While I am not normally a fan of those who use worldviews to explain all the conflicts and problems in the world, it can, at times, when used judiciously, be a useful concept. This is one of those times.
While Mr. Correia and I both have the same goals – reducing the number of shootings along with the number of innocents killed, and protecting our Constitutional rights – our ideas about how best to do this differs radically. And a great part of the reason they do is because of our differing view of our society and of how the world works.
This difference lies in how we answer two questions:
“Are we just individuals who happen to live close to each other, or are we part of a community and society?”
“How dangerous is this world that both Mr. Correia and I live; specifically the United States? “
The answer to the first question has a large subjective element, although there are relevant objective facts that should inform that subjective value judgment.
The answer to the second question is largely an objective one, although one that may be at odds with subjective evaluations.
Also, both questions are linked.
However, before going on to how Mr. Correia and I differ in our answers to those two questions, let me first point out the flaws in arguments and reasoning that Mr. Correia shares with the NRA and their allies.
1. When considering whether guns are a benefit or a bane, you need to look at total deaths and injuries from guns versus how many lives have been saved from death or injury. Too often they focus on just crime, and even then only on those instances when criminals are stopped or at mass shootings. What they do not consider are:
A) Accidental shootings such as the one June 14th this year in a Jasper IN Walmart, where a man’s handgun went off as he was reaching in his pocket for something else. Or, more tragically, when a 19 month old boy was accidently shot and killed by his four year old sibling on April 29th of this year in Wichita Kansas.
B) They always make it sound as if only criminals shoot people, when the reality is that neighbors, family members, friends, pissed off non-criminal strangers also shoot people. So far this year there has been several shootings of this sort.
2. From 2005 through 2010, over 1.4 million firearms were stolen from homes and other properties. That averages out to 232,400 guns every year according to the Justice Department of Justice Statistics. The problems and risks posed by these stolen guns needs to be considered when evaluating gun policies.
3. Almost always they either argue against the banning of all guns – something very few are proposing – or they slide the argument that way. This allows them to avoid the fact that if we are not proposing to ban all guns that people can still buy and carry guns if they feel they need them for self-defense, thus rendering that argument of their moot: law abiding citizens will still be able to purchase guns.
4. Argue that guns are needed for protection from the government. To that, I will refer you to my blog point 5 of my blog “Of Knives and Guns and….Fruit”
5. If any proposal other than more guns and freer access to them is shown to have even just one failure in stopping a shooting, then the whole idea is fatally flawed and should be scrapped. The reality though is that perfection is not a reasonable standard as there are no policies which achieve that exalted status. A more rational and reasonable standard is does the new policy do better at reducing gun deaths and injuries than the previous one, without harming our constitutional rights.
Returning now to the two questions –the first of which was are we a people who happen to live near each other, or are we part of a society.
Mr. Correia makes much of individual actions and equipping individuals to take care of themselves. He downplays, mocks, and denigrates any societal attempt to solve this problem as not only being worthless, but being actually harmful. His view is summed up nicely by the NRA’s “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun”.
My view is that societal attempts to control gun violence are better and most likely to be effective. This includes such things as relying on the police and justice system and making them more effective, comprehensive background checks, dealing more effectively with issues of mental health, anti-bullying programs, comprehensive gun control laws, providing quality education, a strong economy, and more. It is the totality of these actions that have more to do with reducing violence than individuals armed with guns do.
Here are a few quotes that, I believe, illustrate Mr. Correia’s views about society and about how dangerous it is to live in our society.
The gun culture is who protects our country. Sure, there are plenty of soldiers and cops who are issued a gun and who use it as part of their job who could care less. However, the people who build the guns, really understand the guns, actually enjoy using the guns, and usually end up being picked to teach everybody else how to use the guns are the gun culture.
I find it interesting here that it is not our laws and justice system, it is not our culture and society, our shared values amid the differing ones that protect us and our country, but the gun culture. And what does this gun culture consist of? He says regular people, but I think this captures more who he is really talking about:
But for the sake of math, let’s say that there are only 80 million gun owners, and let’s say that the government decides to round up all those pesky guns once and for all. Let’s be generous and say that 90% of the gun owners don’t really believe in the 2ndAmendment, and their guns are just for duck hunting.
So ten percent refuse to turn their guns in. That is 8 million instantaneous felons. Let’s say that 90% of them are not wanting to comply out of sheer stubbornness. Let’s be super generous and say that 90% of them would still just roll over and turn their guns when pressed or legally threatened. That leaves 800,000 Americans who are not turning their guns in, no matter what. To put that in perspective there are only about 700,000 police officers in the whole country.
