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.

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.

Chicago-Gun-Control

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.

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.

Fact-Check: Did the NRA support gun control when the Black Panthers advocated that minorities arm themselves?

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Yes, but it’s complicated.

UCLA law professor, Adam Winkler, explains in a 2011 article for The Atlantic that the National Rifle Association, or the NRA, has been in existence since 1871 and was originally created to be an organization that would provide marksmanship programs. Through most of the NRA’s history it supported, or at least, condoned gun control initiatives including the 1968 Gun Control Act, which expanded the government’s ability to prohibit criminals and those with mental impairments from owning firearms. It wasn’t until 1977, when Harlon Carter took leadership that the organization began its more strict 2nd Amendment Rights agenda.

The reference to the Black Panther Party probably refers to the Mulford Act enacted in 1967 under Ronald Reagan during his period as Governor of California. This act effectively restricted citizens from carrying guns in public and created one of the countries most strict gun control regulations. This was a direct reaction to the Black Panther Movement’s rise in California and in the 1960s, the NRA would not yet have been a hard-line advocate for gun ownership rights. In the 1980s Reagan changed his opinion on the subject. He would begin to actively encourage 2nd amendment rights to keep citizens safe from the despotism that could be enacted by government, just what African Americans had been hoping to achieve in the 1960’s when he had instead endorsed the Mulford Act. The post 1977 NRA endorsed their first presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan, after both had switched to a more strict 2nd amendment rights defense.

So, to a certain extent the statement is true; The NRA was supportive of gun control in the 1960s during the Black Panther Movement. But by the late 1970s the organization’s goals had changed and both groups would advocate minimum restrictions on gun ownership.

By Katie Ledvina
Katie is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay with majors in Psychology, Public Administration, and Political Science and minors in Human Development and Global Studies. Following graduation Katie plans to begin work in administration or research for a public or nonprofit human service provider in the field of public health.

Resources/For more information:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adam-winkler/when-the-nra-promoted-gun_b_992043.html

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/09/the-secret-history-of-guns/308608/2/

http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/NRA-took-hard-right-after-leadership-coup-3741640.php

Fact-Check: More Deaths from Gun Violence than from War?

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True (but with one caveat).

This picture, put out by the Obama administration, has been floating around the internet for awhile now.  The fact, though, did not originate with the Obama administration but with Mark Sheilds, a PBS commentator back in 2012.  The statement has actually been fact-checked before by PolitiFact.com, a project of the Tampa Bay Times, which compiled a list of total deaths from all American Wars, as well as deaths by gunfire from 1968 to 2011. Their sources include the Congressional Research Service, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the FBI (you can read that article here).

The conclusion: the statement is true but with one caveat. Approximately 1.2 million deaths have occurred in all American wars, as opposed to 1.4 million gun deaths. The one caveat is that the data includes suicides and accidental gun deaths which some may not consider “gun violence.”  This is noteworthy because the original statement from Mark Sheilds used the term “gun fire” rather than “gun violence.”  That language was changed for this picture and it’s fair to say that it makes the statement less honest.

More Guns, Less Crime? Nope.

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Since the Sandy Hook shootings on December 14th there has been considerable discussion of gun violence in the United States.  As often happens with discussions of policy-making, though, very little of the conversation has been driven by the research on gun-related crime.  Gun-enthusiasts, in particular seem to gravitate toward anecdotal evidence of how legal gun ownership is the only way to prevent gun related crime.  In fact, just days after the shooting, Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, argued that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Of course, as has been addressed before, the data on the impact of concealed carry laws has been difficult to interpret and has allowed for differing conclusions.  However, the relationship between gun ownership in a community and gun-related crime in that community can be tested empirically.  This was what Dr. Anthony Hoskins set out to do in his 2011 article in Criminal Justice Studies where he found, quite simply, that when it comes to murder and aggravated assault, more guns equal more crime.

His paper used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (a telephone survey conducted every year) and was designed to explore the relationships between percentages of homes with a gun in particular counties with the rates of murders, robberies, and aggravated assaults in those counties, while controlling for a host of demographic variables (e.g., total population, unemployment rate).  Ultimately, he was evaluating three different theories on gun ownership and crime: (1) that gun ownership rates are unrelated to violent crime, (2) that gun ownership rates are associated with a decrease in violent crime (the view held by LaPierre and other gun enthusiasts), and (3) that gun ownership rates are associated with an increase in violent crime.

