Nicholas Kristof has a piece in Sunday’s The New York Times celebrating making political hay out of the atrocity in Newtown. And he makes what has become my favorite anti-gun proposal: “In the harrowing aftermath of the school shooting in Connecticut, one thought wells in my mind: Why can’t we regulate guns as seriously as we do cars?” I’ve addressed just this kind of thing in detail before, but in light of the Sandy Hook shootings, Kristof’s little bit of sophistry deserves its own takedown . . .
So by regulating guns like cars, does that mean Nick’s proposing that gun safety and handling courses be available to all students 15 and over in the public schools? And when they turn 15 they’ll 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?
Is he 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 a Carriers’ Ed class or not, if they pass the tests they’ll get their license right there on the spot? Will 90% of teens get their license on their first or second try, just like they do with their drivers’ licenses? Is Nick saying that he’d be perfectly happy letting the proud new carriers go out and buy their first carry gun as long as they have their permit? Somehow I don’t think that’s what he really means.
Still, he continues:
The fundamental reason kids are dying in massacres like this one is not that we have lunatics or criminals — all countries have them — but that we suffer from a political failure to regulate guns.
Children ages 5 to 14 in America are 13 times as likely to be murdered with guns as children in other industrialized countries, according to David Hemenway …
Actually I believe Hemenway got that from the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of February 7, 1997, but we’ll let that pass for now. What I won’t let pass, though, is the fact that David and Nick both are cherry-picking their statistics. They trumpet the firearm related homicide rate but ignore the non-firearm related homicide rate because it undermines their thesis that a political failure to regulate guns is causing the higher rates in this country.
You can see the numbers right there in the MMWR; yes, the firearm-related homicide rate is higher in the U.S., but the non-firearm related homicide rate was 3.6 times that of the other countries (1.63 per 100,000 versus 0.45 in the other countries). If, as Nick is suggesting, easy access to the evil guns is the cause of the higher homicide rate then our non-gun related homicide rates would be the same as those 25 other countries.
Nick then trots out his suggestion:
So let’s treat firearms rationally as the center of a public health crisis that claims one life every 20 minutes. The United States realistically isn’t going to ban guns, but we can take steps to reduce the carnage.
So one life every 20 minutes is 72 per day times 365 gives us 26,280 firearm related deaths annually. If we go to the CDC’s WISQARS website, we find that from 1999 through 2010 there were an average of 26,034.5 firearm related deaths annually so Nick isn’t too far out to lunch. Or is he?
That 26K number includes suicides, and as study after study has shown, restrictions on guns may change the firearm related suicide rate but it does not change the overall suicide rate. If we remove firearm related suicides and “legal intervention” (i.e. cops shooting bad guys) we drop to an average of 10,870 or one every 48 minutes or so. Which is all completely irrelevant since 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.
But getting back to Kristof’s proposals, he blathers on about how we have building codes, bus safety regulations, food safety standards etc., ad nauseum but no such standards for guns before quoting a Facebook comment that it’s easier to buy a gun than to adopt a pet. I have no idea where Nick adopts his pets, but when I got my dog I didn’t have to complete a form which could get me 10 years at Club Fed if I lied while filling it out (and the dealer a similar vacation if he loses it). I didn’t have to provide photo ID to get my puppy, nor did the seller have to do a criminal background check on me. But let’s grant Nick his hyperbole and see if he actually comes up with some concrete suggestions.
Look, I grew up on an Oregon farm … I understand: shooting is fun! But so is driving, and we accept that we must wear seat belts, use headlights at night, and fill out forms to buy a car. Why can’t we be equally adult about regulating guns?
First of all I don’t accept that I must wear a seatbelt; I do because it’s stupid not to but as far as I’m concerned it’s none of the State’s damned business whether I do or not.
