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Some Arguments for Gun Control

Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.
Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching


A self-proclaimed warrior
Pro-gun arguments are legion. Often they amount to little more than paeans to the liberty-loving gun nut. You know, the last bastion of goodness who stands alone against the evil of terrorists, commies, one-worlders, femi-nazis, and other liberals.

Native Americans have arguably experienced more of this patriotic gunfire than any other group of Americans. What's interesting is that despite being victimized by "warriors," some Indians still perpetuate the warrior mystique. The following is an example:

Warriors and Weapons
by David A. Yeagley
FrontPageMagazine.com | January 26, 2001

A YEAR AGO, I had a religious experience. No, I didn't speak in tongues. I didn't see an apparition of Mary. And even though I'm Comanche Indian, I didn't commune with my ancestors or hear the eagles talk. All I did was watch a TV infomercial produced by the National Rifle Association (NRA).

There I was, sitting in my easy chair, eating chicken soup and watching television. Suddenly, I saw an immense pile of guns, thousands of them, being bulldozed into a metal crusher.

The narrator explained. These weapons had been confiscated from law-abiding citizens, and were being destroyed. The government had first required the people to register their firearms, and promised that no confiscation would ever occur. Then the government broke its promise.

According to the voice-over, this happened in Australia, England, and Canada. The United States was next in line. On the screen appeared distraught gun owners, one after another. "They said they would never do this, but they did it! Don't let this happen to you!" they warned Americans.

We Comanches don't usually admit to being scared. But I was terrified. I had a sense that I was losing America (and, as an Indian, it wouldn't be the first time).

I guess I'd always known, in the back of my mind, that there were people out there trying to take our guns. But those faces on TV drove the point home like nothing else had. They were the faces of a people betrayed. Long ago, the government took away the Indian's weapons and put him on reservations. That is history. Indians know all about broken promises. But why would the White Man betray himself? Why would the U.S. government take the weapons away from its own good citizens?

They say they're trying to stop crime. But the more gun laws they pass, the more crime we get. A hundred years ago, we didn't have gun laws and we didn't have much crime either.

In his book, More Guns, Less Crime, Yale Law School economist John Lott shows that, across the United States, over an 18-year period, "states experiencing the greatest reductions in crime are also the ones with the fastest growing percentages of gun ownership."

So why does the government keep pushing gun control?

The warrior in me knows. He who takes my bow is not my friend. He who takes away my ability to defend myself is my enemy.

If the government takes our guns, it's not because they are trying to help us. It's because they are trying to control us.

Since my "religious experience" of watching that documentary, I've found myself wondering why Indians have not played a bigger role in the gun rights debate.

Weapons are an integral part of our culture. In Indian country, it's taken for granted that everyone shoots and hunts. Perhaps the use of arms is so fundamental to us that we don't even think of it as a right that can be lost. Recently, I visited Indian friends of the Salish-Kootenay Reservation in Montana. It was a few days before a funeral. Extra food was needed for the mourners. "I've got to go get a deer," my friend Terry said, as simply as most Americans would say "I've got to go to the store."

Among Indians, the weapon is a symbol of honor. In Comanche tradition, the young man grew up with the bow. Its mastery was a test of manhood. The relationship of man and weapon was intimate and lifelong.

Every Comanche learned to fight and hunt. If you weren't waging war, you were preparing for war. It was the duty of every member of the tribe to be ready, just in case.

In modern America, women seem to have turned against their own men over the gun issue, judging by the polls and the Million Mom March.

Indian women have a different mindset. It was the women who taught Comanche boys how to use their weapons. Long before anyone ever heard of Xena the Warrior Princess, a woman called the "adiva," or governess ran the Comanche training camps.

Americans nowadays seem to be forgetting what it means to be a warrior. They don't value preparedness. They think the government will always be there to defend them from enemies and criminals.

But that's not the Indian way. That's not the way of a man.

I'm glad the NRA is out there spreading this message. It has earned this Indian's blessing for helping to keep the warrior spirit alive.

Rob's reply
Let's deconstruct this article and see what it tells us about men and warriors and guns.

>> Long ago, the government took away the Indian's weapons and put him on reservations. That is history. <<

Long ago pioneers, homesteaders, and soldiers used guns to force Indians onto reservations. The government took the Indians' guns away while it corralled them and, especially, after it finished corralling them. The Indians' guns weren't enough to prevent this tragedy.

