Sunday, October 4, 2015

Gun violence in America

Among thousands of recent discussions on gun violence in America, this one took place on Facebook, October 3rd and 4th

"Earlier tonight on MSNBC, a student who was on the Umpqua Community College campus today during the shooting was interviewed and indicated he and several other students in this class were concealed carrying handguns and did not intervene because they were worried SWAT would mistake them for active shooters and kill them. The student's name is John Parker, Jr. He also confirmed that student carry on Umpqua's campus is permitted. His own professor asked his class who was carrying today and law enforcement checked his concealed handgun permit. 'I know there's many people on campus who concealed carry,' Parker says."

Brown: Consider that Parker was not in direct contact with the mentally-deranged killer. If he was, then it's still up to him whether to defend or not to defend himself and others. Once the police arrive, yes, it's best to not intervene for reasons of mistaken identity.

Brown: Law-abiding citizens who are properly trained in the use of firearms and who carry a concealed weapon can choose to defend themselves and others. It is their means for contingent crucial protection until the police arrive.

I know there is a cry for more gun controls laws now, but more gun control laws that affect only law-abiding citizens will not reduce crimes.

I have often stated that I wish we lived in a rational and peaceful world, one without violence, but we don’t. The fact that there are an estimated 270 - 300 million firearms already in circulation make it impossible for gun control laws to have any effect on reducing violent crimes.

What we can do perhaps instead of legislating more gun control laws is focus upon and address the causes of violent crimes: mental illness (psychosis, schizophrenia, depression, paranoia...), prejudice, racism, economic injustice, poverty, unemployment, gang activity, drug trafficking, substance abuse, alcoholism, demographics...

Until that happens, according to Gary Kleck, “The best policy goal to pursue may be to shift the distribution of gun possession as far as possible in the direction of likely aggressors being disarmed, with as few prospective victims as possible being disarmed. To disarm non-criminals [through more gun control laws] in the hope that this might indirectly help reduce access to guns among criminals is a very high-stakes gamble, and the risks will not be reduced by pretending that crime victims rarely use guns for self-defense” (Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control).

Jim Mshar: 1. Data contradicts your argument, and 2. Common sense contradicts your argument. Look at Australia as an example.

Brown: Restate what you believe my argument is; provide the "common sense" that you believe contradicts that argument.

J. Mshar: Simple - more guns = more death. Common sense.

Anthony Phillips: More guns equals more death. That's a fallacy if I ever heard one.

Brown: More mental illness, prejudice, racism, economic injustice, poverty, unemployment, gang activity, drug trafficking... equals more deaths. Nevertheless, the question remains: how can we eliminate millions of illegal firearms already in circulation?

You know how involved I am in protecting teacher's pensions (constitutional rights and benefits) these past six years. You also know I worked as a reserve police officer many years ago while I was teaching.

I have stated this on my blog three years ago: I view the 2nd amendment's declaration that “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” as a guaranteed right of the State as well as an assured right of an individual.

Moreover, although I agree with “gun control legislation [that mandates] prohibitions on concealed weapons and possession of firearms by felons and the mentally-deranged, and laws imposing conditions and qualifications on a [specific] commercial sale of arms…” (District of Columbia v. Heller – Case Brief Summary), gun control legislation to decrease gun availability will not deter the potentially-deranged killer from obtaining weapons. Why? It is impossible to predict when the next mentally-ill person with a weapon will commit the next carnage.

Richard Sasso: Let say this: I think you say this in good faith. I respect you tremendously.

I will also add this to provide some insight into myself: I do not - simply cannot - view any firearm as morally neutral. They are not like a knife or a car. Those can be used to hurt, but they are not designed to do so. Apart from target shooting and hunting, the purpose of guns (especially a hand gun) is to hurt or kill (or threaten to kill) other people. This is grave power, one I only put into the hands of legitimately constituted power holders like police or military. 

For a private citizen to have the power to easily kill other people - often multiple people at a distance with little risk to themselves, something a gun uniquely gives its owner - seems unwise. I am not unusual in thinking this. No other industrialized democracy has a gun for every man woman and child. And bloody painful confirmation is delivered every few weeks when there is another mass shooting. And my amygdala goes into overdrive. In part because I really do believe that the gun lobby simply buys or coerced legislators, even on ancillary issues like public health research on gun violence.

Is there no way to tell? Maybe not definitively, and yes there is a black market criminals tap to get guns. But I refuse to believe an individual as mentally deficient and alienated as Adam Lanza would have been able to what he did without access to his mother's mini arsenal. Do you think he could have driven into an inner city neighborhood and negotiated his way to so much illegal firepower?

