How to Think About Guns: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

There are an estimated 300 million guns in America. This photo, from Kyle Cassidy's Armed America, shows (from right to left) Donno, Judy, and their son Uzi. Cassidy's latest book is War Paint: Tattoo Culture & the Armed Forces

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “How to Think About Guns.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

This episode is a straightforward conversation between Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt, keeping in mind recent events like the Newtown, Ct., school massacre and long-standing traditions like the American embrace of guns.

Levitt has focused much of his academic career on crime research, including all sorts of gun policies that do and do not prevent violence.  He has also analyzed the relationship between the economy and the crime rate, whether increased police presence affects crime, and whether deterrents like capital punishment and sentence enhancements actually work.

We begin this episode with some basic data. In the U.S., there are roughly 11,000 gun homicides and 20,000 gun suicides a year. (Our podcast “The Suicide Paradox” looked into why we hear so much less about the suicides than the homicides.) What we hear about more than anything are the relatively rare but extremely disturbing mass shootings. From the podcast:

Mother Jones magazine recently built a database of mass shootings – four or more fatalities — over the past 30 years. Not everyone likes this database – it excludes, for instance, all gang shootings and armed robberies. But here are those numbers: since 1982, there have been 62 mass shootings with 513 fatalities, or an average of 2 mass shootings and 16.5 fatalities a year. (Now, remember, keep in mind there are 11,000 gun murders each year in total.) Over just the past 10 years, those numbers are a bit higher – about 3 shootings a year, with 26 fatalities. But 2012 was a very bad year: 7 shootings with 72 fatalities, more than 4 times the average number of victims in a year from mass shootings.

Levitt helps put all these numbers in context, and make sense of overall crime trends. We also hear what he thinks about current proposed gun policy. He’s not optimistic:

LEVITT: I would just say that anyone with any sense looks at the current political climate, thinks about the kinds of proposals that are being made and accepts the fact that none of these proposals are going to have any real impact at all.

So what could diminish gun violence? We’ve asked that question before; good answers are hard to come by.  Levitt says mandatory sentence enhancements work. You’ll also hear about Geoffrey Canada‘s book Fist Stick Knife Gun, which might change the way you think about violence in general.

Audio Transcript

[MUSIC: The Wintermarket; “Thank You There Will Be No Encore” (from The Ballad of Artie Fufkin)]

Stephen J. DUBNER: Steve Levitt is my Freakonomics friend and co-author. He’s an economist, at the University of Chicago. One topic he’s studied for lot of years, from a lot of angles, is crime. He’s tried to figure out which of many potential factors have a big impact on crime rates.  More police and more prisons? That’s a yes. The economy? Mostly a no. Did the legalization of abortion help crime fall a generation later? That’s a yes. He’s also studied guns: gun laws, gun buybacks, gun crime.

Levitt and I were working together, in Texas, on the day back in December that a 20-year-old guy in Connecticut named Adam Lanza killed his mother, then shot up an elementary school, killing 20 little kids and six adults, and finally shot himself.

[MUSIC: Sonogram; “Fell Through Mirrors” (from Cubists)]

As horrific as that was, as incomprehensibly sad, Steve Levitt, given everything he knows about crime, he wasn’t all that surprised.

Steven LEVITT: You know, I think my reaction was probably different than other people’s reactions, because the thing that I’m always shocked by is how few insane people are out there doing mass murders, not how many are out there doing mass murders. And so, I have sort of a sense of foreboding. I always expect there to be crazy people out there doing murders, and so I guess I wasn’t as surprised as a lot of other people were.

DUBNER: So you are more surprised when there isn’t as much mayhem in the world as there is the opportunity for mayhem to occur?

LEVITT: Yeah, the way I think about it, when there’s one or two people out there a year who just go completely nuts and kill a bunch of people, then you think, well, why is it only one or two? Why is it not eight or 10 or 15 or 20? Once you get that far on the tail, it seems striking that, that…we know there are lots of people who are insane. We certainly know there are lots of guns, and that’s a lethal combination.

[THEME]

ANNOUCNER: From WNYC and APM, American Public Media, this is Freakonomics Radio, the podcast that explores the hidden side of everything. Here’s your host, Stephen Dubner.

[MUSIC: Spencer Garn; “Solar Gazer” (from Psychedelizodica)]

DUBNER: On today’s show, a conversation with my Freakonomics co-author, Steve Levitt, about guns. The United States has a lot of guns, by most estimates, at least one gun for every adult. And we have a lot of gun violence. In a given year, there are roughly 11,000 gun murders and nearly 20,000 gun suicides.

And then there are the mass killings, like the one in Newtown, Ct., that makes everyone rethink everything they ever thought about guns. Now, how many such killings are there, and are they on the rise?

Well, depends how you count, and whom you ask. Mother Jones magazine recently built a database of mass shootings, four or more fatalities, over the past 30 years. Not everyone likes this database, it excludes, for instance, all gang shootings and armed robberies. But here are those numbers: since 1982, there have been 62 mass shootings with a total of 513 fatalities, or an average of 2 mass shootings and 16.5 fatalities a year. Now, remember, keep in mind there are 11,000 gun murders each year in total. Over just the past 10 years, those numbers are a bit higher, about 3 shootings a year, with 26 fatalities. But 2012 was a very bad year: 7 shootings with 72 fatalities, more than 4 times the average number of victims in a year from mass shootings. So you can see why this topic has got everyone’s attention. Here’s how Steve Levitt makes sense of these numbers.

LEVITT: Yeah, it certainly appears to be the case that these isolated incidents of mass violence against strangers is going up, but I think you also need to put it in the context of the amazing gains we’ve had in the reductions of crime since the peak of homicide. Homicides are way down. They are down almost 50 percent, maybe even more than 50 percent from the peak. It’s come down year after year after year. The number of people who are killed by guns is in the thousands. But the number of people who are killed in these sort of Newtown type of events is really, really a small piece of the overall gun violence. So much more gun violence is either, you know, drug dealers shooting one another, spouses killing each other, friends and family killing each other, more generally, or, indeed, killing yourself. I mean, of all the gun violence which really is at the top of the list it’s suicides, gun suicides.

DUBNER: The fact is, though, that while gun violence isn’t necessarily increasing overall, it’s been relatively flat for the past 10 or 15 years, after having fallen a good bit before that. The U.S. is more violent than most other rich countries, at least, there’s more gun damage here than most other rich countries. Why do you think that is? Any thoughts?

LEVITT: Well, we have more crime in general across the board than many other rich countries. And, more specifically though, we have a lot more guns than other countries. So, it’s not the slightest bit of a surprise that when you have as many guns as people in a country, that your gun violence will be much higher than in a place like the U.K. where guns are incredibly sparse.

DUBNER: Alright, so when you say that, one might immediately say, well okay if you want to get rid of the violence, you’d need to obviously get rid of the guns. But there some issues with that right? I mean, first of all, guns are not perishable. Unlike Coca Cola or a car, it doesn’t deteriorate in any way, so a gun that exists 10 years ago will still exist today. So how do you start to think about if your goal is to lessen the amount of guns, lessen the supply of guns, how do you think about doing that?

LEVITT: If your goal is to limit the amount of damage done by guns, then given the fact that guns are a durable good that will stick around and if taken care of well will work for 50 or 100 years, then the first obvious thing that you need to think about is you can’t have policies that only affect new guns. Right? If you have a stock of 300 million guns, it doesn’t really matter what you do with the new guns if you don’t do anything with the guns that are already out there.

DUBNER: Okay, so what are the kinds of things that are typically done with the guns that are out there? I’m thinking gun buybacks? What’s your view on the efficacy or lack thereof of a gun buyback?

LEVITT: Gun buybacks are one of the most ineffectual public policies that have ever been invented in the history of mankind. So the typical gun buyback will offer, you know, $25 or $50 for a gun, or maybe they’ll offer some, you know…There was one where they offered some therapy, you could get therapy.

DUBNER: Right that was California.