If no one had had guns, the firepower would've been more even, and subjugating the Indians would've been much harder. It might've been impossible.

That's history, not Yeagley's phony claim that removing the Indians' guns caused their confinement. Anglos with guns overwhelmed Indians with guns, then corralled them and removed their weapons.

>> They say they're trying to stop crime. But the more gun laws they pass, the more crime we get. <<

We can dismiss this claim summarily. Overall, crime rates have dropped for the last decade. If we're passing more gun laws, they seem to be doing the job.

Here are a few more egregious claims like Yeagley's:

None of these linkages is provable. In fact, no linkage is provable when you're dealing with the large-scale chaos of reality. Unless you confine it to a lab, a real-world situation has too many variables to isolate one and say it causes another.

Do gun control laws reduce crime? Does gun ownership reduce crime? You might be able to generate evidence for either claim in a controlled experiment. But in complex and multifaceted reality? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Useful research results
From "Lock and Unload: One Survivor Urges Sanity..." by James S. Brady, former White House press secretary. In the LA Times, 3/30/01:

In 1993, Congress passed the Brady law, which requires background checks to prohibit gun sales to criminals and others, including those with a history of mental illness. Since the law went into effect in February 1994, background checks have stopped more than 600,000 gun sales to prohibited purchasers. Research has shown that these background checks have saved thousands of lives.

Here's more on the research on gun control laws. Note that even if California's results are valid, the expert doesn't expect one law to reduce crime singlehandedly. From the LA Times, 2/28/01:

California's gun control law appears to have had a moderate impact on reducing additional violent crimes by people convicted of gun-related offenses, public health researchers at UC Davis reported in a new study.

The findings, to be published today in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., do not show that gun violence was eliminated or even dramatically reduced by the handgun law, said the study's chief author, Garen J. Wintemute. But they do indicate that the law has had an effect, said Wintemute, an emergency room doctor and public health researcher who heads the university's Violence Prevention Research Program.

Thomas B. Cole, a physician who writes about public health issues for the medical journal, compared gun violence with other injury-related public health problems, such as motor vehicle crashes. No single program has been responsible for the enormous decline in traffic fatalities in the last few decades, but, taken together, vehicle safety standards, seat belts, speed enforcement and drunk driving laws have had a significant effect.

From the LA Times, 8/30/01:

Gun Laws Effective in Deterring Criminals, Report Finds

Study: Licensing and registration make it much more difficult for them to get firearms, researchers say.

By ERIC LICHTBLAU, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Laws requiring the licensing and registration of firearms make it much tougher for criminals to get guns and often force them to go out of state to secure weapons, according to a federally funded study that could fuel a gun control debate raging in Sacramento.

The study, which will be released today by Johns Hopkins University researchers, found a dramatic difference in how difficult it is for criminals to get their hands on weapons within states that require gun licensing and registration versus those that do not.

Funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study lends credence to advocacy groups who argue that tougher gun control cuts down on the supply of guns to criminals and forces them to rely on a black market of interstate trafficking from less heavily regulated states.
The two-year Johns Hopkins study sought to examine for the first time how gun trafficking is influenced by state laws. It looked at data from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in 23 states, including California, and analyzed how more than 35,000 guns that were confiscated in crimes had gotten into the hands of criminals.

In the five states examined that required both gun registration and owner licensing, fewer than 34% of the guns used in crimes were originally purchased in state, meaning that the majority were imported across state lines, Johns Hopkins researchers found.

In California and five other states that require only registration or licensing but not both, the proportion of "crime guns" originally sold within the state was more than twice as high—73%. And in the 12 states that have neither licensing nor registration, the figure was an even higher 84%.

While researchers did not address the question of whether heavier restrictions actually caused a decline in gun ownership, their study concluded that the regulations in states with licensing and registration made it much more difficult for criminals to get their hands on guns.

"We were very surprised at how dramatic the differences were. The numbers were really striking," said Daniel Webster, co-director of Johns Hopkins' Center for Gun Policy and Research and the lead author of the study.

"If the ultimate objective of gun laws is to make it difficult for criminals to get guns, this study shows quite persuasively that a combination of licensing and registration is a very effective way to do that," Webster said in an interview.

