By now, everyone has heard or read some variation of the argument that ‘assault weapons’ should be banned in spite of the negligible public safety benefits that would result, because nobody ‘needs’ a semi-automatic rifle with a 30-round magazine. This line of reasoning is particularly infuriating because the people who use it clearly don’t apply this logic to anything except guns. I’m a firm believer that the best way to expose irrational hypocrisy is with objective analysis and hard numbers. So, as a resource for the Armed Intelligentsia, I’ve assembled an annotated list of some common objects and circumstances that no one really needs, but are more of a public danger than scary ‘military-style’ rifles. I anxiously await the anguished calls that they be banned . . .
People killed with ‘military-style’ rifles annually: Less than 350
According the the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, in 2011 there were 323 people murdered with rifles of all kinds. This number isn’t perfect – not all rifles are ‘assault’ rifles – but it will do. Not all ‘assault weapons’ are rifles either, but the media fixation is focused (for now) on rifles rather than ‘assault shotguns.’ For what it’s worth, this number is on par with the estimate by a Daily Kos article advocating an AWB, and with the numbers one would get by applying the findings of a DOJ-funded study on assault weapons (that before the 1994 AWB, they constituted ~3% of guns used in crimes) to the FBI’s numbers on gun homicide for 2011.
People killed by alcohol via drunk drivers: About 3500
Alcohol-related deaths are actually quite a bit higher than that – there are more than 10,000 drunk driving deaths per year, to say nothing of alcohol poisoning. But, to keep things fair, I’m only counting other people who were killed by drunk drivers. According to the DOT, in 2010 that added up to 2872 victims who were occupants of a vehicle, and 729 victims not in vehicles (pedestrians, bicyclists, etc). Yes, drunk driving is already illegal, but so is shooting someone with a modern sporting rifle (or any other firearm). But if we just banned alcohol, surely that would make drunk driving impossible. If it saves just one motorist . . . .
People killed per year by second-hand smoke: About 3000
Again, this isn’t counting people who ‘kill themselves’ by smoking, just people killed by smokers using tobacco (secondhand smoke). Are there regulations about where people can and cannot smoke? Absolutely. But clearly they aren’t working, so more regulations are needed. You know what would really save some lives? Make tobacco a scheduled substance, illegal to use or possess. Not only would we save 3000 innocent bystanders a year, but it would take a load off the healthcare system.
People killed in cars traveling faster than 55mph: More than 1000
There’s a large body of scholarly work that concludes several thousand lives per year (1000-3000, depending on the data sources and methods) could be saved by federal laws that would cap speed limits at 55 mph (or even 65 mph). You know what would work even better? A ban on cars capable of reaching higher speeds. No one needs to go more than 55 mph – if it’s an emergency, call an ambulance.
This ban could be enforced by mandating low power engines on street-legal cars, so that vehicles can’t get above a government-determined safe speed. Or by fitting cars with an electronic device that automatically reduces vehicle speed when it exceeds a certain limit. Technically, if we want an apples-to-apples comparison with the AWB, it isn’t really a question of street-legal – possession of an ‘assault car’ should be illegal even if you just drive it around on private property.
People killed in swimming pools and bathtubs: About 1000
According to the CDC, an average of 683 people per year drowned between 2005 and 2009 in swimming pools and another 403 per year bought it in bathtubs. That’s about 1000 people per year – or 3 times as many as are killed by rifles. Anyone who wants to do something for the children might start with these especially dangerous devices which are disproportionately likely to kill infants and small children. What’s that? You enjoy taking a bath or a swim every now and then, and have no children? Tough. Showers are good enough for anyone and you won’t be sitting in a tepid stew of your own filth.
People killed by unarmed attackers: More than 700
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2011, 728 people were beaten to death by “ fists, feet, etc.” Like the number for rifles, this is has been consistent through the last five years or so. That’s right, every year twice as many people are beaten to death as are killed with a rifle. This one doesn’t actually come with a prescribed ban – even Schumer or Cuomo would have trouble finding a way to ban ‘assault fists.’ This example is just thrown in to illustrate how remarkably deadly assault limbs are.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that all of these deaths aren’t tragic. They are, but safety has to be balanced against freedom. In striking that delicate balance, decisions need to be based on numbers and facts, not on anecdotes, feelings or platitudes about saving ‘even a single life.’ Not to mention the fact is that our society has demonstrated that it’s comfortable with a certain amount of risk in order to preserve personal freedoms.
So the next time you hear someone call for a ban on ‘military style rifles,’ ask them if they drink alcohol, own a car that can go more than 55 mph or have a bathtub in their home. If they do, you can politely point out that their freedom to use these items is more of a danger to society than your sporting rifle is ever likely to be.