Second, I gotta call bull$hit on that filling out forms to buy a car thing. If you’re just plunking down cash or a credit card for a car (the way most people do for a gun) that you are only going to drive on private property, the only paperwork is a title transfer. You don’t need to register it or insure it. But when buying a gun from a dealer you have to show proof of residence, proof of age, fill out a form 4473, and get a background check. Some states also require a permit to purchase and several have a waiting period. I don’t know of any state that requires any of that to buy a car. Or a puppy.
And don’t say that it won’t make a difference because crazies will always be able to get a gun.
Okay, I won’t but only because you’ve already said it. The vast majority of these spree killings are committed by people who, up until they start murdering, would not be considered a threat to themselves or others. So unless you’ve got a Department of PreCrime up your sleeve, nothing short of a complete ban would keep those “crazies” from getting their hands on a firearm.
We’re not going to eliminate gun deaths, any more than we have eliminated auto accidents. But if we could reduce gun deaths by one-third, that would be 10,000 lives saved annually.
Actually no, Nick; remember what I said about suicides and the substitution effect? The only reduction you may see is in firearm-related homicides, of which there are a hair over 10,000 a year (based on the WISQARS average from 1999 to 2010) so reducing them by a third would only get you 3,354 lives saved annually.
Except for the fact that most people (55.37%) who commit homicides have already been convicted of a serious crime and, therefore, are already barred from possessing guns, leaving us with 4,491 (nominally) law-abiding people who commit homicides annually. Which means that if (and it is a huge if) your mala prohibita laws manage to reduce homicides by a third you’d save a little less than 1,500 lives annually. Yes, every life is precious, but given that currently more than two lives are saved in DGUs  than are lost in CGUs  your math stinks.
Nick then displays the classic hoplophobe characteristic of ignoring inconvenient reality:
Likewise, don’t bother with the argument that if more people carried guns, they would deter shooters or interrupt them. Mass shooters typically kill themselves or are promptly caught, so it’s hard to see what deterrence would be added by having more people pack heat.
I won’t bother with an argument, I’ll just state a few facts:
- With the exception of the Tucson shooting, every mass casualty shooting in the country since the FBI started keeping track in the early 1980s has occurred in a theoretically “gun-free zone”. Let me repeat that for you Nick: EVERY mass casualty shooting save that one, has occurred in a “gun-free zone”.
- Out of 29 peer-reviewed national studies by performed by criminologists and economists, 28 have determined that right-to-carry laws either reduce violent crime (18) or have no statistically significant effect (10). Only one of those studies claimed that right-to-carry laws caused a temporary increase in one type of crime.
- Mass shooters may typically kill themselves but that doesn’t mean that they want to be killed before they rack up a good body count, hence the occurrence of these shootings in victim disarmament zones.
There have been few if any cases in the United States in which an ordinary citizen with a gun stopped a mass shooting.
You know, for a double Pulitzer Prize winner, Nick’s kinda sloppy with his facts and/or research. Just a couple of days ago Eugene Volokh (who has no Pulitzers, nor any interns nor any paid research staff) put together a list of such events on his website. As he says:
Naturally, such examples will be rare, partly because mass shootings are rare, partly because many mass shootings happen in supposedly “gun-free” zones (such as schools, universities, or private property posted with a no-guns sign) in which gun carrying isn’t allowed, and partly for other reasons. Moreover, at least some examples are contested, because it might be unclear — as you’ll see below — whether the shooter had been planning to kill more people when he was stopped.
Mr. Volokh lists four:
- October 1, 1997 in Pearl, Mississippi.
- April 28, 1998 in Edinboro Pennsylvania.
- May 25, 2008 in Winnemucca, Nevada.
- December 9, 2007 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
But Nick finally gets down to some concrete suggestions:
So what can we do? A starting point would be to limit gun purchases to one a month, to curb gun traffickers.
