Thursday, November 11, 2010

My response to Dean of AZ, part two

This is the continuation of my response to a poster on Kevin Baker's blog who attempted to answer the questions I posed back in June about statistics purportedly showing that widespread legal gun ownership in the US prevents crime. The first part can be found here.

My fourth question was - How many of these alleged crimes would have been attempted had it not been for the prevalence of guns in American society? There is absolutely no meaning in suggesting that legal firearms helped you prevent a crime, if the general legality of firearms caused - either directly or indirectly - that crime to be attempted in the first place.

Dean's response - WRONG. Because using ANY FIREARM in the commission of ANY CRIME is ANOTHER CRIME in and of itself. That's like suggesting that the automobile is illegitemate because they are sumetimes used in crime, or that steak knives shoudl be outlawed because they, too, are sometimes used in crime. The existence and presence of firearms, cars, or steak knives DO NOT CAUSE CRIME. To suggest so simply illustrates the depth of your ignorance. PEOPLE have morals, moral and immoral behavior, and inanimate objects cannot be the ends, only the means. If the ends are sufficiently motivated, either by violence, greed, or any other human failing, the means becomes irrelevant. Assaulting someone with a gun, steak knife, and car are all considered "assault with a deadly weapon, and we don't charge the weapon in court.

This is making my head hurt, because Dean is actually agreeing with a significant part of the point I was making, and yet is simultaneously suggesting that this agreement somehow renders me "WRONG". The use of any firearm in the commission of a crime is itself a crime, yes - and it's a crime that's much more likely to occur if there are lots and lots of guns around. Is Dean disputing that? It appears not. Yes, people might instead be committing another sort of crime if they didn't have a gun to hand...but then again they might not. And if they were committing another sort of crime, it's quite likely that it would be of lesser severity. See for example these sources -

"Across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded."

"After controlling for poverty and urbanization, for every age group, people in states with many guns have elevated rates of homicide, particularly firearm homicide."

"States with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide. This relationship held for both genders and all age groups, after accounting for rates of aggravated assault, robbery, unemployment, urbanization, alcohol consumption, and resource deprivation (e.g., poverty)."

My fifth question was - How many guns start off as legal but end up being held illegally?

Dean's response - This question is completely unrelated to the stated purpose of the list, which is to bring into question whether or not firearms (handguns in particular, I think) have a legitemate purpose. And, once again, stealing a gun, knowingly possessing a stolen gun, and using a gun in crime is still criminal, and it's not the gun's fault. I don't blame the internet for the idiotic opinions some people express, I blame the person. Once again, if a steak knife has a legitemate purpose, but is then stolen and used in a murder, does that obviate the legitemate purposes of all steak knives? The logic of your argument completely fails.

Firstly, Dean's characterisation of the purpose of my list of questions is wrong, which probably goes much of the way towards explaining why his responses are missing the point so spectacularly. It was Nate, in quoting the statistics in the first place, who was addressing the question of whether guns have a 'legitimate function'. My purpose in asking the ten questions was first and foremost to dispute the credibility of those statistics. Since Dean is for the most part failing to directly address the queries I was actually raising about the meaningfulness of the statistics, and is instead repeatedly 'responding' to other points he assumes I was making, we're not getting much further forward.

For what it's worth, though, on one point we can wholeheartedly agree - I don't blame inanimate objects for any crime. I blame the stupidity of the man-made laws that make it much easier for criminals to use deadly man-made weapons to commit man-made crimes. Once again, Dean isn't even bothering to dispute my central premise - that the legality of guns in the US allows a huge number of weapons to fall into the wrong hands, and thus many of the crimes that the statistics purportedly show have been thwarted with guns would not have been attempted in the first place had it not been for the millions upon millions of legally owned firearms sloshing about. Therefore my objection to the credibility of the quoted statistics on this point clearly stands.

See these sources for further information on the widespread irresponsibility of the fabled law-abiding gun-owning masses, that by extension hands criminals the means to kill, maim and terrorise -

"Many gun owners report storing their guns loaded and unlocked. Gun training is often associated with an increased likelihood of storing firearms in this manner."

"This study indicates that women, when they report a gun in the home, often incorrectly believe that it is stored unloaded and locked up."

My sixth question was - How many of the 'crimes prevented' can be put down to the values of a paranoid, brutalised society which teaches its children that the next threat is always round the corner, and that 'freedom' can only be won down the barrel of a gun?