LEVITT: California, therapy if you turned in a gun. But the fact is maybe a thousand guns will be turned in in an incredibly successful gun buyback program. And it’s successful in the sense there’s a really big pile of guns, and the mayor or the governor gets to set that pile of guns on fire. And it’s a great media opportunity. But there’s two fundamental problems. The first one is that the only people who bring back these guns in gun buybacks are people who don’t want the guns in the first place. Most of the guns are inoperable, they’re guns people inherited, they’ve just been not sure what to do with them, these are not the guns that are being used to kill people. Anyone who has a gun and wants to put it to a real purpose doesn’t bring their gun back for the buyback. So you get exactly the wrong kinds of guns. But more fundamentally, I think people are confused with respect to how dangerous a particular gun is. If I’ve done my calculations right, any particular handgun in the United States will kill a person about once every 10,000 years. Okay, so in order to prevent one homicide in a year, you would need to get 10,000 guns brought back in a gun buyback. Okay, but the thing is you don’t get 10,000 guns, and they’re not the guns that are used to kill people. So the typical gun buyback program I would guess saves approximately maybe 0.0001 lives. And I think that’s being optimistic about the size of the effect.

[MUSIC: Carson Henley; “Leave This Mess” (from 100 Hours)]

DUBNER: One of the questions that we posed in our first book, in Freakonomics, was simply this, what’s more dangerous, if let’s say you’re the parent of young children, what’s more dangerous, a house with a gun in it, or a house with a swimming pool in the backyard? What’s the answer to that question?

LEVITT: Yeah, the answer to that question is incredibly easy. And the swimming pool is far, far more dangerous than the gun when it comes to young children. So what we did is we looked at the number of child deaths that were due to swimming pools, the number of child deaths that were due to guns, and then we put it in terms of how often will a given swimming pool kill a child versus how often will a particular gun kill a child. And it turns out that the swimming pool is far more lethal than the gun, that a given swimming pool is 100 times more likely to lead to the death of a child than a particular gun is to lead to the death of a child. And so, I know a lot of parents who would say I would never let my child go over to the house of someone who has a gun in the house, but I’ve actually never heard anyone say I will never let my child go over to the house of someone who has a swimming pool, when in fact that’s completely reversed when it comes to the risk that the two products actually have.

DUBNER: Alright, as we’ve discussed this a lot on this program and elsewhere: people are terrible at risk assessment generally. And we understand why. Sometimes the math is hard. And some things are scarier than others. And a gun is inherently frightening to a lot of people, especially the kind of people who don’t interact with guns at all. So let me ask you this, in regards to guns, do you think then, that reducing gun violence is a goal that should be put front and center on let’s say the political agenda, or do you think it’s really not as threatening as it’s being felt to be and made out to be?

LEVITT: I think the gun violence is clearly an important problem. You look at the thousands of people who die each year from it. But the simple fact is that there are no viable political answers to it. So, in regard to your precise question, I think no, I don’t think gun violence should be on the political agenda at all. I think it’s so hopelessly convoluted. And the kinds of policies that people suggest are so obviously not going to fundamentally affect that the problem, that while there is a big problem, I don’t think there’s any way out given the kind of minimalist suggestions we’re making. And therefore I think we should spend our time on other problems where I think we might have a chance to really make a difference. I think about motor vehicle fatalities. And we’ve had an enormous impact of motor vehicle fatalities. There are assuredly other policies, say, related to drunk driving that could, and seat belt wearing, that could have a big effect on that. And I think for the number of lives you could save per word out of a politician’s mouth or dollar spent by politicians is probably 100 times greater if we think about motor vehicle fatalities than if we think about gun violence.

[MUSIC: Niklas Aman; “Closer”]

DUBNER: Coming up: How optimistic should we be about gun legislation?

LEVITT: Anyone with any sense looks at the current political climate, thinks about the kinds of proposals that are being made, and accepts the fact that none of these proposals are going to have any real impact.

DUBNER: That’s coming up on Freakonomics Radio.

[UNDERWRITING]

ANNOUNCER: From WNYC and APM, American Public Media, this is Freakonomics Radio. Here’s your host, Stephen Dubner.

[MUSIC: “Gendhing Kodok Ngorek” (from Gamelan of Central Java, Vol. 2: Ceremonial Music)]

DUBNER: On today’s show, we’re talking with Steve Levitt about guns, and the new spate of gun-control ideas that are being raised since the massacre in Newtown, Ct. Levitt says that many of the gun-control ideas that are being proposed simply will not work.

LEVITT: Well I think the policies that can work are ones that tie heavy punishments to uses of guns that we don’t like. So for instance, laws that say if you commit a crime and you have a gun with you, regardless of whether the gun was used, then without any sort of other consideration, we add five years, or 10 years, or 20 years, or 50 years to the sentence that you get. Those kinds of laws, I guarantee you, will work. If the incentives are strong and tell you don’t use guns, then I guarantee you we will see the number of gun homicides fall and the number of knife homicides rise, but not one for one. People will substitute away for using guns to kill people to using knives to kill people. But it won’t be one for one because knives just aren’t as good of a tool for killing people as guns are. That will work. I have no doubt that will work. It’s worked in California in the past when California put mandatory sentence enhancements on for felonies that were committed with guns. But I think the policy has to be one of that nature, where you’re not tying it to the gun itself, you’re tying it to the use of guns that you don’t want.

DUBNER: Levitt, let me ask you this, so we’ve talked before about the hidden cost of things, something as simple as, you know, free parking let’s say, which in fact generates a lot of hidden costs in terms of pollution, and congestion, and real estate value and so on. Talk to me for a moment about the fact that, you know, modern America is perhaps the freest society in the history of the world in which just about anybody has the right to go just about anywhere and do just about anything within some set of boundaries. And that in this very, very free society that perhaps gun violence is simply one of the hidden costs of that freedom, and perhaps A) we shouldn’t be so surprised by it, and B) it’s a trade off that if we want a society like we’ve got it will continue to exist. What do you think of that?

LEVITT: I actually don’t completely…I agree about the part about freedom, but I think the fact that there are all the guns around is really accidental. You know, if guns were just being invented today, the treatment of guns would be completely different than the treatment we have in this country. So you know, it’s part of the Constitution. It’s been interpreted in various ways. But I think there are all sorts of things that you’re not allowed to do. You’ not allowed to drive really fast in your car. And you’re not supposed to litter. I mean, there are many, many things that you're not supposed to do. And I think it’s really an accident. I’ll give you another example of accident. If you think about why is it that alcohol and cigarettes are legal and marijuana is not, I think that again is mostly accident. If people had been smoking regularly for the last 300 years and alcohol had just kind of come along and been on the fringes, there’s no way we’d say, you know, alcohol should be freely consumed by everyone all the time. So I’m not after making this country into a police state, but I think that people are kind of whacked when they act like there’s something fundamental about, you know, how guns should be part of society. It’s kind of a historical accident that you live with. But I don’t think it was deterministic in any way.

DUBNER: What about from the other side, not people who were defending the right to have guns, but the other side, people who are defending their right to live in a society where other people don’t have guns. I wonder how much you think that’s a kind of a repugnance issue, you know, that people who don’t like guns don’t just not like them, they find them repugnant and so much so that they, not only do they not want to engage with them but they feel that no one should and that people who do are by association repugnant? Do you think that’s an issue?

LEVITT: Yeah, I agree with you. Because the people who don’t have guns themselves, they tend not to hang out with other people who have guns, and consequently they really are at extremely low risk for being the victim of accidental gun shooting or gun violence, because such a trivial, trivial share of the gun deaths are of pure innocents who are, you know, being, you know slaughtered by people with guns. And so, it just gets back to what you said, which is that there’s something else. Either they’re misinformed about the risks that guns pose to them, or they feel the repugnance, but for people who don’t hang around guns, guns are almost certainly one of the least likely sources of death for them.

