Bringing Gun Violence in America Into Focus
Gun violence in America is front and center right now with the tragedy of Marjory Stoneman Douglas (and Santa Fe) fresh in people’s minds. But there has been a significant lack of factual information from both sides in the discussion on guns and their role in society, highlighting more than ever the inability of people to digest information properly or find it in the first place.
This article is written with the goal of taking the distorted view of gun violence in America and bringing it back into focus, starting with a bit of history. Then there is the necessary clarification of the Second Amendment since it seems to be a subject of debate, followed by an attempt to point out the error in the anti-gun movements view on gun violence. Highlighting that the media continues to push the gun debate off track through a narrative that is increasingly detrimental to finding a solution. Lastly there is an attempt to point out one of the many benefits to gun ownership in America versus lack of gun ownership in say the United Kingdom, on top of the fact that if the division in political ideologies continues to grow so will the distortion of gun violence.
Thanks to the distorted image that has been created through the manipulation of statistics, improper research, and fear mongering after a tragedy the conversation about guns in America is more difficult than ever before. The constant scapegoating of organizations like the NRA, and the vilification of the millions of gun owners in America is getting this country nowhere and it’s time to stop. The goal of this research is to illuminate the truth of the matter, which is that the tools being used aren’t the problem, but instead the sometimes blatant lack of effort to prevent or stop incidents from happening.
Ranged tools for hunting are not new to mankind, and nor is the adaptation of a hunting tool to the purpose of war. With the dawn of gunpowder, it was only a matter of time until someone figured out how to use the energy produced to propel an object.
The Encyclopedia Britannica asserts that, “The development of gunpowder weapons… was the first significant success in rationally and systematically exploiting an energy source whose power could not be perceived directly with the ordinary senses,” which after much refinement would be capable of being used in applications like muzzle loaders, and eventually modern cartridges.
Of course, just in the same way that bow and arrow was adapted to military applications so would the musket, and subsequent adaptations of the firearm. The argument that a tool such as the firearm was designed to kill humans is proven false through its progressive replacement of the bow. But was it designed to kill? Yes, and so was the spear, the bow and arrow, the knife, and many other hunting implements. If people are going to make the argument that something was made purely for the sake of war then it would not be the firearm that they should look to, but instead the sword, the cannon, mortars, etc.
Some might suggest that weapons like the AR-15 (ArmaLite Rifle 15) were spawned exclusively for use in war. To subscribe to such notion is much simpler than taking into consideration that the rifle was designed around a cartridge in an attempt to be chosen as the military’s rifle of choice. In the process of trying to design this new rifle humans implemented ergonomic adaptations like a pistol grip, and a telescoping stock to fit the user better. Pistol grips are one of the demonized features of sporting rifles, but they were a natural ergonomic progression from thumbhole style stocks (See photos below).
It may come as a surprise to people with no knowledge of firearms, but even with these new features the AR-15 failed to be selected and Armalite had to sell to Colt. Colt then managed to successfully market the AR-15 which would become the M-16. Not everyone agreed that this was the best rifle for war, hence the variety of rifles used by other countries.
A great philosopher once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”- George Santayana.
For some it may be impossible to imagine a country turning against its own citizens, but a cursory glance at history shows that it’s happened time and again with some haunting commonalities. For fellow Americans I urge you to consider how hard our ancestors fought to separate from a tyrannical government, and that our success didn’t spawn from a disarmed populace. Taking a look at Turkey Armenian genocide, Russia using starvation against a disarmed populace, Germany disarming the Jews, China, Cambodia, Uganda, and the list continues with a common trend being a government disarming the populace. In a documentary called, Innocents Betrayed: A History of Gun Confiscation there are countless images of what can become of people who have no means of defending themselves. Now to imply that there are people in the United States Government who want to disarm citizens for nefarious reasons would indeed be a gross example of fear mongering, but it would be gross negligence to not point out the struggle of our forefathers, and the unfortunate consequences of a disarmed citizenry.
There is a facet of the gun debate that should never be ignored. It is the Second Amendment. Were the founding fathers all-knowing beings who knew exactly how the world would develop? No, but they were familiar with the fact that, without firearms of equal or superior quality to the British military, they would have remained under Britain’s thumb. Of course, it might have been better for them to move the term militia as to remove the confusion as to what that meant. Thankfully there were people like George Mason to clarify when he said, “I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”
This has been demonstrated time and time again by history. The counter-argument to that is of course asking if someone believes our government is going to prove itself so untrustworthy that we need to overthrow it in the next few years. In this case, the logical answer is no, but consider the state of affairs 100 years or more from now, maybe things will be better or worse we can’t know for sure. To remove a failsafe from the people that would hopefully (albeit doubtfully) protect from a tyrannical government seems very shortsighted.
