial points. The first regards the burden of proof. Those who assert the mantra, and urge that public policy be based on it, bear the burden of proving that more guns do equal more death and fewer guns equal less death. … The second issue, allied to the burden of proof, regards plausibility. On their face, the following facts… suggest that gun ownership is irrelevant, of has little relevance, to murder (emphasis added).

If you are surprised by [our] finding[s], so [are we]. [We] did not begin this research with any intent to “exonerate” handguns, but there it is – a negative finding, to be sure, but a negative finding is nevertheless a positive contribution. It directs us where not to aim public health resources (emphasis added).

The study’s authors are speaking to you, Dionne. And as to the notion of “personal safety,” perhaps it is best to hear from the “horse’s mouth” on such perceptions:

National Institute of Justice surveys among prison inmates find that large percentages report that their fear that a victim might be armed deterred them from confrontation crimes. “[T]he felons most frightened ‘about confronting an armed victim’ were those from states with the greatest relative number of privately owned firearms.” Conversely, robbery is highest in states that most restrict gun ownership (emphasis added).

And despite the preponderance of actual evidence presented here that rebuts the notion that suicide can be prevented by a theoretical elimination of firearms, Dionne nonetheless toes an ideological line of nannyism:

When we talk about guns, we don’t focus enough on the reality, reported in the 2015 Annual Review of Public Health, that nearly two-thirds of the deaths from firearm violence are suicides. Yes, people can try to kill themselves with pills, but there’s no coming back from a gunshot to the head. Those in the throes of depression who have a gun nearby are more likely to act on their darkest impulses.

While the 2015 review may have its statistics correct, this correlation alone does not prove causation, but rather only characterizes happenstance. As he allows, but then illogically dismisses, people can and do kill themselves via other means. Indeed, the previously cited Harvard study found that “overall suicide rates were no worse in nations with many firearms than in those where firearms were far less widespread.” Further,

There is simply no relationship evident between the extent of suicide and the extent of gun ownership. People do not commit suicide because they have guns available. In the absence of firearms, people who are inclined to commit suicide kill themselves some other way (emphasis added).

That someone who has access to a firearm, and is depressed, is more likely to carry through with the suicidal act is a supposition that Dionne fails to prove, and one that I think the available evidence here provided disproves.

Nor do we talk enough about accidental deaths when children get their hands on guns, or what happens when a domestic argument escalates and a firearm is readily available. The message is plain and simple: Households that voluntarily say no to guns are safer.

This point regarding children may have some merit, insofar as identifying the risk is concerned, but fails to properly apply a reasonable solution to that risk. Children are inherently at greater risk of certain factors, environment conditions, indeed – everyday life – due to their natural dependency and lack of physical, emotional, and intellectual maturity. Guns are not exempt from this reality, surely, but neither is a plethora of other commonly overlooked and dismissed risks prevalent in a modern society. For a stark, oft-cited example, children are roughly 100 times more likely to die in a swimming pool than from a firearm. Would this reality not mean, by Dionne’s own reasoning, that “households that voluntarily say no to pools are safer?” Statistically this may be true, yet no one is calling for abandonment or increased/strict regulation of recreational home pools, a first-world convenience that cannot reasonably be classified as a natural right and certainly is not a constitutionally protected one. Nor would you likely find too many people who would consider such a heavy-handed approach reasonable, even after educating them on the relative hazards of such a risk in the home. I think it more likely you would find people more accepting of increased parental/adult responsibility (this is perhaps the key in all such circumstances), reasonable safeguarding measures (e.g., parentally-enforced minor access restrictions), and parental teaching (i.e., removing naturally enticing stigmas by teaching responsible behavior and respect for the dangers involved).

And what of vehicle accidents, unintentional suffocation (i.e., from pillows in the crib, etc.), and fires/burns, all of which drive child mortality at higher rates than accidental deaths by firearm? The assertion that domestic violence correlatively leads to death in a home where a firearm is located has already been disproved earlier in this post.

“Those of us who want to live, shop, go to school and worship in gun-free spaces also have rights,” Molyneux said. “In what way is ‘freedom’ advanced by telling the owner of a bar or restaurant they cannot ban handguns in their own place of business, as many states now do? Today, it is the NRA that is the enemy of freedom, by seeking to impose its values on everyone else.”

On this point I can partially agree. I concur that private property owners should, and in some cases do, retain a right to discriminate against potential patrons who wish to carry guns. While I am not sure that the NRA seeks “to impose its values on everyone else” in this sense, I certainly would not support (and did not here in Arizona) a mandate for proprietors of a business, organization, etc. to allow firearm carriers on their property against their will. Just as consumers are allowed to discriminate against businesses and organizations at their own discretion and commercial risk, so too should businesses be allowed to do the same (and accept the potential economic consequences).

But the reality is that this theory of liberty is not reflected in modern era of American Big Government overreach. This is, unfortunately, the predicted and predictable world that we have asked for, so to speak. By eliminating most other forms of discrimination that fall under the umbrella of private property rights, even when that discrimination is morally questionable, we have effectively removed the free market as an ethical, practicable, and efficient regulator of such behavior and opened the door of government-sponsored elimination of all discretionary property rights. This issue goes well beyond just the that of gun rights. If a business or organization is not legally allowed to refuse service to, or ban the presence of, armed police on its premises, for example, then it cannot legitimately do the same for armed civilians. Those hoplophobes who continue to assume or suggest that agents of the state are somehow better than the average citizen simply because they wear a state uniform are foolish, unethical, or simply being disingenuous. If one is not willing to address gun control on the state in the same breath as proposing gun control on the citizenry, then a glaring hole of logic and ethics goes completely unaddressed.

I get that Dionne clearly does not like or employ firearms. I even respect his right to this opinion and lifestyle, even as I fail to understand or empathize with it. But this fact alone does not excuse the egregious lack of critical thinking, abandonment of logic, or simple dismissal of available facts in this pursuit of an ideological agenda. If he and his ilk managed to convince a society with the largest presence of gun ownership in the world, and arguably the most powerful gun culture, to largely change its tone on private firearms ownership and voluntarily rid themselves and their rightful domains of firearms – an outcome I would regard with indifference provided my individual rights remained unaffected as guaranteed by the Second Amendment – this cultural turnaround would nonetheless likely fail to deliver the outcomes he suggests in his piece. The available evidence simply does not support such a prediction.

 

UPDATE (28 June 2015): In my original response, I failed to point out that Dionne’s entire premise rests on a clear presumption that – whether through direct legislation or broad social cultural shift – guns can be practicably removed from America. This is so absurd an assumption as to be worthy of ridicule. People tend to forget that Australia and Great Britain are islands, and consequently much easier to geographically isolate in certain contexts than the United States (and even then, not perfectly so). If no other example were relevant, the international border with Mexico alone renders any notion of a firearms-free America laughable. We have literally generations of history which confirms the United States federal government cannot and will not keep people, drugs, weapons, or other goods (i.e., in a word: anything) from illegally transiting that border.

UPDATE (1 July 2015): In what can only be descried as the height of irony, a former CNN employ’s life was saved yesterday by the actions of a responsible, law-abiding citizen (her husband) with a handgun.

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