some facts about guns, episode 5

One nice (?) thing about this regular feature is that I don’t have to wait long for new items.

Tuesday, a 12-year-old walked into his middle school and shot two of his classmates. One of the challenges that our Second Amendment undoubtedly poses is that it is more-or-less inevitable that children will get their hands on guns. Because adults are not — and can never become — perfectly vigilant in securing their weapons, some children will lay hands on guns. Some of them will kill themselves by accident; some will kill themselves very much on purpose. And some will walk into a middle school and shoot their classmates.

Of course, various solutions have been proposed. From the right, the suggestion tends to be that children should be vigorously educated about gun safety — a position I wholeheartedly agree with, as I think we all need to be educated about the dangers associated with guns. But (1) there is never going to be 100% penetration and effectiveness when it comes to safety training, and (2) safety training is beside the point when it comes to kids who actually intend to use the weapon.

From the left, the usual half-hearted solution proposed is to somehow disable the gun — impounding it in a safe, or clamping it down with a trigger lock. However, this makes the gun useless for self-defense. A blanket rule requiring the gun be disabled while in the home is therefore unconstitutional: “We must also address the District’s requirement (as applied to respondent’s handgun) that firearms in the home be rendered and kept inoperable at all times. This makes it impossible for citizens to use them for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional.” The Court did imply, albeit weakly, that a statute could be saved with an appropriate exception allowing for self-defense.

Indeed, there is a case working its way through the courts right now on this subject; in that case the ordinance appears to have required the gun be disabled except when it is under the owner’s “direct, personal control.” Jackson v. City & Cnty. of San Francisco, No. C 09-2143 RS, 2012 WL 3580525 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 17, 2012). The plaintiffs in that case argued, in a motion asking for a judgment as a matter of law, that a disabling requirement “impair[ed] their right to bear handguns in self-defense because it is impractical to carry a handgun at all times in the home, particularly when sleeping.” The court denied the motion, noting that “The circumstances under which a person not carrying his or her gun might encounter an immediate threat are endless. If an intruder burst in during dinner time, and the homeowner’s gun were in another room, whatever additional time it might take to disable a trigger lock might be inconsequential, if the gun could not be reached in the first instance.” The court admitted, however, that “there could be some situations in which a homeowner . . . suddenly becomes aware of an imminent peril when he or she is not armed, but has a gun close at hand. In such instances, a small delay in being able to fire the weapon might sometimes be consequential.” There has been no decision on the merits yet, so we shall see.

Trigger locks or not, one consequence of the plentiful presence of guns in our society is that children will, in non-trivial numbers, get their hands on functioning weapons — whether because of straw purchasers, irresponsible adult relatives, or the sheer imperfectability of systems.

Of course, the same is true of, say, nail guns, or fireworks, or any number of other quite dangerous items, and nobody calls for banning nail guns. But relatively few murders (always allowing for exceptions) are committed with nail guns or fireworks, and even fewer suicides. In the case of nail guns, of course, the calculation is that they are extremely useful, and their use as a weapon is unlikely, though certainly not impossible. So we generally do not regulate them. The utility of fireworks, though non-zero, is certainly less than that of nail guns. So even though their usefulness as weapons is also minimal, we regulate them more heavily, because of the potential for accidental harm, especially to children. When you add in their usefulness as a weapon, the utility of guns would have to be very high indeed for them to be as unregulated as they are.

The social utility of guns is hotly debated. See here for an oft-cited study claiming that there are millions of “defensive gun uses” by “law-abiding citizens” each year, and see here for arguments that the study is hopelessly flawed. Still, an argument about utility should be baldly stated as what it is: guns save enough lives that, in aggregate, we are all better off in a society where, not infrequently, a child walks into his school and shoots his classmates.

Which is not to say children are the only people not qualified to handle firearms:

In a dimly lit Florida theater, Curtis Reeves got into an argument with another moviegoer over texting. The two men exchanged words that gradually became more heated and Reeves felt something hit his face . . . . [The “something” appears to have been popcorn.]

Reeves, a former police officer, pulled a gun and shot once, hitting Chad Oulson in the chest and Oulson’s wife, Nicole, in the hand she was using to grab her husband in an attempt to calm things down.

Reeves’ attorney, Richard Escobar, tried to persuade Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper that the former police officer was actually the victim in the incident and that Oulson was the “aggressor.”

Police said despite Reeves’ claim that he was in fear of his safety, this was not a case for Florida’s “stand your ground” defense.

“Working with the state attorney’s office it was determined that stand-your-ground does not fly here in this case,” Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said.

Don’t do this, gun people. Don’t shoot people because you get in argument and someone throws popcorn in your face. This kind of thing weakens the “responsible gun owner” argument considerably. When you are carrying a gun, you are taking on a responsibility. You are saying, “I am a person sufficiently in control of his shit that I will not fly off the handle, shoot someone, and then try to claim self-defense.” If you are not that person, don’t carry a fucking gun. I don’t know what else to tell you.

