Debunking Pro-Gun Arguments: “I Just Feel Safer With a Gun”

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There are various versions of this one (e.g., “I need to be able to protect my family,” “It’s dangerous to be a single woman without a gun”) but they all boil down to this:

Having a gun makes you safer.

Ultimately, though, it’s the easiest claim to take down because, quite simply, having a gun doesn’t make you any safer.  In fact, in most ways, having a gun makes you less safe.

And here’s how we know.

As it turns out, there’s a big difference between feeling safe and being safe.  For instance, most people feel safer in a car than in a plane but, as I’m sure you all know, you’re way more likely to get hurt riding around in a car than flying in plane.

The same thing is true with owning and carrying around a gun.  You may feel safer, but you are actually way more likely to get hurt or killed with it than without it (and so is anyone who spends time with you).

Here are three reasons why:

  1. Having a gun makes you (and those, particularly children, around you) more likely to die as the result of a gun-related accident.  States with more guns see more accidental gun deaths.  This is particularly true when it comes to the safety of children, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics says, “the absence of guns from children’s homes and communities is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries in children and adolescents.”
  2. You’re also more likely to kill yourself intentionally if you have a gun.  This 2014 study meta-analysis (which means it’s a study that looks at many already published studies) found that access to guns was a substantial risk-factor for suicide.  Their conclusion was that “access to firearms is associated with risk for completed suicide.”
  3. In the very unlikely circumstance (less than 1%) that you find yourself in a situation where you are the victim of an attack and need to defend yourself, a gun offers no safety advantage.  According to a 2014 study, your chances of being injured in that attack are approximately 11% whether you have a gun or not.  That same study points to running away, hiding, or calling the police as the options least likely to result in injury.

This is the point when most gun-enthusiasts point to the need for gun training and safety measures.

Fine, lets talk about training and safety measures.

First, there’s almost no research on the topic, probably because the National Rifle Association (NRA) has successfully prevented the Center for Disease Control (CDC) from doing research related to guns.

The data we have provides some evidence to suggest that safety training will lead to a decrease in accidents, but that is it.  No evidence to support the idea training leads to a decrease in suicide (we wouldn’t expect it to) or an increased likelihood of defending oneself with a gun.

The really tragic part of this story, though, is the research we have says we could cut down on accidental gun death by simply implementing mandatory training requirements across the nationA few states, less than ten, have those requirements already.  Not surprisingly, though, the NRA is opposed to such mandates.

By Ryan C. Martin

Click here to see more pro-gun arguments get debunked.

Metal Music Makes You Angrier, Right?

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shinyhappymainhjaker.jpgMost of us are familiar with the claim that listening to extreme metal music makes listeners angrier and potentially more aggressive, but how much credibility does this claim actually have?  This idea is exactly what Leah Sharman and Dr. Genevieve Dingle aimed to investigate in their recent study on extreme metal music and anger processing.  Surprisingly, their research found evidence suggesting that extreme metal music may in fact have the exact opposite effect on listeners.

Their study, published in the Journal of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, defined extreme metal music as “characterized by chaotic, loud, heavy, and powerful sounds, with emotional vocals, often containing lyrical themes of anxiety, depression, social isolation and loneliness.”  Sharman and Dingle used 39 participants who reported listening to extreme metal music at least 50% of the time. They placed the participants in either the extreme metal music group or the control.  Both groups were given an interview to elicit anger and were then asked to either listen to extreme metal music of their choosing for 10 minutes, or to sit in silence for 10 minutes. During the experiment, participants were asked questions about how they felt at that exact moment and were also asked to rate 10 emotional words. Participants were asked to answer these questions before the anger induction interview, after the anger induction interview, and lastly after they were either promoted to listen to their own music for 10 minutes or to sit in silence for 10 minutes.  Simultaneously, participants were also hooked up to a monitor that tracked their heart rate during the study.

The results showed that contrary to the belief that extreme metal music elicits anger, those who listened to extreme metal music showed decreases in hostility and irritability that were equivalent to the decreases seen in control group. The results also showed that listening to this type of music increased relaxation (which initially decreased during the anger induction). This study provides evidence that listening to extreme metal music is as effective at relaxing participants as sitting in silence, refuting the notion that extreme metal music causes anger.

By Nermana Turajlic
Nermana is a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Human Development. She plans on graduating in December 2016 and attending graduate school the following year.