One-gun-a-month laws sound great but are just another “reasonable” law that merely impedes legal gun owners rather than putting any kind of a real dent in actual trafficking. Indeed, until recently Virginia had a one-gun-a-month law but that didn’t stop The New York Times from calling them part of the ‘Iron Pipeline’ of gun smuggling into New York State. In fact, according to The Times, two of the top five “crime gun” source states had one-a-month laws (which they still call “the most effective tool” for preventing trafficking).
The antis say that the way things are now, traffickers can buy unlimited handguns in a single transaction and that this rule won’t affect the law abiding. They say no one ‘needs’ to buy more than one gun a month. Just off the top of my head I can come up with a time when, if I’d had the money, I would have needed to buy two pistols at once. I was at a gun show looking for a vest-pocket Mauser like the one my grandfather ‘liberated’ from a prisoner in WW I. I saw a dealer who had two, with consecutive serial numbers. He wasn’t willing to break the pair up (I don’t blame him) but if I’d had the money I would definitely have bought them; unless, of course, I’d been in a one-a-month state, in which case I probably would have passed on the purchase to avoid the PITA aspects.
Aside from special circumstances like that, though, the antis will again ask “why would anyone need more than one gun a month?” But by letting them frame the argument that way we concede too much. The question should be “why shouldn’t I be able to buy what I want when I want it?” And the “gun trafficking” argument doesn’t stand up, because (again, see the NYT piece) two of the top five – forty percent – of the top “crime gun” supplier states had the one handgun a month laws.
Likewise, we should restrict the sale of high-capacity magazines so that a shooter can’t kill as many people without reloading.
Seriously? You think a 10-round mag limit will keep spree-shooters from racking up the body count? I would submit that having a “high” cap magazine actually facilitated the capture of the Tucson shooter. If he had been limited to 10 rounds, he probably would have practiced swapping mags so that he didn’t get hung up, which was what allowed bystanders to stop him.
Second, it’s a helluva lot easier to keep track of 10 shots than 33 (I can see Nick’s brain starting to melt on that one). See Nick, if you know when you are getting to the end of your mag, you can swap in a fresh one without going into slide lock. That will save the average shooter at least a half second, reducing their window of vulnerability that much more.
Continuing on with Nick’s suggestions:
We should impose a universal background check for gun buyers, even with private sales.
Yeah, straw buyers are sure to comply with that law!
Let’s make serial numbers more difficult to erase, and back California in its effort to require that new handguns imprint a microstamp on each shell so that it can be traced back to a particular gun.
It’s already illegal to deface a serial number. What good will making them harder to get rid of do? Yep, with the serial number you can track it from the manufacturer to the dealer and then (probably) to the initial purchaser (all of this after the shooting). If that purchaser was a straw buyer or gun trafficker s/he will have all sorts of good reasons why s/he no longer has the weapon and has no idea what happened to it. Oh, wait, I can hear someone in the back of the room saying “That’s why we need to make reporting lost or stolen weapons mandatory!” Well let’s just try a little scenario here …
Let’s suppose that I’m a “corrupt gun owner” who is funneling guns to criminals and one of my guns is found at the scene of a crime. The antis’ idea is that the police will descend upon my Eee-vil Lair, listen to my pathetic “[s]omeone stole it from me” excuse, clap me in irons and then whisk me away to durance vile so I may pay my debt to society.
Here is what I think will happen:
Officer Friendly: Knock-knock
Little Old Young Me: Yeah, hey dude what’s up?
OF: Sir we found a Glongfield XD-55 Serial number 123ABC at a crime scene and traced it back to you.
LYM: Well that can’t be right; I’ve got it locked up in my shed.
(-trudge- -trudge- -trudge- lock unlocks)
OF: Sir this shed appears to be empty.
LYM: Oh my stars and garters! I’ve been robbed!
OF: Sir, the law requires that you report any lost or stolen firearm within XYZ hours of discovering that it is gone.
LYM: Well it’s a good thing you’re here then! *snicker* Officer, I want to report a stolen gun.
Repeat as necessary.