Enacting either licensing or registration requirements, but not both, "is clearly not as effective," he said.


Nations Say Stricter Gun Control Could Assist U.S.

By William J. Kole , Associated Press Writer
Published on 4/27/2007 in Home »Nation, World »National News

After a loner armed with assault weapons turned a scenic resort into a mass of mangled bodies and thrashing injured in 1996, Australia took quick and decisive action. Twelve days later, the government pushed through a tough ban on semiautomatic rifles.

Australia, which had seen 13 mass shootings in the 15 years that preceded the slaughter in Port Arthur, Tasmania, hasn't seen one since.

Gun control proponents say the Australian experience, and more modest successes in other nations that enacted strict gun controls after suffering mass shootings, could serve as examples to U.S. lawmakers dealing with the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre.

"Countries that have managed to thwart this kind of gun violence have thrown up multiple barriers," said Alun Howard, policy officer for the International Action Network on Small Arms, a London-based group campaigning to end the abuse of light weapons.

In Washington, House Democratic leaders said they are working with the National Rifle Association to strengthen laws aimed at keeping mentally ill people from buying guns. The NRA, however, declined to comment on whether it thinks the tougher approach taken by other countries would work in the U.S.

Britain cracked down after gun enthusiast Michael Ryan massacred 16 people and wounded 13 others in 1987 in the rural English town of Hungerford. The slaughter led to a ban on semiautomatics like Ryan's Kalashnikov rifle.

In 1998, two years after suicide gunman Thomas Hamilton used four legally owned handguns to slay 16 children and a teacher at a kindergarten in Dunblane, Scotland, Britain extended the ban to handguns.

Today, under laws that make it illegal for private citizens to own anything larger than a .22-caliber and subject them to thorough background checks, Hamilton would have a difficult time obtaining the guns he used in Dunblane: two .357-caliber Smith & Wesson revolvers and a pair of 9-mm Browning pistols.

"Virginia Tech happened because guns are so accessible in America. I don't understand why they continue to allow this situation," said Marion Collins, a college lecturer in Edinburgh.

Britain has one of the world's lowest gun homicide rates — 0.04 slayings per 100,000 people, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey for 2004. That puts Britain on par with Japan, where the rate is 0.03 per 100,000.

By contrast, the United States has a rate roughly 100 times higher: 3.42 gun murders per 100,000 people, the survey said.

The U.S. ranked 13th highest out of 112 countries, according to a 2006 study by Wendy Cukier, a professor at Ryerson University in Canada who writes on violence prevention strategies.

Peter Squires, a criminologist at Britain's University of Brighton, said there are significant cultural differences between his country and the U.S. that would make it hard to disarm American citizens.

"We are very much a paternalistic, collective society," he said. American society is "more individual" and has a deeply ingrained sense of "a right and duty to self-defense," he said.

Jan Dizard, a professor of sociology at Amherst College in Amherst, Mass., and editor of "Guns in America," a collection of essays on America's gun culture, agrees. "Gun laws are not going to make us like Japan," he said.

Even so, Dizard contends tighter restrictions can lower the risk of massacres.

"You can squeeze access and increase waiting periods, and that will reduce school shootings," he said.

So would the Virginia Tech shooting have been averted if the U.S. had tighter gun control? Nicholas Marsh, an expert on small weapons at the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway, isn't so sure.

"I think it's very difficult to state that if the law had been different, it wouldn't have happened," he said. "Obviously, if someone is that determined to get a gun, in most countries it's not that difficult."

But Marsh, an advocate of basic gun controls, says making it harder to walk into a shop and walk out with a gun could make a difference.

Tough laws, however, haven't been foolproof.

Britain's gun homicides have gone up and down in recent years despite its tougher laws.

In 1998, when the Dunblane-inspired handgun ban took effect, there were 49 gun homicides, Britain's Home Office says. Firearm homicides spiked at 95 in 2001, dropped to 68 in 2003, rose again the next year to 77, and have declined steadily since. Last year, there were 46.

Canada overhauled its laws after gunman Marc Lepine killed 14 women and himself at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique college in 1989. It's now illegal to possess an unregistered handgun or any kind of rapid-fire weapon.

Canada also requires training, a personal risk assessment, two references, spousal notification and criminal record checks. Government figures suggest the measures have been at least a partial success: Canada's gun homicides have plunged more than 50 percent since 1991, when the changes took effect, dropping from 240 that year to 138 in 2003.

