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Friday, June 24, 2016

The best 7 minutes on gun control by the Virtual President

Bill Whittle, aka the Virtual President, created several years ago a speech where he pretends he is speaking to Congress. The speech concerns the rights of gun owners, and the 2nd Amendment in general. And boy is is viral. If you are on Facebook, you've probably seen it.

The beginning is hokey, sure. There are shots throughout of various members of Congress seemingly listening to this presidential speaker. The only thing missing was "My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims" line. But, it is kind of effective, at least for those already in the guns-are-cool camp.

The first appeal (one cannot really call it an argument) is that violence and insanity is built-in, innate, and there is nothing that can be done. Well, except focus our laws on those things...but if they're innate then what is to become of that? Oh, well. This tends to create a focus on mental illness. As a country we treat mental illness by throwing people in jail. Our two largest mental health facilities are the two gigantic prisons in Chicago and Los Angeles. It needs to be said that the mentally ill are not likely to commit violent crime with guns. Highly unlikely, in fact. To stigmatize them is to misdirect the discussion from the real causes to another, although it would be nice if mental illness were treated in this country with doctors and nurses, instead of with jails and guards.

"If you make things easier for predators you get more predators." So says our "Virtual President." He wants us to consider that if we take guns away from law-abiding folk then we just clear the aisle for the bad people. Better to have the path blocked by an AR-15 or some-such. And yet...

one might also claim that the more guns out there the more likely it is that people are going to die or be injured from those guns. David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, says he would “bet a lot of money” that the prevalence of guns increases homicide, all other things being equal. “I think the evidence is very consistent with the notion that more guns have made us less safe.” But it’s “almost impossible” to prove a causal relationship. “All the data are consistent with a causal relationship, but it’s very hard to say anything is causal,” he says. [Taken from]

While gun enthusiasts will point to statistics showing a net decrease in some crime statistics they will often leave out the number of suicides committed with guns. The response to this is sometimes to say that someone hell-bent on killing themselves will simply jump off an overpass or some cliff if a gun isn't readily available. Wrong. Psychologists will tell you that having a gun at hand increases the likelihood of its use when undergoing a depressive episode. Guns that are available also increase the likelihood of accidental death in childhood injuries. Gun availability actually increases the likelihood of you dying from a gun--guns do not afford one protection, but increase your chances of dying.

As a recent Politifact story shows there is a general correlation between states that have restrictive gun laws and a reduction in gun deaths. Stanford professor, John Donohue states,  "Guns are a bit like chest x-rays. If you really need them, they can be helpful to have around, and even save lives. If you don’t need them, and yet are constantly exposed to them, they represent a constant threat while conferring little or no benefit." The LA Times also has an article showing quite conclusively that owning a handgun puts you at risk...and yet people are buying them in order to feel safer. 
The problem with this Old-West style of argument, the one that says that a guy carrying a gun can stop a bad guy on a rampage is that it simply is not true. Worse than merely not being able to stop a bad guy is that the supposedly good guy will just make things worse. We do have to add one proviso this this statement, however. While it is true that if that good guy with a gun happens to be a currently well-trained individual, that is trained in all aspects of the firearm as well as trained in combat situations, then you might be right. He might be able to help. But if that good guy with a gun is anyone else, anyone other than say James Bond or Jason Bourne then things are not going to go so well. It has been said, by police trainers, that unless you are trained--every month, repeatedly--you better not try and intervene in a situation involving a mass shooting. Bullets will fly, more innocent by-standers will be hit--heck, it is likely the good guy with a gun will end up shooting himself as he desperately tries to get his/her gun out of the holster.

And now we come to the figures trotted out by our Virtual President about all those crimes prevented by guns. Up to 2 million per year, so says the NRA. So where do they get that figure? Well, some Florida criminologist apparently does phone surveys...I know, scientific, right? But there is a place that actually attempts to answer the question, and it is called the VPC, or Violence Policy Center. And their figure isn't 2 million. Not 1 million, either. Not even 100,000. Try 67,000. And as a NY Times column states, that isn't nothing, but it sure isn't 2 million either. They also point out that there are only about 230 justifiable homicides per year in the US. Compare that figure to the number of firearm homicides (8,275) and then think about the number of gun-related suicides per year (21,000+), number of deaths caused by accidental discharge (500+) and the number of nonfatal injuries caused by guns (84,000+)...kind of puts it all in perspective, yes? 

Think of it this way: Imagine America as if it never had a 2nd Amendment. Let's say no one is allowed a rifle or handgun, and where police don't even carry weapons except when called upon in special force teams. All those injuries, all those deaths by suicide and accidental discharge deaths...they go away. Even the deaths caused by police discharge of weapons, they go away. There is, of course, a nation with this precise regulation of firearms. It's called England. They had 0.23 firearm deaths per 100,000 people per year on average. But I could have used another nation, could have stuck a pin at random in a map and as long as it fell on what we call a developed nation and not a third world state then the figure would have been lower--by a lot--than the US.

The speech then takes a bit of a weird turn. Our "president" says that despite what his argument has stated thus far gun ownership isn't prevention of crime (maybe he is remembering that he was using made up figures) at all. Oh no. But to prevent tyranny. He brings out false history speaking of Communist China and the Soviet Union, of Pol Pot and the Cambodian genocide, of Nazi Germany. And all that would be fine except it never happened.

Hitler actually loosened gun regulations. [The often trotted out quote supposedly from 1935 to prove Hitler's gun regulations is false.] True, he ended up taking guns from minority groups, mostly Jews. His point was to make it easier to subjugate them. He allowed the German people to own guns and he made it easier for them (think of the modern day NRA and the GOP). Now, if you think owning some rifles and pistols would have protected the Jews from Hitler I have a bridge in Florida I'd love to sell you cheap. 

The story of the Soviets and Communist China is another false analogy. When the Bolsheviks and the Maoists came to power it was due to their having guns that allowed them to fight a civil war...let's be clear about this. They weren't so much fighting tyranny as replacing regimes with tyranny. [One could regard the Czars as tyranny...I get that, but Lenin wasn't some softy.]

As to Pol Pot there simply is zero evidence for this charge that weapons were taken away. Zero. This is made up "evidence" to pile on a point. People do that when they truly have nothing else to offer.

Our Virtual President is great with a video editor; not so great as an historian. Worse, he trots out only those statistics that bolster his point, and others he just makes up.