How useful are guns in civilian hands for defending against “active shooters”? Not very much.

June 23, 2022 • 9:15 am

The common defense of gun ownership by private individuals is that “what stops armed bad guys is armed good guys”. (This is a quote from Ted Cruz). Such is the defense for much private gun ownership, and also now for the ridiculous movement to arm teachers to deter or kill school shooters. Of course if you include police and security guards as “armed good guys,” the mantra has more credibility, but the mantra is often used to justify gun ownership by private citizens.

A new article in the New York Times (click on headline below) tests whether the Cruz Mantra is a verity, at least as far as “active shootings” are concerned.

It turns out that the answer is that the “conventional wisdom” is wrong for active shooters. It’s also wrong for home invasions in general, as private gun ownership involves accidental deaths, or suicides, far more often than it stops (by shooting) individual altercations between innocent citizens and “bad guys”. But today we’re talking about “active shooters”.

What is an active shooter? The paper, drawing from data collected by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State, collaborating with the FBI, defines active shooter attacks this way:

[Active shooter attacks are those] in which one or more shooters killed or attempted to kill multiple unrelated people in a populated place.

And they’re increasing—currently up to more than one a week. Here’s a figure from the NYT (all figures from the article) showing the number of active shooter attacks per year from 2011 to 2021. (According to the Washington Post, we’ve had 250 already in 2022; although their figures are for “mass shootings”, these seem the same as “active shootings”).

According to the data, there have been 433 active shooter attacks in the US from 2000-2021. What the figure below shows is how they ended, divided into two main groups: attacks that ended before police arrived (249) and those that ended after police arrived (184).Each of the two main divisions is further subdivided.

Click to enlarge:

 

Here are the lessons (bold headings and indented stuff are taken from the paper):

a.) Police officers shoot or physically subdue the shooter in less than a third of attacks. ”

Most events end before the police arrive, but police officers are usually the ones to end an attack if they get to the scene while it is ongoing.

Hunter Martaindale, director of research at the ALERRT Center, said the group has used the data to train law enforcement that “When you show up and this is going on, you are going to be the one to solve this problem.”

The average response time for police to get to the scene is very fast: three minutes. But this doesn’t mean that the cops themselves nearly always end the attack. Very often the shootings end when the attacker simply leaves the scene (not because he’s being shot at, kills himself, surrenders, or is subdued without guns.  These add up to 65% of total active shootings.

b.) The rate of suicide is extraordinarily high in these events. 110 of the 433 events ended with the attacker killing himself (there are a few women who carry out these attacks, but nearly all are by men). This is most likely either via “suicide by cop” or the result of a realization by the attacker that he’s going to be either caught or shot.

c.) When attacks are stopped by bystanders rather than security guards, cops, or off-duty cops, they are ended more often by physical force than by shootings.  Of 54 cases of attacks stopped by citizen bystanders, 42 of them—78%—were stopped by subduing rather than shooting the perp. Further, when attacks are stopped by shooting before police arrived, about half of them (10/22, or 45%) are stopped by security guards or off-duty cops than by citizens.

d.) When attacks are ended by the shooting of the attacker, the vast majority of time it’s by a police officer, on or off duty, or a security guard.  The number of attacks shopped by shooting the perp were 120. Of these, 12, or 10%, were stopped by citizen shooters. But 12 is only 2.7% of all active shootings that were ended.

Conclusion (from me): When mass shootings are stopped, only a very small percentage are stopped via shooting by armed citizens who are not cops or security guards. And attacks stopped by private citizens were most likely to be stopped by subduing him than by shooting him (42/54, or 78%; this drops to 66% if you include “bystander” cops or security guards.

But taking all the ways that active shootings could end, including the shooter leaving the scene (most are captured later), suicide, or subduing the shooter, only 2.8% of them are stopped by private citizens shooting perps (12/433). Ergo, Ted Cruz is wrong: in these mass shootings, at least, it’s not the “armed good guys” (implying private citizens) but other forces, tactics, and people (including cops) who stop the shootings. 

I have no objection to cops or security guards carrying guns; I do have objections to private citizens carrying or owning guns. In most cases these lead to the death of innocent people more often than to the extirpation of “bad guys.”

I’ll end with a couple of quotes from the article:

“It’s direct, indisputable, empirical evidence that this kind of common claim that ‘the only thing that stops a bad guy with the gun is a good guy with the gun’ is wrong,” said Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama, who has studied mass shootings for more than a decade. “It’s demonstrably false, because often they are stopping themselves.”

. . . But armed bystanders shooting attackers was not common in the data — 22 cases out of 433. In 10 of those, the “good guy” was a security guard or an off-duty police officer.

“The actual data show that some of these kind of heroic, Hollywood moments of armed citizens taking out active shooters are just extraordinarily rare,” Mr. Lankford said.

In fact, having more than one armed person at the scene who is not a member of law enforcement can create confusion and carry dire risks. An armed bystander who shot and killed an attacker in 2021 in Arvada, Colo., was himself shot and killed by the police, who mistook him for the gunman.

Now remember that this post (and the article) is about “active shooters,” which seem roughly equivalent to “mass shooters”. We’re not talking about home invasions or private confrontations between people. And at least in this case, almost no benefit is derived from arming citizens. When you compare that to the down side of arming citizens, the Ted Cruz defense falls to pieces.

9 mm vs. AR-15

May 27, 2022 • 12:45 pm

I knew that the shooter in the Texas school massacre used a semiautomatic weapon, but just found out it was the AR-15, which has been profiled a couple of times on the television show “60 minutes”.  Below, for example, is a demonstration by a retired Army general showing its power. While the general thinks the rifle should be available to gun collectors or gun aficionados (I don’t), he worries about “what happens when it gets into the hands of the wrong people.” Indeed!

The AR-15 is said to be “the most popular rifle in America.” It’s also a special favorite for mass shooters (it was also used in the Sandy Hook massacre)—and for good reason. (Have a read of this CNN article.)

