Steve Zorbaugh Has Trouble With Numbers. Also Words, Facts, Logic and Grammar.

Steve Zorbaugh believes that the Second Amendment should be repealed, because “guns are too costly for society.” Normally when I see someone talking about “repealing the Second Amendment” I point out that the Bill of Rights protects natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, and civil rights — subject neither to the democratic process nor to arguments grounded in social utility.[1] But Steve is way smarter than I am and has nipped that argument in the bud right off the bat . . .

There are 788,258 words in a standard King James Bible. The word “gun” isn’t one of them.

That tells me that although our Creator endowed man with certain unalienable rights, gun ownership wasn’t one of them. Guns aren’t religious icons either. Some may treat them as such, but a gun is nothing more than pieces of formed metal that discharge a projectile faster than anything a human body can hurl. It’s essentially a killing machine, albeit a compact one, but there’s nothing about a gun’s nature that calls for the kind of golden-calf homage many in America pay it.

To quote that acme of villains, Snidely Whiplash: “Curses, foiled again!” Or am I?

First of all, where did Steve come up with the number of words in the King James Bible? The internet of course (which, BTW, is also not mentioned in the Bible)? I summoned up my Google-fu (also, not mentioned in the Bible. . . you know what? Even with Copy/Paste that is a PITA so I’m abbreviating it: nmitB) and learn that there is a leetle debate on that particular subject. One fellow at WikiAnswers.com tells us:

According to a word count program that I wrote (I also used wc in Linux in case you don’t trust my coding and it came up with the same answer) the King James Bible has 823,156 words.

But that’s a minor point. What about the fatuous argument itself? There are a lot of things that are nmitB (like television, radio, newspapers, Islam, Mormonism, and the Quakers) that are still protected by the First Amendment because the core right involved is not affected by the instruments used to exercise it. In the case of the Second Amendment, the core right is that of self-defense.

The right to defend yourself, your family, your neighbors, and your hearth, home and country most assuredly is a right with which the Creator endowed all people, in fact all living creatures. What is a bee’s sting if not a defensive tool? A cat’s teeth and claws can be used to catch prey but they also are highly effective defensive weapons.

The Supreme Court recognized the God-given nature of self-defense way back in 1875 when they stated in Cruikshank:

The second and tenth counts are equally defective. The right there specified is that of “bearing arms for a lawful purpose.” This is not a right granted by the Constitution. Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence.

Furthermore, the Court effectively recognized the right of people to arm themselves for self-defense in Gourko v. United States, 153 U.S. 183 (1894) and Thompson v. United States, 155 U.S. 271 (1894), both of which stated that, absent other factors, the carrying of arms for self-defense does not constitute premeditation.

So there goes Steve’s first two paragraphs; what further pearls of wisdom does he bless us with?

You’ll get no argument from me that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution affords individuals the right to own firearms

Well Steve, as I intimated above, you most assuredly will get an argument from me if you try to maintain that the Bill of Rights grants rights of any kind, not least because if these supposed rights are granted by the government then they are privileges, not rights. No, the Bill of Rights protects pre-existing natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual and civil rights — subject neither to the democratic process nor to arguments grounded in social utility.[2] And that’s where your grammatical ignorance comes into play. Let’s parse the First amendment, shall we?

Congress shall make no law[3] respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble … etc.

Note that the free exercise of religion, the freedom of speech, the press and assembly are all presumed to already exist. After all, if people did not already have these rights then there would be no need to prohibit Congress from infringing them.

Let’s look at the Second amendment:

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Again, it doesn’t say: A well-regulated militia … etc., the people are granted the right to keep and bear arms. No the way it’s worded presupposes that the people already have the right to keep and bear arms.

Fourth amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated … etc.

There it is again; the [already existing] right of the people to be secure … etc.

But I’m not done examining the inherent ignorance of the first half of Steve’s first sentence in that paragraph:

affords individuals the right to own firearms

Really? Whatever happened to the bear part of the individual right to own and bear firearms, Steve? But then a dim flicker of sentience does actually penetrate Steve’s veil of ignorance:

and now that the Supreme Court has clearly affirmed that right, any argument to the contrary is pointless.

OK, cool! So the rest of your essay consists of, what, suggestions for how to dismantle the ATF and start trying their agents for violating the civil rights of tens of thousands of victims of thousands of unConstitutional gun laws?

