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posted on 23 February 2016

Violence And Guns: Shooting Oneself In The Foot

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Shooting is the preferred method of murder in America, accounting for about 2/3 of the total. So superficially you would think that eliminating guns would reduce murder. There are some warts on that solution, though.

First let's look at the geographic distribution of murder. It seems that a few cities like Chicago which has very stringent gun control contribute strongly, about 500 deaths per year for a population of 2.7 million, to the national murder statistics. I live in California which has pretty stringent firearms regulations including many of the favorites of the moment such as "assault weapon" and "high capacity magazine" bans. But in the San Francisco-Oakland area, with a population of about 1.1 million there are something like 300 murders per year. Considering there are about 13,000 murders per year in the US and 322 million people, these are wildly disproportionate numbers.

San Francisco and Oakland have both managed to eliminate legal firearms sales within their city limits. There's no apparent shortage in the criminal community, though. A lot of people are still killed with guns. The old saw about when guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns is proving out, at least in the matter of sales. When legal sales are eliminated only illegal sales remain. I propose that those also have stringent background checks. Unless you are a verifiable criminal it will probably be very hard to buy an illegal gun.

It's pretty easy to find that there are high risk areas for violence, "bad neighborhoods". Within San Francisco-Oakland there are well known high risk areas, Hunters Point and East Oakland come to mind. "Everybody knows". Crime maps illustrate, but it is unappealing to quantify causative factors. I haven't tried it, but it would be a reasonable hypothesis that violence is inversely related to a number of things like household income, two parent families, labor force participation rate and educational attainment. I will bet there is a racial bias in the numbers too, but that might be too sensitive an issue to discuss. It might not be easy to obtain a zip code breakdown of the national criminal background check system, but I would propose further that "bad neighborhoods" are under-represented. That would make a lot of sense if there are no legal gun dealers in them.

Thus, passing more laws seems unlikely to ameliorate criminal violence. That is a strategic, or "macro" issue. As with macroeconomics, which has been said to make astrology look respectable, gun control laws have failed to achieve their objectives consistently since they were first instituted. That was in the 15th century about the time matchlocks went out and handguns became concealable. As an aside, most people know about the Fascist bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. How many know that it was home to an arms industry [1] which in turn depended on a tweak of gun laws? In the day "broom handle Mausers" were legal because they loaded by a stripper clip instead of a detachable magazine. They were also pretty easy to fabricate, as are AK47s today. Thus there was a cottage gunsmithing industry in Guernica which, at least by the logic of WWII, made it a valid military target. As with almost any law, there are unintended consequences.

Let's take a look, then, at micro measures. This can be as simple as the old bad joke, "Don't want to get stiff in the joints? Stay out of the joints." Just as I avoid certain international destinations unless there's a good reason, I avoid "bad neighborhoods". Living in a moderately bad neighborhood [2] had consequences. I lived to tell about them. I now live in a safer community. Staying out of bad places is a perfectly workable tactical solution for most people, most of the time and there is every reason to believe they follow it. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, "nobody gets credit for solving a problem that didn't happen."

This is a widespread problem with microeconomics as well. There is every reason to believe that making it easier to do business improves economic growth and encourages participation in the recorded part of the economy. But what isn't counted doesn't count... well, until some folks thought to put prostitution into the national accounts [3]. In a similar fashion defensive use of firearms is hard to count, especially if the gun isn't actually fired or anybody injured.

As banning guns is a simplistic macro policy, a simplistic micro policy is promoting personal firearm use for defensive purposes. I'm more attracted to this latter personally and because there is some evidence to believe it may work, at least to an extent. There are two things about violence and crime that are related. More states today encourage personal self defense and at the same time murder and other violent crime has diminished over the same period. Gun sales are also up, but that is probably influenced by fear of further firearm purchase and possession regulation.

Micro policies have to consider micro activity. Making it easier to do business, for instance, is probably good for growth, but also for improving the tax base. There are advantages to being "legitimate" or there would be less pressure on legalizing drug sales.