Remember that a “semiautomatic” weapon like the AR-15 enables you to fire a shot each time you pull the trigger, as it uses the force of the previous firing to eject the casing and reload. According to Wikipedia, “assault weapons” are a subspecies of semiautomatic weapons with extra features, like “a detachable magazine, a pistol grip, and sometimes other features, such as a vertical forward gripflash suppressor, or barrel shroud.”

This clip is from 2018.

And here’s an exegesis of what was probably the piece above, comparing the AR-15 with a handgun often used in crimes, the 9 mm.  The damage done by the AR-15 is immense and scary, with a small entrance hole and then a huge exit hole clearly demonstrated by the experiment with a hog leg.

If you want to stop a perp, you don’t need an AR-15, but it sure is good for mass shootings. I favor strict weapons bans with minor exceptions, but even if you think you need a weapon for self-defense (something that happened 589 times last year compared to about 12,000 homicides), you don’t need a gun like this.  Gun control, which appears dead in the water (Manchin, for example, favors the 60-vote filibuster rule for it in the Senate), won’t even take on weapons like this.

(This appears to be a clip derived from the segment above, but shows different stuff).

Reader Ken sent an update:

Daniel Defense, the maker of the AR-15 style assault rifle used in the recent elementary school shootings in Uvalde, TX, has decided not to open its booth at this Memorial Day weekend’s annual meeting of the National Rifle Association in Houston, TX. (In promotional videos, Daniel Defense bills its version of the AR-15 — the DDM4 V7 — as “a perfect rifle for everybody.”)

I guess Daniel Defense figures it can do without the advertising since, when a similar AR-15 style rifle was used in the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, the rifle’s sales skyrocketed all on their own.

A new solution to the gun issue

May 26, 2022 • 9:00 am

Everybody’s pondering how to stop mass shootings, including tightening gun restrictions, and of course nobody has a solution. Here’s one offered by Phyllis Chesler, whom I hadn’t heard of before. She’s apparently quite a well known second-wave feminist, and (relevant to this piece) strongly “pro choice”. Here’s how Wikipedia describes her:

[Chesler is an] American writer, psychotherapist, and professor emerita of psychology and women’s studies at the College of Staten Island (CUNY).[1][2] She is a renowned second-wave feminist psychologist and the author of 18 books, including the best-sellers Women and Madness (1972), With Child: A Story of Motherhood (1979), and An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir (2013). Chesler has written extensively about topics such as gender, mental illness, divorce and child custody, surrogacy, second-wave feminism, pornography, prostitution, incest, and violence against women.

Malgorzata, who sent me this link, says that Chesler has been somewhat demonized because she’s a defender of Israel as well as a a critic of the misogyny of Islam. But these aren’t the topics here: it’s gun violence (she brings in abortion at the end). Chesler has a novel solution to the problem of mass shootings. It may be a bit tongue-in-cheek, but given Chesler’s history it’s not that likely.

Here’s her piece from the New English Review (click on the screenshot to read):

Here are some quotes from her piece, which some will claim is anti-male, but really, you can’t argue with the data. Her quotes are indented and the bolding is hers):

President Biden focused both on the Gun Lobby and on God in his speech at the White House in response to the latest horror—the mass shooting of nineteen children by an 18-year-old Hispanic man/boy who, we’ve just been told, had failed to graduate from the Uvalde High School. That was what he was allegedly arguing with his grandmother about when he shot her down.

I guess our President did not read my piece about the single most important variable which is invariably always missing, never mentioned, when it comes to mass shooting, namely, that 99.9% of mass murderers are all male.

. . . President Biden: Where is the funding for mental health that our country needs so desperately? Chirlane McCray: What did you do with the three billion dollars allocated for mental health services? Clearly, nothing much, given all the epidemic of shootings on New York City streets and in our subways allegedly by mentally ill men.

The male ego. The supposedly male thin skin. The inability of some men to absorb abuse, frustration, failure, or disappointment without violently turning it against someone else. Yes, it is a real problem.

Now I tend to bridle when I see men lumped together and dissed as a group (one rankling example is the “old white male” trope). But Chesler isn’t saying that all males are potential murderers: rather,  that there’s something about the male psyche that leads to a higher proportion of mass shooters (and, I suspect, all shooters) among males. And she’s right, whether that “something” be evolutionary, cultural, or both. (I suspect the risk-taking behavior of males, combined with their innately higher aggression are some evolutionary aspects of this situation. And of course “macho”-ness is culturally encouraged in men.)

And here’s her solution, which is funny because of the parallel with anti-abortion activitists:

Sometimes a very good idea crosses my desk. Written by an unknown genius, and passed along by one Nev Schulman, please allow me to share this with you.

Our Anonymous Genius suggests the following:

“How about we treat every young man who wants to buy a gun like every woman who wants to get an abortion—mandatory 48-hour waiting period, parental permission, a note from a doctor proving he understands what he’s about to do, a video he has to watch about the effects of gun violence…Let’s close down all but one gun shop in every state and make him travel hundreds of miles, take time off work, and stay overnight in a strange town to get a gun. Make him walk through a gauntlet of people holding photos of loved ones who were shot to death, people who call him a murderer and beg him not to buy a gun.”

Of course this is sarcastic, but Chesler has a point.

Chesler:

From NPR: Joan L. Roth/Courtesy of Palgrave Macmillan

Two ways of looking at gun violence

May 25, 2022 • 11:00 am

After every mass shooting—and mass shootings constitute only 1.2% of all American deaths due to gun violence—we experience a brief period of self-awareness and self-assessment, and then discourse gets back to normal. Everyone jaws for a week about the solutions (some even offer them),but in the end the status quo is back with us. This is exemplified in a story from The Onion, appearing after the Las Vegas massacre (click on screenshot to read); it’s one of the best pieces the sarcastic site ever produced.

There are generally two kinds of reactions by well-meaning people after a mass shooting: fixing American attitudes towards guns, and fixing American attitudes towards other people. Today’s post gives examples of both solutions.