And now a little something from the other side. For the most part, I find it risible when gun owners claim that there’s a police state harassing them for their gun-loving ways. But sometimes, there really is a police state harassing them for their gun-loving ways — as in the case of this guy, whose CCW popped up on a trooper’s computer during a routine traffic stop:

Retreating to the space between the SUV and the unmarked car, the officer orders John to hook his thumbs behind his back and spread his feet. “You own a gun,” the officer says. “Where is it?”

“At home in my safe,” John answers.

“Don’t move,” says the officer.

Now he’s at the passenger’s window. “Your husband owns a gun,” he says. “Where is it?”

First Kally says, “I don’t know.” Retelling it later she says, “And that’s all I should have said.” Instead, attempting to be helpful, she added, “Maybe in the glove [box]. Maybe in the console. I’m scared of it. I don’t want to have anything to do with it. I might shoot right through my foot.”

The officer came back to John. “You’re a liar. You’re lying to me. Your family says you have it. Where is the gun? Tell me where it is and we can resolve this right now.”

The cop acted like a jackass, of course. But, two things.

1) As I’ve mentioned before, the commonplace presence of guns in our society, and the fear that that possibility generates at even a routine traffic stop, gives police both more actual reason and more political cover to harass and intimidate the citizens they come into contact with.

2) It also gives the state a stronger interest in monitoring its citizenry, creating interconnected databases about their gun habits, etc. I mean, this is a little creepy, right? John’s from Florida, but somehow a cop in Maryland knows about his Florida CCW. “But,” you can hear law enforcement advocates say, “What’s the alternative? Sending our officers into a situation with less than the very best information they could have about potential threats?”

Of course, as gun rights advocates will tell you, this kind of surveillance is based on a flawed premise. The people with CCW licenses are usually the ones least likely to fly off the handle and shoot somebody. (Usually. For the most part.) Still, the argument is made in courts all the time that even the potential presence of a gun justifies all sorts of searches, and so here we are in the world where suspicious cops demand you turn over the gun you don’t have.

On the other hand, there’s at least a non-trivial argument that if guns were illegal, they would still be used as a pretext for searches, just as illegal drugs are now. So I don’t know quite what you do about that. (Although at least it’s hard for an officer to claim that he smelled guns in the car. I think.)

Anyway, if that story is correct, that dude got treated quite badly by the police during a traffic stop. Sorry, lawful gun owners. Still, it could have been worse. He could have been black.

Via Crooked Timber: notorious Islamophobe Pamela Geller apparently had terrible trigger discipline as a young woman. That is all.

Somebody is trying to get the federal definition of a domestic violence misdemeanor — which makes one ineligible to own or possess a firearm — narrowed:

The legal dispute boils down to which state domestic violence misdemeanors meet the federal requirement of a “domestic violence misdemeanor,” which involves the “use or attempted us[e] of physical force.” The law was intended to track the state assault and battery laws, which usually punish either intentional forcible acts, or intentionally causing harm, or both. But Castleman contends that force alone is not enough; a statute would have to require “violent” force to qualify. The 6th Circuit agreed with him, concluding that bodily injury could only be caused by force, they meant “real” force—you know, the violent kind.

On appeal, both sides circle around Johnson v. U.S—a 2010 case that probed the meaning of “violent felony” under the Armed Career Criminal Act. Even though the court explicitly stated that its logic in Johnson should not be used to interpret the domestic violence misdemeanor language, Castleman feels it should apply to his case, which would add a “violence” requirement to the federal gun prohibition.

Well, there’s probably no chance of this ending badly for some woman.

Finally, here’s Jon Stewart with eight minutes of funny/bitter observations about some of the sillier anti-gun control arguments. (Sorry — I would embed, but WordPress is finicky about embedded video.)

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2 Responses to some facts about guns, episode 5

  1. Grambear says:

    So if this is all true, why did gun violence go down in Autralia?

    • thehandsomecamel says:

      Well, the Australia case is interesting, because even before the gun buyback program, Australia’s firearms homicide rate was much lower than the American rate. Because the absolute numbers were so small, the decrease in murders was not statistically significant. However, the decrease in suicides was significant. See here.

      Generally, I’d say rates of violence are related to cultural factors at least much as, if not more than, the absolute (or even per capita) number of guns. Thus Russia, for example, has a higher murder rate than the U.S. (by about a factor of four), even though it has much stronger gun control laws. The same is true of Brazil. Meanwhile, Canada and Switzerland have quite high rates of legal gun ownership but much lower rates of murder. America is somewhere in the middle, with a truly extraordinary number of guns and a high murder rate, but by no means the highest.

      As I said in the first installment, I’d be happier living in a much less heavily-armed society. But ultimately, I’m inclined to agree with Michael Moore that America’s violent streak is partly the guns, but by no means all about the guns:

      We are an easily frightened people and it is easy to manipulate us with fear. What are we so afraid of that we need to have 300 million guns in our homes? Who do we think is going to hurt us? Why are most of these guns in white suburban and rural homes? Maybe we should fix our race problem and our poverty problem (again, #1 in the industrialized world) and then maybe there would be fewer frustrated, frightened, angry people reaching for the gun in the drawer.

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