Guess not:

That’s why I think it’s time for our society to re-examine the Second Amendment’s usefulness.

You know Steve, that’s an awfully big can of worms you’re looking at opening up. Set aside the fact that the freedom to own and carry the weapon of your choice is a natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil, and Constitutional right — subject neither to the democratic process nor to arguments grounded in social utility.[4] There are a couple of awfully big problems that come to mind immediately, As a famous President once said, it depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.

Who gets to define usefulness? Who gets to decide the what relative harm outweighs what benefit? You’ll forgive me if I am a little skeptical, but you antis have an awfully long history of counting costs but ignoring (or at least minimizing) benefits. But I’m jumping the gun a bit here; why don’t I let you explain:

To a man, America’s founding fathers believed that gun ownership was necessary to guard against a tyrannical government and to provide individuals with a means of self-protection. Their reasoning was well-founded. The King of England had no desire to heed colonial demands for democratic rule and several Native American tribes showed no sign of peaceful surrender of their lands for colonial expansion. A gun was necessary to stay alive.

I’m glad you agree that their reasoning was sound (although you do miss a couple of points like hunting for food and protection against people of fell intent who were neither the King’s minions nor Native Americans). But then Steve’s logic train jumps the rails completely.

The justification for gun ownership that existed in 1787 no longer exists today. This year marks the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Since that date, we have overthrown our government every two years – at the ballot box – peacefully, except for during the 1861-1865 War of Southern Aggression (yeah, the South fired first), and even then, elections in the North continued unabated. Today, anyone with sufficient cash and a steady stream of talk radio loudmouths can overthrow the American government. Guns provide great campaign slogans, but guns don’t vote – people do!

Here we have a beautiful example of an anti either completely oblivious to or just ignoring the deterrent effect of firearms. People like Steve would have us believe that the only way to judge the effectiveness of guns is to look at how many times they are fired. In “study” after bogus study, antis compare how many times citizens shoot someone in self-defense and compare it to the number of people shot by BGs and use the disparity in the numbers to claim that guns are not effective in self-defense.

In this case, Steve is claiming that because the government has not become tyrannical while its citizens have been armed, it won’t become tyrannical if we disarm. This is sometimes referred to as ‘wishful thinking’. I imagine Steve believes it was the moral purity of the United States that kept Japan from invading the mainland and not, as Admiral Yamamoto is frequently quoted as saying, because “there would be a man with a rifle behind every blade of grass.”

Finally, Steve’s asinine guns don’t vote – people do completely ignores things like the Battle of Athens (sometimes referred to as the McMinn County War) of 1946 in which returning vets had to take up arms to enforce the voting laws and ensure a clean election. I’m willing to cut him a little slack for his ignorance of that incident because it was fairly small and localized. I am not willing, however, to cut him any slack for his ignorance of The Deacons for Defense and Justice and the critical role they played in the civil rights movement of the Sixties. But Steve’s display of ignorance doesn’t stop there:

America today has something else it didn’t have in 1787 – a million law enforcement officers whose job it is to protect the public and enforce the rule of law. They do an exemplary job and every single one of us is safer because of their efforts.

Again the problem with numbers: according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 there were 794,300 police and detectives and the BLS is projecting 7% growth from 2010-2020 (which would only give us 850,000 by 2020, nowhere near 1 million). In fact, over the last few years departments across the country have been reducing critical services like police. According to USA Today, departments across the country are no longer responding to some property crimes, preferring to focus their diminished resources on violent crime.

But even if we ignore Steve’s numerical issues, there is a vital fact missing from his paean to policing; specifically the fact that police are not required to protect us. Court case after court case has found that police protect society as a whole, and have no duty to protect individuals. Indeed, the most recent Supreme Court case touching on this (Castle Rock v. Gonzales) found that even when there is a state law requiring police to enforce restraining orders, they cannot be held liable for failing to do so.

Gun owners might feel safer packing their own heat, but data gleaned from the FBI’s 2010 statistics on firearm-related deaths suggests that gun owners are just as likely to die from firearms as their unarmed brethren, which tells me that the “gun for protection” argument doesn’t hold much water.

Since Steve fails to provide any specifics, I can’t specifically refute him but I can certainly show that Defensive Gun Uses (DGUs) save twice as many lives as Criminal Gun Uses (CGUs) take.