First, though, let’s recognize, as I noted above, that mass shootings are but a small fraction of all gun-related deaths. What we most need to deal with are not the attention-grabbing mass shootings, but the much larger number of homicides, suicides, and accidental gun deaths.  The Pew Research Center reports that in 2020, 45,222 died in gun-related incidents in the U.S.  Depending on your definition of “mass shooting”, those killed in mass-shooting incidents range from 38 to 513: 0.08% to 1.1% of all deaths. (I’m not trying to minimize the psychological effect and grief caused by mass shootings, of course, but trying to emphasize that if you want to save lives, these events are a smaller part of the problem than most people think.)

This figure from Nicholas Kristof’s new and illustrated op-ed in the NYT, “How to reduce shootings,” gives an overview of the problem:

This shows several things, the most striking being that the NRA and other gun owners’ justification for having guns (protecting yourself from bad guys) is unjustified: only 589 killed others in justified self-defense compared to 11,760 homicides (I assume the latter don’t include “mass shootings” but are one-off events, including accidents.)

Further, death by suicide is by far the largest form of gun-related mortality. I will assume that if guns weren’t easily available, this number would drop. (Shooting is the easiest, most reliable, and one of the least messy ways of doing yourself in. That’s why it’s the go-to way of killing yourself.)

It’s hard not to conclude that the lax gun laws of America are largely responsible for the death rate. You can say that we have more “bad guys,” and it’s the people who kill, not the guns (viz., the NRA), but then how does that explain our huge number of suicides? Only easy access to guns (or a special incidence of mental illness in America) explains that.

Here are some figures included in Kristof’s piece (illustrations are by Bill Marsh:

Further, there’s a positive correlation among states between the laxity of gun laws and per capita gun deaths:

This is a correlation, of course, not necessarily a causation, but the correlation is strong, and one would have to posit that sociological factors in states like Kansas and Idaho (more bad people per capita, for example), are the factor producing this. As Kristof notes,

Some of you will protest that the immediate aftermath of a shooting is too soon to talk about guns, or that it is disrespectful to the dead to use such a tragedy to score political points. Yet more Americans have died from gun violence, including suicides, since 1970 (about 1.4 million) than in all the wars in American history going back to the Revolutionary War (about 1.3 million). And it’s not just gang-members: In a typical year, more pre-schoolers are shot dead in America (about 75) than police officers are.

He adds that another factor supportsthe ubiquity of guns as causal here:

For skeptics who think that gun laws don’t make a difference, consider what happened in two states, Missouri and Connecticut. In 1995, Connecticut tightened licensing laws, while in 2007 Missouri eased gun laws.

The upshot? After tightening gun laws, firearm homicide rates dropped 40 percent in Connecticut. And after Missouri eased gun laws, gun homicide rates rose 25 percent.

Granted, this is an anecdote, but it’s surely worth following up. (To do that, of course, we need more states loosening as well as tightening gun laws.)

Presumably because of the futility of trying to enact gun-control legislation in the U.S. (even though most Americans favor some kind of gun control), Kristof instead floats a “public health” approach: controlling not the number of guns, but who gets to buy a gun. That, of course, would be helpful, but a lot of deaths come from shootings by sane people in bad situations or accidental shootings by children and the like. And plenty of suicides have no formal record of mental illness that would bar them from owning a gun—even if such laws were widespread.

Here are Kristof’s solutions.

a.) Regulate guns like we regulate cars.

Gun enthusiasts often protest: Cars kill about as many people as guns, and we don’t ban them! No, but automobiles are actually a model for the public health approach I’m suggesting.

We don’t ban cars, but we work hard to regulate them — and limit access to them — so as to reduce the death toll they cause. This has been spectacularly successful, reducing the death rate per 100 million miles driven to less than one-seventh of what it was in 1946.

Kristof then gives a list of the kind of regulations that reduced automobile deaths (seat belts, child safety seats, car safety ratings, etc.). And yes, they worked, but we own cars because we need them. Except for the army and police, Americans don’t need guns—except perhaps in the case of farmers or those who insist on target practice. (Even then, guns can be kept in lockers at the shooting sites.)

My solution, were I King of the U.S. (god help you if that were to occur!) would be to start by adhering to the UK model of gun control, where pistols and automatic weapons are banned, and both guns and ammunition must be licensed by the police before you can have them. (I’d go even farther, but we won’t get into that). How many people really need a gun as opposed to those who really need a car?

More suggestions from Kristof:

b.) The liberal approach is ineffective. Use a public health approach instead.  By this Kristof euphemistically says “gun safety” rather than “gun control” since the latter sounds more draconian. Here are his suggestions:

These are useful changes, of course, but won’t do much about suicides, and I wonder how much they’ll reduce homicides as opposed to implementing draconian laws against gun ownership. In Kristof’s favor, however, is the palpable fact that most Americans do favor tightening gun restrictions:

Note that although gun owners tend to be a bit laxer on these bans and stipulations, more than 50% still favor them. And yes, those bans have been enacted in some states. But remember that the 18-year-old who committed yesterday’s Texas school slaughter bought his gun(s) legally.

c.) Better training about using guns. Training about how to store guns and ammo will surely reduce gun deaths, particularly those caused when kids get hold of guns. But somehow this “better education” plan sounds ineffectual. For one thing, it does nothing to prevent suicides. And the general problem with training, as Kristof points out, is that a very high percentage of safety trainers both encourage gun ownership and gun carrying, as well as encouraging people to join “gun rights groups.”

There’s no doubt that implementing most of Kristof’s suggestions will reduce deaths, and even reducing one death is a good. But even as a package they seem to me a suboptimal way to solve the problem.The best way is, as I’ve suggested, going to a draconian gun-ownership system like the UK’s. You’ll tell me that’s impossible, and you’re probably right. (One can dream, however.) But solutions that have been offered only nibble away at the problem, and will still leave us near the top of all countries in gun-related deaths. Once again, Kristof says that if we can make cars safe, we can make guns safer;

But automobiles are a reminder that we can chip away at a large problem through a public health approach: Just as auto safety improvements have left us far better off, it seems plausible to some gun policy experts that a sensible, politically feasible set of public health steps could over time reduce firearm deaths in America by one-third — or more than 10,000 lives saved each year.