Anger Management Tip: Yoga

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YogaRelaxation has been long-known as a treatment approach for anger problems.  Muscle relaxation, meditation, deep-breathing, etc. are part of almost any standardized treatment approach.  One particular type of relaxation (though, it’s much more than that) is yoga, which includes all the important treatment components of relaxation.

For some specifics, take a look at this 2013 Huffpost article: Yoga For Anger: 3 Moves to Help You Calm Down

Debunking Pro-Gun Arguments: “But what about Chicago”

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Last time, I wrote about Switzerland, and how they really don’t have lax gun laws and shouldn’t be used as a pro-gun argument.  Today, in “Debunking Pro-Gun Arguments,” I’ll take on the opposite of that:

But what about [insert name of city, state, or country]. They have strict gun laws and some of the highest gun violence rates in the world.

Again, there are a lot of versions of this one, but lately gun enthusiasts seem to move directly to Chicago with things like this.


OK, so let’s get into why this and other arguments like it are nonsense.

First of all, yes, there are a lot of murders in Chicago, and many of them involve guns.

Second of all, yes, Chicago has stricter gun laws than much of the United States (though, they’ve been weakened as of late).

So, at face-value, such arguments are sorta, kinda true (or at least rooted in something that is sorta, kinda true).  Lots of murders despite strict gun-control.

But… Chicago does NOT have the highest murder rate in the country.  In fact, it’s not even in the top ten.  What the argument above skips is that the number of murders in an area is not the “murder rate” for that area (at least that’s not how experts calculate it).

The murder rate, or homicide rate, is the number of people murdered per 100,000 people in that region.

When you look at Chicago’s actual gun-homicide rate, things get much more clear.  In 2014, Chicago ranked 19th in the country with regard to gun-homicides,  In fact, the gun-homicide rate (15.1 murders per 100,000 people) was less than half of every city in the top five (St. Louis, Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Newark).

But wait, there’s more.

This only includes those cities with populations of 200,000 or more… so just 80 U.S. cities.  What happens when we look at the gun-homicide rate in those areas with smaller populations?  Well, it looks like this (red is high, blue is low, white means there isn’t enough data; if you want to look closer, click on the map and it will take you to an interactive version).

Gun homicide rate. nationalWhen we do that, Chicago’s gun-homicide rate is approximately the same as most of the south and southwest.  This isn’t just fun with statistics either.  Of course areas with more people are going to have more murders (just like they have more car accidents, more suicides, more cases of chicken pox, etc.).  That’s why we need to control for the size of the city.

Here’s the other thing you need to know about Chicago’s gun-homicide rate: The guns that are used to kill people in Chicago are usually bought legally somewhere else.

At the time I write this, there are no guns stores in Chicago (they were banned until just recently).  Chicago doesn’t have a wall around it, though, and every gun used in a homicide, suicide, etc. is bought outside of Chicago and brought there from some other city or state.  According to a recent report, 60% of guns used to commit a crime in Chicago were bought legally in states with more lax gun laws.  Indiana, for example, contributed 19% of the guns that were involved in crime (and while we’re at it, note that Indiana has seven counties with gun-homicide rates as high or higher than Chicago’s).  Mississippi, a full 600 miles from Chicago, contributed 6.7% of those guns (again, note per the map above that almost every county in Mississippi has a gun-homicide rate as high or higher than Chicago’s).

In other words, Chicago’s gun-homicide rate is, in part, the result of other states’ lax gun laws.

But this isn’t just about Chicago.  The point of the meme is to suggest that when you have gun control, only bad guys have guns and the murder rate goes up.

That’s not even sorta, kinda true.

Gun Ownership vs. Gun Deaths by StateThis chart shows a clear relationship between gun ownership and gun deaths.  And since I mentioned them earlier, I highlighted both Indiana and Mississippi so you can see where they are relative to Illinois.  Both have more guns and, expectedly, more gun deaths.

By Ryan C. Martin

Click here to see more pro-gun arguments get debunked.

Juvenile Offenders and Mental Health

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Previous research has demonstrated a clear link between mental illness and juvenile delinquency.  A recent study, however, looked more specifically at the role of trauma.  The 2015 study, conducted by Caldwell-Gunes and colleagues, focused on relationships between trauma and mental health issues such as anger/irritability, somatization, substance abuse, anxiety, and depression. The participants included 381 juvenile offenders who completed a series of group-administered psychological tests.

