Saturday, April 25, 2009

Increasing Gun Violence in the United States

A New York Times op-ed was published containing the most alarming and concise rundown of gun violence stats I've read lately. Bob Herbert wrote A Culture Soaked in Blood. He begins with this: "Roughly 16,000 to 17,000 Americans are murdered every year, and more than 12,000 of them, on average, are shot to death."

But it doesn't end there. More than 30,000 people are killed over the course of one typical year by guns. That includes 17,000 who commit suicide, nearly 800 who are killed in accidental shootings and more than 300 killed by the police. (In many of the law enforcement shootings, the police officers are reacting to people armed with guns).

And then there are the people who are shot but don’t die. Nearly 70,000 fall into that category in a typical year, including 48,000 who are criminally attacked, 4,200 who survive a suicide attempt, more than 15,000 who are shot accidentally, and more than 1,000 — many with a gun in possession — who are shot by the police.

The medical cost of treating gunshot wounds in the U.S. is estimated to be well more than $2 billion annually. And the Violence Policy Center, a gun control advocacy group, has noted that nonfatal gunshot wounds are the leading cause of uninsured hospital stays.

What's your opinion? Is this guy and his newspaper a shill for the anti-gun movement? Do you think these stats are cooked, as they say?

What I want to know is how can any responsible gun owner not feel personally touched by this. I don't seem to be hearing that from them. Mainly I get defensive posturing about how each person is responsible for his own actions and how all this violence has nothing to do with them. I keep hearing that the guns are not to blame, it's the violent people using them.

I remain unconvinced. Once I was asked what if anything would convince me to change my position. I said I don't think there is anything. Now, that's not the same as saying there's absolutely nothing you could show me that would change my mind. In fact, I read every pro-gun comment and most of the attachments. I read pro-gun blogs and comment on them. I have kept an open mind, but remain unconvinced.

I really believe if I were a gun owner who professed to be exercising his 2nd Amendment rights, I would feel partly responsible for this. Does that make sense to you? Can you understand what I'm saying?

As far as a solution goes, I am convinced that the proliferation of firearms plays a part in much of this bloodshed, and diminishing the number of available guns would address that.

What's your opinion?


  1. Simple, He fails to discuss defensive gun use.

    This would be like a writer talking about the Nausea, malaise, lack of energy, weaken immune system, and hair loss of Chemotherapy....but forgetting that little bit about it having a good rate of rendering patients cancer-free.

    As a pharmaceutical researcher who helps develop new chemotherapeutic drugs, I understand that side effects can be VERY nasty things, but one must look ahead to the end goal.

    Also he seems to forget that the majority of the cases the people causing the problems are in violation of many multiple gun laws, many of those are federal, as well as the universal crimes of murder, assault, criminal threat, ect that are illegal regardless of the tool used.

    Calling for more gun laws, rather than increased enforcement, more effective judicial enforcement and allowing people to defend themselves until the streets ARE cleaned up, is simply asking to make the problem worse, rather than better.

    "What's your opinion? Is this guy and his newspaper a shill for the anti-gun movement? Do you think these stats are cooked, as they say?"

    Well he DOES have a book to sell. He wouldn't sell many books if he freely informed the populace that he intentionally disregarded the most effective argument of the pro-gun movement, as well as cherry-picked data so that he could have a more concise and uncluttered report.

    Here's my big question, Mike. Why do YOU do it?

    I'm starting to suspect maybe you too seek a paycheck out of denying the truth.

  2. Another one for you Mike. Remember when you said shooting an Armed Robber was "Cavalier"?

    'A man walking with his daughter early this morning in the South Shore neighborhood was shot during a robbery....The victim and his daughter were walking on the street when the robber approached with a handgun, police said. The robber took belongings from the two, police said, before shooting the man in his chest."

    Wait, didn't you say that if the people in the AA meeting had just given Mr. Helms their money he would have left them alone?

    Also what kind of man would carry a gun while taking an early morning walk with his Daughter...a live one!

  3. MikeB,

    Do those numbers on the murders and suicides look familiar?

    They should, we've been telling you those for over a year now.

    I don't know about the 70,000 wounded but it doesn't sound out of line.

    Question to ask yourself: Who is doing the shooting and who is being shot?

    Look at the relatively small number of survived suicides, 4,200. That means there are 65,000 or so people being shot who are criminally attacked.

    So, why are they being shot?

