For this week's episode of You Don't Have to Yell, the Data Monkey and I dove into what the numbers tell us about gun ownership. While some of those numbers were unsurprising, what was interesting was where both gun owners and non-owners agreed on the best ways to reduce gun crime and how effective those methods would be.
First off - it goes without saying that you are more likely to die of a bullet wound if you are in the presence of a gun than if you are not. Following this logic, you could say the best way to avoid dying of a bullet wound would be to avoid being around guns.
The data backs this obvious assertion up and, for someone living in a densely populated enclave in the Northeast, the solution is pretty clear: limit the flow of guns to the public, fewer people get shot.
If you read the last two sentences and you’re already assembling a factual case against the above, take a breath and read on. It gets worse, but then it gets better. I promise.
What the data and the solution overlooks, however, are two things:
- In parts of the United States that aren’t the Northeast, people may actually need to possess a weapon.
- People really like their guns. Like - REALLY like their guns.
As referenced above and in my last blog post, you’re more likely to shoot yourself - if anyone - if you own a gun. You’re also more likely to get shot - either by yourself or someone else - if you live in a state with more guns. If you live in a developed nation other than the United States, you’re just as likely to die of strangulation or stabbing, but WAY less likely to get shot.
Bottom line - if I haven’t belabored the point already - there will be more bullets in the air and more people getting hit by them if there are guns present.
All the above being said, for the typical American gun owner, the data doesn’t seem to matter too much. Much like riding a motorcycle, the increase in mortality doesn’t outweigh the benefits, and many of these deaths could be written off to inappropriate usage. Unlike riding a motorcycle, however, there’s no provision in the Constitution guaranteeing your right to a Harley, so there’s less of an uproar over helmet laws and the like.
There are also many situations in this country where, aside from hunting, you may actually need a gun. Exhibit A: Here are all the places in the United States where you might come across a real live bear:
I’ll second guess a lot of things, but I will not second guess a person’s choice of bear repellent.
In many less densely populated areas outside the domain of bears, you can wait up to an hour for the police to arrive in an emergency situation, so there’s a legitimate self defense purpose to owning a gun.
This complicates the whole “limit the availability of guns” argument, as I - someone living in a densely populated bear free region - am less qualified to tell someone living in a region where the human to bear ratio is a little more in the bears’ favor how they should go about defending themselves.
So, to sum things up:
- The data indicates more guns means more people will be shot by them.
- Gun owners don’t seem to care.
- This may or may not have something to do with self defense and bears.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem with guns getting into the hands of the wrong people in America, nor does it mean we have to accept the number of people who die due to gun violence in this country as selfless martyrs laying down their lives in defense of our 2nd Amendment liberties.
While the gun debate might in the US might seem intractable, a study by the Pew Research Center reveals a few areas where gun owners and non-owners both agree a problem exists.
It’s too easy to get guns illegally in the United States:
In the Pew Survey, 83% of gun owners and 87% of non-gun owners felt this made a significant contribution to the issue of gun violence in the US. A report released by the Department of Justice this year on the use of firearms in crime found that 25.3% of guns used in crimes were either borrowed, purchased from an individual, or purchased by an individual on behalf of a person committing a crime.
Another 43% came from the underground gun market.
Effectively, about 67% of all gun crime could be eliminated by increasing the penalties for sharing, selling, and buying guns for criminals, while also looking at ways to stem the flow of guns into the underground market.
Before this can be done, however, there has to be true transparency into the flow of guns throughout the United States, and there are many laws of dubious motives designed to prevent access to data on gun crime. The most outstanding is the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts access to ATF data on gun purchases, making it difficult for law enforcement and policy makes to develop meaningful strategies to prevent gun crime.
Both gun owners and non-gun owners generally support background checks for private sales and at gun shows:
While the disparity for this one is a little larger, with 87% of non-gun owners and 77% of gun owners supporting this, the support amongst gun owners is still a significant enough majority to qualify as a high level of support.
A report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms done in 2000 cited gun shows as a “major trafficking channel” for guns in the illegal market, with straw purchasers - people who purchase guns on behalf of someone else - being a significant part of the problem.
In the case of private sales, many states have little to no official regulations on the transfer of firearms - only that the owner isn’t knowingly selling a weapon to a minor or someone who could be viewed as unfit to own a gun, such as felons or the mentally ill.
Strengthening the regulations around gun laws and private gun sales could have a meaningful impact on stemming the flow of illegal guns into the market, without undue inconvenience to legal gun owners.
Both sides agree the Mentally Ill and those on No-Fly/Watch lists should be prohibited from purchasing guns:
- Both measures had support amongst over 80% of gun owners and non-owners. While both are reasonable, it’s also important to note that the contribution of both regulations would be minimal when compared to the impact of stemming the flow of guns into the underground market.
Getting back to the first two articles and episodes in this series, we’ve done ourselves a disservice by lashing our position on gun ownership to either the Constitution or obsessing over a specific type of gun, such as the AR-15.
Given the clear link between loose regulations around gun shows and private sellers and the movement of guns into the underground market and the high level of support amongst both gun owners and non-gun owners for tightening them, why not start there?