The main goal for advocates of gun restrictions seems to be an end to gun violence as if it creates the majority of violent crime in American society.
It may be shocking to consider that according to the National Institute of Justice, “In 2011, firearm crimes comprised of 8 percent of all violent crimes.” This statistic suggests that the root of all evil is far from being as simple a target as just firearms. Starting with strictly a breakdown of the FBI: Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) it can be seen that rifles are far from the most commonly used weapons in homicide offenses which, in 2016 made up 1.4% of violent crime. In fact, the average of rifle homicides from 2012-2016 is 296 homicides, which means that a person is twice as likely to beaten to death with fists, feet, etc (this includes being pushed) with the average being 678 homicides annually.
To suggest the rifles are the weapon of choice for murderers is a fallacy rooted in the ignorance of the number of people killed by other objects on a yearly basis. Including the biggest culprit, criminals with handguns, shows even more clearly that rifles are far from the dealers of death they are painted as.
According to the numbers presented in the FBI: UCR the chances of being killed with a handgun are on average 18 times higher than being killed with a rifle. Of course, leaving it at that would be the equivalent of painting only half of a picture, because there’s an important factor that has to yet to be mentioned, and that is how many of these deaths are caused by illegally purchased firearms.
In 2016, according to the FBI: UCR a total of 124,150 people arrested for illegally possessing or carrying a firearm. A study in Pittsburgh showed, “that 80% of people illegally carrying guns were prohibited from possessing guns, and that a minimum of 30% of the guns were stolen” (Fabio, Duell, Creppage, O’Donnell and Laporte) clearly demonstrating that those who are intent on acquiring a firearm will not be stopped by laws, because if they have ignored them once they will ignore them again.
To break down the information given by the FBI: UCR further brings up some interesting questions, specifically pertaining to where violence is occurring in the United States. Most can point to California, which has gun laws as an example for gun control, and California is seen as not being friendly to gun owners.
So the assumption would be that without guns California would be one of the safest states in the country. But according to the 2016 FBI: UCR the numbers don’t follow that line of assumption. California tops the list with 1,930 murders in 2016 (930 handguns, 37 rifles, 290 knives) placing them at the top in terms of murders committed that year. Now it is important to note that California has a very large population which waters down their homicide rate, and ultimately places their homicide per 100,000 below many other states.
For the sake of comparison the reader should look at the following states homicide counts for the year of 2016: Vermont 14, Utah 71, New Hampshire 16, Maine 20. These states have one key aspect in common, and that is they are on the list of states where it’s easy to get a firearm. Indeed the difference in population is massive with California at 39 million dwarfing the combined population of the aforementioned states, but this same comparison can be done with New York, and Illinois. Both New York and Illinois have strict gun laws especially in their cities and yet they are still seeing high homicide counts with New York at 628, and Illinois at 941 (limited supplemental homicide data was received). The conclusions drawn from this information may vary, but nevertheless it still feels important to consider these numbers.
Alongside the desire to end gun violence seems to be this pervasive desire for a feeling of daily safety. The repeated claims that there is right to feel safe is laughable at best when taking into consideration the daily risks incurred by just going about your day.
For the person that fears being shot in a school shooting, it might be reassuring to know that it’s more likely to be struck by lightning with a chance in 1/700,000, versus the chance of being shot during a school shooting at 1/2,273,000.
If someone is worried about losing a loved one in the ages of 15-24 instead of worrying about gun violence or homicide it might be advised to watch for the CDC’s two leading causes of death, which are unintentional injury (11,836), and suicide (5,079), albeit homicide follows close behind in third with 4,144 lives claimed in 2014. By no means do these statistics diminish the horror of violence in America, but they are purely meant to bring the whole picture into focus.
Before moving on it would seem unfair to not take a peek at the “brighter” side of gun ownership in America, not including the income it generates, the jobs it provides, scholarship opportunities, etc. In this case it’s how guns protect their owners and actually stop violence, which is often overlooked by many who discuss this subject.
First, there’s a study by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council on Firearm-Related Violence where it was found that, “Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million,” which is staggering and is imperative that the reader not forget that defensive use does not necessarily mean the gun was discharged.
Combine this with a Rape Resistance study which like the previously mentioned study was conducted by criminologist Gary Kleck where, 48.9% were completed when no self-protection was involved versus .09% were completed when the victim used a gun (defensive use of a firearm also includes brandishing or presenting the weapon). Information such as this suggests that there is a bigger picture that is not being discussed when it comes to guns in America.