Results from the study showed a significant positive relationship between trauma and mental health issues among the juvenile offenders. Those who had witnessed high levels of violence also had more aggressive coping styles and were more likely to engage in violent behavior. There was a significant relationship between trauma and feelings of anger, irritability, and frustration. However, the strongest relationship in the study was with trauma and depression. This study emphasizes the importance of considering the role of trauma and mental illness in the prevention and treatment of anger and violence in juvenile offenders.

By Taylor Stelter
Taylor is a senior Psychology major at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Guns on Campus: A Terrible Idea (and what we can do about it)

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Here in Wisconsin, two legislators have proposed a bill that would “allow students and faculty to carry concealed guns inside public university and college buildings.”

To clarify, though, there’s already a law that allows that.  Wisconsin has a “carrying concealed weapon law” that has been on the books for almost three years.  However, that law allows business or property owners to limit or prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons on its premises.  Most, maybe all, public universities in Wisconsin have prohibited weapons on their campus.

In other words, this law doesn’t actually allow people to carry concealed guns so much as it bans public universities from being able to do what everyone else gets to do, prohibit weapons on their property.

Almost everyone reading this knows this is a terrible idea so I’m going to skip that for now and focus on what we should do about it (see my talking points below for some ammunition- pun intended).

  1. Write the two legislators, Jesse Kremer and Devin LeMahieu, and tell them this is a terrible idea.
  2. Write your own legislators (you can find them here) to tell them this is a terrible idea.
  3. Write these three legislators, Chris Taylor, Terese Berceau, and Melissa Sargent, to thank them for countering with a bill banning weapons on Wisconsin campuses.
  4. Write letters to the editor, explaining the multitude of reasons why this is a bad idea.
  5. If you work on a college campus in Wisconsin, encourage your various governance bodies to pass resolutions opposing this terrible idea.

Ok, so here are some talking points:

  1. Guns do not make people safer in self-defense situations.  This is not an opinion.  It’s a fact (and here’s the recent study that proves it).
  2. The more guns in an area, the higher the rate of gun violence. Again, not an opinion (and here is the data that proves it).
  3. Gun access increases the suicide rate.  This point is often lost in the gun debate Access-to-guns-and-risk-of-suicide-chartbut it’s really important.  Access to guns is a significant predictor of suicide (and if they say, those people who kill themselves with a gun will just kill themselves some other way if they don’t have a gun, point to the chart on the right and say, “No, they won’t, and this is not an opinion, it’s a fact”).
  4. College campuses are supposed to be safe environments where people challenge themselves and each other.  We share controversial ideas, and engage in the stressful, emotional process that is learning.  For all the ways that learning is wonderful and colleges are extraordinarily special places, there’s also the fact that sometimes what goes on here hurts.  Sometimes people fail.  Sometimes we offend each other.  Sometimes we get angry at each other.  And we need to be able to feel those things without the threat of danger.  Adding a gun to that mix of emotions and stress is a terrible mistake.

Debunking Pro-Gun Arguments: “But what about Switzerland”

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Gun enthusiasts are unified around a lot of things (like their odd hatred of people who confuse clip and magazine).  One of those things is making terrible arguments for how guns don’t play a role in societal gun violence.  With that in mind, I’m starting a new feature where I debunk these pro-gun arguments and myths… one at a time.

Today, I take on a recent favorite of the pro-gun community.  It looks like this:

But what about [insert name of city, state, or country]. They have lax gun laws and some of the lowest gun violence rates in the world.

Screenshot 2015-09-11 at 11.28.09 AM

There are a couple of iterations of this argument.  Lately, the focus has been on Switzerland and looks a little something like the picture on the left.

It sure sounds convincing.  Can’t we all agree that arming young cyclists will make us safer?

How to respond?  Well, if you are responding specifically to the Switzerland version of this, just show them this Salon article that discusses how “Switzerland’s high rate of gun ownership is tied to the fact that it does not have a standing army so virtually every male citizen is conscripted into the militia where they receive comprehensive weapons training… and keep their government issued weapons (without ammunition) at home.”

Nine times out of ten, the argument is dishonest from the start.  The city, state, or country doesn’t really have such lax laws or doesn’t really have such a low gun violence Gun Deaths By Staterate.  However, on the off chance they are correct about the law/gun violence rate and they just happened to have found an anomaly, you can show them this chart that illustrates how states with more guns have more gun deaths.

If they say, “well I wasn’t talking about states. I was talking about countries,”  you can just show them this statement from the Harvard Injury Control Research Center that finds that ” across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded.”

And that will, of course, be the end of the discussion because EVERYONE listens to research and has a healthy respect for logic.