As for microstamping …
sci·ence – noun /ˈsīəns/
- The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment
sci·en·tif·ic meth·od – noun /ˌsīənˈtifik meTHəd/
- A method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses
Hmm, nowhere in any of the definitions for either of these terms did I find one that said something like “the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses after throwing out data that you don’t like.” But judging by this press release about “scientific” microstamping from New Yorkers Against Gun Violence[sic] that meaning of the term seems to have crept into the lexicon of the antis . . .
New Study Proves Microstamping Technology Works And Is A Necessary Tool For Law Enforcement To Solve Gun Crimes
Following on the heels of a front-page New York Times article on microstamping, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence today called attention to a new peer-reviewed, independent expert study on microstamping confirming the technology works and that it is an important tool for law enforcement to solve violent gun crimes.
Amazingly coincidental bit of timing there; the first piece on microstamping that The Times did in almost a year (the previous one was 09-Aug-2011) came out just about the same time as this new study. But getting back to the meat of the matter; nowhere in that peer-reviewed, independent expert study on microstamping did it say that the technology works and that it is an important tool for law enforcement. No what it actually said was:
Despite shortcomings, microstamping does have the potential to place valuable information into the hands of the officer or detective at the scene of a crime in a timely fashion.
But heck, why let a few facts get in the way of a good meme. And speaking of facts getting in the way, NYAGV continues:
The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and spearheaded by a professor recognized by the National Academy of Science and a nationally recognized forensic firearm and tool mark expert and published in the Spring 2012 edition of the Association of Firearm and Toolmark Examiners (AFTE) Journal, found that all six letter and numbers imprinted on shell casings when a gun was fired, could be read at least 87 percent of the time.
Well, not quite. The test consisted of three weapons (a Sig, Taurus and Hi-Point) each firing 100 rounds of 10 different brands of ammo. If you average the results you get 87%. Except you don’t, because the researchers threw out the Taurus and Hi-Point results for the Sellier & Bellot ammunition. Their S&B rounds had a lacquer sealer on the primer which made reading the codes difficult. See what I meant about ignoring out results you didn’t like?
So the actual percentage, across all the weapons, would be closer to 82%, which is still misleading, because the Sig had the highest score at 94.8% and just how many gang-bangers bring a $1,000 gun on a drive-by? The Taurus was closer to the average at 84.8% while the Hi-Point came in at 66.3% (unless they were using Silver Bear ammunition which brought it down to 58%).
Now assuming that gang-bangers actually use microstamping weapons, and don’t deface the firing pin, and don’t wise up and start using S&B and don’t put a drop of nail polish on each primer, is there any way they could circumvent this important tool for law enforcement? Well, take a look at figure 2b from the report:
Hmm, brass catcher. Less than 30 bucks on Amazon. Or if the BG is feeling really cheap, there’s always the 2 pieces of Scotch tape and a plastic grocery bag method:
But let’s assume our shooters are really dumb and leave their microstamped brass all over the crime scene. The question then arises of whether someone trying to read the rounds cold, as it were, would be able to read the stampings. The study authors themselves point out:
In conducting an assessment of this nature it becomes a matter of concern whether a character is truly visible or whether the examiner, knowing what the character is supposed to be, unconsciously ascribes greater clarity than actually exists. For example, after seeing 95 clear impressions of a code it would be difficult to not immediately interpret the 96th cartridge as being clear, even though some smearing may be present.
Since having each round examined by a different person was impractical, they told their researcher to be real sure that he actually could decipher the markings and wasn’t just remembering them.
And even supposing that the casings are left behind, are legible, the stars have aligned, the gods have smiled and a determination is made, what is to stop the purported owner from claiming the weapon was stolen (as happened in 50% of New York’s CoBIS hits)?
Finally, what is to stop some entrepreneurial gang-banger from getting a job at a shooting range where he can collect spent casings by the pound and then use these to “salt” a crime scene?
