Can’t We Be Both Compassionate and Pragmatic?


“The man of righteousness tends to be so sure of his own motives that he does not need to inspect consequences.”

- Robert Penn Warren

Let me start off by stating that I am not a gun owner.  I did not grow up in a gun owning household, nor in a particularly “pro-gun” community – I don’t even like westerns or war movies.  Put simply, I have a hard enough time properly operating the space heater in my bedroom that owning a gun seems like a bit of a leap.  On a personal level, I am not very interested in guns; however, I am very interested in free choice and public safety.  And in the event we choose to encroach on the former for the sake of the latter, we ought to be certain we will see the results we had intended.

If you do a little homework on the issue of gun control, there’s one argument you’ll find conspicuously absent amongst criminologists: “more guns equal more crime.”  There’s not one serious academic I could find making this claim, as it seems to be no more than an emotional, knee-jerk reaction to a very complex problem.  This is quite understandable: I once held the same belief myself – after all, it does seem almost intuitive.  On the other hand, it also seems intuitive that heavier objects would fall faster than lighter ones, that the earth would be flat, and that bans on drugs would reduce drug use.  However upon further investigation, we find that which is immediately obvious isn’t always true.  The perplexing truth is that more guns do not equal more crime.  In fact, there’s evidence to suggest more guns produce the opposite result.  The academic debate is between the issue of increased gun ownership decreasing crime or having no effect at all.

One constant figure in the gun-control debate is John Lott, author of “More Guns, Less Crime.”  You’ll find in an article on “Gun Rhetoric vs. Gun Facts” at that one of Lott’s most ardent critics is a man named John Donohue III.  Donohue routinely cites a report on Lott’s work provided by the National Academy of Sciences, which, according to Donohue, took issue with Lott’s conclusions.  There are a few problems with citing the findings of this council: first, their conclusion is often taken as a refutation of Lott – which it isn’t.  As the report states,

“the committee concludes that with the current evidence it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates.”

Second, using this report as the single, categorical unraveling of Lott’s conclusions ignores all other academic groups and peer-reviewed journals, of which there are many, that have similarly scrutinized Lott’s work and deemed it valid and scholarly.  It is only one opinion – Donohue never mentions any others.  Luckily, the internet is a beautiful place, and I was able to find a fantastic debate on the topic of gun control, in which both Lott and Donohue took part.  You can see Lott directly address Donohue’s criticism’s below:

And again here:

The NAS report is addressed once more here.

If you’ve the time, I strongly suggest watching the entire debate.  Some pertinent facts I took away from the debate:

  • Guns are used defensively 4 to 5 times more often than to commit crimes.
  • 50% of U.S. counties have 0 murders in any given year.
  • 25% of U.S. have 1 murder per year.
  • Over 70% of total murders are concentrated in just over 3% of U.S. counties.
  • During the same period of time, off-duty Florida police officers were arrested and convicted of crimes at a rate of about 4 times as often as concealed carry permit holders.

One fair question on the part those in favor of gun regulation is, “Why not just remove assault weapons to prevent these awful massacres?  What do we have to lose?”

Firstly, the ban on assault weapons is purely cosmetic.  Military grade, fully-automatic weapons are already heavily regulated, and were not the weapons used in any of the recent mass shootings.  What’s worse is that the anti-gun movement is deliberately using “gun illiteracy” to their advantage.  A quote from a report released by the Violence Policy Center:

“The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.”

The report seems like an outright admission of deliberately playing on the naïveté of the general public to achieve predetermined ends.  Statistics don’t seem to matter, nor does any proof suggesting a gun ban would be ineffective.  In a recent “Google Hangout” with Joe Biden (see below), the Vice President was asked a question about the rationale behind the proposed assault weapon ban.  He responds by mentioning police safety.  While police safety is important, this is the first I’d heard of this issue being used as justification for any gun ban whatsoever.  So, I think it’s a fair question to ask: is the proposed assault weapon ban a solution in search of a problem?  If so, this debate isn’t as honest as we all may like to believe.

