The Corral: Gun Control

The discussion is still raging about gun control – and it’s long enough after for even me to pitch in from another country.  My basic thoughts on gun control are the following:

If someone comes in with a gun in hand I hope I won’t be carrying a gun

I’m going to try reaching for it – I’ll almost certainly be high on adrenaline and not thinking clearly.  At this point I need to match my speed drawing the gun, taking the safety off, aiming it, and shooting against the speed of someone with a gun already in hand, safety off, and is wired and psyching themselves up to shoot.  Try it with waterpistols.  Good luck.

If someone comes in with a gun I hope there’s no likelihood anyone will be carrying a concealed gun

That immediately escalates the stakes.  The goal is to get everyone out alive.  Even the shooter even if he’s the lowest priority.  If the shooter thinks people with concealed carry is likely (which won’t protect them much – see above) then he’s going to twitch if I reach my hand into my jacket for my phone – or make any other suspicious movement when we’re both high on adrenaline.

If someone comes in with a gun, I hope there’s no one wearing a uniform and carrying a gun

The last line our hypothetical gunman has to cross is shooting someone.  Some people regrettably need bodyguards (and the bodyguard’s job is to make sure the person they are protecting doesn’t get hurt).  And the police do need guns (and body armour) for when everything goes wrong.  But the last line the shooter needs to cross is killing people.  If someone is openly carrying a gun, the shooter must cross that line.  The second is much easier than the first.  The ideal situation is that the gunman doesn’t kill anyone and gets talked down.  And even where this doesn’t happen armed security guard is only limited use as the Columbine High School massacre showed.

Literally the only people in the random shooter scenario I hope are armed are the police.  And that makes it very easy for the police to work out who the bad guy is – the guy with the gun.  The only exception to this is very rural communities (of which America, admittedly, has a lot) where there are unlikely to be any bystanders, and the police are at least half an hour away.

In short, there is literally no one in a gunman situation that I want armed except the police.  I don’t even want anyone other than the gunman armed.  And if there have to be people armed I want them to be very visible.

Guns are a poor tool for self defence

Occasionally they can work.  If you have the distance to use them.  Anyone who is trying to exploit the recent Indian tragedy for pro-gun purposes is an idiot.  Mythbusters gave the gun vs knife battle to the knife in 16ft (and I think the gunman would take more damage in all three runs).  Tueller’s Drill says 21ft before the knife is a clear threat (see also).  And even with gun already in hand most trained American police officers couldn’t hit a target twice in ten yards.  Actual incidents bear this out (trigger warning: non-simulated violence).  That last link involved four armed and trained policemen with guns already in hand against one man with a knife.  Guns are emphatically not a panacea for self defence and certainly wouldn’t help in situations like getting jumped on a bus.

Adding guns to already confrontational situations also makes things worse.  Everyone thinks they are the good guys – and American ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws allowing people to shoot when threatened significantly increase the homicide rate.  Which is, of course, entirely predictable.  Other stressful situations you don’t want guns mixed up in: family situations.  No tension there at all.  It’s not as if in America “Women are more than twice as likely to be shot [dead] by their male intimates as they are to be shot, stabbed, strangled, bludgeoned, or killed in any other way by a stranger.” (Sorenson, 2006).  The gun most likely to kill someone is a gun owned by someone in that family.  And I was shocked, shocked to find “Gun Appreciation Daycaused multiple casualties at the gun shows (79 people shot, 32 dead that we know of so far for the day across America).

That said, there is one use of guns for self defence that is extremely useful.  That is the case where you have active organised groups of people looking to terrorise a community, and the police won’t help.  One such case was the KKK – and the right for everyone to carry weapons was read into the Second Amendment to allow black people to protect themselves against the Klan.  America’s founding fathers instituted gun control legislationthe “well regulated militia” was intended to be a cheap alternative to an army with early drafts talking about conscientious objectors (when tested the militia turned out not to work).  And, perhaps unsurprisingly, because the right to bear arms was to make sure community on community violence wasn’t one sided the NRA used to be in favour of gun control.  And people threatening “1776 again”, (the only time I’ve ever felt sympathetic towards Piers Morgan) or who refer to their guns as “my baby” simply demonstrate why people having guns with limited restrictions is a problem.  Although they don’t do it as starkly as comparing the gun deaths among kids and teenagers since 1979 to the total Americans killed in the whole Vietnam war.

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