That leads to another digression. The Black Panther Party touted the 2nd Amendment in their resistance to law enforcement in the Oakland black community. That is, they resisted drug and prostitution laws, even marching through the California state capitol under arms. This is a digression because it brings up questions of liberty and sumptuary laws. Banning anything can be characterized as a sumptuary law. One interest group imposes its will on another via the power of government. That brings up yet another digression on the legitimate scope of government under the Constitution. The bottom line on the Black Panthers is they motivated a number of new state gun control laws. The laws have deterred anybody else from marching through the Capitol under arms, but have had no measurable effect on violent crime. At least it has been balanced. Maybe a few malefactors have taken to using pit bulls rather than pistols, but some folks have just been busted for gun law violations without any necessary connection to other activity.

There is a bigger issue with personal armed self defense. Not everybody is willing or prepared to defend themselves. This leads to a couple tactics. Tactic one. I don't want to fight. I don't want to resist. I don't want to possibly kill or maim anybody. So, I'll carry some throw away cash. If a bad thing happens, toss the cash like an octopus squirts ink, and like the critter leave the scene as quickly as possible. Option two is the opposite. Mess with me, I'll mess with you. I will kill you unless you either run or kill me first. Ugly, but a proven tactic all the way back into primate prehistory. If you believe in the perfectibility of mankind, that's extremely sad.

Even if you assert option two, there are a plethora of problems. I wonder how the media would have handled George Zimmerman's case if his name had been Jorge Zapata. Still there is an old saying on option two, "I would rather be tried by (a jury of) twelve than carried by six." One thing that's almost certain. If you defend yourself outside your home and hurt somebody, you are very likely to be charged. Your choice as to whether bargaining a plea or going to trial and possibly being convicted of something worse will be better for your cv. If you are defending your home and family you are much less likely to find yourself in court [4].

Then there is the matter of training. It isn't easy to hit a target with anything. That's what makes it a competitive sport. Hitting something with a handgun is harder. This isn't a typical video game. I think Belarus uses it for training. See how you do. Then consider that there is no weight in your hand, noise in your ear, recoil. Further, our Department of Defense changed to man silhouette targets fifty years ago to help soldiers overcome their disinclination to shoot another person. Just being able to hit a bullseye is only part of the problem, whatever you may tell yourself outside the pressure of the moment. Possibly the best way to approach that question is through hand to hand martial arts training. There are many alternatives there. I prefer aikido for many reasons, but there are arguments in favor of any of them. At the end of the day, shooting is just another martial art [5].

Then there is the question about running afoul of gun control laws while carrying a defensive or any weapon. Some jurisdictions find gun owners attractive targets of opportunity. New York has been known to arrest and prosecute people changing planes while their luggage included firearms.[6]. New Jersey is another such activist.

I think that there is an old chestnut that applies here. 'If a conservative doesn't like guns, he owns none. If a liberal doesn't like guns, he tries to prevent YOU from owning any.'

At the micro level there is another issue here, the digression into the legitimate role of government in our country. The Second Amendment has to do with popular sovereignty, a revolutionary concept today as ever. Force is a prerogative of the sovereign. In the Founders' republic, sovereignty was delegated to government within limits. The possession of arms and their use was reserved to the people as a sovereign, as well as a natural, right. Infringing on that right is a usurpation. Usurpation is as natural a right as rebellion, validated but not vindicated by success.

Bottom line, if guns are outlawed, and only outlaws have guns, will society be safer? If you decide to arm yourself for self defense and are arrested for illegally carrying that gun, will you have shot yourself in the foot?


Footnotes

[1] http://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2010/10/19/spanish-broomhandles/

[2] http://www.crimemapping.com/map/ca/sanfrancisco enter zip 94133

[3] http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-britain-italy-prostitution-gdp-20140530-story.html

[4] http://cdn.americanrifleman.org/articles/2016/1/15/the-armed-citizen-jan-15-2016/

[5] http://www.amazon.com/Shooting-Within-Guide-Maximum-Performance/dp/0962692514

[6] http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/04/02/pregnant-mom-arrested-in-new-york-for-unloaded-handgun-in-checked-baggage/

Additional Reading

http://crime.chicagotribune.com/chicago/shootings/

http://www.statisticbrain.com/murder-weapon-statistics/

http://www.gunfacts.info/gun-control-myths/guns-in-other-countries/

http://www.whiteoutpress.com/articles/q32013/america-s-elusive-crime-statistics-by-race/

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