Brown: Unfortunately, I believe the answer to your questions is yes. We both know that though the possibility is slim, even someone who legally obtained a weapon and was not considered "mentally deficit" at the time of purchase can commit a heinous crime later.

R. Sasso: My father owned a gun. One of single most harrowing experiences of my life was getting it away from him as he descended into dementia. I still shudder to think what he might have done with had my brother and I NOT taken it away. But according to many our society, we "stripped him of his rights." If so, I plead guilty with pride.

Brown: You did what was right, Richard. I am sure my children will rightfully take my firearms away before I become mentally incompetent.

J. Mshar:  I'm not "pro-gun" or "anti-gun," but the numbers are staggering... You've got to read the entire article for context: Philip Alpers, an adjunct associate professor at the Sydney School of Public Health and a specialist in firearm injury prevention, has documented that after the laws were changed, the risk of an Australian being killed by a gun fell by more than 50 percent. Australia’s gun homicide rate, 0.13 per 100,000 people, according to, is a tiny fraction of that of the United States (3.6 per 100,000 people). It should be noted that our gun homicide rates were already in decline, but the gun laws accelerated that slide.|by Philip Alpers

Australians answered a mass shooting by changing their gun laws.

Brown: "There had been 11 gun massacres in the decade preceding 1996, but there have been no mass shootings since. This is a source of national pride, though statisticians still argue about what caused the change" (When Australians gave back their guns): To establish a causal relationship, there would have to be a correlation between both cause and effect. People often mistake correlation for cause. There would also have to be at least a presumptive agency which connects them as well. At most, the claim in the article is not necessary but probabilistic. Australia is also not an appropriate comparison to the U.S.

Brown: Jim Jefferies is certainly a funny guy, quite entertaining too, despite his folksy appeal, causal oversimplifications, post hoc fallacies, non sequitur, and faulty analogies to make what he believes are "good points."

J. Mshar: Glen, I'm surprised by you. Yes, might be folksy and simple, but true. We far outnumber other similar countries in per capita gun deaths. Why? Because we allow it. And the defense of those with conceal and carry who didn't draw when a shooter was taking out others - completely shameless. I'd never carry a gun, but IF I DID, you can bet I'd draw on somebody shooting my classmates. Damn the consequences for me (the "mistake me for the shooter" excuse, about we call it what it is - cowardice). 

Why have the conceal law if the ONE instance where it might actually make sense you don't draw? It makes no sense. Let's not let numbers, data, and facts cloud our arguments shall we? (Sarcasm intended) Some (rich, powerful) like guns; therefore, we have them. Since we have them, and it's so easy to obtain them legally and illegally, more people die. It's simple math. The 2nd amendment was created in a time of muskets. It doesn't make sense now. We need to join the 21st century.

A. Phillips: Simple math? Math is logic; emotional reactions that hastily try to solve problems do not use logic. We don't strip away rights from people because others abuse them. That's not what America is about.

J. Mshar: It's not magic. It'll take time to get the guns off of the street, but it'll get better if we DO SOMETHING.

Brown: I remember that refrain, "[WE GOTTA] DO SOMETHING!" It's what Illinois legislators said to me when they were attempting to steal public employees' pensions. Irony intended.

R. Sasso: J. Mshar, I tend to agree with you. Glen, since 1994, we haven't passed a single major federal gun law. Not a single one. You're quite right: We do not HAVE to do anything. And given the political stranglehold of the NRA, we won't.

Brown: Explain what would be in this "major federal gun law."

R. Sasso: Here's a few provisions:

* Fully funding and fully staffing the ATF, bringing the minimum number of agents up from around 4,700 to at least 10,000 to fully track and investigate all federal gun crimes. (We prosecute less than 10% now.)
* Allowing direct appointment of the ATF leadership by the President and not requiring Senate approval of ATF leadership. (They've stymied a replacement now for months.)
* Adding staffing to US attorney's offices to fully prosecute every illegal attempted purchase of guns caught by improved background checks. I'm usually against mandatory minimums, but everyone needs to learn: play with illegal guns, go to jail. For a long, long time.
* Institute the background checks that were in the bill defeated in the Senate after Sandy Hook. That bill had 90% public approval. It should have been law.
* Not simply allow but mandate that the CDC study gun violence as a public health menace. Give researchers the ability to investigate whatever they deem epidemiologically appropriate and make any public policy recommendation they deem appropriate. NO MORE NRA CENSORSHIP!

