Friday, January 4, 2013

Stemming the tide of credit card murders, and other such nonsense...

I hate to put up another post on this, as I never envisioned gun control being such a big issue on my blog...but there is an interesting new spin campaign going about that requires addressing.

Fox News, Breitbart.com, and various Republicans are making the argument that gun control bans are futile and/or will lead to a slippery slope by which we must ban everything because anything, even credit cards, can be an effective murder weapon, and in some cases – hammers, for instance – are used more frequently than guns. Or, more specifically, rifles:

However, it appears the zeal of Sens. like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) is misdirected. For in looking at the FBI numbers from 2005 to 2011, the number of murders by hammers and clubs consistently exceeds the number of murders committed with a rifle.
These arguments have popped up before in some form or another (for instance, the “TVs can kill too!” line), but this is a particularly clever one because it pretends to make a cogent argument against gun control while ignoring most key factors in the discussion.

First, it distracts from the real issue – gun violence – by fixating on a small subset of that violence. FBI statistics show that in 2011, for instance, guns were used in the majority of murders in almost every state of the union:



Murder


by State, Types of Weapons, 2011


State
Total murders
Total firearms
Alaska
29
16
Arizona
339
222
Arkansas
153
110
California
1,790
1,220
Colorado
147
73
Connecticut
128
94
Delaware
41
28
District of Columbia
108
77
Georgia
522
370
Hawaii
7
1
Idaho
32
17
Illinois3
452
377
Indiana
284
183
Iowa
44
19
Kansas
110
73
Kentucky
150
100
Louisiana
485
402
Maine
25
12
Maryland
398
272
Massachusetts
183
122
Michigan
613
450
Minnesota
70
43
Mississippi
187
138
Missouri
364
276
Montana
18
7
Nebraska
65
42
Nevada
129
75
New Hampshire
16
6
New Jersey
379
269
New Mexico
121
60
New York
774
445
North Carolina
489
335
North Dakota
12
6
Ohio
488
344
Oklahoma
204
131
Oregon
77
40
Pennsylvania
636
470
Rhode Island
14
5
South Carolina
319
223
South Dakota
15
5
Tennessee
373
244
Texas
1,089
699
Utah
51
26
Vermont
8
4
Virginia
303
208
Washington
161
79
West Virginia
74
43
Wisconsin
135
80
Wyoming
15
11
Virgin Islands
38
31

Now it may well be of interest to keep in mind, when talking about potential assault rifle bans or limitations, that though firearm murders in this country are through the roof, rifles and shotguns were the least commonly employed-for-murder types of firearm. But it also is of note that this is not really any less than one might expect, and not the reason that these discussions are happening. A rifle has certain uses, and so too does a handgun. Handguns are easy to conceal, and easy to transport. Rifles and shotguns are not. Rifles have long range abilities that pistols do not. Assault rifles have a kill capacity that, when your goal is maximum damage, might make up for the downsides; but if your goal is “simply” murder, a handgun's ease of use and ease of carrying/concealing would make it the far better choice. Anyone who has used guns would know that, and common sense dictates it even if you have not used them. So it is a point that we shouldn't lose sight of, but it is not an argument in and of itself. Why? Because the push to control assault rifles is not fueled because they are used in the majority of gun crimes in this country (they're not), but because when they are used, they are used with deadly effect and cause mass damage. In the same way that a fertilizer bomb poses a bigger threat than an assault rifle, an assault rifle poses a bigger threat than a handgun. Or a hammer. The fact that fewer people kill using fertilizer bombs than assault weapons (or hammers) does not mean that a fertilizer bomb is not capable of inflicting mass damage on a far greater scale; it simply means that, because of the difficulties associated with creating or ascertaining and utilizing one, it used less often.

But to focus solely on a comparison of numbers between blunt objects and one specific type of firearm (the one that gives you a set of numbers favorable to your argument) as an answer to gun control suggestions is to miss the point – deliberately, I can only hazard to guess, because I cannot conceive of a world where something so glaringly obvious would go unnoticed save by design. The issue is complex and multifaceted, and those proposing solutions, except on the fringe end of the pro-gun and pro-gun control movements, rarely suggest a one-size-fits-all answer. As an example, today several bills were introduced by people on both sides to address gun crimes. Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) proposed four separate gun control measures, including one that addresses the gun show loophole that has long been a concern of the Brady campaign. Anyone versed on the debate (as, I can only assume, persons so vocal in the discussion must be) must know this. Setting up a strawman that implies a false reason for proposals to address assault weapon availability, and ignores every other facet of gun control discussions, is simply disingenuous. A genuine discussion is going on in this country as to how to limit the overwhelming number of firearm deaths in the US; making false comparisons that ignore the overall problem does not further that goal.

But let's add that, to all of this, a comparison between assault rifle and hammer/credit card/tv murders fails on yet another level. Assault rifles were designed for a single purpose. Blunt objects and other potential murder weapons include a vast number of items, many of which have very practical real-world applications. Like driving a nail. Believe it or not, even frightening credit cards serve a purpose beyond slitting throats – a purpose for which, incidentally, they were designed. In terms of sheer practical weapon control application, it is a ridiculous comparison; someone intent on bludgeoning another to death can easily switch between, say, a candlestick and lead pipe (have these people never played Clue?). Someone intent on massacring dozens of people with an assault weapon is going to have a hard time finding a substitute that fits their plan. So if it's harder for an Adam Lanza to get his hands on an assault weapon with a high capacity mag, his effectiveness will be hampered. If a Miss Scarlet can't get her hands on a lead pipe, she can always resort to a wrench. In the drawing room.

No comments:

Post a Comment