    Answer: The War on (Some) Drugs. Violence is pervasive in that culture.

    What I want to know is how can any responsible gun owner not feel personally touched by thisI don't feel personally touched by this the same reason you don't feel personally touched by every drunk driver that kills or injures someone. That action is a direct choice of theirs, NOT MINE.

    You drive a car, I assume you imbibe alcohol occasionally. Aren't you a responsible adult that doesn't drink and drive?

    So why should you be held liable; morally, ethically or legally for the actions of someone you can't control?

    I really believe if I were a gun owner who professed to be exercising his 2nd Amendment rights, I would feel partly responsible for thisDo you feel partly responsible for every crime in the world?

    You are male, are you partly responsible for every rape?

    You have a computer, are you partly responsible for every computer hacked, every piece of spam?

    You have a camera (I assume), are you partly responsible for every underage picture in the world?

    You have fists (I assume), are you partly responsible for every assault in the world?

    You have a wife, are you partly responsible for every domestic violence, every abused wife in the world?

    If you don't take partial responsibility for every crime in the world, why should I?

  4. Great post, Mike. I wanted to post about that oped, too, but did not.

    I'll say in advance-- I think you are a magnanimous guy for letting the gun-folks comment here. The *exact* same ones mob a friend's blog whenever she posts about guns, and they did the same to my blog about 6 weeks ago (over 2500 hits in 48 hours) and then again a couple of weeks ago. I have kept a file of over 173 comments from those two posts that either threaten my life, those of my loved ones, both, and a few even for *our cat*-- a couple of those are particularly disturbing b/c they write about torturing our cat before killing her.

    I've learned they generally have no manners, cannot resist using insults as part of their comments, and cannot be reasoned with. Good luck to you in trying to engage them in a dialogue.

  5. The vast majority of gun deaths are avoidable by the victim.

    All suicides fall in this category, leaving us with 13,000

    The vast majority of police shootings are avoidable by the victim.

    48% of murder victims are convicted felons--Not necessarily proof that they were doing something wrong at the time, but an indicator of an avoidable criminal lifestyle.

    That leaves not quite 7000 annually who aren't obviously doing something avoidable. I'm guessing that a number of these are also avoidable, but I'll let them counter the "reformed felons".

    I'm not willing to work harder than someone else to solve their problems. I'm also not willing to give up my rights, when they have the means to avoid these problems.

    Some of the 7000 are cause for concern. Separately, either the legitimate defensive use of guns, or the principles of freedom and defense against tyranny are enough to offset these 7000. Together, they overwhelmingly support gun rights.

  6. The drunk driving example is interesting since I remember it wasn't an issue until groups like MADD entered the scene and drew attention to the problem.

    We have a gun problem in the US. Continuing to say, "It's not me" doesn't address the problem.

  7. Sevesteen, Could you explain about the "avoidable" angle? I don't quite get what you're saying.

  8. Mike, since you live in Italy, why the fixation with guns in America? With Italy being controlled more and more by the mafia and the increasing levels of corruption in government, (which contributed to more deaths in the latest earthquake), the country is becoming more violent.
    As a Federal Republic, the US states have the power to enforce different laws in regards to gun use. Just like you did when you left the USA, if I lived in a state where the gun laws were contrary to my liking, I would move to another state.
    If the Berlusconi (Italian) government goes through with federalism, and Lazio passes a law where anyone who is qualified can buy and posses and gun, would you leave Lazio/Italy? Would you get more involved in Italian politics?
    NB- Thanks for all the support and comments over on my site. Haven’t been able to get any of your followers to comment on my site, but my site is more analytical and forum to practice my political analysis.

  9. MikeB,

    Avoidable as in "IF the person wasn't dealing drugs and using violence to keep their turf, they wouldn't shot someone or been shot."

    Avoidable in as in "IF some thug hadn't decided that someone's money was worth more then their lives".

    Avoidable as in "If the person didn't point a loaded firearm at a cop and REFUSE to put it down when ordered".

  10. MikeB,

    Since you've started moderating comments again, I'm not sure what will or will not go through.

    My response to Increasing Gun Violence

  11. If you don't understand already, I'm not sure I can explain.

    I don't believe I have the obligation, or even the right in most cases to stop people from making their own choices, even if those choices harm themselves.

    A criminal who gets shot probably got shot because of his own choice to be a criminal. I should help protect his victims, but I'm not under obligation to help him, nor to mitigate the effects to him of his choices.