[MUSIC: Laura Ault; “Right It In a Song” (from The Greatest Thing)]

DUBNER: So President Obama inspired by the really horrible killings in Newtown, Connecticut, came forward with a plan called “Now Is The Time,” which is meant to curtail gun violence. And it’s full of the kind of stuff that we’ve been talking about here that according to you pretty much won’t accomplish much. Let’s say that the Obama Administration invited you to become it’s anti-violence czar for the next few years, asked you for ideas on how to cut down on gun homicides, in particular. Where would you start? What would you tell them, and how would you think about breaking the impasse?

LEVITT: Well I’d start by saying no thanks, I’ve got much more productive things to do than to try to lead a committee like that. I mean, I think from the perspective of having either a big impact on the number of homicides or being cost effective, I think it's a really difficult problem to make any headway on. I mean, I think there are very expensive ways to try to have a small impact, so…

DUBNER: Expensive in terms of dollars you mean, or in terms of laws…

LEVITT: Expensive in terms of dollars and time and everything. But really dollars. So, I mean, but let me give you one example. So it used to be that we locked up enormous numbers of people into mental institutions. And I don’t know if it was right or wrong. And it turned out though that we weren’t so good and treating those patients. And there’s a lot of bad publicity. And it is really remarkable. We used to have more people in mental institutions in this country than we do prisoners. And that number has now swung, you know, I don’t know whether it’s a 10 to 1 ratio or a 20 to 1 ratio of more prisoners than people in mental institutions. And, you know, I think it’s probably true that most of the people who carry out these tragic mass shootings are probably at least ex post described as being mentally ill. And I’m not sure these are people who would be institutionalized before they committed their act or not. I think maybe not always, but just in terms of a glimmer of hope, and I’m not saying this would be at all cost effective, I think you could revisit the policy of are there people who are so mentally ill that they cannot function in open society, and should those people be institutionalized, because right now very few of them are institutionalized. Many of them are on the streets, many of them are, you know, living with their parents. And I, again, I don’t think it’s a great policy, but at least we would have some hope of reducing this kind of gun violence.

DUBNER: Well let me ask you this, in New York State, where Governor Andrew Cuomo jumped out very quickly and passed a new gun law, or set of gun laws, called the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, one component of that is mental health reporting. It “requires therapists and social workers to report dangerous patients to the county” the definition of dangerous being, “likely to engage in conduct that will cause serious harm to him or herself or others.” And then the county would help to build a database that cross checks those people with gun ownership. So if someone seems to be a threat and has access to a gun then the state would get to know about it. What do you think of this idea, how do you see that playing out, Levitt?

LEVITT: Well in principle it doesn’t seem like such a terrible idea, but it certainly seems like it’s one of these things that could have unanticipated consequences. So for instance, let’s just say I’m one of these crazy people who has guns and is thinking about committing a mass murder, well I sure as heck am not going to tell my therapist about it now because if I tell my therapist they’re going to take my guns away, they’re going to lock me up, whatever. So, you know, to the extent that you think that this sort of therapy is at all effective in solving people's problems and making them less likely to carry out these acts, this actually could have exactly the opposite effect you want, which is it closes off the ability of that mental health system to have any influence on these people’s lives, because they’re going to withhold the information that might have been exactly the information that a therapist not charged with telling the state about the problems would have worked through with the client.

DUBNER: I remember when you and I first started working together and we started talking about, we knew we were going to be writing about crime, and therefore violence, and therefore guns, and we started talking about Geoff Canada’s book, Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun. And it lead to this conversation where we wrote…Here I’m going to read you Levitt a couple of sentences that we ended up writing. “It might be worthwhile to step back and ask a rudimentary question, what is a gun? It’s a tool that can be used to kill someone of course, but more significantly a gun is a great disrupter of the natural order.” I wonder if you could just talk about that for a minute? When you think of a gun disrupting, changing the equation of the way that people interact with and fight each other, the way they did hundreds or thousands of years ago at least, how does the gun as a kind of, you know, intervening instrument just change the whole dynamic of the way that people relate to each other or against each other?

LEVITT: Yeah, you might think that having a lot of guns around would be great for reducing violence. It’s the same theory that works with nuclear deterrents. When you have weapon that’s incredibly powerful, no one wants to fight because the costs of fighting are so high. But why is it in the context of guns we don’t think of guns as deterrents, we think about guns as, being this, causing the violence. And the idea here comes out of Canada’s book, Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun, which honestly I’ll say is one of the best books I’ve read in my life, and if it’s still in print I would just encourage people to go find it. It’s fantastically insightful. And what Canada talks about is that in the old days in the fifties and sixties when there weren’t that many guns around, disputes would be solved with fist fights or maybe with knives, okay. And the thing is, look when you fight someone who’s much bigger and stronger than you, you know who’s going to win. And if you already know who’s going to win you don't need to fight, because if you know you’re going to lose, why bother? So actually in that setting, where disputes are decided by fighting, you know, with your fists, you don't have to have many fights because there’s not a lot of uncertainty. But guns, okay, and this is Canada’s point, guns really destroy that order because anybody with a gun can beat anybody without a gun, right? It doesn’t matter how strong you are or whether you’re popular or unpopular. The gun basically makes it so that uncertainty of the outcome of the fight is immense. And then that actually has the opposite effect of deterrents, because now if anybody can win the fight there can be more fights, because it’s not like you’ve got a certain winner and certain loser, which means you don't have to fight in the first place. And I think that’s a really powerful idea. It’s a subtle idea, but one that is really at the heart of why guns are related to violence but nuclear weapons have not been ever used. Since we did it the first time when no one had them on the other side to scare us off from using them.

[MUSIC: The Wintermarket; “Thank You There Will Be No Encore” (from The Ballad of Artie Fufkin)]

DUBNER: I’d like to hear you leave people with a thought about gun violence generally for whether they are gun owners and gun lovers, or whether they think that guns are the most abominable thing that was ever invented, no matter what camp you're in when you look at the shooting at an elementary school where these five and six-year-olds are killed, you know, no one can be unaffected by that. It’s the kind of problem that’s got all kinds of tiers and levels, and incentives, and all different kinds of people with all kinds of agendas. What’s the way that you would encourage people to think about violence and guns when something like that happens without resorting to the knee jerk positions that gun people on all sides of the aisle typically resort to?

LEVITT: I would just say that anyone with any sense looks at the current political climate, thinks about the kinds of proposals that are being made and accepts the fact that none of these proposals are going to have any real impact at all. So if you want to have an impact I think you have to go back deeper and you have to look at the fact that if we’re not going to get rid of guns, but you want to get rid of gun violence, you got to get rid of the people who are doing violence with guns. By get rid of I don’t mean, you know…There are a lot of ways to get rid of them. I mean, one is to parent better, to have society indoctrinate people into more empathy and whatnot. I think those are the ultimate solutions. I’m not saying that any of them are easy, but fundamentally that’s where the answer lies. Right? If you don't have people who have the desire to go kill large numbers of other people then you don’t have a problem with gun violence. And so consequently I think that’s the dimension if I were forced to start thinking about it I would be operating on given the fact that we have 300 million guns in this country today, and my guess is we’re going to have more than 300 million guns in this country 100 years from now. And so you just got to live with that, and subject to that constraint find some other way to get at the problem.

[CREDITS]

 

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  1. Rafael says:

    A big part of the argument in favor of the right to own firearms is “self defense”. Is there any study that shows how many of the 11,000 homicides per year result from self defense? Were any of the mass shootings based on this argument?

    The current debate should help shake up the fundamental assumptions that are dividing the American society in such a polarizing way.

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    • Jon says:

      I listened to the podcast and tend to agree — including on the buy-backs. However, the analysis seemed to focus on homicide. Might there be more positive effect in suicide reduction?

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      • Don says:

        Sadly think the suicide rate would be relatively unchanged with or without guns since other extremely common methods like hanging/suffocation, poisoning/overdose/carbon monoxide, exsanguination, electrocution, gravity, and drowning all prove to be perfectly effective and readily available means.

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      • Peter K says:

        People kill themselves just fine without guns. ;)

        For example, Japan is ranked 164th in terms of gun ownership per capita — one of the lowest rates in the world [1]. However, they’re ranked 7th in terms of suicide rate — one of the highest in the world [2]. People in Japan simply jump from buildings, jump in front of trains, OD on drugs, or any of a myriad of other options to commit suicide.