He seems to forget that we have no automobile equivalent of the NRA. There is no anti-car-safety lobby.

*************

Bari Weiss’s solution, on the other hand, while also involving stricter gun laws and restrictions on gun proliferation, involves fixing a broken and divided America (click to read, but subscribe if you do that often):

Her plaint—and she’s right—is that we’ve “normalized” violence. The fact that each mass shooting evokes but a temporary outcry (while the much larger number of gun deaths continues unremarked) is an argument against Kristof’s solutions, since what’s the impetus to do anything if we accept shootings as a regular part of life? She advocates a Kumbaya solution: reducing divisiveness reduces deaths. Given that most deaths are single-person homicides or suicides, I’m not sure how that will work, and at any rate seems just as hard (if not harder) than tightening gun laws.

Weiss (my emphasis):

You don’t need another writer telling you what you already know: that mentally ill people getting their hands on guns to commit mass murder this easily is deranged and wrong. Accepting this as normal has nothing to do with respecting the Second Amendment. You don’t need another writer pointing out that this doesn’t really happen in other places and maybe the fact that America has more guns than any other nation on Earth has something to do with it. There’s nothing well-regulated about Salvador Ramos, though it appears he bought those assault rifles legally on his 18th birthday. There’s simply no world in which our founders would look at inner-city gun violence and these sick teenagers in suburban schools and say this was their intention.

Gun rights activists will argue that other countries have guns and that murderers don’t need guns to kill and that some of the cities and states with the strictest gun laws in the country have the highest rates of violent crime and that people kill people guns don’t kill people and that anyway good guys with guns kill bad guys with guns. (Uvalde police officers and a school resource officer reportedly fired at the shooter. They couldn’t stop him.)

Here’s where I think they are right, if inadvertently: The social rot that’s come over America, the nihilism and hatred of each other, is part of the cause here. The dissolution of our social ties—and with them the accountability and responsibility that an actual community demands—has allowed insanity to fester unnoticed. Lockdowns accelerated the isolation, the purposelessness, the lack of meaning that was already overcoming us.

If we insist on viewing this shooting as part of some isolated issue or species of violence, then we miss the point. The point is the country is being consumed by what Philip Roth famously called “the indigenous American berserk.” It stretches back many decades, or longer, and for ages, it was possible to ignore or compartmentalize. Now the brokenness is everywhere we look and it is impossible to unsee it.

I’m not sure what “the indigenous American berserk” is, and the lockdown will eventually abate. But Weiss offers no other solution to the “dissolution of our social ties” problem, and I can’t think of one.

The one step to reduce these deaths that is at least feasible (but nearly impossible) is to ban the goddam guns. And yes, I know that won’t happen, so you don’t need to tell me. But at least that can be implemented with a few strokes of the pen. Fixing “indigenous American berserk,” well, how do you do that?

Or, as Matthew suggested to me this morning, I could leave America. But that doesn’t solve the problem except for me, and I’m in no great danger anyway.

*************

Here’s Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors basketball team, declaring that he’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore.

There are too many guns in the U.S.!

March 24, 2021 • 12:30 pm

When I write about gun control, I know that I’ll get substantial pushback on either this site or on email. Americans love their guns, and can give many reasons why they should have them (including  semiautomatic weapons).

These reasons include the Second Amendment, which has, in my view, been misinterpreted by the courts to allow nearly anyone to have guns, handguns, assault rifles, and the ability to open carry. All that to ensure “a well regulated militia”!  But we no longer have militias!

I’ve always advocated for strict gun control—along the lines of Britain or even Scotland—as a way to reduce homicides in the U.S. The counterarguments I hear include the famous mantra “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns: the idea that making guns harder to buy will ensure that only criminals will have guns. But there are a slew of other arguments for why loose gun control in America isn’t responsible for mass shootings, some of them addressed in the NYT column below. These include the claim that the U.S. is an especially violent nation, is full of mentally ill people who commit mass shootings, have racial divisions that exacerbate homicides, and so on. Those arguments now appear to hold no water.

We already know that private ownership of guns causes the deaths of far more innocent people than of home invaders or other miscreants. We also know that the U.S. leads the world in per capita gun ownership (see below), with nearly as many guns (270 million) as people (328 million, but that includes kids and the aged).

The column below (click on screenshot) attacks the notion that the ease of gun ownership in the U.S. has nothing to do with the huge number of mass shootings. And it dispels the claims that other peculiarities of American culture are the real reason for mass shootings.

This plot shows the total number of guns per country and how much of an outlier we are in both the number of mass shootings and the number of guns:

Below: the correlation between per capita gun ownership and per capita number of mass shooters. Now if you remove Yemen (which has even more mass shootings per capita) as well as the U.S., there might not be a statistical correlation, but the analysis in the article apparently shows that there is, and it isn’t due to complicating factors like an American “culture of violence”.

Here are some data and citations from the article (quotes are indented). You can check the sources for yourself; I haven’t read them.

Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.

. . . Worldwide, Mr. Lankford found, a country’s rate of gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting. This relationship held even when he excluded the United States, indicating that it could not be explained by some other factor particular to his home country. And it held when he controlled for homicide rates, suggesting that mass shootings were better explained by a society’s access to guns than by its baseline level of violence.

. . . More gun ownership corresponds with more gun murders across virtually every axis: among developed countries, among American states, among American towns and cities and when controlling for crime rates. And gun control legislation tends to reduce gun murders, according to a recent analysis of 130 studies from 10 countries.

Other factors that didn’t correlate with mass homicides included suicide rates (well, there are fewer mass shootings in countries with higher suicide rate), playing video games, racial diversity, general amount of criminal behavior (though American crime is “simply more lethal” than that in other developed countries), or mental health issues.

