Firearms discussion (Part Four): Reason or emotion, Mr. President?
[Editor’s note: The following are Part Four and Part Five in a five-part series on the topic of firearms. The previous three parts appeared in this space and online recently.]
As I wrote this article, my most recent among several on firearms policy, I anticipated the president addressing the nation on the matter at any moment. What I say here preceded his address, so the essay is neither a commendation nor a condemnation of his remarks.
My plea has little to do with the substance of the discussion, and everything to do with its method. Will we address this policy issue via reason and pertinent data, or will we do so by manipulative emotional appeals?
Most of us concede that firearms policy is an emotional matter to people on both sides; but our leaders should assist us in stepping away from those emotions a little, to consider thoughtful reasoning.
Here are just a few areas I believe are pertinent to a civil, reasonable discussion of firearms policy — areas where, I hope, Mr. Biden will provide us with reliable data:
First, what other tools are used to commit assaults or homicides in the United States, and in what numbers, compared to firearms?
Suppose that, hypothetically, firearms were used 40 times annually to commit violent crime, frying pans were used 400 times, baseball bats 200 times, kitchen knives 100 times, etc. Under such circumstances, we might recognize that firearms play a comparatively small (though media-hyped) role in violent crime.
If, on the other hand, firearms were used five times more in violent crimes than all other weapons put together, that would frame the discussion quite differently.
Second, how many crimes are committed, and how many are prevented, with firearms? Again, depending on the data and the ratio, this information would be pertinent.
Suppose firearms are used 100 times more to commit crime than to prevent it; or then suppose the opposite were true, that firearms are used 100 times more often to prevent than commit crime.
Third, when firearms are employed in a violent manner, what was their origin? How many were legally purchased from a gun store? How many were stolen? How many were acquired at gun shows? And again, what are the ratios between these categories?
We will never prevent all theft. My few firearms are in a locked locker mounted into a wall of my home. It would not be easy to steal my firearms, but it would be possible. Any plumber or electrician could break in when we were away, use a reciprocating saw to cut around the locker, and take an entire chunk of my wall (with locker attached) out of the house.
Fourth, compared to other forms of death (besides natural causes), how significant is the matter of violent deaths anyway? I understand that the annual figure (excluding suicide) is around 3,000 annually. Automobile accidents account for 43,000. What other causes of non-natural death are there, and how do they compare to firearms-related deaths?
Fifth, in countries that have restricted firearms ownership more severely than the United States, which crimes decreased and which increased (in Britain, homicides decreased and burglaries while the owners were home increased), and by what amount?
Answers to these, and perhaps several other, questions would be very helpful in discerning what might constitute reasonable public policy.
The answers may or may not be currently available, but does not Mr. Biden, as presiding officer in the Senate, have access to Dr. James Billington’s staff at the Library of Congress? Could he not send such questions to Dr. Billington and request that his staff undertake the pertinent studies where necessary?
The president (or Mr. Biden), surrounded by a group of school children at a signing ceremony, is not helpful. Emotional appeals that circumvent reasoning or pertinent data will merely continue to polarize our nation, creating resentment among those who feel manipulated.
According to the Headstrong Foundation, 3,509 children under the age of 14 will be diagnosed with (life-threatening) leukemia this year — whereas, in most calendar years, few (if any) children are threatened with mass firearm violence. The Sandy Hook incident was a rarity.
Statistically, even in the Sandy Hook year, a child’s life is 175 times more likely to be threatened by leukemia than by a firearm. Is the president preparing executive orders to address this threat? Has Mr. Biden formed a committee to address this matter with as much gravitas and emotional appeal?
Our first daughter died of leukemia in 1986, so I understand something of the parental grief the parents in Sandy Hook are experiencing; burying a child is unpleasant, regardless of what was the killer.
I resist attaching a digital photograph of our daughter to this essay; I neither wish to dishonor her memory nor the process of civil debate by making this an emotional matter. But I let the figures speak for themselves: 3,500 children will get leukemia this year, and many will die from it.
I am open to considering firearms recommendations from Mr. Biden or the president, provided that those recommendations are grounded in something other than emotion.
If they present no pertinent data, or if they employ data selectively, I will remain unmoved in my belief that the Second Amendment serves us well. As a citizen, I will listen to pertinent data and reasoning. As a yet-grieving parent, I already have plenty of emotion, thank you.