According to the Kleck-Gertz study from the early 1990s there are between 2.1 and 2.5 million DGUs annually. Now there are a lot of people out there who deride this number as ludicrous, unable or (more likely) unwilling to accept that Dr. Kleck is not some sort of shill for the Gun Lobby™. This, despite the good doctor disclosing in his 1997 book Targeting Guns (quote from GunCite.com):

The author is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, Independent Action, Democrats 2000, and Common Cause, among other politically liberal organizations He is a lifelong registered Democrat, as well as a contributor to liberal Democratic candidates. He is not now, nor has he ever been, a member of, or contributor to, the National Rifle Association, Handgun Control, Inc. nor any other advocacy organization, nor has he received funding for research from any such organization.

But skeptics will always be skeptical and antis will always prefer their own “reality” so (without questioning its validity) let’s go ahead and throw the K-G number out in favor of a more conservative one. Let’s use the numbers from the study which was commissioned by the Clinton DoJ shortly after the K-G study came out (to refute the K-G numbers maybe? If so: Oops!). That study, conducted by Dr.s Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig (very strong proponents of very strict gun control) concluded that there were 1.46 million DGUs per year.

Now I imagine that some may find even this lower number dubious, probably preferring to rely on the numbers from the National Crime Victimization Surveys which show between 50,000 and 100,000 DGUs per year. Unfortunately for those hopeful doubters, the way the NCVS is structured means that it seriously undercounts the number of DGUs. I’ll let Tom Smith explain:

First, it appears that the estimates of the NCVSs are too low. There are two chief reasons for this. First, only DGUs that are reported as part of a victim’s response to a specified crime are potentially covered. While most major felonies are covered by the NCVSs, a number of crimes such as trespassing, vandalism, and malicious mischief are not. DGUs in response to these and other events beyond the scope of the NCVSs are missed.

Second, the NCVSs do not directly inquire about DGUs. After a covered crime has been reported, the victim is asked if he or she “did or tried to do [anything] about the incident while it was going on.” Indirect questions that rely on a respondent volunteering a specific element as part of a broad and unfocused inquiry uniformly lead to undercounts of the particular of interest.

There’s another problem with the failure to directly inquire about DGUs; to wit the DGU question is only triggered by someone saying they were the victim of a crime. If someone came towards me with a knife saying “Gimme your wallet,” and I put my hand on my weapon and replied “I don’t think so, Skippy,” causing the assailant to retreat, was I actually the victim of a crime? Before I started researching these issues I would have told the NCVS interviewer that no, I hadn’t been the victim of a crime so they never would have learned of my DGU.

So to try to figure out how many lives were saved, I turn once again to Kleck and Gertz’s article Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun[5]. They found that 15.7% of people involved in a DGU believed that they “almost certainly” saved their life of someone else’s.

That might strike some people as being an awfully large percentage, but if you take into account the fact that most states regard pulling a gun as using deadly force and combine it with the fact that most states also require someone to be in “reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm” before you can lawfully use deadly force, the number seems more feasible. In addition to the “almost certainly” pool, The K-G study also found that 14.6% of respondents believed that someone “probably would have” been killed if not for their DGU.

Because I want my numbers to be distinctly conservative let’s say that 9 out of 10 of the “almost certainly” folks were wrong, and lets say that 99 out of 100 of the “probably” people were also incorrect. That means we can state with a fair degree of certainty that at least 1.716% of the 1.46 million DGUs saved a life. Doing the math that translates to over 25,000 lives that are saved annually by guns.

So we’ve determined that at least 25,000 lives per year are saved by DGUs, and according to the CDC, between 1999 and 2009 there were an average of 11,800 gun-related homicides annually, which means that for every criminal homicide with a firearm there were more than two lives saved by DGUs. So actually, Steve, the gun for protection argument does hold water. Not that the fact is relevant because the freedom to own and carry the weapon of your choice is a natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil, and Constitutional right — subject neither to the democratic process nor to arguments grounded in social utility.[6]

But Steve continues dribbling his drivel across the page:

After 225 years, the Second Amendment has clearly outlived its original purpose. What America needs today is something different. What I’m talking about is a new Constitutional Amendment – one that values a communities’ right to safety over the right of individuals to unfettered ownership of instruments of death. That end can only be accomplished by allowing all levels of government the power to regulate gun ownership in the same way we regulate our right to drive vehicles or conduct other hazardous activities.