And here’s a comparison with China, suggesting that the lethality of weapons makes a difference in the homicide rate, at least in this case:

In China, about a dozen seemingly random attacks on schoolchildren killed 25 people between 2010 and 2012. Most used knives; none used a gun.

By contrast, in this same window, the United States experienced five of its deadliest mass shootings, which killed 78 people. Scaled by population, the American attacks were 12 times as deadly.

The authors of the NYT piece,, Max Fisher and Josh Keller, note that even in countries with high gun ownership, like Switzerland—second only to the U.S. among in gun ownership among developed countries—which has a higher than average rate of homicides, it’s still only a fraction of the U.S. rate (in Switzerland it’s 7.7 per million people; in the U.S. it’s 33). The authors add at the end that “The United States is only one of three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with. . . . the assumption that people have an inherent right to own guns.”  That’s again pretty scary for us, but many Americans cling to the wonky interpretation of the Second Amendment.  It would be nice if the courts interpreted the amendment as I believe (as do others) it was intended.

According to this article, if you want reduce mass homicides in America, regulate our guns. There’s no sign that pervasive gun ownerships keeps America (or gun owners) safer, and lots of people get killed as a byproduct of “legal” gun ownership (viz., children, domestic disputes, and, of course, the mass killers). Reports of mass killings seem to be almost a monthly event now. Most Americans want stricter controls on guns. It’s only the NRA and the Republican Party that are preventing enacting the will of the people.

The article ends with a sad prognostication:

“In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

It should not be bearable. When I was a kid, we had “nuclear attack drills”, when we would pretend the Russians were bombing us and we’d hide under our desks. Those days are gone; now they have “mass shooter drills.”

Eighteen year old woman with AK-47 and shotgun threatens to shoot up her school

September 17, 2019 • 2:30 pm

From today’s Washington Post (click on screenshot), we have the story of Alexis Wilson, an 18 year old woman who was arrested because she told a friend she had guns, showed the friend a video of her firing the guns, said that she hated the people in her old high school, and then added that she wanted to ““shoot 400 people for fun.”

Wilson had a checkered history and other signs that she might have become a shooter. As the Post says,

The 5-foot-7, baby-faced teenager is an anomaly as a female suspect allegedly plotting a mass shooting, but police described her as a serious threat.

The high school she allegedly targeted had suspended her once for bringing a knife to school and again for displaying swastikas on her personal belongings, a school resource officer told the sheriff’s office. Her booking photo shows Wilson wearing a T-shirt referencing “The Anarchist Cookbook,” a 1971 book advocating for violent civil disobedience that has been found among the belongings of school shooters. On Facebook, Wilson had liked a documentary about the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.

“A female can pull the trigger just as easily as a male,” Morris told KTUL Monday. “It’s rare, it’s different. I don’t know that there’s been a female accused of this.”

. . . Stites and Jordan [police officers] collected an iPhone with a purple case, an AK-47 with six magazines and a 12-gauge shotgun with a stock sleeve for extra shells from Wilson’s bedroom.

. . . After she had been suspended in her freshman year, she said she completed a program at Thunderbird, a military academy in Oklahoma that advertises itself as an alternative option to public school. She said she tried to re-enroll at McAlester High afterward, but she hadn’t been allowed to start classes this fall. Wilson explained the alleged threat by saying she had been trying to convince her co-worker that “not everyone that owns a gun is a bad person,” the police report said.

. . .At the end of the police interview, Wilson told the officers that she used to feel “suicidal and borderline homicidal” toward her classmates at McAlester High because of the bullying she faced. Jordan asked her if she thought about hurting anyone at the school.

“Not recently, but she has in the past,” the report says.

Well, Wilson clearly needs therapeutic help, and I hope she gets it. I also think that yes, it’s okay for the police to arrest her, for she made a threat to her friend and there were other signs that she could have become a shooter. Too many of these signs have been ignored in the past—resulting in tremendous loss of life.

But what I want to know is this: how the bloody hell did Wilson get an assault weapon with magazines, much less a 12-gauge shotgun? Did she buy them legally, or borrow them from her parents? Either way, those guns shouldn’t have been available to her. If we went to the Scottish system of gun control, they wouldn’t have.

This won’t happen in my lifetime, but Wilson should not have been able to legally obtain any gun, much less an assault rifle that could kill lots of her ex-classmates.  I’m with Beto O’Rourke on this one: yes, let’s take the assault weapons out of the hands of Americans. They have no use except for mass killing of other humans. And that’s just a start in the banning and confiscation that should occur.

I’m just glad the cops arrested her (making a threat is a felony) before she was able to use those guns.

After two mass shootings, Texas loosens gun laws

September 2, 2019 • 9:00 am

Granted, the brand-new looser gun laws in Texas, which are almost ludicrous in how widely they permit the possession and carrying of firearms, are part of a series of bills passed before June. But in view of the two recent mass shootings in Texas—making it the state with 4 of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history—the laws look especially ludicrous. Given that most of the American public wants stricter gun laws, but the Republicans (pressed by the NRA) apparently want every American to be armed with a semiautomatic rifle that they can carry to Starbucks, these laws make Texas look especially bad. I can only imagine how the rest of the world regards us now—now that we seem to have a mass shooting every two weeks.

And the solution to these murders? MORE GUNS, Texas tells us. CNN reports what the new laws are (click on screenshot):

Read and weep (from CNN).

House Bill 1143 says a school district cannot prohibit licensed gun owners, including school employees, from storing a firearm or ammunition in a locked vehicle on a school parking lot — provided they are not in plain view.

House Bill 1387 loosens restrictions on how many armed school marshals a school district can appoint.

House Bill 2363 allows some foster homes to store firearms and ammunition in a safe and secure place for personal protection. Proper storage must be followed, the bill says, including putting firearms and ammunition together in the same locked locations.

House Bill 302 bans homeowners or landlords of rental property from prohibiting residents from lawfully possessing, carrying, transporting or storing a firearm or ammunition in the property.

House Bill 1177 prohibits residents from being charged with a crime for carrying a handgun while evacuating from a state or local disaster area.

