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Pro and con on guns

A liberal medical economist (I think) compares gun deaths to other, bigger, public health problems.

OTOH, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/sunday-review/more-guns-more-killing.html?smid=tw-share&_r=4&&pagewanted=all
comparing us to Guatemala may not be entirely helpful, but the article also makes claims for two cases where a strong legal change made a strong change in desired variables: Australia and Bogota. These seem closer to causal experiments than the usual correlation sifting.

And http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/hicrc/firearms-research/guns-and-death/ makes a lot of strong correlation claims, though I haven't read the sources.

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/349053.html#comments


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 22nd, 2013 07:42 pm (UTC)
I hadn't really intended it for broad public consumption, but I made it public rather than friends-only, and added some further notes and such.
Jan. 22nd, 2013 11:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks for making it public! It first made me laugh and then made me think.

In regards to thinking about gun violence in terms of public health, I agree that it's necessary to get a better picture of the defensive uses of guns, in order to properly balance that against the homicides (accidental or otherwise) for which people use them. That said, this kind of data collection has been done in the past, and it hasn’t looked good for guns: a random digit call survey of 1,906 Americans in 1996 found that 2 people had used their gun in self defense at home in the last five years, while 13 had been threatened with a gun at home (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10619696). Another survey, between 1987-1990, found that “gun offenses exceeded protective incidents by more than 10 to 1”, that “criminal shootings were 7.6 times more frequent than shooting in self-defense” and that firearms were used in self-defense in only 0.83% of the violent crimes committed during that period. They conclude “criminals face little threat from armed victims. The probability of firearm resistance is not zero. Yet given that half of US households own a gun, armed self-defense is extremely uncommon. Coupled with the risks of keeping a gun for protection, these results raise questions about the collective benefits of civilian firearm ownership for crime control.” (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1615397/pdf/amjph00463-0112.pdf )

Both you and mindstalk have separately referenced the low probability of dying by mass murderer. It's a good point to make if someone's sure they're going to die from going to a movie theatre, but I'm not sure it helps much in regards to a conversation about gun control. The majority of homicides in the US are committed with a firearm. Firearm homicides are a leading cause of death among young men, particularly Hispanic and African American men. The CDC estimates the 2011 rate of deaths due to "accidental discharge of firearms" is 0.3/100,000 people, and deaths due to "Assault (homicide) by discharge of firearms" is 3.6/100,000. Their estimated rate of injury by firearms is 10.3/100,000 (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/homicide.htm). Firearms *are* a public health hazard. Just because they’re not the number one cause of death among all Americans doesn’t mean we should ignore them.

I don’t think it’s worthwhile to keep extremely effective killing tools available, and I definitely don’t think it’s worthwhile to do so simply because there are other causes of death or causes of violence. Yes, we need better mental health resources. Yes, we need to work on income inequality. Yes, we need to work on poverty. But while we’re dealing with huge, societal-level issues that *may* influence crime rates, why can’t we also work on getting guns off the streets?

In regards to *how* to get guns out of American hands, I completely agree that better enforcement is the first way I can think of. I hate when people cite, say, the high crime rate in Chicago as proof that handgun bans don’t decrease gun violence. Enforcement in Chicago is a joke! So given that it seems like getting better laws passed seems improbable, I’d love to concentrate on getting real funding and oversight to enforce current laws.
Jan. 23rd, 2013 01:39 am (UTC)
"Firearms *are* a public health hazard"

But one can argue that just because handguns are the tool of first resort doesn't mean removing handguns will reduce the murder rate much. Guns aren't crystallized Evil like radioactive waste, that just happen to kill people, they're tools that get turned to by people who want to kill other people. Remove the tools, and those people may use other tools. "The Internet routes around censorship", as it were.

Of course, some of my other links suggest removing the handy tools may indeed make a big difference, but that hasn't always been the clear and obvious consensus. And with Australia and spree killings -- and the earlier link that claimed compliance with the ban was low -- I wonder if the bigger effect was from the social norm changing, making it clear that suicide-by-cop-and-spree was Not Cool and Not Glory.

So I'm still not sure.
Jan. 23rd, 2013 03:58 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure that tightening access to guns will reduce the murder rate either, but I hypothesize it will. I can't think of a truly comparable country, but the UK or Australia might serve, since they've got relatively similar cultures to the US. They have violent crime rates as high or higher as the US's, but their homicide rates are 4x lower.

