American gun shop
Looks like the national debate over guns—if one can call it a debate—is beginning to shift a little in the wake of the Newtown massacre. Normally pro-gun Dem Senators are calling for new limits on guns while the gun lobby has gone radio silent
Leaders of the [NRA] have declined interview requests since the shootings, the group’s Twitter account has gone silent, and it has deactivated its Facebook page.
And pro-gun GOP Senators have been avoiding the media, notably last Sunday’s talk shows. But a few normally NRA-supporting right-wingers are revising their positions on guns, e.g. Rupert Murdoch—though he’s from Australia, which voted tough gun control laws after the ’96 Port Arthur massacre, so what do you expect?—and Joe Scarborough, former NRA A+ GOP congressman, who says that Newtown had rendered his previous positions on guns “irrelevant” (watch here). Money quote
The Bill of Rights does not guarantee gun manufacturers the absolute right to sell military style high calibre semi-automatic combat assault rifles with high capacity magazines to whoever the hell they want.
Not bad, Joe. GOPers will likely attribute his change of heart to contamination from having worked so long at MSNBC. The pro-gun people are trotting out their usual bullshit arguments but the only ones they’re likely to convince are themselves. The easy availability of guns is of course a cause but so is the gun culture. À propos, WaPo has a useful piece that shows “What makes America’s gun culture totally unique in the world, in four charts.” International comparisons are essential in arguments and they must not be selective. E.g. Jeffrey Goldberg, in his lengthy, somewhat misleadingly entitled article in The Atlantic (published before Newtown), “The Case for More Guns (And More Gun Control),” writes that
Many gun-rights advocates see a link between an increasingly armed public and a decreasing crime rate. “I think effective law enforcement has had the biggest impact on crime rates, but I think concealed carry has something to do with it. We’ve seen an explosion in the number of people licensed to carry,” [John] Lott, [an economist and a gun-rights advocate who maintains that gun ownership by law-abiding citizens helps curtail crime,] told me. “You can deter criminality through longer sentencing, and you deter criminality by making it riskier for people to commit crimes. And one way to make it riskier is to create the impression among the criminal population that the law-abiding citizen they want to target may have a gun.”
Crime statistics in Britain, where guns are much scarcer, bear this out. Gary Kleck, a criminologist at Florida State University, wrote in his 1991 book, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America, that only 13 percent of burglaries in America occur when the occupant is home. In Britain, so-called hot burglaries account for about 45 percent of all break-ins. Kleck and others attribute America’s low rate of occupied-home burglaries to fear among criminals that homeowners might be armed. (A survey of almost 2,000 convicted U.S. felons, conducted by the criminologists Peter Rossi and James D. Wright in the late ’80s, concluded that burglars are more afraid of armed homeowners than they are of arrest by the police.)
Well, that’s Britain, and there may be other reasons for the high percentage of “hot burglaries” (e.g. maybe someone happens to be home there more often). I’d like to see the statistics for France on this but, based strictly on anecdotes and what one reads here and there, it would seem that the great majority of burglaries happen when no one is home. And then there’s South Africa, a crime-ridden and heavily armed society. In the NYT, columnist Joe Nocera thus writes
For many years, South Africa was a country every bit as gun-soaked as America. I have a friend, Greg Frank, a hedge fund manager in Charlottesville, Va., who lived in Johannesburg during a time when it had become so crime-ridden that people felt the need to own guns to protect themselves. He, too, owned a gun as a young man: “I made the excuse that I needed it for self-protection.”
The guns didn’t make anybody safer. People who were held up while waiting at a red light rarely had time to pull out their guns. And the fact that so many homes had guns became an incentive for criminals, who would break in, hold the family hostage, and then order that the safe with the guns be opened. “Everyone knew someone who had family or friends who had experienced gun violence,” he said.
Finally, he says, people got fed up. In 2004, the laws changed, requiring annual relicensing, character witnesses and other measure to keep guns out of the wrong hands. There was also an appeal to voluntarily surrender guns.
“I took my gun to the police station,” recalls Frank. “The cop receiving it wrote down the serial number, took my ID, and I was gone. It felt transformational, like a huge weight off my shoulders.”
It will for us, too, when we finally get serious about stopping gun violence.
Anyone who has lived or spent time in South Africa will tell hair-raising stories about the crime there—armed robberies, carjackings, you name it—and despite the mass ownership of firearms by the law-abiding citizenry. When criminals know that the chances are high that their victims may be armed, they will just be that much quicker on the trigger. Duh.
Correlation is not causation. Except when it is.
Back to Jeffrey Goldberg’s article, he thinks that gun control—such as articulated by those who hate the gun lobby—is mostly a pipe dream at this stage, as, apart from the constitutional issues, America is so awash in guns that it will hardly matter. Any restrictionist law that gets through Congress—and which is not likely in this decade—will necessarily contain a grandfather clause that won’t affect the hundreds of millions of arms already in private possession. Perhaps. Though according to the statistics, the percentage of Americans who actually own guns has been declining over the past four decades. Nate Silver has some good charts and graphs on the subject—and that show, among other things, that the partisan divide on this is widening. It stands to reason that if the number of guns has been increasing but the percentage of people who own guns is declining, then America is witnessing a concentration of gun ownership in fewer hands, i.e. that there are individuals out there who own many guns, and particularly the assault rifles. The government could, of course, buy back the guns (assault rifles)—which admittedly not likely to happen—or just tax the hell out of them—or of the bullets—, or render them useless by banning or severely restricting the sale of ammunition magazines. Such legislation is not in the cards for the moment, but given America’s political-demographic trajectory, it may be envisaged in the not-too-distant future.
Goldberg had an exchange on his piece—in which he defends concealed carry, among other things—with Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon, which may be read here. James Fallows also weighed in on Goldberg’s piece here.
Chris Hayes of MSNBC had an interesting and informative debate the other night, with, among others, the brilliant constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar of the Yale Law School (in three parts, beginning here; I had a post on Amar a few months ago here). More articles:
Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker writes on “Guns and the Limits of Shame.”
Todd Gitlin in The Nation weighs in on “The Unbearable Elasticity of Gun Logic.”
Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, has a piece in TAP on “A National Gun Policy: Here Is Where We Start.”
And I should add this piece in HuffPo, “‘I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother’: A Mom’s Perspective On The Mental Illness Conversation In America.”
Also this from the NYT Opinion page, on “What Drives Suicidal Mass Killers,” by Adam Lankford, professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama, who equates the psychological makeup of mass killers in America with suicide bombers in Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
To be continued…
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