Senate Bill 535 clarifies the possession of firearms at churches, synagogues or other places of worship. It allows licensed handgun owners to legally carry their weapons in places of worship — and comes nearly two years after a gunman killed 26 people at Sutherland Springs church.

The news last night reported that, re the last bill, if a church chooses to prohibit the carrying of firearms, they can do so. Otherwise, we have to look forward to more guns in schools and churches, and even in Universities. Students at the University of Texas in Austin, for instance, can legally carry guns to class. What could go wrong with that?

The excuse for this shameful behavior is the usual: Americans need more guns to protect themselves against the bad guys. As CNN reports: “‘We have learned many times over that there is no such thing as a gun free zone. Those with evil intentions will violate the law and carry out their heinous acts no matter what,’ state Sen. Donna Campbell, co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. ‘It makes no sense to disarm the good guys and leave law-abiding citizens defenseless where violent offenders break the law to do great harm’.”

NBC News, in a press conference I watched, reports the Texas governor making the same justification:

In a press conference Sunday, Gov. Abbott insisted the new laws will protect Texans, pointing to the law which allows more school marshals to have guns in schools. “Some of these laws were enacted for the purpose of making our communities safer,” Abbott said.

That’s about as lame as you can get. Yes, perhaps the laws were enacted with that intention, but do they actually yield those results? Apparently not. It seems as if more innocent lives are lost when criminals use guns (many of them obtained legally) than when guns are used for self-defense. From the Violence Policy Center (VPC):

The main argument used to advance these policies is that guns are a common and effective tool for self-defense. This argument is false.

A series of VPC studies on guns and self-defense thoroughly disprove the NRA myth. These studies analyze national data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). Among the findings of the most recent edition of the study are the following:

  • In 2016, the FBI reports there were only 274 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm. That same year, there were 10,341 criminal gun homicides. Guns were used in 37 criminal homicides for every justifiable homicide.
  • Intended victims of violent crimes engaged in self-protective behavior that involved a firearm in 1.1 percent of attempted and completed incidents between 2014 and 2016.
  • Intended victims of property crimes engaged in self-protective behavior that involved a firearm in 0.3 percent of attempted and completed incidents between 2014 and 2016.

Here are the graphic data on that survey provided by The Washington Post:

Even just considering guns kept in the home, those guns are far more likely to be involved in accidental shootings, criminal acts, and suicides than in justifiable incidents of self-defense. Here’s a survey from 1999 published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery (my emphasis):

Determine the relative frequency with which guns in the home are used to injure or kill in self-defense, compared with the number of times these weapons are involved in an unintentional injury, suicide attempt, or criminal assault or homicide. We reviewed the police, medical examiner, emergency medical service, emergency department, and hospital records of all fatal and nonfatal shootings in three U.S. cities: Memphis, Tennessee; Seattle, Washington; and Galveston, Texas. During the study interval (12 months in Memphis, 18 months in Seattle, and Galveston) 626 shootings occurred in or around a residence. This total included 54 unintentional shootings, 118 attempted or completed suicides, and 438 assaults/homicides. Thirteen shootings were legally justifiable or an act of self-defense, including three that involved law enforcement officers acting in the line of duty. For every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides. Guns kept in homes are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal accidental shooting, criminal assault, or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense.

Given this balance, what’s the justification for allowing people to keep guns in their homes?

The NRA responds that people wounded in acts of self defense and who escape are not reported by gun owners for fear of police investigation. But I strongly doubt that even if this underreporting exists, it can redress the balance of innocent lives lost versus successful defenses against criminals.

A 2015 paper in Preventive Medicine says pretty much the same thing: self defense gun use (SDGU) is not associated with reduced risk of injury to the people defending themselves, while use of any weapon, not just guns, reduces the likelihood of property loss.

Finally, a Pew Survey published in 2013 shows that the percentage of people who own a gun for protection has gone up dramatically since 1999 (“constitutional right” is a mere 2%)

My own view, which I’ve discussed before, is that the U.S. needs the same laws as Scotland, which has pretty much the same strict gun laws as the UK but with even stronger provisions:

Gun laws in Scotland differ in some details from those in the rest of the UK. However, in terms of licensing they are, currently, identical to the rest of Great Britain. A firearms certificate is required to purchase firearms, and a separate shotgun certificate is required for shotguns. The guiding laws for firearms in Scotland are the Firearms (Scotland) Rules 1989 and the Firearms Act (1968). All handguns, semi-automatic and pump-action non-rim-fire rifles are prohibited. A few pistols are licensed on a Firearm Certificate for exactly the same reasons as the rest of Great Britain. There are only 566 licensed handgun owners in Scotland.

Note that handguns were banned in the UK after the 1996 Dunblane School massacre in Scotland. That is a sane mentality, and the opposite of the craziness in the US, where after a mass shooting many legislators and NRA crazies call for more guns, assuming that people need to protect themselves from mass shooters. But mass shooters are nearly always taken down not by private citizens with guns, but by the police. And, as we’ve seen, having a gun in the home doesn’t make you safer; in fact, it leads to more deaths of innocent people.

The result: we have a gazillion mass shootings and accidental shootings in the U.S., and there are virtually none in the UK.

Finally, the whole “right to bear arms” issue, which some people—especially Republican legislators and the NRA—use to justify widespread ownership of handguns, is based on a Constitutional provision, the Second Amendment:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

That seems pretty clear to me: the amendment is there to allow the existence of a militia to keep the people from being oppressed by the arms of the government. Well, we don’t have militias any more, and armed private citizens are no longer a match to government weapons. Garry Wills, in an excellent article in the New York Review of Books, makes (to me) a persuasive case that the Second Amendment was not intended to justify the willy-nilly ownership of guns, even with the intention of self-defense. His piece ends like this:

The recent effort to find a new meaning for the Second Amendment comes from the failure of appeals to other sources as a warrant for the omnipresence of guns of all types in private hands. Easy access to all these guns is hard to justify in pragmatic terms, as a matter of social policy. Mere common law or statute may yield to common sense and specific cultural needs. That is why the gun advocates appeal, above pragmatism and common sense, to a supposed sacred right enshrined in a document Americans revere. Those advocates love to quote Sanford Levinson, who compares the admitted “social costs” of adhering to gun rights with the social costs of observing the First Amendment.  We have to put up with all kinds of bad talk in the name of free talk. So we must put up with our world-record rates of homicide, suicide, and accidental shootings because, whether we like it or not, the Constitution tells us to. Well, it doesn’t.

