Blood, Guns and Rhetoric

Posted: January 19, 2011 in History, Politics
Tags: , , ,

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while now, waiting to see what happens when the dust finally settles. The thing about dust is, that it never really settles. But I think enough time has gone by that I can put some of my thoughts on recent events and the inevitable aftermath on “paper” as it were. All the juicy stuff is below the fold.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is constantly improving. This is a good thing.™ She’s coming to Houston for rehab at Memorial Hermann Hospital. For those of you who don’t know, that’s pretty much right next door to Rice, and I walk by there just about every Monday to go to a seminar at the Baylor College of Medicine. TIRR Memorial Hermann is one of several different hospitals located in the Medical Center, and it really is one of the best places in the world to get care. She’s going to be in great hands, but that’s the least we can do for a politician who was the victim of an assassination attempt.

However, there are a lot more people who are also recovering from their wounds, and we should not forget about them. They’re not politicians, and consequently, the media will forget about them quickly. This is a bad thing.™ We should be reminded about all the innocent bystanders who were hurt during this attempted assassination. Further, we should not forget that, in fact, a federal judge WAS assassinated. He wasn’t the target, but he was killed as he selflessly tried to help another victim. And five other innocent bystanders (including a nine-year old girl) were killed as well. It was a horrific tragedy.

Several people have pointed out various statistics concerning gun violence in the United States. There is a lot of data on this, which should rightly be discussed (and I will, below). However, in the (understandable) rush to try to prevent another tragedy like this, many pundits blissfully fail to put this data into any kind of context in order to promote a particular agenda.

Sometimes this agenda is in direct conflict with our Constitution.

Rachel Maddow pointed out that ~30,000 people are killed by guns every year in this country. Now I likes me the Rachel, but sometimes, she says things that are true but fails to give the appropriate sense of scale. She’s a ridiculously smart woman (let’s face it, they don’t give Rhodes Scholarships to Oxford to just anyone), and she knows the power of numbers. But she also knows when to NOT compare things.

Let’s break out our calculators and look at some real data. According to the CDC (pdf link) just over 2.4 million people died in 2007, and just over 31,000 of them were due to firearms. Of those 31,000 deaths due to firearms, 55.6% were suicides (that means that just over 14,000 were homicides). That means, kids, that you’re more likely to be killed by a drunk driver than you are by psycho with a gun.

Now let’s see exactly how likely that is: If you die (i.e. you’re one of the 2.4M unlucky ones) you have a 0.5% chance of being shot by someone other than yourself. You have a 0.7% chance of intentionally shooting yourself dead. I want you to read that again. You’re MORE LIKELY to intentionally (NOT ACCIDENTALLY) kill yourself with a gun than you are to be shot and killed by someone else.

For the people in the back wondering about unintentional deaths due to firearms (these are known as accidents): in 2007, there were 613 of these. While accidents suck if they happen to you, it’s important to note that this works out to ~ 0.02% chance of dying from an accidental discharge of a firearm.

I’m a remarkably socially liberal individual. I want a safe society where people can walk down to the Safeway to meet with their Congresswoman without worrying about their daughter getting shot. Fortunately, we live in a society where we don’t have to worry about that. Statistically speaking, it doesn’t happen. However, anecdotally, it does, and when it does, it’s a very bad thing.™ The fact that it did happen, however, is not a reason to lose sight of the fact that it is black swan event.

Consequently, there is a resurgence among liberals (I’m looking at you Rachel, though you’re not the only one by any means) of anti-gun rhetoric.  In my opinion this is just plain wrong.  We could attempt to amend the Constitution to ban firearms. If we’re going to talk about that, then let’s actually talk about it, because then we can understand what we’re actually discussing. Imposing draconian restrictions that result in a de facto ban seems (to me) to run afoul of the Constitution. Your mileage may vary, but I hope we can discuss it like civilized people.

Now I could be pedantic, and point out that of those 2.4M deaths, just over 23,000 of them were due to alcohol induced causes. I could call to ban the booze. However, we’ve been there, and done that. We tried banning alcohol in this country. We even amended the constitution to do it. That proved to be a colossal failure.

I could point out that of those 2.4M deaths, over 615,000 of them were due to heart disease, and ~71,000 of them were due to diabetes. These are primarily LIFESTYLE diseases caused by individuals failure to eat right and exercise. I could call for mandatory exercise and banning all fast food. These two simple things would save more lives every year than eliminating every firearm from America. I’m not going to do that either.

Prohibition of any sort is wrong in a free society. Freedom necessarily means we have to have the freedom to fuck up. There are plenty of good ways to use booze, or food, or guns. There are plenty of bad ways to use them. Banning them outright isn’t the solution. Regulating them to the point of a de facto ban isn’t any better than banning them either. Arrest the idiots who fuck up and hurt other people. Send them away for the rest of their lives and let the rest of us get on with ours. We can have an argument about what to do with the idiots who harm themselves later–I don’t want to talk about health care right now.

  1. Adron says:

    One of the most rational analysis of the situation. If only more people could sit down and look at this like you have.

  2. Jess says:

    What Adron said! This post is an excellent analysis of recent events, you really put things into perspective.

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