Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Gun Ownership As An Individual Right:
The Consequences

ellroon at Rants from the Rookery posted a video of Bill Moyers expressing his thoughts on the theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado:

Several years ago the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment confers (or at least confirms) an individual right to "keep and bear Arms," separate and apart from the need for "[a] well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state". Let me turn you over to Wikipedia for the applicable recent Supreme Court decisions:
In 2008 and 2010, the Supreme Court issued two Second Amendment decisions. In District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia[1][2] and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. In dicta, the Court listed many longstanding prohibitions and restrictions on firearms possession as being consistent with the Second Amendment.[3] In McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025 (2010), the Court ruled that the Second Amendment limits state and local governments to the same extent that it limits the federal government.[4]
Whether those cases were rightly decided or not, a lot of Americans, most presumably not militia members (that's another entire post), avail themselves of the right. It's difficult to compare numbers by year because the surveys do not use consistent counting methods, but it appears from Wikipedia that gun ownership ranged from roughly 36.5% to a peak of 50% of households in the mid 1980s, declining since then to a figure difficult to determine from the wiki. As only 11% of households report engaging in hunting... my maternal grandfather's primary if not only use for his rifles and shotguns... most of those guns are kept for other, largely unspecified purposes. Altogether, as of 1994, Americans owned about 192 million guns. The distribution by region is not too surprising: the East South Central States... Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee... have a 60% ownership rate, while the Northeastern United States... Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, plus New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania... have a 25% ownership rate. In my opinion this difference probably largely reflects an urban/rural difference. But considering the political volatility of the subject, if you want different numbers, you can surely find them somewhere on the Web. I'll stick with Wikipedia and its sources.

Let's move on to the real question: in what numbers are we killing ourselves and each other with guns? Wikipedia again: In 2007, gun deaths in America comprised 17,352 suicides and 12,632 homicides, for a total of 31,224 gun-inflicted deaths. (ADDED: I wonder about those 1240 uncategorized deaths.) I find it interesting that suicides exceed homicides by several thousand: with guns readily available, Americans kill themselves with guns more often than other Americans kill them with guns.

I'd like to tell you a personal story, originally posted in a slightly different form on ellroon's comment thread.

In my lifetime, my father owned one gun, a low-powered rifle. He bought it long after I left home, at the insistence of my demented mother (I mean the word "demented" literally, as a doctor's diagnosis, not as an expression of my opinion) when she began "hearing things." Dad stored the gun in one closet and hid the ammo in a secret place apart from the gun. As far as I know, he never fired it or even loaded it but once, to test that it worked, again to satisfy my mother's sense of security. (Dad had plenty of firearms training in his youth, courtesy of the U.S. Navy.)

After both my parents had died, I sold the mobile home, complete with the rifle, to their next door neighbor, who already owned at least three rifles. He seemed competent and sane, and selling him the gun did not significantly increase his potential for mayhem if he went crazy.

So: what did I learn from my parents about gun ownership? This:

You have to be demented to think your safety is increased by owning a firearm.

As a dutiful son, I still practice what I learned from them.


  1. 31,224? If we had any other product that consistently killed people we'd be burning down the factory and stringing up the CEOs. Cribs that kill infants? 5 deaths and there's a recall. Food poisoning? They throw away hundreds of pounds of beef. Thirty one thousand two hundred and twenty-four people dead? Accept it because it represents our freedoms....

  2. ellroon, as I just noted on Bryan's thread, considering the several thousand more suicides than homicides each year, when you buy a gun to protect your family, just what are you accomplishing? Guns are a lot like tobacco... used as directed, they will kill someone. I don't argue for a ban, but I sure as hell favor a great deal more thorough regulation than we've got (or, as Bryan point out, better enforcement of the laws we already have). We have a right to own cars, too, but we have to prove competency and at least a minimum of judgment to use them; why not likewise with guns?

  3. I think I will keep our gun control laws over the 2nd amendment! It doesn't stop all gun crime but compare the UK and US homicide rates and the numer of gun deaths.....

  4. jams, things were very different 223 years ago. America's main concern was avoiding keeping a standing army; we had had quite enough of a standing army, and here was an opportunity to be rid of it, at a cost, of course... every man had to be willing to be part of a "well-regulated militia" when we needed one. Most of the nation was rural. No one envisioned gun-related crime, let alone organized crime. No one envisioned a powerful Nxtixnal Rxfle Assxcixtixn applying lobbying pressure beyond imagining on any legislator who proposed or supported gun control. No one imagined that a wayward Supreme Court would discard the first clause of the Second Amendment. That amendment made sense for its time; now, as interpreted by a crazy Court, it doesn't. And thanks to that lobby, no legislator is willing to address the problem... and after Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot, who can blame them for not wanting to go up against a massive organized group of gun nuts!

  5. Didn't Moses say: "You'll have to pry the Constitution outta my cold dead hands"?

  6. karmanot, I thought that was Joseph, but my knowledge of the Bible never was the best... :-)



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