But Nick has proof, proof, proof that stuff like this will really work! He brings up the example that is Australia:
Other countries offer a road map. In Australia in 1996, a mass killing of 35 people galvanized the nation’s conservative prime minister to ban certain rapid-fire long guns. The “national firearms agreement,” as it was known, led to the buyback of 650,000 guns and to tighter rules for licensing and safe storage of those remaining in public hands. …
… The murder rate with firearms has dropped by more than 40 percent, according to data compiled by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and the suicide rate with firearms has dropped by more than half.
Indeed, the firearm related suicide rate continued its trend; having dropped about 33% in the 8 years from 1988 through 1996 it then dropped another 56% in the 11 years from 1997 through 2008. Meanwhile the non-firearm related rate initially continued its rise, then dropped some and then started to rise again, but as you can see from the fact that it closes on the overall rate there was a significant substitution of methods.
As for the homicide rates:
Aside from spikes in 1992 and 1996 the firearm homicide rate has been trending down before and after the buyback, but again, the non-gun rate closes on the overall rate indicating once again that some people were simply switching methods to accomplish their murders.
Nick finally concludes his killer argument:
For that matter, we can look for inspiration at our own history on auto safety. As with guns, some auto deaths are caused by people who break laws or behave irresponsibly. But we don’t shrug and say, “Cars don’t kill people, drunks do.”
Instead, we have required seat belts, air bags, child seats and crash safety standards. We have introduced limited licenses for young drivers and tried to curb the use of mobile phones while driving. All this has reduced America’s traffic fatality rate per mile driven by nearly 90 percent since the 1950s.
Well a pretty big portion of that reduction has come from improved engineering; better brakes, better tires, better materials, better automotive designs better highway designs, etc. But his analogy has absolutely nothing in common with firearms. None of these safety requirements still did absolutely nothing to save anyone in the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market when George Weller plowed into the crowd in his car. OK that was negligence and not malice, but all those people are just as dead and damaged as they would have been if George had decided to go on a killing rampage and not just mixed up the brake and gas pedals.
No, if Nick wants to look at road maps from other countries, he should look to Israel. Partly in response to the 1974 terrorist attack in the town of Ma’alot, where members of the PLO took over the Netiv Meir elementary school, killing 22 children and 3 adults and wounding 68 more, Israel loosened their gun laws. Teachers were encouraged to start carrying guns in school and parents volunteered as armed guards for the children. Since then the only spree shooting of Israeli schoolchildren occurred on a visit to the Island of Peace where the teachers had been asked to disarm.
That’s how you protect children in schools — with responsible adults armed and prepared to defend their charges, not silly-ass OGAM and registration plans.
 L. Neil Smith: Letter to a Liberal Colleague
 The Bureau of Justice Statistics does biannual studies Felony Defendants In Large Urban Counties which, according to the description “Presents data collected from a representative sample of felony cases filed in the nation’s 75 most populous counties during May …” According to their reports from 1992 – 2006 almost three-quarters (73.25%) of homicide defendants had at least one prior arrest, and 55.37% had prior convictions for serious crimes.
 Defensive Gun Uses
 Criminal Gun Uses
 Please don’t anyone think that I believe this crap is a good idea, but until we can get the Second Amendment treated like the First it is a good way to shoot down silly-ass OGAM schemes.
 Hilly, Jackie. “New Study Proves Microstamping Technology Works And Is A Necessary Tool For Law Enforcement To Solve Gun Crimes.” New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. 14 Jun. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2012
 L.S. Chumbley, J. Kreiser, T. Lizotte, O. Ohar, T. Grieve, B. King, D. Eisenmann. “Clarity of Microstamped Identifiers as a Function of Primer Hardness and Type of Firearm Action.” AFTE Journal–Volume 44 Number 2–Spring 2012. 155. Web. 12 Dec. 12.
 Chumbley 148.
 Data from GunPolicy.org <http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/australia>