Sadly, the Supreme Court doesn’t accept Wills’s argument; and since most of them are conservatives, they won’t any time soon. I have little hope that the gun epidemic in our country can be stemmed. We may get a few more regulations and background checks, but in my view we should adopt the UK/Scottish system, along with severe increases in legal penalties for committing crimes with guns. But of course that’s a pipe dream.

 

Biden in NYT: Ban assault weapons

August 12, 2019 • 8:00 am

Uncle Joe has a leading op-ed in today’s New York Times:

A quote:

In Dayton, where the police responded immediately and neutralized the shooter within about 30 seconds, he was still able to massacre nine people and injure more than two dozen others because he carried an AR-style weapon with a magazine capable of holding 100 rounds.

We have to get these weapons of war off our streets.

Nearly 70 percent of the American public support a ban on assault weapons — including 54 percent of Republicans.

When you have that kind of broad public support for legislation that will make everyone safer, and it still can’t get through the Senate — the problem is with weak-willed leaders who care more about their campaign coffers than children in coffins.

The 1994 assault weapons and high-capacity magazines bans worked.

And if I am elected president, we’re going to pass them again — and this time, we’ll make them even stronger. We’re going to stop gun manufacturers from circumventing the law by making minor modifications to their products — modifications that leave them just as deadly. And this time, we’re going to pair it with a buyback program to get as many assault weapons off our streets as possible as quickly as possible.

I won’t stop there. I’ll get universal background checks passed, building on the Brady Bill, which establishing the background check system and which I helped push through Congress in 1993. I’ll accelerate the development and deployment of smart-gun technology — something gun manufacturers have opposed — so that guns are keyed to the individual biometrics of authorized owners.

Of course I agree with him, but I’d go even further and follow the UK’s example: banning handguns nearly completely and putting the strictest control on all guns. Here’s the UK laws taken from Wikipedia (my emphasis):

The UK increased firearm regulation through several Firearms Acts, leading to an outright ban on automatic firearms and many semi-automatic firearms. Breech-loading handguns are also tightly controlled. Firearm ownership usually requires a police-issued Shotgun Certificate (SGC) or Firearm Certificate (FAC). The applicant must have: no criminal convictions; no history of medical condition including alcohol and drug-related conditions; no history of depression, mental or nervous disorder, or epilepsy; and a secure gun safe to store firearms. The FAC additionally requires demonstrating a good reason for each firearm the applicant wishes to own (such as hunting, pest control, collecting, or target shooting). Self-defense is only accepted as a good reason in Northern Ireland.

An SGC allows the holder to purchase and own any number of shotguns, so long as they can be securely stored. Shotgun magazine capacity is limited to two rounds. For weapons covered under an FAC, police may restrict the type and amount of ammunition held, and where and how the firearms are used. Aside from Northern Ireland, private ownership of most handguns was banned in 1997, with exception for section 5 firearms licenses, which are only generally issued to maritime security personnel, and those under police protection.

What’s with Northern Ireland?

Of course all the Democrats will rush to play catch-up, trying to outdo themselves in proposing gun restrictions, but to my mind that’s great. The important thing is to get a Democratic President elected, get both houses of Congress majority Democratic, and then perhaps we can start enacting sensible gun control.

In the meantime, kudos to Joe. (He’s still my favorite Democratic candidate, but I do worry about his gaffes, which are more frequent than ever. I’m not worried about his age, except insofar as it’s correlated with any decline in cognitive facilities. I put Elizabeth Warren right up there with him as a favored candidate, though I worry whether she could beat Trump, something I don’t worry as much about with Biden. But I’d gladly vote for either of them as President.

Anyway, something is very wrong with this country when people can march into a McDonald’s with a handgun or a rifle slung from their bodies.

Here: this is “open carry” of semiautomatic weapons at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland:

 

Gun violence in Chicago spiked last weekend

August 7, 2019 • 9:30 am

If you live in Chicago, you’re constantly reminded of the huge number of homicides in the city, many of them gang-related, most gun-related, and the largest proportion of identified victims African-American. According to the Chicago Tribune, which tracks these data, in the last 365 days there were 547 homicides. Of these, 314 involved guns, 209 had unknown causes, 19 involved stabbings, and 5 involved other causes. That is, of all homicides in which the cause could be ascertained,  93% involved guns.

Among the victims, 281 were African-Americans, 224 were not known, 34 were white, 5 were Hispanic, and 3 were Asian. That is, of all homicides in which the race of the victim could be ascertained, 87% were African-Americans. But only 30.5% of Chicago residents are African-American. The age of homicide victims spikes at about age 25. This is a terrible waste of young lives.

The peak of gun violence, as we all know, is in the summer, and I’ve heard gunshots in summer. Granted, the rate of gun deaths is down 11% from last year, but, as you see below, it’s still higher than in the years from 2013-2015. Whether this is a permanent decline in our city remains to be seen, but we still have about 1.5 homicides per day, most by guns. The U.S. and Latin America lead the world in gun deaths, and you can see the death rates of different countries caused by firearms in this chart on Wikipedia. The U.S., for instance, has 12.2 fire-arm related deaths per 100,000 population per year, while Britain has 0.23—a 53-fold difference.

Last weekend we had the biggest spate of gun violence this year, as the New York Times reported in the article below. Seven were killed and 52 wounded in 32 episodes, with more than 300 homicides this year.

An excerpt:

CHICAGO — While much of the nation’s attention was focused on the gun massacres in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, last weekend, Chicago was convulsed by its own burst of violence — the worst weekend the city has seen so far in 2019.