    Suicide is a bit thornier, but the same logic applies--it is a choice, although you can argue about it being freely made. I don't think it is often a choice between suicide by gun or no suicide, but more often first a choice of suicide then a decision on method.

    I want freedom of choice, I don't expect to be rescued from the consequences. Others should have the same freedom and responsibility.

  12. "We have a gun problem in the US. Continuing to say, "It's not me" doesn't address the problem."

    Really, a gun problem? I guess it's the guns that are making people kill, rape, and rob others.

    What we DO have is a cultural and socioeconomic problem of which violence (and gun violence) is merely a symptom.

    Do you know Pandora that the AG's office has a habitual offenders unit?

    PEOPLE are the problem, and only a small subset of people at that. No one seems to want to discuss this though. They'd rather blame the guns.

    Why? Because blaming guns and passing "gun control" is easy. Until we're willing to honestly talk about WHO (what group) is the problem and how communities need to change the culture that pumps these folks out we will never find a "solution."

    Let's face it, the real solution is much harder and politically risky. Gun control is no more than a treatment (an ineffective one at that) of a symptom. We have a VIOLENCE problem among a small subset of individuals in this country. Treating a symptom only perpetuates the disease.

  13. Shorter version of bob s.

    "Actions have consequences." Criminal actions can have serious consequences, especially when your intended prey can fight back.

    Good for the prey, bad for the predators.

  14. Weer'd asks me why do I "do it," referring to my arguing the anti-gun position. He has posed this question before, always after claiming that someone I quote is a "paid shill." He's even suggested that my motivation is to become one of them.

    Il Principe posed the same question, but in a somewhat more acceptable way. His seems like a real question while Weer'd's seems like an attempt to undermine what I say by questioning its motivation.

    I write the blog because I enjoy it; it's entertainment, nothing more. I'm not under the delusion that I have any influence on anythingor. I think the gun questions are fascinating ones which are daily illustrated in the headline news.

    Why I'm interested in events happening the the U.S. even though I live in Italy is an interesting question. 20 years ago I thought I'd immerse myself in the language and culture and in a year or two become indistinguishable from a native born Italian. Before that year or two was up, it became clear how unrealistic that dream was. Over the subsequent decade and a half, I gradually discovered that I'll always be more American than Italian, in the way I think and act, in my cultural background, in my being.

    Raising kids here has been quite the eye-opener. The expat tendency to criticize Italy and the Italians, in me, has been tempered by the fact that my own children are little Italians.

    So, to answer the question, I care more about American things than Italian, because I feel more American than Italian.

  15. I appreciate your answer to my question. As a fellow ex-pat American living in Italy I too try to fit it and act Italian but my American values and attitudes cause me to complain and look at the Italians in a more critical way. Case in point is the fact that american tax payers are supporting over 5,000 italians directly and over 20,000 indirectly with the military bases America has inside Italy. Even thought Italy is a G7 country and the 8th most richest economy in the world.
    Most Americans are not aware of the financial support the US government gives Italy, in the form of these 45 military bases. I am sure there are many blog readers on your roll who would want to have that money spent in thier own communities. But if not, I guess they don't mind the fact that most Italians live better than they do. When is the last time most Americans took a three week vacation.

  16. But why Guns, Mike?

    It can be accidents, otherwise you'd be blogging about cleaners or chemicals, or cars.

    It can't be suicides, as you disregard half the suicides in this nation that don't use guns. Nor do you much care about the suicide rate in other nations that have considerably less guns in them. (I'll note that the UK and Italy are only slightly behind the US when it comes to suicide...also both are ABOVE Israel which has even more guns than the US)

    It isn't about violence, as you express your contempt for police, and disregard people defending their own lives.

    It can't be the "Flow of Guns" as you don't want to talk about the Mexican problem and where their military weapons are coming from, nor do you see interested in the countless cases of police and government groups (like the ATF) "loosing" their issued arms.

    So what is it, Mike? And while my tone above may be a little dry, I mean no disrespect, I'm just trying to figure out your rational.

  17. Bob, For one who is so quick to call others on any little thing, you say the most incredible things yourself:

    "Since you've started moderating comments again, I'm not sure what will or will not go through."

    I think you know very well and so does anyone else who has followed along or anyone who bothers to read the new commenting policy I wrote.

  18. MikeB,

    Sorry I only know so many ways of saying you aren't telling the truth, but in this case you simply aren't telling the truth.