Let’s say that these hypothetical 10% of 10% are willing to actually fight to keep their guns. Even if my hypothetical estimate of 800,000 gun nuts willing to fight for their guns is correct, it is still 97% higher than the number of insurgents we faced at any one time in Iraq, a country about the size of Texas.
So, the gun culture consists of 10% of 10% of 80 million gun owners (out of a country with a population over 300 million). Mr. Correia is not talking everyday people. This is especially true when you look at the trends over the years and see that the number of people who own guns is declining.
The gun culture that Mr. Correia is referring to is a minority group, one that believes strongly in total self-reliance. However, that is not the way homo sapiens was meant to live. Alone, we are easy prey. As a society, we are a huge success (so far).
Which now leads me into the next question, since the two questions are actually related. Are we living in violent times, violent enough to make carrying guns a sensible precaution? The reasons I say these two questions – are we individuals or part of a society, and how violent are our times – are related is discussed in Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature.
In this book he documents how through the ages there has been a downward trend in violence of all sorts – murders, wars, cruelty, etc. It has not been a smooth and even trend, but it is there.
And one of the reasons for this trend is, from the NY Times book review:
Pinker sees this decline as part of the “civilizing process,” a term he borrows from the sociologist Norbert Elias, who attributes it to the consolidation of the power of the state above feudal loyalties, and to the effect of the spread of commerce. (Consistent with this view, Pinker argues that at least part of the reason for the regional differences in American homicide rates is that people in the South are less likely to accept the state’s monopoly on force. Instead, a tradition of self-help justice and a “culture of honor” sanctions retaliation when one is insulted or mistreated. Statistics bear this out — the higher homicide rate in the South is due to quarrels that turn lethal, not to more killings during armed robberies — and experiments show that even today Southerners respond more strongly to insults than Northerners.)
Pinker also identifies five historical forces which have lead to the declines in violence. Although all are relevant, let me just mention that one that has the most direct relevance to the issue of gun violence and its reduction. And that force would be the rise of the modern nation state with its accompanying judiciary.
With the rise of a judicial system and the modern nation state, the legitimate use of force by individuals was instead shifted to the state. Instead of each individual having to use force to defend themselves and to solve problems, the judicial system and he state took over. This defuses the individual’s “temptation of exploitative attack, inhibit the impulse for revenge, and circumvent…self-serving biases”.
As for the other four forces, let me just say that they largely have to do with bringing us together as people by allowing us to see the others as like us in important ways. Societal changes in other words.
The reality of this can be readily seen in our own country and its crime statistics.
While living in the US, can be deadly dangerous at times, it is only so at times. For the most part life in the US does not consist of deadly dangers. I know that in my own life, during my 58 years of living, I have investigated child abuse in which I often went to the worst areas of Fort Worth and my wife and I have lived in some of those worst areas for a time. During all of this I never owned or carried a gun, and was never the victim of violence.
And for most Americans, this is true. Which is one of the reasons that violent acts take up a significant part of the news, especially those that result in multiple deaths. If they were common, they would not be nearly so well covered. Or consider this, according to FBI statistics, in a nation with over 310 million people:
- In 2011, an estimated 1,203,564 violent crimes occurred nationwide, a decrease of 3.8 percent from the 2010 estimate.
- When considering 5- and 10-year trends, the 2011 estimated violent crime total was 15.4 percent below the 2007 level and 15.5 percent below the 2002 level.
- There were an estimated 386.3 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011.
- Aggravated assaults accounted for the highest number of violent crimes reported to law enforcement at 62.4 percent. Robbery comprised 29.4 percent of violent crimes, forcible rape accounted for 6.9 percent, and murder accounted for 1.2 percent of estimated violent crimes in 2011.
- Information collected regarding type of weapon showed that firearms were used in 67.7 percent of the nation’s murders, 41.3 percent of robberies, and 21.2 percent of aggravated assaults.
While too many were the victims of violent crime, even more people were not. And, in that same report, you will find that the number of violent crimes is going down – from over 1.4 million in 2007 to a bit over 1.2 million in 2011.
And remember above where I said that it is societal institutions that have more to do with reducing violence than individuals armed with guns? While the crime rate is decreasing so too is the number of people who own guns (who have constituted less than half of the population for many decades). If guns were the reason for the drop in crime rate I would expect to see the number of people owning guns increasing and not decreasing.
