Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gun Control and on Other Gun Related Problems

For more gun related statistics please visit Gun

This is bound to be a politically charged topic, considering recent events. That said, this is more of an opinion piece than an analysis, so please do not take everything I say as ipse dixit.

Growing up my childhood imagination was forged, in part, by the visionary genius of Gene Roddenberry. Star Trek encapsulated his humanist message. An optimistic message in which he envisioned a future where humans had worked together to achieve everlasting world peace.

The universe, however, is not always such a peaceful place. Nor is there reason to be so optimistic. And so, even Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock still needed guns. Laser guns.

Only in a perfect world could we exist without guns. Yet we live in a world that is far from perfect. Just turn on the news, and what constitutes newsworthy is usual the worst examples of human behavior, and human failing, you'll probably ever see. It is the furthest thing away from that optimistic future vision of Gene Roddenberry. 

Even so, we must not shirk away from addressing these very real problems and facing these very real questions.

I am for gun control. Ever since the The Seattle Jewish Federation shooting in 2006, where the crazed gunman Naveed Afzal Haq shot six people, I have had my eyes wide open to the effects of gun related crime. Maybe it was the fact that I heard the shots a few blocks down the street from my hotel. The pops sounded like firecrackers going off. At first, I thought perhaps some kind of festival was underway, but the flood of squad cars and wailing sirens which rushed passed me gave me the first clues that something a lot more tragic had transpired.

A couple days later I would finish orientation for Jet Programme and head to Japan. With the shooting fresh in my mind, I reveled at how Japan, a country smaller than California with the population of half of the entire U.S., was so peaceful. On top of this, there wasn't a gun in sight. Most likely because, in Japan, owning firearms is illegal in most circumstances. 

[Coincidentally, the Yakuza--Japan's version of the mafia--do acquire illegal guns. But they usually only use them on each other. The public is still relatively safe--so I am sorry if I don't buy the excuse that if we had less guns the bad guys would use them more to commit violent crimes. The reason the Yakuza limit their gun activity is because it draws way too much attention to them. But the cultures are different. Maybe Americans are less honorable. Maybe American criminals would take over. Maybe. I tend not to be so pessimistic  Even criminals want something more than just your wallet. So maybe the bad guys would get all the guns and take over is simply a bit of hyperbole? After all, we'd still have law enforcement agencies and the military to protect us. Let's give them some credit.]

In Japan, gun related deaths (including murder, suicide, accidental) equate to less than 0.02% of 100,000 persons in the 120 million population. Additionally, this is the TOTAL tallied percentage since 1998 to the present! It's not even a big enough number to get it to appear on a simple bar graph. That's how minuscule gun related deaths are in Japan.

The same is true of Denmark and Sweden.

The same is true of Singapore and Hong Kong.

This is in stark contrast to the near 10% per 100,000 gun death rate in the U.S. every year.

All things being equal, it would take Japan 50 years of non-stop gun crime to match the same deaths as the U.S. for just one year. (Actually, it would be more like 500 years to account for the decade long gap of no gun violence in Japan, but never mind--the point stands.)

After a little research the sheer statistics begin to jump out at you. It's actually quite simple math. The chart at the top shows that places with more guns have more gun crime. This statistic hold across the board.

Little to no guns = little to no gun related deaths/crimes. More guns = more gun related deaths/crimes. Even more guns, then, even more gun related deaths and crimes. This is called a trend, and the trend is always the same. There are always exceptions to every rule however, but there aren't enough counter examples to make any valid argument against the statistical trend of an increase in guns directly relates to an increase in gun crime.

It is that simple, at least statistically speaking. 

Don't let anybody's gun-cultist-dogmatic-second-amendment proclamations convince you otherwise. Guns are bad news, no matter how you want to tally it.

But gun control lobbyists must be reasonable here. It's not simply about sheer statistics. Statistics point to frequencies which allow us to make predictions based on the change of frequencies of events. Strictly speaking, the statistics suggests it is always better to have less guns. But this is different than having no guns at all. America is a gun culture, so taking the guns away is not a realistic option. Limiting them with strict policies which limit their proliferation, and the types of guns which would make it into the hands of the public, is a wise step toward reversing the trend of gun crime. Baby steps, as they say.

Let's be careful though, statistics can sometimes be interpreted incorrectly too. A good example of this, luckily, bolsters the gun control argument. Those who cite a steady (statistical) decrease in gun related deaths in the U.S. often fail to cite the steady (statistical) increase of gun related attacks, which have increased a whopping 50% from 2001 to 2011. Gun crime is on a statistical increase in the U.S. 

It's only the fact that modern medicine and excellent, fast responding, medical care can be provided that gun deaths are preventable. 

So why all the gun crime?

What we need to realize, however, is there are other factors at play here. In a recent OP piece, Journalist Dan Carlin writes:

People want to focus on the guns as the problem, but we have a culture in the U.S. where guns are ingrained and where they have been so for centuries. The use of them has seeped into us. It is the desire to use them that's different. To think the guns themselves are the problem we would have to believe that the Canadians, Europeans and others with lower homicide levels all would like to kill each other at our rates...they just lack the guns to make their wishes a reality. That's ridiculous. The truth is that these other societies don't have as much murderous intent as Americans. Why not?