    I've repeatedly have called you on your moderation policy that stopped perfectly acceptable comments. You know this and if needed I will prove it.

  19. Mike, any hope that my question will get answered?

    Pretty sure I made it perfectly clear it wasn't rhetorical.

  20. Weer'd asks (again), "But why Guns, Mike?"Obviously, I didn't explain it well enough the last few times we discussed it, so here goes.

    When I started the blog, I wrote that sub-heading you still see today before making my first post. "politics, guns, capital punishment, movies and music."That was almost a year ago, Obama was still competing with Hillary, the economy, we thought, was still intact, the gun scene and death penalty scene were pretty much like they are now. My First Post, dated June 14, 2008, included a bit about a book I was reading at the time. I commenced to write daily, mainly about politics. It was not until July 1st that I wrote my first post about guns, entitled appropriately enough, "Guns". Throughout July, gun topics became more frequent, and thanks to the commenters, some of whom are still coming around, I became more and more interested in the topic.

    So, what started out as just a part of my original idea of "things that interest me," has evolved into the main subject of the blog, the one I personally find most fascinating.

    I hope that answers the question.

  21. It doesn't. I fully understand why you blog about guns. I'm curious why you want less of them?

  22. Weer'd, You first asked me this: "But why Guns, Mike?"

    When I provided a thorough answer containing quotes and links, and asked if that satisfies, you had this to say:

    "It doesn't. I fully understand why you blog about guns. I'm curious why you want less of them?"It may seem odd that after all your insults and insinuations, after all your attempts at misrepresenting what I say, this is the straw that broke the camel's back. I think you're jerking me around with this bullshit question, and I've had enough.

    Starting immediately you get your own very special comment moderation. Only comments from you that are on topic and contain no derogatory remarks of any kind will get published. Everyone else gets the New Commenting Policy, but you, because you're such a Straight Shooter, you get special treatment.

    The truth is, when you play the game fairly, you add a lot to the discussions. But, the pain has begun to exceed the pleasure.

    Do yourself a favor and don't ask any questions about this policy because I'll probably think you're just jerking me around some more and not publish them.

  23. MikeB,

    Noticed that you haven't been back to my blog to answer the question that I asked.

    If all the indicators are trending can we have increasing gun violence?

  24. What I want to know is how can any responsible gun owner not feel personally touched by this. I don't seem to be hearing that from them. Mainly I get defensive posturing about how each person is responsible for his own actions and how all this violence has nothing to do with them.

    I feel for the innocent people who are hurt and killed in this world. I wish I could save the people who're abused in their homes, or shot on the streets, or forced into prostitution, or oppressed by occupying armies, or oppressed by their "legitimate" governments, or hacked to death with machetes because they aren't from the "right" tribe. The world is full of pain, and if I could make it all better I would in a heartbeat.

    But you must understand that when you bring these things up to connect them to gun ownership in the US, with the implication that we should have more restrictions on that gun ownership in particular, people will respond to that connection in particular.

    Remember that poor kid who died at a machine gun shoot a few months back? When shooters brought it up as a tragedy that should have been avoided with better oversight and more responsibility from the adults, all I saw from gun owners was sympathy for the kid, extreme disapproval for the instructor, and sentiments about the father ranging from sympathy to extreme disapproval. When anti-gun commenters brought it up as an example of how dangerous shooting events are, I saw gun owners (quite reasonably, IMO) pointing out that we've had machine gun shoots in this country for a century, and this was the first ever documented injury. The one point ("this is tragic") is true. The other point ("shooting sports are dangerous") isn't. It stands to reason that responses will vary depending on which point the commenter is making. You call it "defensive posturing"--I call it "answering the question".

    Put this in a different context. I'm talking to my good friend George, who is gay. In the context of a discussion of child abuse, I mention the clergy sex abuse scandal. I'd expect him to show sympathy for the victims. If I were to bring up the same scandal in the context of a gay marriage discussion with the implication that it wouldn't have happened if society did more to discourage people from being gay, then I should expect a very different reaction.

    I know you and I disagree on whether the availability of guns in this country meaningfully increases the number of tragic violent deaths out there, but please set that aside for the moment and just acknowledge the disagreement: you're positing a connection and (however loose and general) solution that I think is inaccurate, and which would affect me directly. Doesn't it stand to reason that my response would be more "this is why I think you're wrong" than "yes, I agree with you that the original horrible tragedy is a bad thing"?