Oh Stevie, do you really want to go there? You want to treat guns just like cars? So you propose that gun safety and handling courses will be available to all students 15 and over in the public schools? Also when they turn 15 they will be eligible for their learner’s carry permit which will allow them to carry concealed as long as they are under the supervision of a licensed adult?

You’re suggesting that when someone turns 16 they can go right down to the State Department of Guns and Ammo to get their license to carry? That they’ll take the written and practical tests and, whether they took Carriers’ Ed or not, if they pass the tests they’ll get their license on the spot, with about 90% of teens getting their license on their first or second try? You’re saying that you would be perfectly happy letting the proud new carriers go out and buy their first carry gun?

Why don’t I believe that you really mean that, Steve?

For example, every state in our union requires automobile owners to carry insurance on their vehicle. That’s because automobiles are dangerous and cause many deaths and injuries. The human and economic loss caused by automobiles is too great a burden for society to bear alone, so we require those wishing to own automobiles to have their vehicles insured against damages caused by the use of that vehicle.

You know Steve, when writing for a publication like a newspaper, it’s traditional to get your facts straight. For example, the states of Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin do not require auto insurance. According to figures from the Census, in 2009 there were 211 million licensed drivers with a fatal accident rate of 23/100,000 and an overall accident rate of 8/100. Now according to GunPolicy.org, as of 2007 there were 270 million privately owned guns in the U.S. and according to the CDC, between 1999 and 2009 there were an average of 703 accidental shooting deaths per year and between 2001 and 2010 an average of 16,652 nonfatal gunshot injuries annually. So the respective rates are 0.26/100,000 deaths and a 0.006/100 overall accident rate.

But I should probably look at gun owners, not at guns, right? According to Gallup, 30% of the population owns guns and an additional 12% has access to them in the home and according to Google our population was 311.6 million in July of 2011 and according to the Census, 24.0% of that population was under 18. Crunching the numbers gives us about 99.5 million gun owners, so the accident rates per gun owner are 0.7/100,000 accidental deaths and 0.017/100 nonfatal accidents.

Oh, Steve’s whining that I counted the number of licensed drivers and compared it not to the number of concealed carry permit holders, but to all gun owners. Mkay, one more time for Steve. According to MSNBC there are 6 million permit holders in the U.S. which gives us a fatal accident rate of 11.72/100,000 and an overall accident rate of 0.290/100. So permit holders have half the fatal accidents as drivers and a twenty-seventh as many non-fatal accidents.

Except, of course, as we all know it is not permit holders and legal owners who account for most of those shootings; witness the miniscule number of revoked permits in Florida (which has almost 25 years of data). For the mathematically challenged, Florida permit holders have a 0.3% overall revocation rate and a 0.008% revocation rate for firearm related crimes.

So you know what, Steve? Even if the freedom to own and carry the weapon of your choice were not a natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil, and Constitutional right[7] I would still tell you to sod off.

But then Steve issues his clarion call for a civil war:

Requiring gun owners to have their weapons insured for the same reason may sound like a no-brainer, but that would require all firearms to be registered like vehicles, something the Second Amendment apparently forbids. That’s why it’s time for the Second Amendment to be repealed. …

Like it or not, unfettered access to firearms means that thousands in America will die needlessly this year. It’s time for the Second Amendment to go!

And if the Bill of Rights actually granted privileges instead of protecting G0d-given rights, then repealing the Second Amendment might do something. Actually repealing the Second Amendment would do something: It would energize and activate gun owners across the country, but probably not in the ballot box kind of way you were talking about earlier.

Remember that 99.5 million gun owners we talked about just a few paragraphs ago? Well can you imagine what would happen if 2.985 million of them (the same percentage of gun-owners as colonists who fought the King or about 3%) decided that the rewriting of the Bill of Rights constituted tyranny and felt that the Tree of Liberty needed a little refreshing?

Now remember the less than 800,000 cops the BLS says we have. And now that your palms are starting to sweat and your bowels are turning to water, think of this: when push comes to shove, how many of those cops do you really think are going to be on your side of the rebellion?



[3] Personally I think they should have stopped there, but I am a bit of a radical.

[5] Northwestern University School of Law, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, vol. 86, issue 1, 1995