Guns in America – Like bees around a hive!

     Greetings and Salutations;

The fuss and furor over gun control continues here in America, and, as usually happens these days, there is little real debate or facts in the whirlpool, but, mostly just people taking an emotional stance on the subject, either pro or con. The fact of the matter is that guns in America are a fact of life, and,are likely to be so for the foreseeable future. Some people have pointed to Australia’s total ban on gun ownership, and how it has eliminated gun based crimes. That may be true, but, alas, I do not think that it is a viable solution forAmerica, simply because Australia is more of a mono-culture, and has nothing matching America’s amazing collection of cultures,life-styles and attitudes. I also will be interested to see how long that non-violent situation lasts…

In any case, one problem that the debate has is a lack of factual, objective data from real, scientific studies of the effects of guns in households in America. Thanks to my brother-in-law, though, I now have a link to a really good study This PDF is kind of heavy reading, but, in it the authors  do a very good job of an objective analysis of the data. I made my way through it, and, found some interesting points that I thought I would touch on here.

Perhaps the first point that springs to mind is that the authors made the very good point that this had proven to be a very complicated issue, and, that more, extensive study would be needed to gain a deeper understanding of the topic. The fact that the issue of guns in the home, and gun ownership in general is so complicated makes the groups who take simplistic stances and demand simple solutions all the more irritating and more likely to make the situation worse rather than better.

As most of these studies do, it compares households that have no guns in them to households that have one or more guns in them. There are some conclusions that one might expect, and, a few that kind of surprised me. So let us consider some of the results.

The two types of gun deaths studied were homicides and suicides.

The authors found that people who own guns tend to use them more often for suicide because they are the easiest, most lethal tool available.  This helps ensure that the suicide attempt will go quickly, with less danger of failure. The study also found that most, if not all, of the suicides were proceeded by definite signs of depression and suicidal thoughts. These signs were observed by the people around the person who had died for a period up to a couple of weeks before the act. While there is no way to stop a person that really wants to die, I also suspect that better and easier access to mental health care would have likely cut down on the numbers of suicides significantly.

One final observation about suicides is that they found that the most likely candidate for suicide with a gun is an older, white guy, living with his wife.  Considering the difficulties and complexities of living with another person, and, the general attitude of America towards the aging, and, the stresses it brings to one’s life,  it is way too understandable why this would be the case.

As for homicides, it appears that the most likely victim of a homicide by gun is a young, black man.  Dealing with the social issues that cause gangs to appear to be the only answer for support and security, and that push people into alifestyle where life is cheap would help THAT situation. Poverty, artificial barriers to success, the difficulty of finding gainful employment, and the environment of poverty and peer pressure can all contribute to a crushing sense that there is no escape, and that only chumps get “real”jobs.  Add to that the dangers of NOT being part of a gang, and, it is no surprise that the situation is what it is.

There are no easy answers here for either situation, but, there are steps that can be taken to improve the situation and help eliminate the pressures of society that cause such troubles.  NONE of those steps include the bandaid of making guns less available.

One of the favorite talking points of the anti-gun folks is that having a gun in the household multiplies the chance that it will be used to kill the owner or a family member. The multiplier is focused on all the time, but, the actual chance of something like that happening is ignored. Now, I got to wondering this, so looked at the numbers in the report. Assuming that there are no environment factors taken into consideration, so, the chance of death by gunshot was as likely for a calm, peaceful philosopher living out in the rural area of America as it was for a resident in the heart of the inner city in NY or LA, what would that chance actually be?  To come up with a number, I did the following: Assuming the 50K figure for gun deaths in the report is correct, and taking the population of America in 2004 (when the report was created, – about 293 million people), it appears to me that the chance for ANY of us to get killed by a bullet is 0.017% (that is 50K deaths divided by 293 million people, times 100%) Assuming we go with the worst possible case and say that having a gun in the house actually multiplies that chance of death by gunshot by 10 times – that brings the chance to slightly under 0.2%. Frankly, there are better odds that I will get hit and killed by another driver when I try and pull out of any of several poorly designed intersections in the area where I live!  This, as I mentioned, does not even take into account geographical location (inner city vs rural environments), nor does it take into account the fact that people who own guns who live with other people are more likely to commit suicide with those guns, or any of the other factors mentioned in the report.  For example, I suspect that my actual chance of dying from a bullet wound are a thousand or more times smaller than this base figure, when all the factors are taken into consideration. I also suspect that if I lived in South LA, say, just north of I-150, near I-110, my chances of dying would be rather higher than if I lived in, say, Scotsdale, AZ, or any of a number of more rural areas.

One other interesting point that was made in the conclusions of the report is that the number of times that a gun was used to actually protect a household was not included in these numbers, and, probably should be part of a larger study.  The NRA claims it happens millions of times a year.  I do not accept that number, simply because there is no information to document it.  However, I am sure that the number of times that a gun has defused a situation in a year is pretty high.

The fact of the matter is that a gun is a tool, albeit a fairly dangerous one.  There are a number of reasons that one might own one or more guns, and most of those reasons have nothing to do with putting bullet holes in other people. Those reasons are often ignored in the debates, because they muddy the waters and do not push the desired agenda, yet, to have a clearer picture of guns in America and the reasons for and against them,these facets of the issue have to be considered.  For example, there are a large percentage of gun owners, such as myself, who like the challenge of taking on a difficult task – hitting a target precisely, with a variety of weapons – and so use our guns purely for punching holes in paper (ok…and exploding the occasional watermelon).   We might own a number of types of guns because each gun has its unique characteristics that change the technique needed to place shots in the center of the target, with close spacing.   For some of us, the goal is to have one hole, in the center of the target, no matter how many rounds are fired.   That may be impossible, or at least very difficult, but, it is a valid goal.   The anti-gun lobby members who rant on that guns have no purpose except to kill people are factually incorrect, but, apparently believe if they yell loud enough and long enough their lie will become truth.

Again, I believe that better access to non-judgemental health care, both physical and mental, and, more social change to make the idea of making an honest wage for an honest day’s work be a valid goal are necessary to cut down on the sorts of madness that cause such tragedies such as the events of Newtown and other massive shootings.

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