    Do we need to prove how much we sympathize with the victims of 9/11 before we can say "this isn't the fault of the great majority of muslims, and policies that burden them are unfair and aren't worth the cost to individual freedom"?

  25. Michael, Indeed, the question of whether the availability of guns increases violence is key. I honestly don't know how a reasonable person can deny it. Surely you don't say it NEVER plays a part. Are we haggling over the meanings of "significant" and "negligible?"

  26. MikeB,

    Still have a post up at my place that debunks your increasing gun violence theory.

    You've commented once on the fact you missed the homicide was there.

    How about commenting on the fact that gun violence isn't increasing in the USA?

  27. Surely you don't say it NEVER plays a part.

    Of course it can. The world is a big place, full of unimaginably diverse situations. There _will_ be some number of tragedies that happen in part because a gun was present. But that's wildly oversimplifying the situation.

    From my point of view, there are two reasons why this tack isn't valid. The first is based on the relative value of freedom versus safety, but put that aside for a moment.

    More relevant to your point, the issue isn't whether a gun has ever contributed to suffering. Assessing this issue requires us to consider whether guns add more suffering than they prevent. First off, how much, if any, does the presence of guns increas rates of violent crime and suicide? Like I said in your more recent post, it seems to me from watching the effects of gun control that all it does is make criminals and suicides choose different tools, without actually saving lives or decreasing suffering. The _same_ deaths might not all happen, but the small minority of "it only happened because a gun made it a bit easier" deaths that are prevented are obviously replaced by other deaths.

    Guns also bring the _enormous_ benefit of decoupling survival of violence from physical strength. Effective repeating firearms make it possible for the first time ever in human history for a small woman to have an excellent chance of successfully defending herself against two much larger men. Big, strong people have always been bad targets for violence. Guns empower the weak.

    Finally, gun ownership has a strong correlation with happiness, across almost every demographic you can think of. It's a well established fact that having control over your own destiny is one of the greatest determiners of happiness, and knowing that you can _act_ to protect yourself in an emergency rather than just _hoping the criminal won't hurt you or that the police will beat their usual response time has a significant positive affect on the primate brain. I think the above point and this one are closely related.

    Guns have a significant and measurable positive effect on individuals, and crime statistics seem to indicate that their presence doesn't actually cause any more deaths than their absence does. I have a hard time seeing where the objection is.

  28. Surely you don't say it NEVER plays a part. Are we haggling over the meanings of "significant" and "negligible?"It works both ways--sometimes gun availability reduces violence. It appears that English police officers get assaulted more often than American officers, based on the blogs of both I read.

    I don't think it fair to count only the negatives, while completely disregarding the positives. We keep telling you that experience shows when decent people use guns for defense, they usually don't hurt anyone. Those stories don't make national news, but there are daily stories of "homeowner/shopkeeper pointed a gun, criminal ran/surrendered".

    When a good guy stops an attack by being willing to defend with a gun causing a retreat--Is that an increase or a decrease in violence?

    The specific type of violence doesn't matter--the frequency and severity do. I just saw an article about New York where gun murders were down, but overall murders were up for 2008. Is that really an improvement?

  29. Michael, Indeed, the question of whether the availability of guns increases violence is key. I honestly don't know how a reasonable person can deny it. Surely you don't say it NEVER plays a part.

    Crap. Tried to leave a lengthy response before, but my browser must've eaten it.

    Short version:

    Since gun control doesn't seem to correlate to lower crime and suicide rates, and "lenient" gun laws don't seem to correlate to higher crime and suicide rates, the number of "it wouldn't have happened if the gun hadn't made it a bit easier" deaths (which certainly exist, and are what I assume you're referring to) seems to be balanced by an equal or greater number of other deaths brought about by the absence of guns.

    On the other side of the coin, guns empower the weak (when else in human history could a small woman be confident in her ability to defend herself against two big men?), and give us better options in a crisis than "hope the criminal doesn't want to hurt us" or "hope the police have a better than average response time right now". Since control over our own destinies is one of the greatest determinants of happiness, it's unsurprising that gun owners are happier than non gun owners in almost every measurable way and across all demographics.

    There's no evidence that the presence of guns increases the number of tragic deaths, and they have a measurable positive influence on individuals. I see a net gain for society.

  30. Whoop--either I missed it, or it came out of the moderation queue after I reposted. Sorry for the dupe.