Guns, Killing, and Nonsense . . . Again

April 4, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

The response of the pro-gun people to the massacre in Binghamton was predictable. The problem isn’t that the killer had guns. The problem is that other people did not. Fox’s commentator on the issue, John Lott (a researcher whose integrity has been much questioned) claims that more guns would deter these shooters.
Every multiple-victim public shooting that I have studied, where more than three people have been killed, has taken place where guns are banned.
Is McDonald’s a gun-free zone? Or Luby’s cafeteria in Kileen, Texas ? A private home in Seattle? It’s possible that the lab in Sunnyvale and the office building in San Francisco and the mall in Omaha had gun-free rules, but I doubt it. There are several other civilian workplace and home massacres I have not bothered to check.*

The other favorite NRA fantasy is that if only people had been carrying guns, someone would have taken out the shooter as soon as he opened fire. (I suspect that the gun-lovers picture themselves in the key savior role.)

On the other side, we have Charles Blow at the New York Times. In his column today, Blow warns that the far right is arming itself. The gun-lovers have put out the word that Obama is going to repeal the Second Amendment and take their guns away. Revolution has become a favorite word on the right. When the left talks about revolution, they usually mean an economic transformation. But the right wingers are talking about guns.
Guns are, for lack of a better word, good. Guns are right.
Guns work. Guns clarify, cut through, and capture the essence of the revolutionary spirit.
Guns in all their forms have marked the upward surge of mankind.
And guns -- you mark my words -- will save the USA.**
And they’re not just talking, they’re buying. Blow cites FBI data showing that since Obama was elected, there has been a large increase in requests for background checks for gun ownership.

Talk of revolution followed by more people wanting guns.
Coincidence? Maybe. Just posturing? Hopefully. But it all gives me a really bad feeling.
Blow wrote these words just before the killings in Pittsburgh occurred. But these shootings help to answer his questions.

The Associated Press: Gunman 'lying in wait' kills 3 Pittsburgh officers via kwout

I wonder where he got such ideas. Of course, ideas don’t kill. But AK-47s and the .357 Magnums and other handguns and the ammunition in Poplawski’s arsenal do, and they are nearly as easy to come by.

And according to the John Lotts of the world, that’s a good thing.

The Pittsburgh slayings also illustrate the weakness of the “gun-free zones are killing zones” idea. The killer’s house was anything but a gun-free zone, and he selected as his victims people who he knew would be carrying guns – police officers.

*Lott seems to be fairly obsessive about finding references to himself no matter how insiginificant and unnoticed the venue, so if I’m wrong about any of these, he will probably post a comment.

** O.K., nobody really said this, not in these exact words. But close. In case you didn
’t recognize it, it’s a riff on Gordon Gecko’s “greed is good” speech in Wall Street.


Ashtara said...

I just found your blog recently, and am enjoying it very much.

I'd like to address a couple of points you've made in the "gun-free zone" part of your argument.
At the time of the Luby's massacre, it *was* illegal to have a concealed weapon in a resturant. In fact, one of the survivors, Suzanna Gratia Hupp, had left her gun in her truck outside. Dr. Hupp was largely responsible for the push to make Texas a shall-issue concealed carry state.

I believe the San Ysidro shooting caused California to tighten all of their gun laws prior to the other two California shootings you've referenced.
California is now a may-issue state, where your police chief must sign off on your application, and few do, especially in the cities. So with less that 40k concealed carry licenses for the entire state, California might as well be a gun-free zone, and New York has similarly tight licensing.

Nebraska became a shall-issue state in 2006, but it allows private property owners to post signs banning guns on their property. The mall in Omaha had such signs posted, so it was a gun-free zone.

Regarding John Lott-- I'll admit some of Lott's methods and results are questionable. On the other hand, much of the gun-control crowd still quote Dr. Kellerman's study, which was debunked years ago. Of course, the reason Lott's argument works so well is the availability heuristic, from psychology. We remember the school shootings more easily because of the publicity, and those happened in gun-free zones.

I come down on the pro-gun side of the argument, but I think the data available is ambiguous regarding the effect of gun bans and gun control laws on violent crime. And I can't help but be swayed by things like the stopping of the Appalachian School of Law shooter by armed students, something that was ignored or obscured by the press at the time.
Guess I'll just have to wait for more evidence.


Jay Livingston said...

Ashtara, thanks for all the information (I was just too lazy to look it up). I'm skeptical that mass killers pay any attention to, or even know, whether the place they choose is a gun-free zone. Even for ordinary crimes, I dont think there's much evidence, if any, to support the more-guns-less-crime idea. I'm also skeptical about what effect gun laws could have now in a country already awash in guns. But I also doubt that even more guns would be a good thing.