By Ryan C. Martin

PS. I tried to find some gun safety literature showing that you shouldn’t ride a bike with a loaded gun.  Regrettably, all I found was this YouTube video on the best gun for cycling. It seems we have a long way to go….

Click here to see more pro-gun arguments get debunked.

It’s Not Enough

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A few years ago, I taught a class with two police officers standing outside the door to the classroom.  I had received a series of strange and disturbing emails from a student who we discovered had a history of gun-related legal trouble.  Although they were not directly threatening, the emails referenced his gun collection multiple times, and the University and I thought it was best to error on the side of caution.

I didn’t really think the student would show.  If I had really believed that, I would have cancelled class.  I feel an obligation to protect my students under normal circumstances so I would never put them in danger if I had thought there was a high likelihood of his coming for me.  That said, few people ever thinks it will happen to them until it does.

Class that day was nauseating and probably pointless.  The students obviously noticed the two officers as they walked into class and were obviously uncomfortable with whatever was going on.  Every noise that came from the direction of the door was nerve-wracking.  A student came in late that day so the door opened somewhat abruptly a few minutes into class. Several of us startled.  Teaching is usually the best part of my day.  It’s a time when I can tune out everything I have going on and focus only on the students in front of me.  That day, though, was surreal, and sad, and scary, and painful.

When class was over, I went back to my office (still aware of the fact that I wasn’t really any safer now that class was over) and all I could think about was what a ridiculous world we had created.  How is it that we live in a world where students who want to learn and teachers who want to teach have to do so behind armed guards?  How have we let this happen?  How have we done nothing to fix it?

That night, I explained the situation to my wife.  I knew it would scare her even more than it scared me.  She listened while my son sat at the table, eating his dinner.  At just over a year, he was young enough that we could talk about such things around him without his noticing and he got to remain blissfully ignorant of the very real dangers that surround us.  When I explained what was being done to keep everyone safe, she simply said, “It’s not enough.”

I remember how her voice was shaking.  I remember how scared she was.  I remember how she kept glancing at our son as we talked about it.  I remember thinking how insane it all was.  I’m not a police officer, or a fire-fighter, or a soldier, or anyone else whose job comes with inherent risks and who has been trained to deal with those risks.  I’m a teacher.

She was right, of course.  It wasn’t enough.

Don’t get me wrong, the University did everything they could and I am thankful for the police officers who stood outside my classroom and the administrators who supported me and my students.  She’s right, though, that it’s not enough.  We have created a country where people are shot daily- where we live in constant threat of harm- where there have been 45 school shootings in the last nine months.  How is it that the response from America is a collective “meh” and “that’s the cost of freedom”?  How is it that we continue to debate whether or not we’re doing something wrong?  The evidence is right in front of us in the form of hundreds of dead and injured men, women, and children, and millions of people who go to work or school scared every day.  What is the matter with us?  What the hell are we doing?

The sad reality, though, is that I’ve lost hope that it will ever be different.  Even the most simple and meaningless suggestions for curbing gun violence are met with vitriol.  Every legislator who gives a speech on it is hailed as un-American before the speech is even finished, and the social web is littered with nonsense before the victims are even named.  There will probably be another shooting today or tomorrow and the cycle will repeat, and at some point in my life, I’ll probably have to teach another class with police protection.

Anger Management Tip: Figure out why

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Thinking_ManOne of the first things you should do when you’re angry is sort out why you are feeling that way.  Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it isn’t.  Sometimes, it’s complicated. Sometimes it’s reasonable to get angry but you’re feeling much angrier than most people would in that circumstance.

We all have different hot-button issues.  For some, it’s being slowed down.  For others, it’s not being recognized for their work.  Trying to figure out why you’re feeling a certain way and what it says about you can go a really long way to helping you deal with your anger.

Anger Management Tip: Think About the Desired Outcome… and How to Get There

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We usually get mad because there’s a problem.  We want things to be different than they are and we get angry when we decide that someone is to blame for that difference.

A good way to manage anger then is to think about how we want things to be and what we can do, if anything, to make things how we want.  Are you angry about the way you’re being treated by a friend or family member?  Is there anything you can do to get them to treat you differently?  Are you angry about how long it takes your kids to get out the door to school each morning?  Are there ways you can work with them to solve that problem?

Note that the way to the desired outcome is rarely to yell, scream, or swear at people.  There’s nothing wrong with a good rant every now and then, but usually the solution to an angering problem is some sort of level-headed focus on the solution.