Dean's answer - The purpose of the legalization of firearms here in the USA is to ensure that the balance of the power rests in the hands of the people. Your folks once threw off the yolk of English repression, did they not? Did they use "legal" weapons (sticks and fists, perhaps?), or was the possession of the swords, spears, etc. used to fight those battles then considered unlawful by the rule of the oppressor?

I've got some fantastic news for Dean - Scotland has moved on since the 14th Century, and even more excitingly, so has England. Scottish nationalists now do not seek to win freedom down the barrel of a gun (or whatever the equivalent weapons were at Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn), for the simple reason that we don't need to - we have a democracy (albeit an imperfect one) and since the 1970s the London government has recognised our right to become independent if we so choose. If we were to adopt the paranoia of the American gun lobby, though, we'd all be stashing firearms for a secret militia because "history shows those bastard English can't be trusted". And if we had such a culture, would our crime rate be higher or lower as a result? That was the essence of my question, which once again Dean has totally failed to address.

The Framers knew EXACTLY what they were doing when they put right in the Bill of Rights the assertion that the PEOPLE had a RIGHT to "keep and bear" the most deadly piece of military hardware of the day. You might not agree with that assertion, you clearly do not like it...

Again, it's not so much about whether I agree with it or like it (although I don't) - it's a very specific question about whether having such a gun-fetishising culture increases the crime rate, and if so what the implications are for the credibility of statistics purporting to show that guns are often used to prevent crime. As with questions 4 and 5, the difficulty is that legal gun ownership can't be meaningfully said to have prevented a crime if that crime would not have occurred but for the consequences of legal gun ownership. Nothing Dean says disputes that objection in any way.

Incidentally, to point out the blindingly obvious, "the PEOPLE" of the US no longer entrust themselves with "the most deadly military hardware of the day", so if that was the rationale for the Second Amendment, it's now utterly redundant. Present-day America (just like Britain) exclusively entrusts its most deadly weapons to the authorities, and the citizenry would be helpless if those weapons were ever turned against it. In Britain, we rely on democratic safeguards rather than direct physical protection to ensure that the government's guns are never turned on us - in exactly the same way that you do in the US to protect yourselves from a range of weaponry against which your puny Second Amendment firearm would be about as much use as a key-ring.

...but the fact remains that is OUR supreme law of the land, and it was imagined and included by people far superior in moral character than you or I.

Certain Americans could really do with a good deal more self-awareness when imagining that the mystical flawlessness of their constitution and the process that led to its creation ought to be as self-evident to everyone as it is to them.

My seventh question was - How many people were unnecessarily killed or injured by someone 'defending themselves'? This is a question that particularly troubles me given the rather broad definition of legal killing the US authorities seem to use.

Dean's response - Once again, pretty irrelevant to your question of "legitemate purpose" (see other responses above), unless of course you are trying to assert that even ONE life lost to a firearm is too many. In which case you better get your efforts off this topic and work instead to make your own country safer by banning cars, fatty food, and smoking, which each kill more people every year than firearms do (and that's even without accounting for the "saved" lives, which really should be subtracted off that total).

No, once again, my question related solely to the credibility of Nate's statistics - if some of the people alleged by the statistics to have 'prevented a crime' with a gun killed someone unnecessarily in doing so, that's a harm caused by legal gun ownership, not a benefit. So this is yet another question where Dean has not in any way disputed my actual objection.

My eighth question was - How many guns being used for defensive purposes have been wrested away and used by an attacker? In these instances people arming themselves with a gun have simply put themselves and others in far more danger.

Dean's response - Irrelevant. How many people in the UK have been bludgeoned toi death by items found in the home? Probably a higher number than this question purports to examine. See response to #7.

A fairly wild and improbable assertion there, about which Dean clearly has no idea whether there is any factual basis, and which in any case does not address the problem that a seized gun is likely to be of rather more use to an attacker than most other household utensils he might care to grab. Another question flunked.

My ninth question was - How many accidental shootings have there been from guns that were used carelessly, or not stored properly? Not related to crime, but these numbers would clearly offset any benefit Nate is claiming from gun legality.

