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Cheers - AE

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

More bullshit reporting about guns.

What the fuck is it with The Telegraph these days? Does nobody read through articles for consistency, let alone do some fucking research to see if the line taken actually stands up to scrutiny. Can they in actual fact fucking count?

Read this carefully:
Three children have died in the US after being shot at home, apparently by siblings who stumbled upon loaded weapons, over the past few days.
Three have died - remember that, because it'll be important shortly.
In the latest incident on Friday evening, a nine-year-old boy was shot in the head while at home near Beaumont, Texas.
Three children were at home alone while their father was at work when the shooting occurred. The father is a single parent and raising the children - whose ages have not been disclsoed by police - with the help of relatives. A neighbour called police after a child came running to her describing the incident.
Okay, one.
Elsewhere in the US, two other young children have been shot by their siblings in the space of 48 hours.
In Las Vegas, a two-year-old girl was in a critical condition after being shot by her four-year-old brother at their home, police said.
In South Carolina, a four-year-old boy was shot in the stomach by his three-year-old brother after the younger boy found a gun. The injured boy was expected to make a full recovery, police said.
That's er... still one. "Critical condition" is not dead, and neither is "injured and expected to recover". Yet the sloppiness that passes for journalism at The Telegraph these days permits the headline to scream "THREE DEAD". They don't even say for certain that the poor kid who was shot in the head actually died - not likely but it's not unheard of for people to survive being shot in the head.

And it's not just the writer's confusion over dead and injured and numbers.
In the US, the right to bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the Constitution. The pro gun lobby wields enormous power and more than 200 million firearms, including military grade machine guns, are in private hands.
I'm pretty sure military grade machine guns in private hands are as rare as rocking horse shit. There's bound to be some but with regulation on such weapons going back 75 years to the 1934 National Firearms Act, and since that says that machine guns - and we're talking selective fire or fully auto weapons here, not semi-auto guns that just look the same - owning one is illegal for civilians without special permission from the Treasury Department. That makes it arguably more a privilege than a right these days (despite the Second Amendment) and I suspect the relatively small number of owners, like the minority of British and Australian people who are also privileged among their respective citizens by being gun owners, take that more seriously and therefore behave responsibly. Gun owners generally do not want to give the state an excuse to turn them into former gun owners, and the harder having a given gun is the more that applies. In fact legally owned "military grade machine guns", as the writer puts it, have apparently been used in only two murders since 1934, and one of those murderers was actually a policeman. In short, the whole "military grade machine guns" is misleading and meaningless bullshit. There's violence involving machine guns, sure, but we're now moving into the realms of illegally held weapons, and criminals are noteworthy for not obeying the law whatever it says.

The estimate of 200 million guns is wrong as well*. It was about 223 million back in 1995 (PDF) and it doesn't seem likely that it would have gone down.