        Much like trying to “fix murder by taking away guns” doesn’t actually “fix murder”, trying to “fix suicide by taking away guns” doesn’t attack the actual problem of “fixing suicide”.

        [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_of_guns_per_capita_by_country
        [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

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      • BC says:

        “Sadly think the suicide rate would be relatively unchanged with or without guns since other extremely common methods like hanging/suffocation, poisoning/overdose/carbon monoxide, exsanguination, electrocution, gravity, and drowning all prove to be perfectly effective and readily available means.”

        Actually, you’re far more likely to successfully commit suicide with a gun than other common methods. This is a big reason why men die by suicide more often than women. Men tend to use guns (which are highly effective), whereas women tend to use pills and other methods that actually have a low “success” rate. More specifically, men commit suicide at three times the rate as women, but women attempt suicide at three times the rate of men. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_and_suicide

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      • Peter K says:

        “Actually, you’re far more likely to successfully commit suicide with a gun than other common methods. This is a big reason why men die by suicide more often than women. Men tend to use guns (which are highly effective), whereas women tend to use pills and other methods that actually have a low “success” rate. More specifically, men commit suicide at three times the rate as women, but women attempt suicide at three times the rate of men. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_and_suicide

        The statistic that 3 times more women “attempt suicide” than men is true — kind of. The problem, however, is that that statistic does not dis-aggregate actual suicide attempts (that is, an act that has the intended effect of death) from non-suicidal intentional self-harm (think “I’m going to do this so people pay attention to me”). That is, attempts to injure oneself WITHOUT actually wanting to KILL oneself (as a “cry for help”) are counted as a “suicide attempt”. Women are far more likely to perform intentional self-harm to try to get attention than men are.

        Without dis-aggregating these statistics, any discussion of gender bias is pretty useless, since you’re putting apples and oranges in a bowl and calling them bananas.

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      • Conor says:

        It actually may have a large decrease in the number of suicides. For people that survive suicide attempts only about 10% go on to kill themselves. However guns tend to be an incredibly effective method of killing oneself and those people don’t get a second chance.

        the ny times had a pretty good article on it
        http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/06/magazine/06suicide-t.html?_r=2&pagewanted=print&

        as did cracked http://www.cracked.com/article_20396_5-mind-blowing-facts-nobody-told-you-about-guns.html

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      • terry says:

        Another question to ask is how many potential mass murders are stopped every year because one of the potential victims defended with a fire arm or the amount killed in a mass sitting is reduced because of defense with a firearm. And if the stats don’t differentiate self defense and murder then all the arguments are null and void because people have the right to protect there own lives even if it means taking out someone else’s.

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    • Mike B says:

      I always feel that “self defense” is the argument you use to win the argument, instead of the true reason that people want to own the types of firearms targeted in bans. In all honestly self-defense, protection from tyranny and dead hand style revenge are all just fringe benefits from being able to go out into your back yard and shoot up a whole bunch of paint cans. It’s like when you talk to people about legalizing Marijuana and they’ll go into all sorts of medical reasons, but you know that they just want to get high.

      Now I honestly don’t believe that people should feel ashamed to say that they enjoy using firearms in a responsible manner on their own property. By almost any objective measure the rights of millions should not be curtailed to prevent 12 deaths a year. Dozens of children drown in swimming pools every year, but there is no mass effort to ban pools because people (in this case liberals) are making a value judgement on the worth of shooting as an activity vs swimming (or other activities). Deaths are deaths and we should not make a value judgement if someone is killed due to improper firearms use vs improper flat screen TV installation.

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      • vr1000 says:

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      • Don says:

        @vr1000

        Along exactly the same line I have never seen a gun jump out of its holster and kill someone several houses over. I see a gun for what it is, one of countless objects that can be misused and result in death that the person who owns it is responsible for.

        It anomalously rare for someone to be shot in traffic for driving poorly compared to people being mugged, raped, assaulted, and robbed in their own homes and businesses and cities, etc. Therefore I submit to you that taking the personal responsibility to teach your teenager to drive respectfully would be much more effective and attainable means to raise his safety from being shot on the road from virtual infinity to virtual infinity plus 1. This can be practically accomplished without at all decreasing the safety of the vast majority of potential victims of the vast majority common everyday violent acts.

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      • centercut says:

        I would agree with Mike B’s argument because I argue that the prime benefit of shooting up paint cans in the backyard gives the shooter a sense of self-confidence that he/she will feel safer on their person and their property.

        If so, then I take your analogy one step further…

        Support for legalizing marijuana is to feel good as support for legal gun ownership is to feel safe.

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      • DoubD says:

        Pools, cars, hammers, bats, other blunt objects are not manufactured for the purpose of killing a living being.

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    • Jacob says:

      What do you mean by “Were any of the mass shootings based on this argument? ” How would a mass shooting be “based” (?) on the self-defense argument? I don’t get it.

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      • Chris says:

        because if you read the study and classification criteria above, all shootings with 4 or more fatalities, regardless or circumstances are considered mass shooting. Meaning if you were defending your home and killed 4 people in the process it would be considered a mass shooting. READ.

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      • Jacob says:

        Could you be a little more specific than just “above”? And there’s no need to be rude, I was READing and I didn’t notice that bit you mentioned. Point it out to me.

        If true, then yes, I guess in that extremely rare circumstance, a “mass shooting” could be in self-defense. Is that what you meant by that, Rafael?

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      • Chris says:

        My bad with the tone. Sometimes I come off harsh. Here’s the part you’re looking for:

        “Mother Jones magazine recently built a database of mass shootings – four or more fatalities — over the past 30 years. “

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      • Jacob says:

        Yes, and when you click on that link, none of them are cases of self-defense, and I couldn’t see that they would explicitly count self-defense cases, although they might. Again, none of them are, though

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      • Don says:

        To judge whether or not something is a “mass shooting” I think we again are suffering from looking at method and result rather than the more elucidating motive and incentive. What is understood to be a “mass shooting” and the stated definition of what is being counted are different. The number of people shot in an “instance” is a pretty weak criteria. Two gangs duking it out in an apartment building over a pile of cash and drugs could easily fall into the method and result definition. An rationally unmotivated slaying of 3 random people by a psycho could easily fall out of the method and result definition.

        We should work to make the criteria for a “mass shooting” to match with what it is we are all talking about. Some definition like “Homicidal acts targeting multiple victims without rational criteria of victim selection”.

        As to the rareness of 4 or more people being shot in a home invasion, when I’ve taken self-defense training courses they always said to assume teams of 3-5 robbers in a typical home invasion. I don’t know what this is based on but it doesn’t sound like an unreasonable assumption.

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      • Jacob says:

        I didn’t see their “study and classification criteria”

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      • Jacob says:

        Actually, they explicitly say they aren’t counting gang shootings. Anyway, there aren’t any self-defense cases in that database, so either they aren’t counting them (maybe), or that type of situation is too rare (3-5 robbers in a typical home invasion? hmmm sounds wrong to me…maybe you could find a news story or two describing that scenario happening)

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      • Jacob says:

        Basically, if you take the database at face value, there are only 2 possibilities:

        1) They don’t count self-defense

        or

        2) There hasn’t been a case of 4 deaths at once in self-defense in the last 30 years.

        Seems like it is probably option 1)

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      • Paul in VA says:

        @Jacob’s comment doubting how often a home invasion includes 3-5 people, see attached article from incident that happened the SAME WEEKEND after Jacob’s question.

        http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/local/crime/two-dead-after-prince-edward-home-invasion/article_319163a1-866e-5762-8567-bd890a38cb12.html

        Did you hear about this incident in the news coverage in last 48 hours? Probably not. WOULD YOU have heard about it if these two people were killed by a “random” act at some mall or whatever?? Absolutely you would have heard of it.

        My wife is a pretty bad shot. I’m not sure how many shots it would take her to deal with 3-5 invaders, but I’d sure like her to have a high-capacity clip.