It was an extreme example of the routine but devastating gun violence, often related to gang conflicts, that cities like Chicago, Baltimore and St. Louis experience on a regular basis. The police said seven people were killed and 52 wounded by gunfire throughout Chicago from Friday evening to Sunday, including a 5-year-old boy who was shot in the leg while sitting in a car.

Early Sunday, 17 people were shot in a period of two hours in a small pocket on the city’s West Side, turning residential blocks into chaotic scenes of ambulances, grieving family members and cars pockmarked with bullets.

There were 32 separate shooting incidents throughout the weekend, the police said.

. . .Gun violence in Chicago tends to peak during the summer months, when school is out, the temperature is high and residents spend more time outside at social gatherings, which can be a magnet for conflict. Shootings and homicides have decreased in 2019, but there have been at least 300 homicides this year and 1,600 people shot, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Data from the Chicago Tribune:

Yes, America, we have a gun problem (the NRA would call it a “criminal problem”, but without easy availability of guns, does anybody doubt that homicides would drop?). My solution, which some readers oppose, is to impose extremely stringent controls on guns; in fact, I’d like to see them banned completely except for target practice or, in rare cases, pest control. My position is extreme, but I think it would save lives.

As an aside, Ivanka Trump tweeted about Chicago’s gun violence this week, and, although she got the total numbers right, she got the circumstances wrong, saying that all the deaths and injuries occurred in one incident:

Well, I can excuse that error, though the “violence faced by inner city communities” seems a bit racist, as there are plenty of homicides outside of the inner city. But her message is in the right direction: we have to do something about gun violence.

But because she is a Trump, that message was completely obscured by her mistake, and so HuffPost jumped on her. Rather than highlight the epidemic of gun violence in Chicago, they prefer to bash Ivanka for her mistake. To wit:

From the reportage:

According to Chicago Tribune, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was “livid” about Trump’s error-filled tweet.

“It wasn’t a playground, it was a park. It wasn’t seven dead. It wasn’t 52 wounded in one incident, which is what this suggests. It’s misleading,” Lightfoot said. “It’s important when we’re talking about people’s lives to actually get the facts correct, which one can easily do if you actually cared about getting it right.”

Lightfoot said her focus was to protect and run the city, and she wouldn’t allow herself to be distracted by “nonsense tweets from people who don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Our new Mayor, Lori Lightfoot, was all over the news last night—not calling attention to the gun violence, which on a yearly basis far exceeds deaths by mass shootings, but going after Ivanka Trump for her mistake about the circumstances.  In this case, contra Lightfoot, the circumstances of the shootings aren’t nearly as important as the constant toll of gun-related homicides. But such is the hatred of Trump (a hatred I share), that every issue somehow gets turned into a criticism of the President (even via his daughter).

Let’s forget Ivanka: we have to do something about guns. But, as I’ve said before, the cry for gun control—and most Americans favor stricter regulations—goes up right after mass shootings (we’ve had three lately), but over time dies down, and business gets back to normal. You can still order assault-style rifles online, which is a travesty. And, of course, the carnage leads to stuff like this, which is about the saddest sign of our problem that I can imagine:

An unwise tweet by Neil deGrasse Tyson, and some statistics on gun deaths

August 5, 2019 • 9:00 am

I guess Tyson was trying to make a point about data and how we receive it when he issued the tweet below yesterday, but it was surely ill-timed—and also somewhat misleading.

It clearly looks crass and uncaring. SFgate discusses some of the pushback, including this tweet from a lawyer and writer:

I was curious about this disparity, so I looked up the data. It turns out that, according to FiveThirtyEight, there were 33,000 gun deaths per year in America in 2015:  about 90 per day or 180 every 48 hours. Of these, two-thirds are suicides and 1/3 are homicides, so at a minimum there 60 homicides every 48 hours and, in that period, 120 suicides committed with guns. So Tyson was close to the mark, while Vanderpool lumped suicides and homicides as “people killed with guns.” That’s true, but killing oneself differs in several ways from killing somebody else, and lumping them is misleading.

But even if Tyson’s data be correct, it’s simply insensitive to try to make a point like this when hundreds are people are grieving over the three mass shootings we’ve had in the last week. Further, as Vanderpool notes, there are powerful lobbies—most notably the National Rifle Association (NRA)—trying to keep guns, including assault rifles, in the hands of Americans.

In contrast, there are no lobbies trying to promote sloppy medical practice, increase the amount of flu (except, perhaps, for anti-vaxers) or encourage more car accidents. In other words, perhaps the issue of gun deaths is more easily prevented, at least in theory, by direct action—banning or severely restricting gun ownership. Reducing car accidents and medical errors is much more difficult. (Further, restricting the availability of guns would surely cut down on the number of suicides, which give people an easy and quick way to kill themselves on impulse. I have no doubt that strong restrictions on gun ownership would drastically cut back the number of suicides: those who in a moment of depression grab a gun may be less likely to use other methods like taking pills, jumping in front of trains, or leaping off a bridge.)

I say, “in theory” above because while a gun ban is easy to craft, there are too many Americans who love and cherish their guns, and the NRA lobby is too powerful, to help us get strong and sensible gun restrictions. I myself favor a system along the lines of what they have in Britain, with a ban on private ownership of handguns and very strict ownership of rifles.

What makes me sad is that each time there’s a mass murder with guns—and now we’ve had three in a row—there’s a temporary uproar and call for bans or restrictions on guns. But in two weeks or so it all dies down and we’re back to being gun-loving America.

To be fair, this morning Tyson apologized for his unwise tweet on his Facebook page:

That’s a decent apology, but Tyson, like many people on Twitter and other social media, should have thought before he tweeted. Anyone could have told him that the tweet above would not be received lightly, and that the point it was supposed to make wasn’t really worth making. Given the difference in reasons for gun deaths in America on one hand, and medical errors and car crashes on the other, I’m not sure how helpful his tweet was in “saving lives in America.”