Then we have:
Critics of the current gun laws link high levels of gun crime and gun-related injury with high levels of gun ownership.
This is factually correct but where's the opposing point of view for balance? Er, nowhere. So I'll provide it by going back to what I wrote on this topic in March.
We should count only homicides and maybe accidental deaths because a fair number of gun deaths are suicides, and it’s a reasonable assumption that in the absence of guns they’ll just stick their heads in the oven or something and the number of deaths won’t change. Normally the rate of gun violence in the USA is brought up at this point, and it is true that America has both a very high level of gun ownership and a much higher rate of gun deaths than most western nations. However, when looked at in detail the correlation between gun ownership and violence breaks down. Firstly, if 2001 is a typical year, and I don’t know of any reason why it wouldn’t be, well over half are suicides. The level of accidental deaths is about 2.5% of the total, which is pretty bad but arguably could be improved with better training for gun owners. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s very very low compared to car crash deaths, almost all of which are going to be unintentional. That’s despite there being more guns (PDF) in the US than cars, bikes, trucks and buses put together. Secondly, while the famous Second Amendment and various federal gun laws apply in all states, both local gun laws and rates of gun violence vary from one state to the next. Washington, DC has a shocking homicide rate (nearly 6 times the national average and about 400 times that of the UK), often involving the use of guns, and yet until recently had extremely strict gun control laws that were comparable with those in the UK. In fact handguns were effectively banned there two decades before the UK, although it’s only fair to point out that the UK has never had a rate of gun ownership comparable to that in the US. Conversely some states with very relaxed gun laws have a far lower rate of gun crime. Vermont has virtually no gun control law at all and the total homicide rate is less than half the US national average and gun homicides make up only a fifth of those – it has the second lowest rate of gun homicides the US. How is it possible to argue that tough gun laws make us all safer and very loose control is dangerous when Washington is a relative bloodbath and Vermont isn’t? Or to put it another way, how is it possible when the murder rate is roughly the same in Vermont as Scotland? This is used by some pro-gun people to argue that more gun ownership actually increases public safety and fewer guns just allows criminals with illegal guns a free rein to terrorise the innocent. Personally I think there may be something in that but it’s a bit of a stretch since the relationship across all states doesn’t seem to be linear, and in any event correlation no more proves causation than do correlations between high gun ownership and high gun crime. But a poor correlation should certainly dent any confidence in causation, and Vermont, Scotland and Washington show that the correlation between liberal gun law and gun crime just doesn’t exist. There are other places in the world where there the expected trend doesn’t happen. Many nations with tougher gun laws than the US have significantly higher murder rates, while the relatively Swiss are armed to the teeth since they retain National Service in the form of a civil defence duty for all adult males, and it’s the accepted norm for them to take their assault rifles home with them. And I’m not talking about “assault rifles” as usually used by the anti-gun lobby, but a proper military weapon capable of selective fire (automatic weapons were banned in the US in the 30s so any talk of “assault rifles” legally in private hands is largely bollocks). The gun murder rate in Switzerland is higher than that of the UK or Australia but far lower than that of the US overall, and that ignores the fact that some particularly violent states and cities are skewing the trend in the US. And leaving aside political violence the situation is similar in Israel – loads of armed citizens not killing each other very much. Looking to the past, the UK has not had gun laws for as long as many people suppose and had far less gun crime than it does now. Pre gun control Britain was, believe it or not, a safer place to be. Well, not safer as such, but despite guns being legally in private hands you were very unlikely to be shot before the cholera or something got you.
By the way, the whole thing deals with a number of issues and arguments surrounding guns and gun control so it's not a quick read, but I'd hope worth it if you've got half an hour to spare.

Lastly, and missing altogether is a very salient little stat regarding children and guns in the US - that vastly more drown in swimming pools than die from being shot. In fact swimming pools are said to be 100 times more dangerous, and yet the demand in the US to ban swimming pools for the sake of the chiiiildren, or from condescending Europeans clicking their tongues at the American gun culture, is virtually non-existent.

I don't wish to diminish the tragedy of the death in Texas or the deaths sorry, injuries, suffered by the other two children, or the approximately 175+ children likely to die in America each year from gun shot wounds. Nor do I think there isn't something to be said for better gun control to help prevent tragedies, though I use the term "gun control" to refer to individual responsibility rather than more laws inflicted on gun owners. For example, guns locked in a gun safe by the owner are pretty much under his control. Leaving loaded guns lying around where toddlers can find them is not under control. Should gun owners be made to keep them in safes all the time? Well, we are here in Oz and also in the UK, but in the US I believe that's not the case. I think it depends on the circumstances. I'd always want a safe because Australian law doesn't let me just wander around with the things all day long, and frankly they're not cheap and I'd always want them safely under lock and key. In most of America you can have a gun for defence (not an acceptable reason in Australia or the UK even for those guns that are allowed by law) and so if that's why you bought one then locking it up kind of defeats the object of having it. Yet not everyone will want or be able to find room for a gun safe, and that leaves only two options - take it with you or leave it at home and cross your fingers. Part of the debate in the US revolves around permits to carry concealed weapons, and needless to say the anti gun lobby are up in -ahem- arms about the idea. But if we accept that a gun left unattended and not secured within a house is not a gun that's being controlled then isn't it better and safer to be somewhere on the owner's person? It'd be interesting to look into whether concealed carry permits have increased or decreased in recent years, and if so whether there's been any effect on tragic accidents involving children. The numbers might not be enough but one thing is a given: children can't misuse and accidentally fire a gun which isn't in the home at the time. That's what I call gun control, keeping guns safe and kids and guns apart.

UPDATE: By coincidence Counting Cats has a link to a bit about the self defence part. I'll have to have a look later.

*Yeah, I know he said "more than 200 million" but he could have done some research and said more than 220 million, couldn't he?
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