Let’s Have a Real Discussion About Gun-Control

By Rob Morse | SlowFacts

I hate the standard talkshow shouting-match about guns.

This is fake news pretending to inform us. This noise fills airtime. We see shows like this because it sells soap.. as long as the guests and the host yell loud enough.

The discussion about guns in America is too important to leave to the talking heads. For the average person like me, it is hard to seperate real information about guns from the Hollywood stories I have floating around in my head. When you look at how you feel about guns and crime, are you responding to what you know, or to what you saw on the little screen during some cop drama?

I looked for honest answers about guns and violence, and I learned some things I didn’t know. These are the questions I asked myself. This is what convinced me that guns save lives.

It seem we have a lot of violence in the news. Is the United States a violent country?

I think we’ve confused entertainment and reality. We can watch hours of cop-shows and violent dramas on TV every day. That isn’t real life. Also, if there is a murder anywhere in the USA, then it might show up on the news. If there are several victims, then the story might be on the TV for days. That doesn’t mean there was a murder in your city or anywhere near you.

I found something very different when I looked at the best facts we have. On average, one person in your family will be a victim of violent crime sometime in your lifetime. (About one person in 3.8 people will be a victim.) That means violent crime of any kind is fairly rare. Homicide rates are going down over time, not up. Murder rates with a gun are doing down too, even though gun ownership is increasing. That isn’t the impression you get from the news reports.

Aren’t guns just killing machines? Don’t people use guns to kill every day?

Our imagination is right about a few things. Just as we imagined, some criminals do use guns to threaten their victims, and sometimes to kill them. These armed criminals get their guns illegally, the same way they get the drugs they sell. In contrast, honest gun owners use their guns in self-defense to stop the attacks from violent criminals. For honest gun owners, firearms are tools of self-rescue that keep them safe until the police arrive.. and that actually happens a lot.

I don’t hear about those examples of armed self-defense. How do I know they really happen?

You’re right that you don’t read about self-defense in the news very often. There are a couple reasons. The biggest reason is that criminals react to an armed citizens about the same way that criminals acts when they see an armed policeman.

On average, a policeman may be in enough danger to touch his gun once a day. He might draw his gun once in a while. The policeman will probably never have to press the trigger during his entire career. Most criminals run away when they see an armed cop.

Criminals react the same way to an armed homeowner. Almost all the time, the criminal runs away before the armed homeowner has to fire his gun. The homeowner reports the breakin, but most police don’t even record that the homeowner used his gun in self-defense. If it makes the news at all, the event is reported as a home invasion/robbery in the local paper.

There is an exception to that rule. The police will keep track of the event if the defender had to fire his gun. Still, many states don’t keep track of how many times guns were used in self-defense. It is easier to find the news stories where the good guy was forced to shoot the bad guy, even though there are many more examples when no shots were fired because the bad guy ran away.

If violent crime and self-defense are so rare, doesn’t that mean we’d be safer if we all turned in our guns?

I understand your frustration. I hate it when good people are hurt. Unfortunately, there are a lot of lies in the gun-control debate. It isn’t true that most criminals get their guns from gun shows. It isn’t true that the US is awash with “assault weapons” and all we need to do is to gather them up and we’d be safe forever.

It is true that a few new criminals buy their guns legally. These criminals usually can’t buy their guns at a gun store once they have a criminal record. That is why about 99 out of a hundred criminals get their guns illegally. That makes sense once you think about it. Criminals don’t obey the law and they don’t obey our gun-laws either. That is why gun-prohibition laws only disarm the honest people, but not the criminals. It would be nice if criminals obeyed our laws, but they don’t.

From the data we have, we see that law abiding US citizens use their legally owned firearms to defend themselves and their families about every thirty one seconds. Honest gun owners in the United States use a firearm to stop a sexual assault about every 2.7 minutes. Lots of these honest defenders would become victims if we disarmed them the way you suggest. That would turn more of us into victims rather than make us safer. That is a big problem.

About a third or more of us have guns in our homes. Civilians shoot about 27 million firearms cartridges each day. We would know it if law-abiding gun owners were the problem, but we’re not. In fact, licensed concealed carry holders are among the most law abiding and non-violent groups we can find on the entire plant. Disarming the good guys doesn’t stop the bad guys.

That sounds like bad news and that criminals are unstoppable. Can’t we do something to reduce violent crime?

You’re right in that criminals are much more violent than we are and they don’t obey our laws. The great news is that violent criminals are rare. Each year, most of our armed murders are committed by about two thousand members of drug gangs.  The police know who these criminals. We’ve seen murder rates drop when the police focus their efforts on these bad guys.

Most of the rest of the armed attacks in the US are by people who use illegal drugs. That is a problem we can and we should address. We’ve seen both homicide rates and crime rates drop when the police focus on drug gangs.. if the community provides addiction treatment first. I think the long term solution is to end drug prohibition, but that is another discussion.

Like I said, there are some bad arguments in the gun debate, and some downright lies. If you own a gun, or if you don’t own a gun, I want you make good choices. I think guns save lives.

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