Yet Kimveer Gill still managed to obtain a Beretta semiautomatic rifle and two other weapons he used in last September's shooting at Montreal's Dawson College. Gill killed a young woman and himself and wounded 19 people.

Although Japan restricts handguns to police officers and others who can prove they need weapons for their jobs, it has suffered a recent spate of gangland shootings. That violence, including last week's murder of the mayor of Nagasaki, prompted Japan this week to adopt even stricter controls aimed at stemming the inflow of foreign guns.

Germany has also had mixed results since toughening its gun laws in 2002, the year an alienated former pupil killed a dozen teachers and four others at a high school in Erfurt.

Authorities raised the legal age for owning recreational firearms from 18 to 21, outlawed pump-action shotguns and required buyers to undergo psychological screening. Yet in 2003, the number of gun homicides jumped to 252 from 243 the previous year. It has declined since, to 228 in 2004 and 212 in 2005, the last year for which figures are available.

Germany's crackdown didn't stop a teenager last November from opening fire with a pistol, a longer-barreled gun and a small-caliber rifle at his former school in Emsdetten, wounding five people before killing himself.

In Erfurt, the Virginia Tech massacre has reopened old wounds and revived a sense of resignation.

"There's no way to rid the world of such horrors," said Wolfgang Miltner, a psychologist helping survivors cope in the German town. "Not even if you toughen the gun laws as much as possible."

See A Well Regulated Militia... for more evidence on gun control.

Note that proving a certain law has a certain effect is difficult. But a "gun society" is more a philosophical choice than something we need prove is good or bad. Do we want to live in a culture where people think violence is good and aggression is better? Where we admire the biggest and "baddest" guy as the ultimate role model?

We choose to inspect food for harmful bacteria or drugs for harmful effects. We insist home and car manufacturers meet safety standards. We don't do these things because someone has proved them to be statistically sound. We do them because we value people's lives more than some corporation's profits. It's a moral choice, not a scientific one.

Gun control is the same idea. Americans are demanding we curtail our violent gun culture regardless of the statistics. If people feel safer because guns are less available, that's reason enough to pass gun controls.

Like most people, I suspect crime rates will decline as we make it harder for people who shouldn't have guns to get them. Countries with tough gun laws offer evidence of this. But we don't have to prove this case, any more than we have to prove seat belt laws will save X number of lives. In a democracy, the public can do whatever it wants as long as it's consistent with the Constitution.

>> A hundred years ago, we didn't have gun laws and we didn't have much crime either. <<

A hundred years ago, few people had guns. It's a myth that most Americans have always owned guns. See The Myth of American Self-Reliance for more information.

A hundred years ago, we may not have had much crime, but we did have women and children battered...blacks lynched...Indians massacred. Would gun laws have prevented these crimes? It's impossible to say, but Yeagley hasn't even considered the possibility. His argument is lacking.

Why pursue gun control?
>> In his book, More Guns, Less Crime, Yale Law School economist John Lott shows that, across the United States, over an 18-year period, "states experiencing the greatest reductions in crime are also the ones with the fastest growing percentages of gun ownership." <<

Critics have slammed Lott's research for its methodological flaws. Among other shortcomings, it used arrests—not convictions—as a measure of crime rates. As one may imagine, arrest rates can change for a number of reasons having nothing to do with gun availability. Demographics, the economy, and police methods are just some of the variables.

Here's an example of what critics say about Lott's work:

Both Lott's book and his study have been reviewed by academics from a wide range of disciplines from criminology to public health. Many of these scholars found serious, fundamental flaws in Lott's methodology and found his claims to be unsubstantiated.

John Lott's More Guns, Less Crime: An Alternate Q&A

YES, JOHN LOTT AGAIN....If you are an econometrician — a person who evaluates the real world using complex statistical models — there are two basic ways you can go about your job:

* You can do your best to figure out which statistical model does the best job of mirroring the real world, and then plug in your data and see what pops out. We will call this methodology tolerably honest.

* You can plug in your data first, and then tweak your model until it provides the results you want. We will call this methodology dishonest bullshit.

Political Animal by Kevin Drum

COULD IT BE that more guns cause less crime? Could it be that criminals who suspect their potential victims are armed would be deterred from committing crimes? That's what John R. Lott Jr. argued in his 1998 book, "More Guns, Less Crime."