In my view of the world we should be striving to continue this trend of making the world, and our country, a less violent place, a place where people do not feel the need to have guns for protection and instead can focus on those things that make life worth living and enjoying.
Mr. Correia seems to harken back to the day when friends and families were the source of protection and justice – a day of feuds such as the Hatfields and McCoys in American history. Rather like the man in Montana who, tiring of having stuff stolen from his garage, installed sensors outside his garage, a video monitoring system inside his garage, and then left the garage door open and waited.
This man could have had the motion detector turn the lights on, used the monitor system to take a picture, and called the police and given them the picture of the boy. And, if he was worried that the boy was going to break in, stand by the kitchen door and if the boy tries to turn the locked doorknob to open the door then warn him “I have a gun and will shoot”.
Instead he decides to forgo societal solutions for an individualist one. He goes out and shoots into the garage, blindly, arguing that it is his right to defend his home. As a result, a 17 year old foreign exchange student doing a stupid teenage prank is now dead. A dumb prank, but not one deserving the death penalty.
Now, I am not saying that this is what Mr. Correia wants – I am sure he does not. But his way, nonetheless, is a step back towards that world and will result in only more violence.
Is this the sort of society we want to create – one in which each of us has to totally look out for ourselves against everyone? And in which those who do face no consequences. At one time, perhaps, this sort of self-sufficiency made sense. Today though it does not, and our moving beyond this has led to less murders and a safer society than in times past. I do not wish to take any step that leads backwards, which is where I fear that Mr. Correia’s policies would. Maybe not totally, but at least part way down that path.
I see the American world as having dangerous moments, but largely able to be navigated by people in peaceful means. I would continue that trend seen in the FBI statistics and in Pinker’s book. And I believe that it can be done – that we can create a more peaceful society without giving up our rights to vote, to believe, to speak out, to associate. I believe that a more equal and just world can be created (not a perfect just and equal world, but one more so than today).
Instead of arming everyone and having people openly carrying heat , I believe that we would be better off focusing on preventive measures – mental health, anti-bullying programs, better protections for the poor and powerless, etc – and on establishing better controls on that most destructive of weapons, guns. Controls that apply equally to all states and cities and parts of the United States. These controls would include:
- The continued highly effective ban on automatic weapons.
- The banning of large ammunition clips.
- The requirement that all gun owners attend a class on gun laws and gun safety.
- All guns must be registered at time of purchase.
- All guns must be re-registered every year.
- If sold, that transaction must be reported immediately.
- Persons buying guns must pass a thorough background check.
- We need to create a more effective network that includes criminal history, mental health issues, and restraining orders that can be accessed by those selling guns.
- Ammunition logs should be kept of all ammo purchased.
While many in the NRA, and I am sure Mr. Correia himself, would loudly protest this, they would be wrong to do so. Note, I do not ban semi-automatic weapons, concealed or open carry, private ownership of guns. People can still buy them for self-defense or sport. Also note how many of these requirements are the same ones we have for driving and owning cars. Last I checked, car ownership is doing just fine even with these restrictions.
One last point to make. There have been many studies done on various aspects of gun ownership and gun violence,. Often they conflict – for example, gun ownership, two studies show less than half the population owns guns and that their numbers are decreasing, a third though shows that over 60% of Americans own guns.
The reason for this is a lack of data. Records of everything related to guns and gun violence, from gun ownership to how often they are used in self-defense to how many are killed accidentally and more are lacking.
Now, I believe, and the majority of experts, believe that gun controls are needed to reduce gun violence, and that the US has a huge problem in regards to guns. I am perfectly willing to put this to the test by providing money and support for universities and agencies to gather the needed information and do good comprehensive studies that would definitively prove one way of the other which side is correct (or whether either side is totally correct).
However, those opposed to any gun control and whose every answer to these vexing problems it freer access for more and more people to guns oppose any and all such research. It is the NRA and the gun culture people who have blocked agencies such as the CDC from gathering information related to guns, blocked money being given as grants to universities for such studies, blocked setting up agencies and organizations that could gather this information. Even for established background checks, they block attempts to provide the information needed to make them more effective.
I find it telling that the NRA and its political supporters are on the side of ignorance in this case, while those for gun control are all for finding out what is happening. In my experience, those who promote and desire ignorance – whether in regards to evolution, climate change, the Holocaust, etc – are invariably wrong.