There is a oft ignored psychological component to gun crime. To simply blame it on the access one has to weapons of lethal destruction is simplifying things too much and neglects to look at the lethal intentions of a disturbed mind--and what caused that poor mind to become disturbed in the first place.

As Carlin points out, although we may not like  the sound of it, Americans are much more prone to violence. Not all Americans, mind you, but a very specific group (or mentality) certainly are.

This is made even clearer when you compare non-gun related crimes, such as rape (the most under reported of crimes). Again, to compare to Japan (because of population and economic similarities) in 2005 there were over 95,000 rapes reported in the U.S. whereas there were barely 2,000 reported in Japan. Even if we doubled Japan's population to match it with the U.S., there would still only be roughly 4,000 reported cases of rape compared to the nearly 100,000 in the U.S. for the same year.

What does that say about our country? 

What it says is, Carlin isn't wrong. Americans are much more violent than other nations. Knowing this, is it really wise to allow unhindered access to firearms and lax policies which overlook this fact? Perhaps, we might want to begin looking into why these violent tendencies inflict Americans more than other countries and cultures. What is it about being American which makes us more prone to violent acts?

All the more reason, perhaps, to implement stricter gun policies such as screening for mental illness by imposing mandatory psyche evaluations for all gun owners.

In reality, taking away the guns from Americans is an impossible endeavor. It's simply unrealistic. It would be a logistics nightmare. How do you track over 170 million guns? Tracking them all down and taking them away would be even more futile. Half the people would use those guns against you screaming the second amendment at the top of their fanatic gun-cultist lungs. The more rational folks would hide them away. Take the guns away? It's just not gonna happen.

The fact of the matter is, we're stuck with a gun problem. So the question is, how do we address this problem? When I talk about gun control, I am thinking of policies which would help prevent future gun related deaths.

I have some basic, rudimentary, ideas about how we could proceed though. Such as imprinting micro bar-codes on all ammunition to track the sale and trafficking of illegal firearms. It would also help manufactures tag defective or outmoded batches of ammunition and make it easier for recalls.

I am for the idea of placing microchips into guns which would upload number of shots fired in real-time to police agencies. The chips could serve a dual purpose by also being a GPS tracker. So, for example, if a gun fired more than once in a downtown area, or at a school, then this would alert the authorities instantly. Then, using the GPS, they could quickly locate and apprehend the shooter before the 911 calls started flooding in.

I am for mandatory psyche evaluations for all gun purchases, no exceptions. Additionally, I would like to see an annual to bi-annual mental health check up for all gun owners, no exceptions. If you're required to take a drug test just to receive food stamps, I think it's a fair compromise to ask that you get a psyche evaluation in order to purchase a gun. 

One of the arguments which pro gun activists love to use is that most people who own guns do not have mental problems, so let them keep their guns. This is such a bad, horribly flawed, not to mention fallacious argument. Human behavior and mental stability is not a fixed thing. Various factors can cause various people to experience a psychological break. Crimes of passion are often such events. Suicides are another key example.

The idea here is that there be readily available health care would enable us to better catch and prevent future psychological breaks of violent rage from doing too much damage. Especially if we can take their guns away before they go off the deep end, so to speak. If the person, for whatever reason, fails the psyche test, they will be under a court order to hand over all their weapons until the appropriate time that they can get the proper help. 

Do we really want the crazies with itchy trigger fingers and an axe to grind with society to have access to guns?

Of course, not. The real question is, how does one fund all this? Easy. Tax guns. Tax them lots.

If people want their weapons that badly, they should be prepared to pay for my safety and the safety of everyone who would rather not ever see a gun in their life. Life is to short to be spending any portion of it staring down the barrel of a gun.

Taxing guns seems fair though. After all, smokers had to do the same when cigarettes turned out to be lethal. Tobacco got taxed so heavily that people were sure it would tank the tobacco industry. But it's stronger than ever. People can still suck down a cancer stick, or a carton of them, and never bat an eye at the injustice of taxing cigarettes to death. For the cigarette addict, it's till death do them part.

So Tax guns just as heavily, I say. Give people less of an incentive to go out and Willy Nilly buy one. Make it harder to own one. Make it harder yet to keep owning one.

Meanwhile, those who still want, or need, a gun can still have access to them. 

(UPDATE) My friend informed me that wildlife agencies who use freelance hunters to help quell pesky overpopulation problems of animals which disrupt the ecosystem would be unfairly burdened by increased gun related taxes. In such cases special permits could be granted and these folks could enjoy a discount on their required gun purchases. Simply put, there are ways to work around minor issues like this while at the same time addressing the bigger issues.

I do not deny there are areas in the U.S. where a robber will just kick in your door, walk into your home, hit you upside the head with a baseball bat and take whatever they want from you. Hey, if you need a gun to, as my friend says, protect your person from violent morons, then, I totally get that. It's America, after all. The Wild Wild West never truly left the American identity.

But if cigarette taxes can help aid cancer research, why couldn't gun taxes aid gun control policies which make sense?

1 comment:

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