But could it be that Lott is wrong; that other researchers have been unable to confirm his thesis? That's what Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner argued in their bestselling 2005 book, "Freakonomics." How should this debate be resolved? Lott's solution is to try to get the U.S. District Court in Chicago to issue an injunction blocking the sale of "Freakonomics." That's a terrible way to deal with controversial research about a crucial public policy issue. Instead of trying to silence his critics, Lott ought to respond to their criticisms.

Jon Wiener, Gun-Research 'Freak'-Out, LA Times, 5/31/06

So Lott's gun research is suspect at best. As you might expect from someone who's an economist, not a criminologist. A right-wing economist, that is, judging by how his "research" always upholds the conservative position on any issue.

In short, Lott isn't close to being the final word on the subject of gun control.

>> So why does the government keep pushing gun control? <<

Uh, because it works? See the latest studies on gun control for evidence of that.

It's enough that the people who elected the government want it. A better question is why gun nuts keep pushing guns against the people's wishes.

>> If the government takes our guns, it's not because they are trying to help us. It's because they are trying to control us. <<

Control whom? The people who foster America's culture of violence? The people who shoot others accidentally or in fits of anger? The people who sell guns to former criminals or the mentally ill? The people who give guns to their thoughtless children or who don't keep them locked up safely? The people who commit suicide by shooting themselves?

If this is true, then so what? What's Yeagley's point, exactly? I don't see any problems here. If "the government" takes anybody's guns, it's because the American people are trying to help themselves. That's their right under the Constitution.

>> Weapons are an integral part of our culture. In Indian country, it's taken for granted that everyone shoots and hunts. <<

Maybe so, but this is recognizing the gun as a tool, not as a weapon. The dictionary defines "weapon" as "an instrument of offensive or defensive combat." Unless Bambi's mother puts up one heckuva fight, we're talking about two different things. Hunting is killing for food, not defending one's home or culture.

>> In modern America, women seem to have turned against their own men over the gun issue, judging by the polls and the Million Mom March. <<

Right, which is why Yeagley's claim that "the government" is out to take his weapon is another half-truth. In this case the government reflects the will of the American people, who support sensible gun controls. It's called majority rule, and if Yeagley doesn't like it, he can go back where he came from. (Just kidding, of course.)

And don't get me started on the Second Amendment. The courts have ruled consistently that it does not permit an unqualified right to bear arms. The amendment itself is qualified by the phrase "a well-regulated militia." This phrase explicitly tells us the Constitution permits armed Americans (i.e., militias) to be well-regulated.

The right to bear arms shall not be infringed...as long as militias are well-regulated. Or to translate for those who aren't constitutional scholars, the guv'mint can regulate your guns but not take them away.

Government in danger of disappearing?
>> They think the government will always be there to defend them from enemies and criminals. <<

Is the US government in some sort of danger? I hadn't heard. With the USSR defunct and China still a Third-World country, what force could possibly threaten the United States government? Martians?

Maybe Yeagley was thinking of anti-Americans like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. On 9/11/01, terrorists managed to kill 3,000 Americans after years of planning. Roughly the same number die of asthma every year. Does asthma threaten the US government?

Hearing a gun supporter worrying about our government being too weak and powerless is a real side-splitter. These people bitch and moan when government is too big...and also when it may shrink too small. Apparently these people have no agenda except to bitch and moan.

>> I'm glad the NRA is out there spreading this message. <<

I'm sorry the NRA is out there spreading this manure. I hope I've highlighted its foolishness. What America doesn't need is more people touting guns as the solution.

As Yeagley admits, he was watching nothing more than a propaganda piece from the NRA. Like most NRA "information," it undoubtedly was riddled with lies and distortions. When the NRA says "the government is coming for your guns," what it usually means is "the government is imposing a harmless background check so a three-time felon can't legally buy a gun," or "the government is closing a blatant gun-show loophole so a three-time psych-ward patient can't legally buy a gun."

In short, there's nothing to be scared of here, folks. Give Yeagley's screed the respect it deserves and laugh out loud.

Related links
Yeagley the Indian apple
A well regulated militia...
Right-wing extremists:  the enemy within
Winning through nonviolence
America's cultural mindset

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