None of these would impact any poor law abiding gun owner. They'd all help.

Brown: Have you read the Congressional Budget Submission FY 2016 from ATF, especially pages 32-36.

R. Sasso: I’m trying to see your point, Glen. That they are already over resourced?

Brown: Yes, we agree.

J. Alletto: Taking guns away from people who didn't do anything wrong is not the answer. But it's a phrase used to garner votes from those who don't live in the real world. It’s a typical political reaction. Let’s make drugs, murder and other inhumanities illegal… "Let’s get tough on crime" is another of my favorites. What does that mean exactly?

R. Sasso: None of my provisions are about "taking guns away." They are about KEEPING GUNS AWAY from the wrong people. As for getting tough on crime, we have 2.2 million people in jail now, the majority for non-violent crimes like drugs. That's what "getting tough on crime" means, I think.

J. Alletto: I don't disagree with that at all. We need to jail dealers, not users. How do we keep guns out of the wrong hands is a huge problem. No less a problem than stopping the enormous drug use problem. I don't know what the solution really is.

R. Sasso: Me too. I get so angry when I see a mass shooting. Or recently in Chicago when dozens can die in weekend.

J. Alletto: What upsets me is the typical response by the media. "Gun Control." Its criminal control or mental health funding. How did we reduce DUI's? We took them seriously and increased the punishment. Taking my wine away or maybe prohibition? That would cause bootlegging. Maybe heroin sales would go underground. We make feel good laws in this country to get elected and to pacify the magical thinkers.

R. Sasso: That's interesting. We changed how people viewed drinking and driving and increased penalties for it. But people must see things differently. On guns, maybe we are all stuck on our own island.

J. Alletto: We really are stuck. No ship in sight.

R. Sasso: What I cannot understand is people who just kill strangers for no reason. In Chicago, it's competing drug gangs. I get that - not that I agree, but criminals have always killed one another over issues. Just killing strangers for the sake of killing them, I can't grasp.

J. Alletto: We are never going to "get it" We don't think that way. They aspire to be a high ranking gang member. They "make their bones" by killing a rival. Sick society sector. How do we change that? Our political solution of gun control isn't a real solution. Making that law will get them past the next election. Solving the problem with jail time is the way. If we do that, the number in jail goes up and they are all minorities. That's a political nightmare.

R. Sasso: These kill-everyone-you-can-see mass shootings are beyond me. In schools. In churches. In restaurants. Adults, children, old people. Why?

J. Alletto: Insanity. Parents are too busy to parent. Not knowing what kids are thinking. Too wrapped up in their own little world... Being mistaken for the bad guy is the major reason for not intervening. I always think about that. A tough decision. Lots of variables. If the cops are on scene, do nothing. If they are not and you can, then maybe.

J. Alletto: Might want to look at more stats.

Mshar: Again, the numbers for the USA are absolutely horrible. What is the common denominator? We allow too many guns, too easily, into everybody's hands. I keep seeing posts about armed citizens stopping mass shootings. First of all, it rarely happens. Secondly, wouldn't it just be better for the mass shooter to not have the firearm in the first place? Yes, firearms will be gotten illegally - but if reform were to happen now, gun violence would go down over time. It's been demonstrated in other countries multiple times. It's simply all in the data - if we're open-minded enough to look at it:|by German Lopez

Rank by 2nd to last column, and see what countries we compare with:

Hey, at least we're not first on this one...but top 10...and look at the 9 above us: Countries Compared by Crime > Murders with firearms per million. International…|by Heather Timmons

Brown: Jim, I read some of the data. The interesting thing about data is that sound evidence consists in establishing a satisfactory relationship between the proposition to be proved and the data which is offered as proof. We must research data that is empirically verifiable. The burden of proof rests upon each side of an argument, and often times omission of contrary evidence and selected instances (or statistical data that conforms to our intended hypothesis) are used to make our point. Sometimes we discover an argument is filled with biased judgments and dubious points put forward as established facts. Indeed, I know you have data; I have data too, but we both must not only get our data and facts right, we must get the right data and facts right!

J. Alletto: Figures don't lie but liars can figure. I think how events are classified can change the entire conclusion. I see data manipulated all the time to change the outcome of an argument. I agree with one thing. We have a problem, but no solution that doesn't punish the wrong people.

This reminds me of when doctors said that smoking causes cancer. Even though the numbers were there, folks just didn't want to believe it.