Firearms Discussion (Part Five): Reasonable or sensible firearms policies?
President Obama routinely promotes his firearms policies with the adjectives “reasonable” or “sensible,” and he probably believes quite sincerely that his proposals are just that.
Implicit in such adjectives, however, is that those who disagree with him (including, I suppose, the framers of the National Firearms Act of 1934 or the Gun Control Act of 1968) are un-reasonable or non-sensible. Some of the president’s proposed policies, however, are not evidently “reasonable” or “sensible.”
Consider, for instance, the proposals to limit firearms magazines to 10 rounds. Here, there are at least three considerations that weaken the president’s claim that his proposals are “reasonable.”
First, why the magic number 10? Who was it that determined that nine rounds are too few, 11 are too many, and 10 are just right? Would 11 or 12 rounds be unreasonable? Was the number not chosen for the sake of mere political expediency?
Surely the president knew that if he had chosen “zero” as the magic number, the legislative prospects would have also been zero. But why is a 10-round magazine “reasonable,” whereas a 12-, 15-, or 20-round magazine unreasonable?
Second, does the president not know that even a moderately skilled shooter can change magazines so quickly that it makes little practical difference?
Magazines for the AR-15 series (one of the specific weapons targeted by the Obama administration) can be exchanged extremely quickly; in one particular YouTube video, the entire video takes 12 seconds, and there are several “blank” seconds before and after the exchange, as an individual fires seven rounds from three different magazines in about seven seconds.
Any man standing in front of this shooter would neither care nor notice whether he was shot an equal number of times in seven seconds from one “unreasonable” magazine or from three “reasonable” ones.
Further, these magazines can easily be attached to one another in tandem; many shooters pair them this way. When one is emptied, it is removed and the other, tandem magazine, is quickly inserted, in less than a second or two. In a mass shooting, the brief time taken to change magazines is of no practical consequence; the action can be done without removing the firearm from the shoulder, and without losing one’s sight-picture.
It is not “reasonable” or “sensible” to think that two 10-round magazines are less lethal than a single 20-round magazine.
Third, what is considered “reasonable” is situation-specific. If a sheep farmer in western Pennsylvania is protecting his flock from feral dogs, wolves, or coyotes, it is much more convenient to have a single, large-capacity magazine in his rifle than to carry several additional magazines that he must keep with him at all times. Why would it not be “sensible” or “reasonable” for him to use a large-capacity magazine to drive off or kill such predators? If there were a dozen wolves, would it be “sensible” to shoot 10 of them, and let the other two kill his sheep?
Similarly, if the sheep farmer’s brother were defending his family against looters, would it be “unreasonable” to have a large-capacity magazine inserted in his weapon?
Would it be “sensible” to defend his home and family against the first 10 looters (assuming unreasonably perfect accuracy with each round) and to permit the next 20 looters to overrun the place? Why is it un-reasonable to defend one’s home against all of the looters? Suppose it were only three looters? Would 10 rounds be sufficient?
Firearm wounds are not often or immediately fatal; many soldiers have survived multiple gunshot wounds. The survivors of the Virginia Tech tragedy averaged over two-and-a-half wounds each. Presumably, the non-survivors were wounded even more frequently.
If we assume even a ballpark estimate that it takes three or more hits (and we cannot “reasonably” assume that shooters never miss) to stop an assailant, is it “reasonable” to permit people to defend themselves effectively from only two or three assailants? And is it “unreasonable” to permit them to defend themselves against three or more?
A “reasonable” or “sensible” person may assume two realities — of which television, movies, and possibly the president of the United States are completely unaware: that shooters do not hit their intended targets 100 percent of the time, and that it normally takes multiple gunshot wounds to stop or even slow down an assailant (whether animal or human).
On the basis of these two realities, the same “reasonable” individual would realize that, effectively, a 10-round magazine permits the individual to defend himself against, at most, two assailants, whether they be feral dogs, wolves, coyotes, or looters. Why is it “reasonable” to defend oneself against two such assailants, and “unreasonable” to defend oneself against more than two?
[Dr. T. David Gordon is a professor of religion at Grove City (Penn.) College and a contributing scholar with The Center for Vision & Values (www.VisionAndValues.org).] ©2013 by The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College