One of the commonly criticized aspects of life in the United States is how easy it is to purchase firearms, and that many places completely ignore NICS background checks, especially the “Gunshow loophole.” This rhetoric serves only to further mislead those who are uneducated in all aspects of gun ownership and have never gone through the process of purchasing a firearm.
A majority of states are shall issue states which are defined as states where, “upon completion of specified requirements, a law-abiding person shall be granted a permit to carry concealed firearms,” which means that in most states you cannot purchase a firearm without first obtaining a permit. On top of that it’s important to take into consideration that in all states it is required that you have a valid state ID to purchase a firearm, creating an additional barrier to entry. Now that’s not saying there aren’t cracks in the system that are repeatedly abused and have resulted in crimes that could have been easily prevented.
A recent example is the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in Florida where a plethora of actions could have been taken to prevent a disturbed person from acquiring firearms legally (Illegally purchasing firearms is a whole different story).
According to Vice news the police were called on Nikolas Cruz (Parkland shooter) 39 times, posted pictures of himself on social media (Instagram) holding guns and with captions indicating his intent to shoot his school, the school found bullets in his backpack after a fight with students in 2016, making threats to students, reports of him being abusive to a former girlfriend, and the list goes on and on. It’s heartbreakingly clear that Marjory Stoneman Douglas students could have been spared through law enforcement on local and federal levels simply doing their job.
This misconception that firearms are obtained legally by criminals is commonly cited as a reason for banning the specific style of firearms used in 14% of mass shootings from 1982-2012 (Mother Jones). Unfortunately for those who would think that this applies to the vast majority of criminals, it doesn’t. Because of studies conducted by the Bureau of Justice there is a wealth of statistics available to the public on felons, and how they acquired their firearms.
A perfect example of this in 1997 among state inmates possessing a gun, fewer than 2% bought their firearm at a flea market or gun show, about 12% from a retail store or pawn shop, and 80% from family, friends, a street buy, or an illegal source. What is really interesting is looking at the effect that the NICS background check (Implemented in 1993) has by looking at the 1991 survey of inmates and how it compares to 1997.
In 1991 you see 18.9% of guns being acquired via retail store or pawn shop, and 74.6% being acquired via friends/family or street/illegal source. That 6% of inmates who were purchasing guns through retail stores or pawn shops doesn’t disappear with the advent of NICS instead it just shifts to what appears to be acquisition by friends or family which rises from 33.8% to 39.6% in 1997. Now this to some people will appear to be just a bunch of numbers and might not have a clear point. But if you consider this rule of thumb it makes things a bit less murky, and that is that criminals are going to acquire weapons no matter what we do. Whether it’s the approximately 1.4 million firearms stolen over a six-year period from 2005 through 2010 (Bureau of Justice), straw purchases, street buys, criminals will find a way, because laws are not something they really take into consideration.
This brings up an important question: If implementing strict gun laws that punish law abiding citizens is the solution for stopping criminals?
According to criminal psychology expert Shadd Maruna, in a Vice article that, “Studies indicate that the majority of criminals either make excuses for, or attempt to justify, their actions.”
So, if criminals are consistently figuring out excuses for why they do what they do, then where does the conclusion that banning firearms from law abiding citizens will stop a criminal from ignoring the law come from.
Criminals will continue to break the law using, “techniques of neutralization,” which Maruna explains later in the same article. Unfortunately, the answer to keeping guns out of the hands of criminals is not through laws as demonstrated by earlier statistics, and the most likely source for the perpetuation of this “solution” is the media, and gun control organizations. Ultimately it seems likely that even if the legal avenues to “assault style” weapons were blocked it wouldn’t be long until a replacement was found.
Media plays a very large role in knocking the gun violence debate out of focus, to the point it can be viewed as gross misuse of power by some. The ability to reach countless people through a single publication on the web is greater than ever, and outlets continue to keep people focused on the false narrative that has been crafted.
News outlets like CNN give a prime example of this behavior through articles like, “There has been, on average, 1 school shooting every week this year” then going on to claim 17 shootings since the start of 2018. But for those that take the time to complete the article it can be found there are incidents such as, a teacher accidentally discharging a gun during a public safety class at Seaside High School, injuring a student, or a shooting at an apartment building on the campus of the University of South Alabama, even two people who were shot to death at a dormitory on campus of Central Michigan University who were not students.