Brown: I quit smoking January 1, 1982. I believed the doctors.

J. Mshar: Different sources, similar data...

Brown: Jim, I enjoy having this discussion with you (and others). We both agree that violence in America is a terrible, complex problem without easy solutions. We both have similar warrants: our values and beliefs about the sanctity of human life. One place where we disagree is this: I have weapons for protecting my family and me. I also like shooting at a range. My weapons are protected by the U.S. Constitution. I am obdurate about these values and beliefs.

J. Mshar: I was the same way. I was raised in Indiana in a gun culture. My father carried one to work at a grocery store in Gary (where the manager, assistant manager, and security guard were always armed), and actually was in a running gun fight with 3 robbers (thankfully he didn't get shot). Many of my friends hunt (primarily deer, bow and slug). I was robbed at gunpoint in high school. For a long time I felt that it was my right to have a gun - that that would somehow protect me, and I'd be better off. However, over time I've become convinced that this is wrong. 

Again, my mind can be changed with evidence, and in this case it has (other changes include me going from pro death penalty to against, less spending on the poor to more (it makes financial sense), etc.). I simply can't throw away all of this data and say that it doesn't point to the fact that we are a violent country. I keep coming back to Australia. They are so much like us in just about every way, except their gun violence rate is so much lower. Why? 

While we can say that their gun laws are not the “cause” of the reduced rate, there is certainly a strong correlation (similar to the case of tobacco causing lung cancer and human activity accelerating climate change). I just can't believe that the USA is just that much more depraved than other countries ... if we get the guns out of the criminals' hands we are better off. 

AT THE VERY LEAST, we need MUCH more stringent gun control laws - wait periods, better background checks, no straw purchases (most of the guns used in Chicago crime come from Mississippi via gun shows), those damn gun shows, bans on clips over 7, bans on assault rifles (I mean really...we need these?), possibly bans on semi-auto. The 2nd Amendment was created in a time of muskets. We repealed the 18th Amendment, we can repeal the 2nd. (p.s. I'm ok if we all have muskets :) 

Sounds like we're not going to convince one another, but on a good note the Bears won today, so all is not lost.

Brown: Indeed, no one is going to take my "muskets" away from me until I am totally demented and, thus, rooting for the Bears.


  1. From Ryan Metz:

    There is no need for more gun control laws. Every state makes NFA firearms illegal to own or legal to own with proper permit (permit subject to background check and filling out a 4473 form).

    Every state has laws preventing mental subjects from owning guns. Every state has laws preventing convicted criminals from possessing guns. What ought to be done is actually making everyone aware of this FACT and having our judges get more strict on sentencing gun crimes.

    As for the sale of firearms between private parties (your so-called loophole), every state already has laws in place to govern this, and almost everybody already follows them. For private party sales in Illinois, for example, the Illinois State Police has on their website an option for you to type in the FOID number of your prospective buyer to see if he or she has one and whether or not it is valid before you sell to an Illinois buyer. It is a free option. Whether or not you use it is up to you.

    Overall the majority of Americans are law abiding. Sure there are a lot of guns out there in the wrong hands. And there is a good chance that those people got their guns from law-abiding people (they stole them or bought them "straw purchase.") Buying a gun for someone that can't legally own a gun is already a crime in every state.

    There is nothing anyone can do to stop a determined individual from doing destruction. Those types of people already have no regard for the law and have no regard for the lives of others. They will acquire the weapon and use it. And each and everyone one of you that happen to be in their line of fire are on your own until police with guns arrive to stop them. If there is a concealed carry gun holder in the crowd of victims, hopefully he or she will shoot back.

    There is no rule or laws when a maniac is shooting indiscriminately. If you are there, you must do whatever it takes to survive or you are dead. It is a life or death battle, and the deranged shooter has nothing to lose. He only stops shooting when he is out of ammo, in custody, or dead. You have everything to lose: your family, your friends, and your life.

    THIS IS COMMON SENSE. Don't listen to either side of the gun control debate and their statistics....Know the laws and have a plan to defend yourself until help arrives...That's the society we live in now. Get used to it because there is no way to change the mind of a person who is already pulling the trigger, and there is no way of truly knowing when and where the next person will snap.

  2. All of your comments are very interesting. It is my opinion that solutions lie in a serious effort to help with mental health problems, which will cost a great deal of $$, and a change in laws to allow an all out assault on gangs. This too will be very expensive. I think that incremental solutions will continue to fail, and that gun laws are already strong, and the debate has become a waste of time.