In the end, his evaluation found support for the third hypothesis, that the more guns in a community, the higher the violent crime rate.  Specifically, what he identified is that the “introduction of a gun into a violent incident raises the risk of injury or death” (p. 127).  In other words, yes, you can kill someone with a hammer or a baseball bat, but you cannot kill them from as far away or in rapid succession the way you can with a gun.  It should also be noted that these findings run completely contrary to what LaPierre and other gun advocates have been arguing.  They would argue that a higher percentage of gun owners in a community would be negatively correlated with all three forms of violent crime.  Instead, it was positively correlated with two types of violent crime (murder and aggravated assault) and uncorrelated with the third (burglary).

By Ryan C. Martin

Five Facts About Guns, Anger, and Violence

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Gun policy debate appears to be heating up across the country, prompting much discussion about the relationship between guns and violence.  Unfortunately, such discussions are rarely data-driven and typically reflect sound bites of the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and the “more guns, more crime” variety.

To counter that, below are five facts about guns, anger, and violence.

Seeing a gun increases aggression.  It may sound strange but researchers have known since a 1967 study by Berkowitz and LePage that the presence of a weapon increases aggression.   It is an example of a psychological phenomenon referred to as priming whereby, because we associate weapons and violence (due to prior experience), seeing a weapon activates our aggression script.  Priming occurs in a variety of contexts.   In fact, it is a well known concept in advertising because certain stimuli encourage certain behaviors (e.g., just as seeing a weapon activates our aggression script, seeing food activates our eating script).  The findings from the 1967 study have been replicated many times including a 1998 study by Anderson and colleagues that asked “does the gun pull the trigger” and found that “extant research suggests that it does” (p.313).

Holding a gun increases testosterone. The above findings on priming along with research suggesting that testosterone is associated with aggression in humans and animals prompted Klinesmith and colleagues (2005) to look at the relationship between guns, testosterone, and aggression.  Remarkably, what they found was that when participants (all males) interacted with a gun for 15 minutes, their testosterone levels increased and they were more likely to engage in an aggressive act than those participants who interacted with a children’s toy.  The authors state that, though their study is “far from definitive, its results suggest that guns may indeed increase aggressiveness partially via changes in the hormone testosterone” (p. 570).

Possessing a gun increases the chance of dying in a gun related assault.  An often cited reason for owning a gun is the need for protection.  Though this has received considerable attention in the literature on gun violence, the most recent and, arguably, the most thorough is a 2009 study by Branas and colleagues exploring the link “between being shot in an assault and possession of a gun at the time” (p. 2034).  The authors found that those in possession of a gun were more than 4 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not holding a gun.  In those instances when the victim had the opportunity to fight back, those in possession of a gun were more than 5 times more likely to be shot.  The authors conclude that “although successful defensive gun uses can and do occur, the findings of this study do not support the perception that such successes are likely” (p.  2037)

When people are angry, they are more likely to think a neutral object is a gun.  A 2010 project explored the impact of our emotional state on threat detection.  The researchers, Baumann and DeSteno, induced various emotions and asked participants to quickly identify whether or not an object was a gun.  Across several tests, participants who were angry were more likely to misidentify a neutral object as a gun, suggesting that in an emotionally heated situation (like a potentially violent encounter), people are likely to error in the perception of the situation.  Specifically, they are likely to assume the person they are in conflict with has a weapon when he or she does not.

The data on right-to-carry laws are inconclusive.  Those in favor of concealed carry laws often point to a series of books by John Lott, including the 1998 book titled More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws (the third edition was published in 2010).  His books argue that crime rates go down when states pass concealed carry laws.  Lott’s explanation is that criminals are deterred from violence for fear of being shot by a legally armed citizen.  Consequently, the more gun owners in a community, the less violent crime in that community.  Not surprisingly, his books have been criticized by gun control advocates for a variety of reasons including using a limited sample, ignoring important variables, and ignoring data from other samples with contrary findings.  Later editions of the book have sought to address these criticisms.  However, in a 2004 review of the literature on gun violence, which included Lott’s data (found here), Wellford and colleagues conclude that “with the current evidence it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates” (p. 150).  Likewise, they argue that “additional analysis along the lines of the current literature is unlikely to yield results that will persuasively demonstrate a causal link between right-to-carry laws and crime rates” (p. 151) and they call for different types of research on this question.

By Ryan C. Martin