December 15, 2012

The "more guns" fallacy

One incredible conservative idea is that more guns will prevent more gun deaths. Not surprisingly, the facts prove this fantasy wrong:

More Guns, More Mass Shootings—Coincidence?

America now has 300 million firearms, a barrage of NRA-backed gun laws—and record casualties from mass killers.

By Mark Follman
In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun. Moreover, we found that the rate of mass shootings has increased in recent years—at a time when America has been flooded with millions of additional firearms and a barrage of new laws has made it easier than ever to carry them in public.Do Armed Civilians Stop Mass Shooters? Actually, No.

Five cases commonly cited as a rationale for arming Americans don't stand up to scrutiny.

By Mark Follman
As I reported recently in our in-depth investigation, not one of the 62 mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years has been stopped this way. More broadly, attempts by armed civilians to intervene in shooting rampages are rare—and are successful even more rarely. (Two people who tried it in recent years were gravely wounded or killed.) And law enforcement overwhelmingly hates the idea.

Those pesky facts haven't stopped the "arm America more!" crowd from pressing the argument with alleged examples of successful armed interventions. The problem is, the few examples they keep using—in which they depict plain old folks acting heroically and with definitive results—fall apart under scrutiny.
The answer is not more guns

A trendy argument suggests we'll be safer if more people carry guns. It's dangerous, wrong and terrible policy

By Alex Seitz-Wald
When I reached out to five of the country’s most prominent researchers into gun violence, they were uniformly critical of the “more guns” approach and Goldberg’s argument for what they saw as an ignorance of the overwhelming body of social science research that shows unequivocally that more guns equals more deaths. Some used nasty words like “garbage” and “atrocious.”

“My first impression is that this essay should be used as a case study for high school and college debate teams across the country. It is one of the best crafted arguments for a particular position I have ever read,” said Arthur Kellermann, a prominent firearms safety researcher now at the RAND Corp. But he also called the research cited “highly selective, and therefore misleading.” “I am surprised that the editors didn’t ask their national correspondent why he didn’t bother to talk to at least one mainstream criminologist, policy analyst, physician or public health researcher.”

Fred Rivara, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington, added in an email: “There is no data supporting his argument that the further arming of citizens will lessen the death toll in massacres like the one this week in Connecticut. There are in fact rigorous scientific data showing that having a gun in the home INCREASES the risk of violent death in the home.”
Penn Study Asks, Protection or Peril? Gun Possession of Questionable Value in an AssaultIn a first-of its-kind study, epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that, on average, guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault. The study estimated that people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun.

Arm the teachers?

A particularly stupid variation of this idea is to arm schoolteachers so they can shoot a shooter before the shooter shoots them.

Guns, Risks, and Safety

By Alan JacobsLast month the faculty at Wheaton College, where I work, were all made to watch a video about what to do if we received word through our recently installed campus-wide information system that there was an intruder on campus. I’m sure that the Newtown massacre encourages our Risk Management people to believe that this was time well-spent (and that the money invested in the information system was well-spent, too). But leaving aside the question of whether in a moment of crisis anyone will remember what they saw on the video, it was still addressing something that has almost no chance of ever happening. Meanwhile, in my twenty-eight years on the faculty here I have never received any training in dealing with depressed and anxious students, something that I have to do on a weekly if not a daily basis. Such day-to-day challenges just aren’t dramatic enough to prompt a mandatory video session.

Two: This same warning against implementing policy decisions based on vivid-but-very-unlikely events applies to the people who are claiming that the answer to school massacres is arming our teachers. It’s especially ironic that this recommendation comes almost invariably from people who also believe in smaller government, because their chosen response to tragedy would be a government-mandated logistical quagmire: some government agency would have to buy the guns, train the teachers, set and enforce policies about gun storage and appropriate use, and so on and so on. And of course all this would just leave teachers with less time to confront the real and often quite serious problems they face every day.

I could write a very long blog post listing what’s wrong with the plan to arm teachers, especially the various unintended consequences that would spring from such a policy implemented nationwide. We can be absolutely sure that within a few years more people would be killed by teachers who fired their weapons accidentally or in misplaced anger or fear, or by students who stole their teachers’ guns, than have ever been killed in school massacres like those in Newtown and Columbine.
For more on gun control, see Gun Facts and Fallacies and Newtown Shootings Show America's Pathology.

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