Getting the facts straight in gun violence discussion

We cannot pretend the solution to gun violence in this country is easy, but we should likewise come to the understanding that just because the problem is complex doesn’t mean we ought to do nothing.

I’m not sure what stricter gun laws would have done to prevent the killings in Newtown or Aurora. They wouldn’t have stopped Jovan Belcher from killing the mother of his children before taking his own life.

When the Aurora movie theater shooting happened, I wondered aloud what people thought the solution should be. I implored people to be deliberate in their thinking and to not jump to the obvious strawmen of movies, music and violent video games.

Connecticut had created a law that mirrored the 1994 assault rifle ban that had lapsed in Congress. The deranged shooter had a .223 caliber rifle, a massive and powerful weapon that is 100% legal. The headline of the article linked above says it all, “How do we know an ‘assault rifle’ ban would not have stopped Ryan Lanza? Because it didn’t.”

The term “assault rifle” was actually coined by anti-gun groups and as such is defined by them. Any gun can assault someone, not just rifles. The difference between what the average person might consider a “normal” rifle and an “assault” rifle is completely arbitrary. It looks scary, or its really easy to fire or its really accurate or it has a powerful shot. Those are all reasons a hunter might buy the same rifle.

‘Tough luck’ critics will say. It’s to dangerous. But hundreds of thousands of people in America own guns, more than any other place in the world in fact. Yet these mass shootings happen relatively infrequently.

In fact, they were more frequent in the 1990’s by about double and for four of those years in the 1990’s we had the assault rifle ban.

That being said, a chart like this one, showing the United States standing head and shoulders above the world in gun-homicide rate while likewise having by far the most guns seems to be a pretty convincing argument that there’s a problem.

On the other hand, the second two charts (also from Business Insider) here paint a different picture. Yes, the United States has the highest number of guns-per-person by an enormous margin, our murder rate per 100,000 people is only slightly higher than other civilized nations.

It’s easy to skew the axis to make the numbers look much worse, but the first chart and the third are literally identical, only the first chart leaves off a host of non-industrialized nations. It also skews the bottom axis.

The United States has just less than 90 guns for every 100,000 people. It  has about three homicides for every 100,000 people. That’s about one homicide for every 30 guns.

Italy has about 10 guns for every 100,000 people and about .8 homicides per 100,000 people. Just round the homicide number slightly and that’s about three as many homicides per gun than the United States and we hardly think of Italy as a violent nation. Just lowering the number of guns in the U.S. isn’t the solution.

In fact, violent crime has steadily declined for more than a generation.

All that not withstanding, there are things we could be doing differently. As Chris Rock famously joked, we don’t need gun control, we need bullet control.

The comedian was talking about making bullets extremely expensive, but a real solution could be found in tightening laws on expended clips. No civilian, for any reason, needs a gun magazine with 30 rounds in it. You’re not going hunting for dinosaurs.

Even the NRA is in favor of some tighter background checks and the gun show loophole needs to be changed as a considerable number of guns sold in this country are done so without checks and registrations at legal gun shows.

Gun-advocates need to be heard on issues like gun bans. There’s no question these violent killers target areas where other people can’t defend themselves. Nearly every major instance of mass gun violence in the last 20 years has taken place in areas where it’s illegal to carry guns. In other words, where it’s impossible for anyone to shoot back.

It’s as cowardly an act as can be imagined, but it’s true. The Aurora shooter had his pick of movie theaters all about equidistant from his house. He choose the one movie theater that had posted signs banning guns. Is that a coincidence? Hardly.

On the other hand, it’s ludicrous to suggest we ought to just arm teachers, although many schools, in the wake of Columbine, went to a locked door system where visitors have to be buzzed into the building. A simple glance at the security camera in a case like Newtown and it would have been easy to see the intentions of the deranged shooter.

There are actions we can take, new laws to implement. There are also cultural changes we absolutely must make and cannot ignore, from the way we deal with mental illness to the way we parent our children. Those cannot be ignored.

The media also must realize it has a responsibility. As conservative radio host Charlie Sykes noted on Twitter yesterday, Fox and CBS won’t show streakers on the field at a football game, but shoot up a school and you get wall to wall coverage with your picture all over the world.

Let’s focus on the victims and the heroes of tragedies like this one, the teachers who barricaded their classrooms and died protecting their kids. The horrifying details must be reported, but we need to rethink the way we report it.

I remember NBC facing an internal battle over whether or not to release the tape the Virginia Tech shooter sent to the network. I would have much preferred an anchor read paraphrasing what the tape said than the eventual decision to play the tape.

We are all part of the problem, but as such, can all be part of the solution. We just have to get the facts straight and that, as much as anything, has been a problem.


One thought on “Getting the facts straight in gun violence discussion

  1. Null says:

    I like that you take a fairly balanced approach here, and I agree with your well stated first paragraph. However, I’d like to make a few points.

    You do a good job explaining that the term “assault weapon” is an arbitrary but scary term that has nothing to do with the real definition of “assault rifle” since the former includes weapons that are semi-auto only whereas an assault rifle includes selective fire (capable of selecting either full auto or burst fire) by definition. However, you perpetuate the misleading and needlessly scary idea behind “assault weapons” when you say the AR-15 is “a massive and powerful weapon” (the media has used scare terms like “high-powered rifle” and the like for the same reason). In truth the AR-15 is neither massive or all that powerful — the AR-15’s .223 round is relatively small and weak, even when compared to civilian hunting rifles and larger caliber pistols. More importantly, when you’re shooting someone who isn’t wearing body armor at point blank range 3+ times it doesn’t matter much whether you’re using a .22 caliber pistol or a .50 caliber sniper rifle.

    As for gun control laws that might have prevented this tragedy, I honestly can’t think of anything reasonable that would have been effective. I agree that a background check should be required when purchasing a gun to make sure the buyer isn’t a felon or mentally unstable, but that wouldn’t have helped here since it was Lanza’s mother who bought the guns used. Smaller magazines might help a bit, too, but it doesn’t take that long to reload and Lanza had other weapons with him (it’s not like the police killed Lanza as he was trying to reload to kill another child). Limiting more weapons by calling them “assault weapons” and banning them wouldn’t really do anything since — to my earlier point — it doesn’t matter much whether you’re using an “assault weapon” or a pistol against an unarmed and unarmored civilian (pistols are semi-auto, too). So all the left’s calls for more gun control are just attempts to exploit the tragedy.

    The best (legal) solution I can think of to reduce the chance that an attack like this will happen again is to get rid of so-called gun-free zones. They simply don’t work. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Anders Breivik’s targets in Norway, etc., were all supposed to be gun-free zones — and now we can add Sandy Hook to that list. That doesn’t mean we have to arm teachers — it just means potential gunmen can no longer rely on the fact that no one else will be armed at a target school, so the mere possibility is a deterrent. I still haven’t heard an explanation why Lanza chose to attack Sandy Hook after he had already shot his mother, but the fact that it was a “gun-free zone” is a possible reason.

    As you point out, the real solution is to fix our culture and the way we parent.

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