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      • Jacob says:

        One incident says nothing about how “typical” it is, or how many perps is typical

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    • Rusty says:

      None. Justifiable homicides are accounted for differently, assuming the 11,000 number comes from the FBI’s crime statistics.

      It’s estimated that there are between 700,000 and some multiple millions of defensive gun uses per year in the US, with the vast vast majority not involving death or even use of the gun.

      Of course the numbers are muddy because the vast majority of DGUs are never reported to police and people on both sides of the discussion like to twist the statistics their own way.

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    • RGJ says:

      As a gun owner, I think a better way to term this is not “self-defense” necessarily, but “peace of mind”.

      People may have, say, home owners insurance (or car insurance, mandatory in my state) and never have to utilize it, but it is there if needed. Even though I live in a fairly rural area, there have been home invasions and, twice in the last three years, fugitives caught nearby after running through the woods, police helicopters, etc. You have glass anywhere in your home? Better have a Plan B.

      I think that to people who don’t own one and are properly trained, a firearm is a thing to be feared. To someone who owns and is properly respectful, it is something to ensure/insure the safety of your family.

      Food for thought — try to find a retired law enforcement officer, now a civilian, who doesn’t own a firearm and doesn’t believe his own family members should own and be trained in self defense with one. Few and far between.

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    • Monte says:

      Rafael: There are statistics on the number of people shot in self defense, and they come from the same place as Dubner and Levitt got their overall numbers, the CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/fatal.html

      I haven’t looked that number up in a while, but it is really small, only 200 or so in a given year. But here is an important point about this: It is not necessary for an assailant to be killed in order for a defensive use of a gun to be successful. In fact, in cases of defensive gun uses, it is extremely rare for the gun to even be fired. In the vast, vast majority of these cases, all that was necessary was for the gun to be present for the crime to be prevented. These cases almost never make the news, because the crime is thwarted, and no one gets hurt. Depending on whom you ask, this happens anywhere from 500,000 to 2.5 million times in a given year.

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  2. MAT says:

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    • JBP says:

      The people downvoted, not because of your points, but because you’re not interested in having a conversation and finding answer. Instead, you are the prophet coming down from on high to preach the word of the lord.

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      • MAT says:

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      • Helperbot says:

        “(i used the caps lock for emphasis, no way to bold words here)”

        Oh, no way, is there?
        You can also use italics

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      • Helperbot says:

        do it like this:

        voila

        only smush it all together and… voila

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      • Helperbot says:

        grr ok this is hard.

        (strong)voila(/strong) except use open and close carats. (the less than and greater than symbols)

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      • Hunter says:

        Mat look at your comment compared to everybody else’s… People are having a very rational debate over a very serious issue and you feel the need to rant. Take a chill pill bro! I believe we have the second amendment for a reason and that as Americans we have a right to own guns and be responsible for their proper use. As a full time college student getting a dual degree in spanish and international business as well as working part time at a shooting range instructing on the propper use and maintinence of shotguns, if feel that I get to experience both sides of this debate. While I agree that I will never have the need to own an assault rifle, I also see people who own them being responsible when using them. If you believe that only assault rifles or high capacity guns can be used for these “mass shootings,” google the Chinese stabbing of 22 students the day before the tragic Sandy Hook shooting. I believe that sick people commit sick acts and will use any means at their disposal. What I believe this country needs is a better education about guns. They are a tool like everything else, they only work if somebody is holding them.

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      • Mr. Ed says:

        Virtually every comment on this thread that is not pro-gun is hidden because it is promptly smothered in “tghumbs-down” by the obviously pro-gun majority on the thread. It is not a matter of the “people voting”; it is a matter of a motivated majority using the structure of the system to silence dissenting views. This is not a useful discussion because the format of the media shuts off the minority view.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      “illnesses that are in NO WAY different from other illness”, except that illnesses like heart disease and pneumonia and cancer so rarely result in violence against others, but schizophrenia not uncommonly does result in a voice telling the affected person to attack innocent people, especially the family members and other people who are in frequent contact with the affected person.

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      • MAT says:

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      • csdx says:

        “schizophrenia not uncommonly does result in a voice” [Citation Needed]. I believe you’re mistaking the extreme cases that get reported as the norm and that scenario is far more rare. E.g. Using that same logic we should believe that it’s “not uncommon” for gun owners to go on homicidal shooting sprees.

        Counterpoint: brain tumors can affect people’s thoughts and even personality. Also I’m not sure you’d appreciate someone with a highly infectious disease handling your newborn and coughing all over them.

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    • maryl says:

      You state your reasoning for using CapLock, but yet you use lower case “i” when referencing yourself….curious. If you thought better of yourself you could actually use the “shift” key every now and again.

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  3. Meagan says:

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    • Brian says:

      Its hard to say in short form all of the things wrong with your post.

      You do not license civil rights. The right to bear arms is an individual civil right (See DC v Heller and other SCOTUS decisions)

      The second amendment is intended to guarantee the availability of modern arms in common use. In fact a strong argument can be made that it is intended to guarantee use of military arms. I do not want a “bigger better” gun, I want an effective one. Several in point of fact because I enjoy the sport along with retaining them to stop attempts at violence.

      Your argument that if you impose an infringement of civil rights on the young so that they grow up used to it is horrifying to anyone who believes in a free society. I’m reminded of the old joke, Orwell intended 1984 as a warning not a guidebook.

      If you unravel one portion of the framework that protects that freedom, you jeopardize it all. It is, in fact, why Madison didn’t want the bill of rights at all because people would use it as an excuse to restrict natural rights because they’d take the view that the rights came from the document not the proper view that you always had those rights. The document is to stop the government from infringing on them.

      Take some time to read an expert in the field of firearms and self defense’s opinions on recent issues: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/an-opinion-on-gun-control/

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      • Jacob says:

        Isn’t the right to vote a civil right? Even, maybe, the paramount civil right? And yet we register to vote, and have our names checked to make sure that we are not felons. No one ever objects to those simple measures to prevent fraud! How would universal background checks be any different?

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      • Mike B says:

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      • Paul M. says:

        And yet, somebody who seems to want to advocate for these rights and the viewpoint you propose, you seem to be ignoring the actual language of the amendment.

        “well regulated militia” =/= “unregulated populace”

        The amendment is not to resist internal tyranny, it is to resist foreign invasion in a country that didn’t maintain a standing army and was living in a world of imperial European powers. See how that context has changed? Even if you wanted an effective weapon against the United States government, could even define what that is below the WMD level? Should you be allowed nerve gas in case you start disagreeing with the government?

        Your viewpoint means we need to allow weapons of cataclysmic capability so people who disagree with the government can kill the massive amount of people it would take to overthrow the government, creating a situation where the nation is now beholden to the heavily armed minority. That sounds a hellofa lot more tyrannical. And don’t tell me your response is then “Well, make sure you are armed/then get better weapons”. Because living in a nation where pissing off the wrong person enough could level a city block or mustard gas a high school is going to make us into a society incapable of peaceful coexistence.

        Weapons do not preserve your civil rights. They only give your neighbors the tools to deny you yours.

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      • Travis says:

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      • tung bo says:

        ” availability of modern arms in common use”

        Soooo, you support private individual ownership of: rocket propelled grenade? anti-tank gun? land mine? mortar? cluster bombs? MANPADs?
        This is a slippery slope! We must allow private ownership of helicopter gunships to safeguard our 2nd amendment!

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      • Dan says:

        Jacob,

        I would have to most adamantly disagree that “No one ever objects to those simple measures to prevent fraud”.

        Especially since the DOJ sued multiple states attempting to implement voter ID requirements. Even after known elections results have been rigged by fraud. (See Al Franken winning by 312 votes and 1,099 ineligible felons voting.)

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      • Jacob says:

        @Dan

        They weren’t objecting to voter registration, and they weren’t objecting to checking the voter rolls for felons.