As you go down the list you continue to find that almost half the incidents didn’t involve students, or were an accident, and this isn’t even including the number of incidents that were unintentional or didn’t involve a life-threatening injury. By no means is this meant to be dismissive of the fact that a large number of these incidents shouldn’t have happened, but it’s still important to point out that the article is designed in such a way to instill into the reader’s mind that there’s a large amount of gun violence happening on school grounds. The reality is the Parkland, Florida is the only mass school shooting of 2018, and it shouldn’t have happened in the first place due to the amount of warning signs the student displayed over a 7 year period. (Editor’s note: This article was written prior to the mass murder in Santa Fe, Texas.)
Thanks to the spread of news media from television, to the Internet it’s easier than ever to be inundated with false facts that accompany a tragedy like Parkland, Florida.
One of the most egregious offenders is actually on the platform YouTube, and they go by the name Vox. Not only does Vox use statistics in a way that is meant to mislead the uninformed, but they repeatedly make claims that they speak for the majority. In a recent video they claim to have a consensus for 18-29 year old’s is that the “March for Our Lives” movement is representing a larger majority than it really does.
The survey conducted is a very small portion of people from that age group, and the sites linked which are ADOBO and the New York Post have a clear bias. This is only one example of thousands that have spawned since to Newtown shooting in 2012, which was followed by a wave of bad media coverage that culminated in the loss of Connecticut resident’s constitutional right and violating the Supreme Court District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 ruling of 2008.
It might be worth mentioning that a general rule of journalism is to not make things up, or knowingly lie in whatever is being written. As time passes and identity politics flourishes it appears that a corrupted form of journalism grows alongside it, but maybe there has always been examples of poor journalism with the difference being how much attention they received in the past. One thing I have consistently noticed while conducting research for this topic is that even Google demonstrates a bias with what results show up first, with a clear tendency to highlight sensationalized news articles that push a narrative instead of facts.
Comparing countries crime rates against each other can often be very misleading if not done correctly, and unfortunately most of the time it’s used to inflate the idea that America is drastically worse than say the United Kingdom or Australia when it comes to violent crime.
Some information however is very telling, and helpful in identifying differences in criminal behavior, and why it exists. A perfect example is that according to the Office for National Statistics “Overview of burglary and other household theft: England and Wales” it was found that, “in over half of incidents of domestic burglary in a dwelling where an offender gained entry into the dwelling, someone was at home at the time,” which is a terrifying thought, because in the USA that is defined as a home invasion.
In comparison the DOJ in the 2010 National Crime Victimization Survey found that 27.6% of USA household burglaries had a household member present which is a stark contrast to the over 50% of the UK. Now the question is why are burglars less likely to enter an occupied home in the USA? Well according to “The Armed Criminal in America: A Survey of Incarcerated Felons” 74% of felons agreed that, “One reason burglars avoid houses when people are at home is that they fear being shot during the crime.” 57% of felons polled agreed, “Criminals are more worried about meeting an armed victim than they are about running into the police.” Now it’s important to take into consideration that this survey was published in 1997 after the 90’s crime bubble had popped, and right in the middle of gun ownership being on the rise (1993-2003 saw a gun ownership rise of 56% but the national homicide rate fall from 9.5 per 100,000 to 5.7 per 100,000). So it can be inferred that this belief has most likely continued and is a core reason behind burglars avoiding occupied homes in the USA.
Thanks to the increasingly liberal left, and the increasingly conservative right, ideological polarization has definitely spawned political animosity among differing viewpoints. It seems people are less likely to open themselves to opposing viewpoints than ever, and it only causes a stalemate that will continue to put people at risk through a lack of general consensus. Now this is from personal experience that I claim moderates, are often the most willing to shift their viewpoint when presented with statistical proof that their opinion is misguided. Through countless correspondences with people on the Internet it has been made clear that both the left, and the right have members who will dig in their heels and refuse to budge from their ideologies. The quote, “Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction,” from C.S. Lewis seems appropriate for this situation, but first people have to be willing to listen to each other and be willing to subject themselves to the research however dry it may seem to the average person.
Gun violence in America is something that will hopefully be solved in the future, and hopefully not the far-off future. But at the means by which it is achieved seems more important than ever with a generation that actually considers disarming law-abiding citizens as being a viable solution.
This article was written with the hope that by shining some light on the factual side of gun violence it might steer the dialogue towards real solutions that don’t involve the destruction of one of the rights of the American people, and dissolution of an industry that is contributing billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs to our country. Readers should ponder a quote from W.E.B. Du Bois, “The chief problem is any community cursed with crime is not the punishment of the criminals, but the preventing of the young from being trained to crime.” Also, the prescription of FBI profiler John E. Douglas for a reduction in violent crime is for true intolerance of crime among the American population, combined with more love.
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– Jacob Camacho