A Case for More Gun Control Using Gun Lobbyist Data

I owe this post to a pro-gun friend who debated me on more gun control. His arguments and stats used, including the graph below, led me to do the degree of research I did to counter, which I used here. I didn’t convince him, which I didn’t expect to, but you can judge for yourself from what I present following. I thought it might be valuable for people to understand the flaws in many anti-gun control, if not pro-gun, arguments presented, coming from someone who does analysis of all sorts for a living.

I was shown the graph below with data showing why tighter gun control was not the solution to America’s gun problem with gun related deaths and incidents. What I, as a professional analyst, saw, instead, was the very reasons why America needs tighter gun control. I will also counter a bunch of other points brought up by gun lobbyists that doesn’t involve data, because it isn’t just about the data, of course. But let’s first look at one graph with lots of data.

US Firearms, Deaths and Population Trends

US Firearms, Deaths and Population Trends

Graph Reliability

A few things about the source and accuracy of the data first, to get doubts out of the way. The accuracy seems reliable enough. It’s not like I’ve checked all the numbers, but I don’t see anything that contradicts what I had seen from various sources over the years. Second, I don’t know of what bent is the site Walls of the City, whether they are for or against tighter gun control. Some of the data here would be what lobbyist would wave in your face to tell you guns save lives, but I credit them for including other bits, especially gun control events by government, that I’m going to use to eradicate the gun lobbying bits. Finally, ignore all the “per” stats on the graph, like population/10,000. It’s all presented “fairly”. Just look at the lines and relative spacing, direction and so on. So let’s get into it.

The over-simplified and prejudiced view

Gun lobbyists would tell you that over the years (1981-2009), more guns (purple line increase) have resulted in fewer guns related deaths (blue or red line decrease). Yes, but you’d only believe that if you’re either a gun lobbyist or an idiot. That’s what you get if you draw a straight line from beginning to end rather than look at what’s in between those end points. But you know, simplicity sells, even if the world usually isn’t that simple.

Consider gun control legislation impact

But what happens if you break apart the graph and look at the influence of major gun control legislation that came in, and partly sadly left, part way through? I’m talking about legislation like the Brady Bill that went into effect on Feb 28 1994, but which was signed on November 30 1993, and would have existed in the American consciousness for most of that year. It did have an impact, and you can’t ignore that because it changed American society.

Between 1981-1994, pre-Brady Bill

From 1981 to 1994, gun related deaths increased by roughly 20% (green line). I’m doing visual math here, but it’s accurate enough. Number of guns increased by about 50% (purple line). Not 1:1 proportional, but correlation trend, nonetheless. What’s important here, though, is that the massive increase in guns makes it seem like guns are saving lives (blue line of deaths per 100,000 guns). Do we care about deaths per gun, or total number of deaths that increased by 20% ? More guns didn’t save lives, it resulted in 20% more people killed. And if you really wanted to stick to that blue line as evidence, I’ll tell you these two things. It didn’t decrease at the same rate guns increased. I’d have expected that if more guns really did save lives. Secondly, as much as I hate the National Rifle Association quote that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, it’s right. No point measuring death per gun. But availability of guns to people, allow people to to kill people more easily. That’s the truth the NRA wants to avoid telling you and admitting to themselves!

From 1994-1999, gun control legislation and 5 day wait

From 1994 on, gun related deaths (green line) dropped sharply and steadily for 5 years. This despite the same constant increase in guns (purple line) and population (black line) per year since 1981. The increase is close enough in annual variations to be statistically called constant. Guns and population had increased similar from 1981 till 1994, with gun related deaths increasing also, albeit less consistently. So what changed from 1994 till 1999? Brady Bill that required a check on the gun buyer’s background and the five day waiting period to get approval, and assault weapons ban. That’s gun control impact!

The impact of the Brady Bill and assault weapons ban were big enough that even the rates of gun related deaths per gun (blue line) and per person (purple line) decreased significantly. Remember how these lines were misleading between 1981 and 1994 as discussed above? Even their misleading effect, described above, could not offset the impact the Brady Bill had on gun related deaths!