        They were objecting to changes in the voting rules, such as fewer acceptable forms of ID, curtailed voting hours, restrictions on college students, fewer early voting hours, just to name a few. And what they were objecting to even more than all that, was that the voting rules were being changed so close to the election. Even if you agree with all the changes that they wanted to make, surely you admit it would be preferable to do it well ahead of time, in the interest of fairness to the public.

        Again, nobody objects to making voters register, and nobody object to checking those voter rolls for felons

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      • Jacob says:

        Anyway, you do seem to be in favor of voter registration and felony check, to prevent fraud, so does that mean you are also ok with universal background checks for guns? If not, how is it different?

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      • Dan says:

        @Jacob

        The DOJ was against ID checks at the voting booth. It is obvious that they are not concerned about voter fraud probably because most of it favors their party. (Hamilton County, Ohio – 19 cases including a democratic poll official that admitted voting twice; Sheila Jackson Lee’s district with over 19,500 address’ with 6 or more registered voters including 37 business, 97 non-existing homes and 207 vacant lots.)

        I am completely in favor of a background check (and showing my ID at the voting booth). I am not in favor of a database of owners, or any type of registration.
        Every American over the legal age, that has not lost the right, should have the choice to own a firearm without that right being infringed upon by others.

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      • Jacob says:

        No, they were against changing the type of ID necessary, so soon before an election. If you still doubt that, go try to find a link (not from FOXnews.com or WND) where the DOJ states they are against any type of ID being needed. You still needed an ID to vote, it’s just a question of what kind of ID they would accept

        Do you think it’s perfectly fine to wait until moments before the election before trying to put these laws in place? That doesn’t strike you as a little inappropriate?

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      • Dan says:

        No, I don’t think it should be done “moments” before an election. However, most of these laws were written and had to go through the states legislature process, which is probably only slightly better than the federal process.

        I have been a registered voter in 5 states, and only two required me to show an ID. I went from one state that required me to show an ID and the address had to match to just spelling my last name and saying my first – no ID check.

        I do not think it should be easier to vote than to get into a federal building or fly.

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      • Jacob says:

        I’m not sure what the various state voting laws are. I do know, however, that you are simply wrong about how long those changes were in the works. Many/most/possibly all of them were already pre-written (by ALEC), and were in fact pushed through the legislatures extremely fast. They could have easily been passed much further from the election.

        That’s not even to mention the measures that were taken that required no legislative action, but only a unilateral move by the governor. For example, Gov Scott in FL cutting back voting hours – no legislation needed, just a unilateral move moments before the election. Oh yea and how did that work out for FL? Four-hour lines, that’s how.

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      • Jacob says:

        As far as the state goverments being only “slightly” better than the federal? Well, it really depends on the state; look at what happened on inauguration day in VA. When you have majorities in the state house and senate, and the governorship, things can move pretty darn fast. Remember that state legislatures don’t have the filibuster

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      • Jacob says:

        “I do not think it should be easier to vote than to get into a federal building or fly.”

        So you think that exercising a civil right (voting) should be harder than a non-civil right (flying)? Do you feel the same way about the right to bear arms? The right to free speech? Should those also be harder than flying?

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    • Mike B says:

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    • Don says:

      I think the fundamental problem with restrictions on gun types and features being proposed is that those types and features that are on the chopping block are what make the firearms in question effective self-defense tools. Like the pro-restriction people look at a 30 round .223 rifle as excessive while a 5 round 12GA shotgun is considered acceptable. In reality a 5 round shotgun with 00 buck shoots out 9 .33 caliber lead balls per shot with a total capability of putting 45 .330 caliber lead balls on target. This is considered reasonable firepower for defense against 2 or 3 life-threatening invaders. All but the most able bodied average sized individuals will struggle with the recoil of shooting 9 large projectiles simultaneously from a 12GA shotgun. A 30 round .223 rifle has the capability of putting only 30 .223 caliber projectiles on target and this is considered by popular culture to be excessive. In reality the smaller .223 projectiles are indeed going faster than each of the .330 projectiles, but you can fire one at a time, this mitigates the recoil problem allowing you to actually aim them. This one-at-a-time feature also enables you to use appropriate force rather than the all or nothing arrangement of a shotgun. Also the high velocity of the .223 projectile creates an innate situation in physics where these fast moving bullets are more readily stopped and obliterated by hard building materials like walls. The larger slower moving .330 shotgun projectiles more readily penetrate hard building materials. Since the .223 rifle is commonly loaded with hollow point ammunition for defense the penetration of soft targets is also mitigated, as hollow points are designed to stop inside a soft target rather than going through and causing unintended damage. Autoloading rifles are also preferable because rather than manually working the action the hypothetical home defender can focus their concentration 100% on situational awareness and determining the status of the threat. The barrel shrouds (aka handguards) of these modern .223 rifles are intended as gripping and mounting platforms for things like flashlights and laser pointers so the user can better determine their target and what is beyond and hit it (not miss it and hit something unintended). The flash suppressors mitigate the night blindness induced by muzzle flash while firing in the dark so that the user may continue to judge their target and what is beyond. The collapsible stocks are intended to be adjustable to various body types so that me and my partner may both comfortably utilize the same rifle for home defense rather than needing to proliferate multiple rifles. The pistol grip and low recoil make the rifle ergonomic enough to use throughout our entire lives as we age and begin to experience age related physical limitations like arthritis (pistol grips first started being adopted by aging hunters experiencing problems with conventional stocked rifles and wrist flexibility). I think all of these reasons are why so many people are using these .223 rifles in the role which up to this point shotguns were employed, and are pretty valid reasons for making a conscientious choice to do so.

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  4. Jon says:

    I was not going to say anything originally but it wasn’t your basic point for me.  I might agree with it if I had the energy to read and follow the whole thing.  It was the parody of an insane rant in defense of people with mental illness.  If this was on the level (and I think it was), you are not helping.

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  5. Jacob says:

    I am a pretty big Freakonomics fan; I read FN and superFN, and I remember the piece about swimming pools vs guns. However, listening to the podcast last night, you said something that I didn’t remember from the books. I might have misunderstood it, or it might have been in the book too and I just forgot – it seems to be a pretty big flaw in the logic:

    You looked at the lethality of swimming pools based on the number of times they were used (at least that’s what I think you were saying), so something like times used/deaths. But then when you shifted to looking at the lethality of guns in the home, you just looked at overall risk, 24/7, with no consideration of how often it is used. Isn’t that comparing apples and oranges? To be consistent, wouldn’t you need to either look at the SP risk NOT based on a per-use figure, or look at gun deaths USING a per-use figure? ie how often does the family go target shooting or hunting.

    Here’s an example of what I mean:
    Let’s say that instead of swimming pools, we were talking about basketball hoops, and instead of guns, skydiving parachutes.
    Using this analogy, what you did would be like looking at the basketball hoop on a per-use basis (let’s say it’s used 3x/week), and looking at the parachute NOT on a per-use basis (even though it is only used 2x/year). You would probably conclude that the basketball hoop was far more risky than the parachute! Is this really the way you compared your statistics, or did I misunderstand (very possible)?

    ps I understand that this presents unique challenges to study; I mean, what are you going to do, survey parents and ask “how often do your children play with your guns?”? No one would ever admit to that, even if they didn’t lock up their guns well. On the other hand, it’s also not like parents will answer honestly “How often do your children swim unsupervised?”! Unique challenges, sure, but you have to find a way around it – you’re economists! Economist up!

    Keep up the good work!

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    • Jacob says:

      Another confounding factor might be that people don’t store their guns out in the backyard; maybe a more apt comparison would be between families who keep their guns in a safe vs families who keep their pools in a locked, covered space (admittedly not very common). What would the lethal accident rate of those two families be? Very very small, surely, for both of them, but which would be higher?

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    • MW says:

      I don’t think ‘per use’ statistics in this case are sensible. Most gun deaths do not occur when the gun has been brought out for recreational purposes. They occur when the gun is brought out in anger or depression. Whether said gun is used for recreation twice a week or once a year is barely relevant – the risk comes from the presence of the gun. Pools also can drown when not being used (e.g. an unwatched toddler and an unlocked pool gate.) I think ‘availability in the household’ is an appropriate measure to use in this comparison.

