Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Annie Scrap Your Gun

The recent school killing in Florida resulted in the deaths of seventeen individuals*.  It also produced the usual pro-gun chatter which follows every school killing in this country:

Prayers and thoughts, let's not politicize a tragedy, let's not penalize law-abiding (always that word!) citizens with guns for something they did not do.  Guns don't kill people, people kill people.  And so on.  And on.  And on.

But this time something is different in the air.  The teens (the major targets in school killings) are not accepting all that usual crap.  They are fighting back and they are organizing:

And the owner of the gun shop where the butcher bought his AR-15 assault weapon has closed its doors "indefinitely."

I hope that something truly changes, but I'm not holding my breath.

The reason for my skepticism comes from the Pew survey from last June, about Americans' views on gun control and gun rights:

A majority of gun owners (66%) own multiple firearms, and about three-quarters (73%) say they could never see themselves not owning a gun.
Many American gun owners exist in a social context where gun ownership is the norm. Roughly half of all gun owners (49%) say that all or most of their friends own guns. In stark contrast, among those who don’t own a gun, only one-in-ten say that all or most of their friends own guns.

In short, the love of guns is cultural.  It's very difficult to change cultural norms, and attempts to change them are viewed by those inside the culture as contempt, outsider meddling and as infringement of their basic freedoms.

More importantly, I've come to see that the ultimate justification for gun ownership for many is emotional, not fact-based.  One example of how gun manufacturers have used this can be seen in the following (older) advertisement:

The emotional basis of some gun ownership can be also seen from the Pew survey:

While the right to own guns is highly valued by most gun owners, not all gun owners see gun ownership the same way. Half of all gun owners say owning a gun is important to their overall identity – with 25% saying this is very important and another 25% calling it somewhat important. Three-in-ten gun owners say owning a gun is not too important to their identity and 20% say it’s not at all important.

Gun owners in that survey tell that the most important reason for owning a gun is personal protection (for the owners and their families).

But some other answers suggest that the gun is viewed almost as a talisman,  something that will act on its own against all the imagined threats, even if the owner cannot shoot very well, even if the owner hasn't practiced much and even if the owner has never thought through what might happen when several people take out their guns in, say, a school killing.  How can the police know who the killer is then?

Among the Pew survey answers which cast doubt on the personal protection argument is this one:

When asked about their own habits, roughly half of gun owners with children under 18 living at home say all of the guns in their home are kept in a locked place (54%) and all are unloaded (53%).
Still, many gun owners with children say at least some of their guns are kept unlocked and loaded. In fact, 30% of these gun owners say there is a gun that is both loaded and easily accessible to them all of the time when they’re at home.
Is it easily accessible to the children of those gun owners, too?  Because if it is, the personal protection argument rings hollow.

If emotions, fear and identity concerns indeed are what truly lies behind the desire to own guns, gun control arguments based on evidence and facts will not make anyone change their minds.

This is because the very idea of relinquishing one's guns can immediately bring up images of the gun owner as a weak and hapless victim, someone bound to end up dead at the hands of some other person with a gun.  And those other people can always get guns illegally.

Against that onslaught of fear even the butchering of countless young children begins to look acceptable.

Or it has looked acceptable in the past.  Things just might be different now.


For those of you who prefer facts, the New York Times has published a good statistical summary which compares the United States with other countries.


*  Only days after the massacre, Florida state House voted down a motion to ban many types of assault weapons and large capacity magazines.  Sigh.