For the better part of a decade, I've encountered a steady stream of the standard arguments and "solutions" that follow mass shootings. Universal background checks, banning assault weapons, age-based restrictions, magazine capacity restrictions, and much much more. These anti-gun arguments range from ineffectual to insane.
Comparing gun control to voter fraud
Most Second Amendment supporters have heard all the arguments and endured many of the slurs. (Are you compensating for something?) It had been awhile since I'd heard anything new. But a quote reposted on Facebook from ABC News' former pet Republican Matthew Dowd prompted some outrageous and insane claims about guns that had me shaking my head.
The quote in question from Dowd was this piece from USA Today.
Approximately 1.5 million people have died from gun violence in the past five decades, and in that same period there have been about 1,500 documented proven instances of voter fraud out of more than 3 billion votes cast.
First a few notes on the voter fraud numbers. That database he links to is maintained by the Heritage Foundation; it is admittedly not a comprehensive or complete database. A quick perusal of some of the cases in the database show that it only goes back approximately 25 years—half the 50 year number he provides for "gun violence" deaths. Finally, those are instances of voter fraud, not the number of fraudulent votes cast. Most of the cases I quickly glanced at involved hundreds of illegal ballots.
Of course, counting the voter fraud numbers in that fashion would take more work (the Heritage database doesn't count affected ballots), but would also likely result in comparable raw numbers.
Of course, voter fraud, while odious and destructive to the overall health of our political system, isn't on the same moral footing as someone's death. (At least, not until it reaches the level of voter fraud common in Venezuela, Cuba, etc.)
Stacking the deck with suicides
Having said that, the 1.5 million number of "gun violence" deaths, as is standard nowadays, includes approximately 1 million suicides. While I'm of the opinion that suicides are bad, the same people who typically push gun control are also typically in favor of legalizing physician-assisted suicide.
While suicides are tragic and evidence that we have failed some of our most vulnerable, gun control advocates insist on using them in their statistics while doing nothing to address the prevalence of suicide. They pretend that somehow getting rid of guns would drastically reduce the suicide rate—and it might—but such a widespread gun confiscation would produce other deleterious effects that go unmentioned.
Little effort appears to be being made to treat the depression that is the root cause of the suicide; merely an effort to ban the tool most often used. And there really is no doubt that there are larger societal issues underlying suicide rates. Japan, where firearms are tightly regulated and near impossible for the average citizen to obtain, has a higher suicide rate than the "gun-crazy" United States.
When I pointed out that approximately 2/3rds of that 1.5 million number was suicides, the gun control zealot thought I was insane and was wondering where I got my numbers. After point out that I was using the number that he provided, I pointed to recent statistics on gun suicides which in 2018 numbered 23,941. If you figure that the rate has been relatively constant over five decades and the overall number of suicides have increased with the rise in the U.S. population, then a back-of-the-envelope number of 20,000 suicides x 50 years gets you: 1 million suicides over a 50 year period.
It sounds outrageous and it sounds like a lot (and it is), but that was by design. You don't often see statistics over a 50 year timeframe when discussing public policy issues. While the 50 year number allowed you to get to 1.5 million "gun violence" deaths, changing the voter fraud numbers to a 30 or 40 year time frame would've done nothing to change them, because the data isn't there.
And then it got weird (and insane)
Of course, if you're an otherwise law-abiding citizen who is distraught and the only crime you're contemplating committing is suicide, then background checks (universal or otherwise) won't stop you.
Mandatory waiting periods might, or they might not. Is the depression persistent, or fleeting?
Requiring meetings with psychiatrists or another mental health professional might help, but they might not. It's not as though psychiatrists have never misdiagnosed patients or failed to identify a suicidal (or homicidal) patient. In some cases, only an involuntary commitment would be sufficient to potentially prevent the suicide. Even then, a determined individual can take their own life.
You point this all out, and then came the weird allegation.
What basis did I have for suggesting that most of these suicides were legal gun owners?
Wha?! You point out that there's little that can be done absent creating a very intrusive and likely unconstitutional gun control regime to prevent determined individuals from committing suicide using a firearm and the gun control zealot's response is that these weren't legal gun owners?!
If true, this is big news. We have a little-noticed crime wave that's been occurring for decades. Distraught, depressed, middle-aged white men (the most likely demographic to commit suicide) are buying guns from gangbangers down in the 'hood. Or, they are breaking into suburban homes in order to steal firearms. All of that extra effort when they could simply walk down to the local gun store and buy one for far less trouble.
Law-abiding gun owners, he said with a sneer
If the idea that most gun suicides are the result of stolen or otherwise illegal possession of firearms wasn't bat$#!+ crazy enough, the next line of attack was an even more outrageous attack on common sense, statistics, and basic mathematics.
With rising crime and civil unrest following the death of George Floyd, the emptying of jails and prisons to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and the attack on policing that results in what has been called the Ferguson Effect, it should come as little surprise that crime, especially violent crime, has been on the rise.
We point out repeatedly that legal gun owners are among the most law-abiding citizens in the country. While the Venn diagram isn't a simple circle, studies have shown that concealed carry permit holders are more law-abiding, on average, than police.
The gun control zealot isn't convinced. Gun sales in the past year-plus, largely spurred by the pandemic and the civil unrest that followed in many major cities, have reached all-time highs. Even higher numbers, with the election of President Joe Biden and his promises of renewed gun control efforts and vows to reinstitute the 1994-2004 ban on "assault weapons" by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D.-Calif., thus far this year show the trend has no sign of stopping.
Gun control zealots will, of course, link the current gun-buying surge with the increased crime rates. While there's certainly a correlation, there's also plenty of evidence that there's no causation. For a period of nearly 30 years, from high crime days of the early 1990s until just the past couple of years, the crime rate inexorably decreased as the number of firearms owned by the general public maintained a steady rise.
Likewise with the public carrying of firearms. Either concealed or open, more and more states loosened restrictions on firearms carry; a total of 18 states now have constitutional carry, which means if you are legally entitled to own a firearm, then you can carry it in public without a permit.
In 2020, according to the FBI's NICS numbers, a minimum of nearly 40 million firearms were purchased through a FFL retailer. Through the first two months of 2021, there have been at least 7.8 million more. (We say this is a minimum number because a single NICS check can be run to for the sale of multiple firearms to the same individual. Also, most states do not require NICS checks between individuals who are not in the business of firearms sales.)
Add up the math. We're likely more than 50 million firearms purchases since January 2020. Go back to when the NICS system was first instituted in late 1998 and you're looking at more than 380 million firearms that have been sold through licensed retailers in the past two decades…
…and crime went down for most of that time period; precipitously so.
Are the millions of Americans who've purchased guns through legal means in this country overwhelmingly law-abiding? You better believe it. If even 1 percent of those guns were going to criminals, we really would have the oft-promised, but never occurring, rivers of blood in our streets.
Feelings don't care about facts
That's an inversion of Ben Shapiro's classic "Facts don't care about your feelings" line, but it's equally true. This is closely related to the other old saw that it's impossible to reason someone out of a position that they didn't reason their way into.
People like these exist.
There is no reasoning with them. I was even told, as I tried to inform this individual of various facts which tend to complicate the narrative he hews to, that there was no information, no facts whatsoever, that I could provide him which could change his mind.
These people exist. They can't be reasoned with. Don't spend your time on them.
Some people are curious. Some people are capable of being persuaded. Spend your time and effort on them.
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