      If instead of ‘danger’ you’re trying to measure a cost-benefit ratio, then amount used does become important, as benefit is (arguably) proportional to ‘amount used’.

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      • Jacob says:

        Sure, I guess it would be reasonable to not use per-use stats, as long as you did it with both the guns and the pools, comparing like with like. Of course, you might as well look at it both ways just to see what the numbers are.

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    • John says:

      Yeah, the swimming pool math as they describe it here makes no sense – they use child-drowning-death / total-swimming-pools vs. child-shooting-death / total-number-guns. But as they point out earlier, there’s more than one guy per person in the US so deaths per gun is a useless statistic. There are many gun owners who own very, very many guns but I’m pretty sure there are no houses w/ many swimming pools. But if you have 1 gun in your house, or 50, the chance of accidental death by gun is probably relatively unchanged. A more meaningful comparison would be:
      number-drownings / households with children AND swimming pools vs.
      number-gun-deaths / households with children and at least one gun

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      • Santiago says:

        Of this podcast the only thing that bothered me was the pool comparison.

        I would argue that fair comparison is the percentage of children who play in pools and end up dead against the percentage of children who play with guns and end up dead.

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    • RGJ says:

      ?? I just read the transcript above (down arrow in the little box) and I don’t see a per use angle at all.

      “””So what we did is we looked at the number of child deaths that were due to swimming pools, the number of child deaths that were due to guns, and then we put it in terms of how often will a given swimming pool kill a child versus how often will a particular gun kill a child. And it turns out that the swimming pool is far more lethal than the gun, that a given swimming pool is 100 times more likely to lead to the death of a child than a particular gun is to lead to the death of a child.””

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  6. Adriel Michaud says:

    Great podcast guys. I particularly like how the unique points of view given were weighted with pragmatism and fact without the emotion that so many feel the need to attach to this issue.

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  7. James says:

    The problem here is that you keep skating around an important, perhaps crucial, question. You talk about “gun violence” as though it’s a single thing; that if there were no guns, there would be no violence. I would think even a slight acquaintance with history ought to disabuse anyone of that notion, but there it is.

    So what are the odds that if a person has a desire for violence, whether it be suicide or mass murder, and a gun is not readily available, that some other tool will be used instead?

    Along with this, we have the fact that the largest (non-governmental) mass killings in the US have all been done without the use of guns. Airplanes, arson, improvised explosives, cyanide… all these have been shown to be capable of killing more people more effectively than guns.

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    • Jacob says:

      I’m not saying I disagree with your overall point, but to just say that “Oh, they’d just use a different weapon” is a bit cavalier. Let’s say you wanted to kill president Kennedy in ’63; how could you possibly have done it without a rifle? Again, not that I disagree with your overall point, but some tools are better suited to a task then others.

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      • James says:

        On a few seconds thought, either improvised explosive along the motorcade route or, if I was willing to die in the attempt, rent or steal a small plane and crash into the limo. Either of those might have caused dozens to hundreds of collateral deaths.

        There’s also a practical question here: do I wish to kill a specific individual, say President Kennedy, or do I wish to kill a large number of say office workers or nightclub-goers? If the first, the rifle is clearly the more effective tool. If the second, it’s far less effective than say a can of gasoline and a few matches.

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      • Stefan says:

        “Let’s say you wanted to kill president Kennedy in ’63; how could you possibly have done it without a rifle?”

        A crossbow.

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      • Jacob says:

        Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • Don says:

        Jacob, I think you are vastly underestimating the power and range of a 1960s era crossbow. With the proper bolt and broadhead they are capable of taking dangerous big game in excess of what the 6.5×52 carcano is capable of taking.

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      • Jacob says:

        I’m not really questioning the power, just the range. I just have a hard time imagining hitting a moving target at one end of a football field from the other endzone with a crossbow. Plus you’d only get one shot; I’m not saying it is impossible, just that it would be a lot harder than the way it actually went down.

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    • MW says:

      “So what are the odds that if a person has a desire for violence, whether it be suicide or mass murder, and a gun is not readily available, that some other tool will be used instead?”

      This would be a good question, except you seem to be asking it rhetorically. Sometimes the perp will simply use a different tool – stab instead of shoot – and gun availability makes no difference. Sometimes the perp will use a different tool but it isn’t as effective as a gun. Sometimes the homicidal impulse will be short lived, and ready access to a deadly weapon can turn the impulse into reality.

      Indeed, what *are* the odds for the scenarios I describe?

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      • James says:

        No, I’m not asking it rhetorically, ecxept in the sense that I don’t have an accurate answer, and don’t think anyone else does. I do think it’s a critical question to ask in the context of the current push for gun control. If the people pushing this are being honest, their goal is to prevent future mass shootings. But suppose this country manages, through the expenditure of great amounts of time, effort, and money, to actually make guns 100% unobtainable – and we discover that there are exactly as many mass killings as before, just carried out by other means?

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      • guest says:

        @ James

        Hold on there, you are making a very shaky presumption. You say “their goal is to prevent future mass shootings,” and that’s obviously not the whole story. They are also trying to reduce the number of gun homicides in general. It’s true that they are talking a lot about mass shootings, for obvious reasons, but it’s equally clear that they would be delighted to bring down our sky-high homicide rates. As Bill elsewhere on here pointed out, the Australian Bureau of Criminology definitely thinks that their gun restrictions had a strong influence on lowering the violent crime rate.
        Now to paraphrase you:
        “Suppose this country manages, through the expenditure of great amounts of time, effort, and money, to actually make guns 100% unobtainable – and we discover that there are half as many gun homicides as before, carried out by other means?”
        Would those ~5,000 lives a year be worth the price of our gun liberties? Maybe you don’t think so, but that’s at least a much more honest question, rather than pretending that all anyone is trying to stop is the mass shootings. There are puh-lenty of people out there talking about kids getting shot in the street one at a time.

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      • guest says:

        *sorry that should read
        ““Suppose this country manages, through the expenditure of great amounts of time, effort, and money, to actually make guns 100% unobtainable – and we discover that there are half as many homicides as before, carried out by other means?””

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      • guest says:

        Likewise, here where you say “So what are the odds that if a person has a desire for violence, whether it be suicide or mass murder, and a gun is not readily available, that some other tool will be used instead?”

        What about just regular old murder, forget mass murder. As you also say, “If the first, the rifle is clearly the more effective tool” – So yea, if you were to remove the more effective tool, the average murderer would be less successful = lower homicide rate overall.

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      • James says:

        “You say “their goal is to prevent future mass shootings,” and that’s obviously not the whole story.”

        True, but I’m trying to simply things enough in order to fit a coherent (I hope!) argument into a few comment boxes. Of course gun control advocates have a whole range of motivations, ranging from the honest desire to prevent mass shootings to a belief that they can more easily subject a disarmed populace to their political ideology. So I’m making the most charitable assumption here.

        But let’s consider others. Suppose their desire is to reduce the total number of killings, regardless of the tool used? Then it would seem appropriate to examine the root causes. On doing so, we discover that the largest fraction are the result of the illegal drug trade, so we don’t need an expensive & divisive attempt at gun control to get a large reduction in killings. We simply legalize drugs, save the billions of tax dollars now wasted on the drug war, and develop a possible new source of government revenue.

        “So yea, if you were to remove the more effective tool, the average murderer would be less successful = lower homicide rate overall.”

        Not necessarily. If I decided to kill President Kennedy, but didn’t have a rifle? The improvised explosive I’d use instead might kill dozens or hundreds of innocent bystanders. (See e.g. Oklahoma City bombing.) If I can’t shoot my ex-girlfriend, I might for instance toss a can of gasoline around the nightcub where she works, causing a fire that kills nearly a hundred people. (But not the girlfriend – see Happy Land fire.) Or I might tamper with the brakes on her car, causing an accident that might kill several other people. Or I might… Well, no use giving people ideas :-)

        The point I’m trying to make here is that if people really do want to reduce the number of killings, then there appear to be quite a number of less costly, less divisive, and more effective ways to do so than gun control. Why not investigate some of them, instead of jerking the same old “guns are evil” knee?