I *am* sure gun control will reduce the rate of accidental deaths. When people are bound and determined to kill someone, I suppose they will find some other way. But a lot of deaths, injuries, and threats take place either in the heat of the moment or entirely by accident, and removing such an easy-to-use, effective tool from easy reach would prevent many of those instances of harm.

And in regards to our lack of knowledge about the impact of removing guns--well, there's one way to find out for sure if it will work.
Jan. 23rd, 2013 04:00 pm (UTC)
The US has 600 accidental shooting deaths a year, compared to 12,000 gun homicides.

"And in regards to our lack of knowledge about the impact of removing guns--well, there's one way to find out for sure if it will work."

That's a really expensive experiment to do in the US.
Jan. 23rd, 2013 04:35 pm (UTC)
"That's a really expensive experiment to do in the US."

First of all, if we accept that guns kill people effectively and that reducing access reduces the homicide rate, gun control (and notice, I'm not even advocating for banning, here, just tighter laws and actual enforcement) would reduce medical costs and loss of income from loss of life. So on an economic front it wouldn't be all expenditures.

Second of all, short term expenditures can't be our only reason to avoid gun control. If we only paid attention to short term monetary costs, we wouldn't have the EPA or the FDA or any of the other agencies aimed at protecting Americans from our industries.
Jan. 23rd, 2013 07:12 pm (UTC)
Sure. My point was that the experiment isn't free. Your "only one way to find out" sounded a bit like "hey, let's just get rid of guns and see what happens".

And I worry as much about the political opportunity cost than the government financial cost or the social utility cost (people like their guns, if you take them away for no good in the end, that's bad). I'd rather guarantee gun rights for the next hundred years if it meant getting action on climate change, which I figure is literally 1000x-100,000x as important.

(Literally? Compare the gun deaths to the possible deaths from crop failure.)
Jan. 23rd, 2013 08:23 pm (UTC)
I completely agree that there are other things that cause more morbidity and mortality that the US is not properly addressing. And your point about political capital/opportunity cost is a good one. The essays you linked above were about how effective gun control might be, not whether it was politically possible, so that was the angle I took on it as well. To my mind, the effectiveness of gun control in the US is still unknown, but since it seems to reduce mortality in other developed countries it seems worth investigating. And since this is something I'm interested in, I'll agitate for societal change on it, just as I try to draw attention to all sorts of other problems that aren't the #1 cause of death in the US, or even in the top 20 causes of depression. We don't need to stop paying attention to causes just because others are more important. Nor, I don't think, do we need to stop having internet discussions about the effectiveness of tactics against said problems. It's not like this discussion is going to force Congress to pay attention to gun control over climate change.

In point of fact, I think both your concerns (among them climate change) and my concerns (among them gun control) point to a more serious underlying problem, and that is the disproportionate impact of money on political choices. Gun rights groups have spent more than 11x the amount the gun control groups have on lobbying federal candidates in the last 20 years (http://www.justfacts.com/guncontrol.asp#[22]) and the reason there's a paucity of research on guns in the US is because the NRA lobbied to cut the CDC's funding after they started doing studies on guns and violence. I'm sure I don't need to tell you the impact(s) lobbying has had on attempts to reduce humans' carbon emissions and ecological impact.
Jan. 24th, 2013 02:27 pm (UTC)
The studies funding cuts or research bans suck, as all non-ethics driven limitations on research suck. The lobbying money doesn't bother me so much; AIUI that's reflecting democratic support more than anything else. Guns have lots of supporters and they're very enthusiastic; it's not really a Big Money issue like Oil or Tobacco or Copyright.
Jan. 24th, 2013 03:30 pm (UTC)
Lobbying money rarely reflects democratic support. If every person gave the same amount, sure, but that's clearly not the case in almost any situation. It's not the case in regards to gun rights, for example. The NRA has ~4.3 million members, and membership dues and private donations get them ~$100 million a year. But a large chunk of their revenue comes from advertising and corporate sponsors (mostly the firearms industry, but Xe aka Blackwater is on there too). Most of the firearms companies on the NRA's list of "Ring of Fire corporate partners" manufacture assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. This, to me, partly explains the NRA's opposition to proposals like requiring background checks at gun shows or banning high-capacity magazine clips, even though its membership supports those measures
Jan. 27th, 2013 03:07 pm (UTC)
According to http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/12/whom-does-the-nra-really-speak-for/266373/
industry donations are still a small part of their money, which largely comes from membership dues, fees for classes, and individual donations.
Jan. 23rd, 2013 01:33 am (UTC)
Ah, I hadn't noticed. Sorry!
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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