From 1999-2009, immediate background checks

In 1999, the five day check was replaced by an instantaneous NCIS computer check. Seems to do the same thing, but faster and probably more accurately. So why then, did the number of gun related deaths stop dropping?

If I had an absolute answer to that question, I might have a magic answer. However, I think can I propose a pretty good case. That five day wait allowed people to rethink things, to “cool down”, if you will, if they were contemplating doing something bad. Even if they just got excited to buy the gun for fun, they probably lose that excitement and not do it given they have to wait five days to get it. Think about something of some value that you bought on a whim, that you didn’t need. Do you think you would have bought it if you were told right there you would have to wait five days to get it? I say something of value because even if guns were cheap, it’s a serious item for purchase, not like a few bucks of candy.

That five day wait to be a bit more rational about things, seems to be the critical difference. It’s not that these killers go and buy the gun and kill in one continuous act. I’m not saying that as I know they don’t. But if the gun buyer didn’t have the self-control to hold off and think about things like buying a gun like it were candy, chances are, they might not have the self-control not to use it for illegal reasons, either. What the availability of all these guns means, though, is that they’re more accessible to those wanting to use a weapon to cause harm. If a kitchen knife was the most dangerous weapon widely available to them, instead of guns, then the worse they’ll do is stab people with that knife.

But let’s ignore my suggestion the waiting period has any impact. The rest of the data doesn’t suggest more guns do anything to  protect or save lives, either. The number of guns and people continued to increase annually at roughly the same rate from 1999-2009 as they had from 1981 to 1999. Yet, the number of deaths increased slightly. In this case, a look at rate, to make sure the population didn’t make the increase misleading, as if the population increased by the same amount, is vital. The gun related death per population is essentially the same from 1999 to 2009, with some ups and downs with next to no net change in the decade. The massive increase in guns, as pointed out above, make the rate of gun related deaths per gun decrease in a misleading manner. But even this decrease was marginal from 1999-2009.

So we’ve established once again that more guns, or guns available, don’t result in fewer people killed. Did any other big change in gun control take place between 1999-2009 that might have stopped the drop in gun related deaths seen between 1994 to 1999? Yes, the Assault Weapons Ban ended in 2004, when the number of people killed by guns in a year (green line) was essentially the same as in 1999. It is slightly more, but the population (black line) had increased by slightly more so the rate (red line) was slightly less, but not statistically significant either way. It was basically the same.

Since 2004, the rate per person killed by guns has been the same, aside from some “noise” in variation over the years. More people were being killed by guns since 2004 to 2009, but the population had increased by about the same rate. It seems the assault weapons ban didn’t have an impact, though their purchase was still subject to background checks so it’s not like it was a free for all. It’s a matter of carefully allowing them in the right hands, it seems, as much as I am against the possession of assault weapons for civilians because what do you really need them for? Do you expect an army of gunmen to be ambushing you someday that you need an assault weapon to stand a chance of winning?

Anyhow, this last bit of information regarding the assault weapons ban being lifted not having an impact seems to then point to the five day wait being an essential “cooling period”, or whatever you want to call it, that deters some gun related deaths. I’m not expecting the annual drop between 1994-1999 to last forever, but all the evidence points to its effectiveness. The background checks definitely have an effect, of course, and change take time to take place, not just in a year, but the end of the gun related death drop and stoppage of the 5 day wait seems to expose the limited capacity of the background checks, and the weapons already available. Regardless, more guns did not reduce gun related deaths, and that gun control, including the 5 day wait, does, is the conclusion.

What about other countries with lots of guns and no murders?

Gun lobbyists love to point out that countries like Switzerland have lots of guns, but that very few people are killed by guns, so that availability of lots of guns is not the cause of the violence. That’s not quite the truth. It’s a completely situation in Switzerland.