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      • Guest says:

        You keep arguing against the straw man argument that I’m not making, that it would be impossible to kill someone without a gun. Obviously, that isn’t the case – I’m saying that it gets harder to do without one. At the very least, you surely acknowledge that it is easier to get away with killing with a gun. You’re not out in the open, pouring gasoline on the side of a building for five minutes, you’re not trying to sidle up to somebody with a knife, you’re not online looking for bomb recipes and risking blowing yourself up, and so on. No one is claiming that murder is impossible without a gun, so stop arguing against that.

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      • James says:

        You seem to be misunderstanding my argument, so I’ll recap. There are two different kinds of killings: someone either wants to kill a specific person – President Kennedy, an ex-girlfriend, or that crackhead breaking down your door – or they just want to kill a lot of people, without caring who those people are.

        In the first case, while not having ready access to guns might decrease impulse killings, it seems probably that it would also increase killings of bystanders when the killings are carried out. That is, to take a real life example, if you can’t shoot the girlfriend you burn down the nightclub where she works, killing 87 others.

        Something similar is true of mass killings. Guns are not an efficient way for one (or a few) people to kill large numbers of people. Even the largest mass shootings seldom kill more than 20-30 people, while mass killings by other means sometimes kill hundreds or even thousands. Thus you might have fewer individual incidents, but a far higher death toll.

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      • guest says:

        No, I didn’t misunderstand at all. I fully understand your point about mass killings. Here’s the part that is wrong:

        “In the first case, while not having ready access to guns might decrease impulse killings, it seems probably that it would also increase killings of bystanders when the killings are carried out. That is, to take a real life example, if you can’t shoot the girlfriend you burn down the nightclub where she works, killing 87 others”

        No, not at all. For the most part, people who carry out a premeditated murder try to get away with it. The abusive boyfriend is not going to burn down a nightclub, because that would greatly increase the chance of getting caught. Also, just because somebody is willing to kill one person, does not automatically mean that they are ok with killing dozens. In reality, he would just use a knife while she sleeps.

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    • Lacertus says:

      It should be obvious to all that not only would most people not kill with a knife if that were the only method available, statistics bear this out.
      In the U.K. gun ownership is virtually nonexistant. The rate of homicides from guns is practically zero.
      However, the rate of homicide from knife attacks (there are 6 fatal stabbings per week on average) is almost exactly proportional to the homicide rate from knives in the U.S.
      So really, we gain all that extra gun homicide. It isn’t that anyone just grabs a knife when a gun isn’t handy. For some reason it doesn’t work that way, and it has a lot to do with the psychological closeness you need to feel with the victim. For all but the most heartless sociopath or most deranged psychopath a knife won’t allow them the ease and comfort of scrubbing out their victim’s lives from a comfortable distance.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_violence

      http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2012/08/robert-farago/uk-six-knife-murders-per-week/

      http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2012/09/8279/3

      http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmhaff/112/11205.htm

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    • Roy says:

      He did mention that in the absence of guns, that knife attacks would go up, but said it wouldnt be at a 1:1 ratio. I’d love to hear more of the numbers on a possible estimate of what the ration might be. For instance, the murder rate went up in UK and Australia immediately after their wide scale gun bans and in Russia where handguns and rifles are severely restricted but shotguns aren’t restricted, they have a higher murder rate than the US but with a much lower gun murder rates.

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  8. caleb b says:

    Guns are not constitutionally protected for self-defense, hunting, or recreation. They represent the means in which citizens can fight tyranny. Any law governing such should begin with this premise.

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    • Jacob says:

      A tyrannical US government in the year >2013 would have drones, FISA warrants, robotic tanks, helicopters, sattelite tracking, sonic weapons, and probably lots of stuff that we don’t know about. Not to mention the hundreds of police, FBI, ATF, National Guard troops, and SWAT personnel that would be at their disposal. The idea that an arsenal of any size could defend you if/when the government goes tyrannical is absurd. Look at the shootout that just went down in Big Bear; he obviously wasn’t fighting against government tyranny, but if he had been, how would that shootout have ended differently?

      Really, if you were in a position where you had to “defend” yourself against tyranny, your most effective weapons would be things like Facebook, Twitter, The Consumerist, the Police Tape app, things like that.

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      • Peter K says:

        Comparing what happened at Big Bear to a full-out revolt against tyranny is disingenuous. The “against tyranny” argument assumes that a non-trivial portion of the population rises up against their tyrannical government, not just one guy with a manifesto.

        In the American Revolution, about 3% of the population rose up and fought their government of the time, backed by support from another 10% or so. Assuming that that pattern would hold during another uprising, that equates to 9.5M people willing to fight. 9.5M people is significantly harder for the government to deal with that one guy holed up in a cabin.

        And as for drones, FISA warrants, helicopters, etc…. well, remind me again how well the whole might of the US military fared in Vietnam, or how well they’re doing today against the Taliban. The Taliban only had ~100,000 fighters, and 10 years later they’re still not wiped out. Any such uprising today won’t be a head-on confrontation like the Revolution was; it’ll be guerilla tactics, which have proven to be reasonably effective against state military forces.

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      • Jacob says:

        Some of those are good points. However, Vietnam and Afghanistan are not good examples; for one thing, occupying a foreign country is always going to be far different than pacifying your own. For another thing, Vietnam and Afghanistan were not done by a tyrannical government (we did plenty wrong, don’t get me wrong); if it had been, we could have been far more brutal.

        You bring up good points, though. I would only suggest that the 3% don’t rise up overnight, it starts with one person, or a few people, then builds. At that early point, though, yes they are only one or two people with a manifesto. Once a full-on revolution is underway, that’s a different story.

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      • Roy says:

        Jacob, besides Peter K’s points, you’re also assuming there wouldn’t be severe morale issues of military or police firing on their own people. That compounds the government winning issue.

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    • centercut says:

      I liked your comment and agree with it. However, I have a question. In each time the citizens have fought against tyranny and the military was used (prior to World War II) or law enforcement (in cases of domestic terrorism), doesn’t the government almost always win.

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      • don says:

        NO

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      • centercut says:

        Um, sorry “don”, but the government’s armed forces won in the following:

        Whiskey Rebellion, Shay’s Rebellion, Dorr Rebellion, the Mormon War, the military activity in Kansas prior to the Civil War, the Utah War, the Civil War itself, the military action against the native americans, the Brooks-Baxter War, the Coal Creek War, the Homestead Strike, the Battle of Blair Mountain, all the Coal Wars in the 1870s-1900s (which were aided by the Army but carried out by local/state law enforcement and/or the Pinkertons), and the Bonus Baby Marchers in 1933.

        Since then, local law enforcement has largely dealt with armed insurrectionist movements. In most cases, the citizens were beaten badly – justified or not. Examples in my definition of organized armed insurrectionist movements include Waco, MOVE in Philadelphia, Ruby Ridge, FALN, JDL, Earth Liberation Front, Black Liberation Army, sleeper cells like the Lackawanna 6, and anyone else who got organized, armed, and carried out attacks.

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    • Lacertus says:

      Caleb b, guns are not used to fight government tyranny. That is what a “Ballot Box” is for. This is something that you put your “Vote” into.

      Again, it’s a “Ballot Box”, not a “Bullet Box”.

      Please try to remember that.

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      • Peter K says:

        “There are four boxes to be used in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury and ammo. Please use in that order.”

        Please try to remember that, although a last resort, ammo box is in the list of options.

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    • Roy says:

      caleb, Justice Scalia in DC vs Heller after reviewing the historical context that the 2nd Amendment was written did decide self defense was protected by and intrigal to the 2nd amendment. Also, tyranny isn’t the holy grail of all things holy about the 2nd amendment. The equally as important piece would have been protection against foreign enemies. A full scale invasion of the US is off the table from any country when you consider that most armies have less than 1million members and we have 80million armed citizens.

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