Dean's response - Once again, not relevant to the report as referenced, however I will have to agree that many, if not all of these incidents are tragic and most likely preventable. How many deaths are caused by inattentiveness behind the wheel, or by drunk driving?? Many, many more, and I don't see you campaigning for the banning of alcohol or the government to require the installation of a breathalyzer in all new autos (although now that I have typed that I can see that coming to the nanny state nearest you, soon). LEGITEMATE PURPOSE - something I believe I have already established in #1-#5 responses, does not get erased by problems caused by misuse and abuse of inanimate objects by careless people.

Yes, I think you're probably getting used to the pattern here - no dispute of the central premise of my objection. Which is just as well, given this weight of evidence -

"For every age group, where there are more guns there are more accidental deaths. The mortality rate was 7 times higher in the four states with the most guns compared to the four states with the fewest guns."

"Both firearm prevalence AND questionable storage practices (i.e. storing firearms loaded and unlocked) were associated with higher rates of unintentional firearm deaths."

As for the comparison with the harm caused by the car, that is one 'inanimate object' that demonstrably has a social benefit that offsets the considerable downsides - whether it outweighs those downsides is of course a matter for debate, although most people seem to tacitly accept that it does. The whole point of the queries I've been raising about Nate's statistics is that they call into severe doubt the unproven assertion that there is somehow an equivalent offsetting benefit from the private ownership of firearms.

My final question was - How many suicidal people have found a quick and easy way out due to having a gun handy, when otherwise they might have stopped to think for longer and found a better solution?

Dean's response - If you care to explore the question, as I am not going to provide references, but in my psychology education for professionals involved in the treatment of those suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, or psychosis (who as a group constitute the vast majority of people who commit suicide), people who WANT to commit suicide will FIND A WAY. Does the availability of a firearm make it easier? Absolutely. But once the decision is made, those people make it happen.

Oh really? This astonishing mass of evidence tells a slightly different story -

"The preponderance of current evidence indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for youth suicide in the United States. The evidence that gun availability increases the suicide rates of adults is credible, but is currently less compelling."

"After controlling for poverty and urbanization, for every age group, across the United States, people in states with many guns have elevated rates of suicide, particularly firearm suicide."

"States with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm suicide and overall suicide. This relationship held for both genders and all age groups. It remained true after accounting for poverty, urbanization and unemployment."

"Changes in the levels of household firearm gun ownership was significantly associated with changes in both firearm suicide and overall suicide, for men, women and children, even after controlling for region, unemployment, alcohol consumption and poverty."

"Even after controlling for rates of attempted suicide, states with more guns had higher rates of suicide. Case fatality rates ranged from over 90% for firearms to under 5% for drug overdoses, cutting and piercing (the most common methods of attempted suicide). Hospital workers rarely see the type of suicide (firearm suicide) that is most likely to end in death."

"Levels of gun ownership are highly correlated with suicide rates across all age groups, even after controlling for lifetime major depression and serious suicidal thoughts. After controlling for divorce, education, unemployment, poverty and urbanization, the statistically significant relationship holds for 15 to 24 year olds and 45 to 84 year olds, but not for 25 to 44 year olds."

So that's that. Ten answers from Dean, none especially convincing, and several that didn't even address the actual question posed. It would be interesting to see if anyone can do better, but as it's taken five months just to get to this point, I won't be holding my breath...


  1. I love Dean's logic
    "Once again, if a steak knife has a legitemate purpose, but is then stolen and used in a murder, does that obviate the legitemate purposes of all steak knives? The logic of your argument completely fails."

    He's seems oblivious to the fact that the steak knife is designed to assist in the consumption of steaks, whilst the gun is designed to assist in killing people and animals... that is the primary purpose of a gun without a shadow of a doubt. It is only useful as a form of self-defence if it does indeed serve (or at least appear to serve) that primary purpose.

    Very interesting though that you did come around to discussing depression and the ease with which someone feeling suicidal might find a gun leading further tragedy.

    Not withstanding the fact that someone who doesn't have easy access to a gun might actually then have a better chance of finding help with our much improved understanding of mental illness these days, I've always been concerned by the possibility that the mental health of a legitimate gun owner might take a turn for the worse and we'd be facing a large scale tragedy due to the diminished capability of the gun owner... I suppose the gun lobby might try to convince me that's never happened...

  2. Yes, Dean acknowledges that it's harder for people without guns to commit suicide, but he refuses to acknowledge the obvious - that this buys more time either for the suicidal person to have doubts and to seek help, or for help to arrive from an external source. It also means that if the person attempts suicide, they're more likely to do it using a method that has a chance of failing. The academic sources I cited bear that out.