Switzerland requires most men between 20 and 30 to be trained in the military. The gun ownership is militia because it does not have an active army, but a civilian one. Gun ownership in Switzerland is not for pleasure or by choice, and its users have not only military training on how to use it, but the discipline in life like in the military, including when to use those guns. Gun ownership in Switzerland, is almost like having a policeman, with a policeman’s rationale and skills, with a gun in every household. If you’re going to go shooting people with a gun in Switzerland, you had better realize that. That’s absolutely NOT the case in America! Many people don’t have guns, and many who do don’t know how to use them properly, and many who do don’t know when to use them appropriately.

If you made the population of Switzerland equal to the US, there’d have been about 1300 gun related deaths a year in Switzerland. There was over 10,000 in the US a year of late.

A case for better mental health support?

Every person who kills in a way we can’t understand, whether a Kansas City Chiefs’ linebacker or the ones in Newtown or Virginia Tech, we’re going to label as troubled. They likely are, but a lot of troubled people don’t get that far. But if you look at the stats like the Swiss one flagged by gun lobbyists, better mental health support means you’re essentially saying Americans are that much more crazy than the rest of the world.

That might be a funny joke in a lot of places in the world, but statistically, and rationally given America is a first world country, it’s not true. You’ve got lots of psychologically troubled people all over the place. You just don’t have a lot of guns lying around all over the place like in America that makes it a lot easier for one of these troubled people to find a gun and kill people in America.

And if you did have better mental health support, do you think you could get these killers to self-identify and enlist? Most of them weren’t that troubled that people were flagging them as such before they kill. It’s a shock to most of their friends and family when they hear these people killed, not realizing it was that bad, that they were going to do anything about it. So if they don’t realize it, who would unless you force these people to go into check-ups? Do you think people would like to be forced into psychological check-ups, everyone since you can’t just push people through that others suspect are troubled? Seriously, think about it!

In the US, it’s not a case of mental health support. It’s the nature of the culture. Switzerland went neutral and have a militia army for defense. The US is a world power bent on wild west sort of mentality and policeman of the world foreign policy approach. Is it any surprise to you that putting a gun in the respective hands of these two countries’ citizens have such vastly different outcome?

So to the mental health support argument, pffftttt!!! Puh-leeze!

What about media glorification?

I’ve been hearing this as well. I don’t have data to support this one way or another because it would be hard to find, let alone it being a subjective criteria. But let’s open up a few situations. It’s true the media has to report and many talk about the killers’ names repeatedly, and they get posted on Wikipedia and some forums and such, but consider a few things.

These people kill themselves. They don’t get to live to enjoy the glorification. Even if they have seen cases like Columbine and heard the names of the killers repeatedly, it’s not in a positive context? The evil context probably is the one that appeals to these killers, but glorification means you have to stick around to enjoy it. They plan to kill themselves and often do. Maybe that imagined glorification is all they need to justify their acts, but if so, they’ll imagine anything they want to justify it.

I definitely don’t condone the repeated naming of these killers, but they have to name them. If not, there would be an insane frenzy to find that name and spread it through social media and otherwise. Keeping the name out of the media all together would be far worse, and exactly what these killers want, the entire world interested in them enough to go find it individually. And who could really keep it a secret, anyway?

I like it when people like Cooper Anderson conducts his show to try to minimize mention of the killers’ names, as I haven’t here. But I don’t think the media glorification has much of an impact. It may have, but if it weren’t there, these killers will find some other reason to do it, and they will find another reason for every one you snuff out.

So what, then, to reduce gun related deaths in the US?

If you don’t buy that five-day wait theory as being a key determinant in keeping guns out of the hands of troubled people, better gun control is definitely the answer as seen by the influence of the Brady Bill between 1994-1999, and still to keep the number of gun related deaths to a lower level than in the past. But clearly, it’s not doing nearly enough, and is being unraveled bit by bit with the right to carry guns openly in public places in some states. Even states with so-called “tough” gun control laws don’t do enough. “Tough” is only relative to that of other states, not other countries where gun related deaths rates are so much lower. Availability of those weapons is the problem, and reducing that is the answer. I don’t mean the be all and end all sort of answer, but the most effective answer.

And put in that 5 day or week long wait again.

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