As I stated at the begininning, I am interested in both free choice and public safety.  If you’re going to remove any measure of individual liberty for the purpose of safety, increased safety had better be the result.  However – as we can see from the data – gun regulation at best has zero affect on crime.  When the public expects to see concrete changes from policies that are known to be ineffectual from the outset, you’ve deliberately set the public up for disappointment – making further public outcry for more stringent gun regulations (reductions in personal freedom) an inevitability.

Another common objection to assault weapons: “What do you even need an AR-15 for?  What justification do you have for possessing this gun?”

Implicit in this question seems to be the belief that the citizens obtain their rights from government; that our rights are an “allowance” by government somehow, and that we must justify them as being “necessary” in order to keep them.  However, in the Constitution, it’s clear the dynamic was meant to be completely opposite: it’s the government that has to justify what little powers it keeps for itself to the people – not the other way around.  As U.S. citizens, it’s not our job to justify our right to have a certain gun anymore than it’s our job to justify our right to speak freely.  Unless the government can provide clear and substantive reasons for abridging any of our individual freedoms, there’s nothing even to discuss.  It’s not a small matter, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

4 thoughts on “Can’t We Be Both Compassionate and Pragmatic?

  1. Bravo, and well done.

    The big theme of this whole issue has to be facts versus emotion. People want to ban assault weapons because they are scary and associated with scary events.

    But factually, they’re not a major driving force in crime and are almost negligible in the murder rate.

    If there were more factual support for gun control, maybe there’d be more support for it. But its basically impossible to justify it period, much less to justify removing a fundamental right.

  2. Defensive gun use studies by Lott and Kleck are pretty funny. One of them suggested that 200,000 lives were saved each year in the US by defensive gun use, due to the results of a self-reported survey. Was there any attempt to idiot-check this number? Of course not, because it sounds cool, it sounds like guns are protecting us.

    The rest of the first world has a homicide rate of generally 0.5-2.0 per 100k population. The US is already a high outlier in regards to their contemporaries with a homicide rate of ~4.5. But if you take the 200k on faith, it would mean that without those DGU’s (it even has a TLA!), the US homicide rate would supposedly be SEVENTY per 100k. There are only two countries in the world with a homicide rate that high, El Salvador (69) and Honduras (91). Is the US so unstable a society? Of course it’s not.

    Lott has made a long career out of heavily biased studies and reporting. He’s an overblown fool. It’s like when he uses the Australian ban on guns and points at the murder rate not changing much – it’s almost like he doesn’t know that Australia never had much of a civilian gun culture – Australian guns were longarms for farmers, not handguns for ‘defence’. Likewise, the ‘wild west’ he predicted in the wake of the Australian gun ban… never materialised.

    You’re also suffering from two more delusions about gun control. The first is that it’s handguns, not longarms that do the most damage. Over three-quarters of firearm homicides are done with handguns. They’re the things that are easy to conceal or have close at hand. Secondly, you’re arguing about gun control from the point of stopping mass shootings. Mass shootings are a drop in the bucket compared to normal homicides. Over ten thousand people per year in the US are killed by firearms. Even in a bad year, you’d be lucky to total a hundred of those in mass shootings.

    Also, the line about the consititution being clear is bupkis – read the second amendment again. It’s highly ambiguous. Not to mention that the militia is not ‘every male 18 to 49′ – that definition came in over 100 years later. When the supreme court has to argue over styles of grammar in the sentence, it’s quite obviously not a ‘clear’ statement.

    • If you can explain why the 200,000 figure is incorrect, please do.

      The U.S. has a high homicide rate, but it isn’t uniform throughout the U.S. In some places outside of heavily gun-controlled areas, homicide rates are 1/10th what they are in Europe.

      I never mentioned Australia.

      I’ve never once disputed that handguns kill more people than longarms.

      I address assault weapons only in response to the recent discussion on gun control; Handguns haven’t yet been put on the table. Same goes for my mention of mass shootings – I never once suggest they constitute the majority of gun murders.

      You’re speaking across points about the section on Constitutional rights. The point: asking “Why do you need an assault weapon?” (as many gun control advocates have) is a red herring.

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