Peder D4

Discussion of politics and other odious things

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gun Thoughts

I haven't written about the terrible shooting in Newtown CT, mostly because I haven't know what to add.  Partly because I resent how quickly the discussion became political.  I know, that's how things work in a democracy.  People talk things out.  But so many people were there before I was even remotely ready that it felt wrong somehow. 
Anyway, I thought I'd put down some thoughts on guns in general.  I've read quite a bit in the last week so, while I'm not an expert, I'm at least informed.  I've numbered the points to make responses easier. 

1. Violent crime and gun crime in particular is not increasing.  We're not facing a growing epidemic.  In fact, it's declining.  They peaked back in the 70's and have been gradually lessening ever since.  Perhaps coincidentally, this is about when gun control laws started loosening. 
2. Mass killings (and mass deaths) have gone up and down since then but it's hard to figure out a trend.  Part of the reason why is that there are so few of them that they're hard to analyze that way.  In any case, they're both very rare.  Which doesn't mean we should ignore them, but we shouldn't act like they're an everyday part of every life either.
3. Schools are safe places and getting safer.  There are less than 100 deaths per year for students in schools.  The vast majority of those are accidental.  In the last week I've heard people say that we can't let our hearts be hardened by how common these killings are.  The exact opposite thing is happening.  They're becoming so rare that we naturally want to eliminate the rest of them.
4. I believe that having guns in the hands of free citizens is a net positive.  I believe that the crimes that are averted by law abiding gun owners off-set the sometimes horrible events that happen.  Obviously, people differ on this. 
5. It took the police 20 minutes to respond to the shootings in Newtown.  The police station is about a mile and a half away.  If you want to disarm people, then you're telling them that they may have to survive against a murderous criminal for up to 20 minutes on their own.  I think that's a hard argument to make.
6. Comparisons between other countries are difficult.  Japan has much less gun crime than the US.  But they're also much older on average and highly opposed to the kind of melting pot immigration that we have.  And yes, I think that both of those things have a big impact.  If we left gun laws alone but somehow became a grayer and more culturally monolithic society, our gun crime would drop as well.
7. The UK has virtually eliminated gun deaths.  But they also saw an increase in violent crime.  Violent crime per person is between 2 and 5 times higher than in the US (I've seen conflicting numbers).  So they've traded fewer gun deaths for more home invasion, mugging and rape.  I don't know that this is an improvement, though obviously mileage may vary.
8. Most of the gun deaths in the US are between criminals.  (I've seen this number as high as 80% but I don't know how reliable that is.)  Ordinary law abiding citizens are usually very safe.
9. I've heard people sneering at others for wanting guns to keep them safe.  I'll say this, if you've never had a violent/abusive ex, never had your house broken into or you live in a neighborhood where you can go for a late night walk without thinking twice, you have no business criticizing other people.  Every one is in a unique situation.
10. I sometimes get the impression from gun control folks that they want to somehow 'wish' all guns out of existence.  There are something like 300 million guns in the country.  The vast majority of them are legal.  The vast majority of them will never bring anyone heartbreak.  Their owners don't want them taken away and will fight to keep their rights.  If you aren't taking that into account, then your policy proposals need help.
11. We do have problems with how we deal with mental health in this country but that's in part because mental health is hard to handle.  There are thousands (tens of thousands?) of people in the US who fit the profile of the CT shooter.  If we try to lock them all away we will do a huge injustice to most of them.  The bleakest, most important fact about mass killers is that often we don't know that they're a problem until they're a huge problem. 
12. Which doesn't mean we don't try.  I've heard that the database used for background checks is very hit and miss in terms of warnings on mental health.  This seems like a good thing for the federal government to work on.  We should have standardized warnings available nationwide. 
13. Should we commit more people into institutions?  Maybe.  I know there are funding questions but those can be solved.  The thornier problem is that mental institutions are terrible places to live and committing someone is a huge step.  We had a mass exodus from the hospitals in the 70's and 80's because the courts freed lots of people.  I don't know where the right balance is but I suspect finding it will be hard.
14. Do we need guards or police at schools?  From what I understand, some of the schools in Hennepin county already have them.  My guess is that they make sense at schools where there is already gang issues but not elsewhere.  I'd let districts decide on a case by case basis.  I don't see any problem with a school allowing some teachers or administrators to be armed but again, let them figure it out.
15. The single biggest thing we can do to reduce gun violence in the US is to ramp down the war on drugs.  This would reduce gang violence and help out innocent bystanders.  Probably nudge dangerous schools into a safer place too.  This is another place where federal policy could make a big difference.
16. "Even once is too much" is fine as a moral statement but it fails as practical policy.  The 2011 killings in Norway happened in a country that has larger gun controls than the US is likely to have.  They happened because one man methodically planned on how to kill a lot of people.  There is no real defense for this.  In general, a person that is willing/wanting to die, is going to be able to kill lots of people before they go. 
17. The one idea that I have in reducing copy cat killers is to try and take away the identity and fame.  If news organizations referred to the killers as John Doe-1, John Doe-2 and so on, we could still try and discuss them without giving them long term fame and notoriety.  I don't know what effect this would have if any.  I'll admit that I have trouble putting myself into the mind of a serial killer. 



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