Monday, January 4, 2016

Gun Rights and Wrongs (Part 1)

1988 Democratic Presidential Candidate Governor Mike Dukakis (Massachusetts),
"commands" the 50 caliber machine gun on an M1 Abrams Tank

GUN RIGHTS AND WRONGS

Some ideas on how new technology, 
particularly "UltraSmart" guns that will fire only for authorized individuals, 
plus some common-sense reforms in liability for gun owners, 
might help reduce unnecessary gun violence, 
while being compatible with our Constitutionally guaranteed 
Second Amendment  "Right to Bear Arms".

Part 1 - The Problem
Is it too many restrictive gun LAWS, too many GUNS, or too  many gun HOMICIDES?

Is there any way to resolve the diversity of opinion regarding gun control in the US? Will the "pro-gun" NRA ever agree to any new laws intended to reduce gun violence? Will the "anti-gun" forces ever give up their goal to banish private ownership of guns entirely?

Probably not!

However, for what it is worth, here are some ideas that may appeal to those of us in the middle. [This material is based on a talk I gave to an overflow audience of about 120 people at the Philosophy Club of The Villages, FL, on 8 January 2016. As you might imagine, the question, answer, and discussion period following my talk was quite animated!   CLICK TO Download My PowerPoint file

US CONSTITUTION, SECOND AMENDMENT (1791)

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,

 the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

This amendment, passed in 1791, consists of the above compound sentence, in plain English. However, the first phrase seems to be in conflict with the last two,

Is the "right to bear arms" only in the context of a "well-regulated militia"? Is this "militia" to be "regulated" by the government, and, if so, how can government regulation be crafted such that the "right of the people" is not "infringed"?

Well, as recently as 2008, the US Supreme Court, in District of Columbia vs Heller, ruled (5 to 4) that the right to bear arms belongs to individual people. However, like most "rights" it is not unlimited, and firearms may be regulated. For example, convicted felons, mentally defective persons, and others may be prohibited from purchasing and possessing guns. 

Furthermore, some types of firearms are off-limits even to upstanding mentally competent citizens. In other words, no one, not even 1988 Presidential Candidate Governor Mike Dukakis may privately own and operate the 50 caliber machine gun on an M1 Abrams Tank!

LEGAL PRECEDENT IN BRITISH COMMON LAW

Sir William Blackstone, the authority on British Common Law, wrote [1765] 
THE auxiliary right of the subject ... is that of having arms for their defense, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. ... and is indeed a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.
Thus, the tension between the individual right of armed self-defense, and reasonable limits of law, has a very long history.

CURRENT SWISS LAW AND PRACTICE

Male citizens of Switzerland keep fully automatic firearms at home in case of a call-up. There is a very high personal gun ownership rate. Overall, the crime rate is low, but the gun suicide rate is the highest in Europe. The rate of homicide is considerably lower than the European average.


1996 AUSTRALIAN GUN BUYBACK 

After a 1996 massacre, the Australian government implemented a confiscatory gun buyback program that removed some 20% to 30% of personally owned guns from private possession. The 1996 Australian buyback is often hailed as a great success by US gun control advocates. What are the facts? 

The vertical blue line and bar indicates 1996, the year Australia instituted a major gun buyback program.
TOP (Gray background): Australian gun suicide and gun homicide statistics prior to and after the 1996 buyback program.
Middle (Gray background): Australian non-gun suicide and gun suicide statistics for the same period.
BOTTOM (White background): US gun suicide and gun homicide statistics for the same period.  
Australians and Americans speak English and share a British colonial background. Both countries have about the same area (3 vs 3.9 million square miles). However, gun ownership is vastly different (4 million vs nearly 300 million), Australia does not have constitutional protection of the "right to bear arms" nor does it have a strong gun lobby.

With those differences in mind, let us take a closer look at the data. 

[TOP section] Gun control advocates point out that, after the 1996 buyback, gun suicides declined from around 2 to 0.7 per hundred thousand, and that gun homicides declined from about 0.5 to 0.15 per hundred thousand, which is quite impressive. However, please note that, for several years prior to the 1996 buyback, gun suicides had been declining at a pretty rapid rate. So, how much did the buyback program accelerate the decline?

[MIDDLE section] Note that, in the two years after the gun buyback program, non-gun suicides increased from about 11 to 13 per hundred thousand, more than making up for the decline in gun suicides during that period! The message here is that when ready access to guns is denied, people intent upon suicide will use poison or asphyxiation or other non-gun means to accomplish their intent.  

[BOTTOM section] Despite the fact the US did not have a gun buyback program, our gun suicides and gun homicides declined significantly during the same period! 

When you see the Australian gun buyback statistics used by gun control advocates, you will most often notice that gun suicide and gun homicide data are combined, which has the effect of exaggerating the decline. Furthermore, they usually fail to note that gun suicide rates in Australia were on the decline even before the 1996 gun buyback, nor do they point out that US gun suicide and homicide rates declined during the same period, despite the fact we did not have gun buyback!

My conclusion is that, while the Australian experience is interesting, it has little or nothing to do with the gun control situation in the US.

US GUN DEATH STATISTICS 

About 2.5 million people die in the US each year, About 92% from natural causes, and only 8% are not natural, being due to accidents, malpractice, homicide, suicide, or legal intervention.

Gun-related deaths constitute only 1.3 percent of all US deaths. If Gun Suicides are excluded, the total of Gun Homicides, Accidents, Legal, and Other constitutes less than 0.5 % of all US deaths, as indicated in the graphic below. Most gun homicides are gang and/or drug related, i.e., criminals shooting each other. I've read that 80% of all gun homicides are gang and/or drug related but I could not find any clear statistical documentation for this claim. I'd appreciate comments from readers that confirm or dis-confirm this claim. 


US Non-Natural deaths in 2013 (from CDC http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_02.pdf, Table 10.)
SOCIAL AND POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS OF GUN CONTROL 

The following list of pithy bullets represents my attempt to summarize the general positions espoused by some participants in the gun control debate. Please recognize that this is a "shorthand" description of what are often highly nuanced and complex positions. I do not pretend that all Libertarians subscribe exactly to the first set of bullets nor that all Liberals or Conservatives subscribe exactly to the latter two sets. 

Currently, the two leading candidates in the Democratic Presidential Primaries, Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders have diverse opinions on gun laws. Sanders, who hails from a "pro-gun" state, takes positions that are, in many cases, closer to Republican views. Furthermore, among the many candidates in the Republican Presidential Primaries, some may say they lean more to the Libertarian view rather than what I have characterized as the Republican view. Also, not all members of the NRA fully subscribe to the official NRA position.
• NRA (and Libertarians) generally favor almost no control.
– The fewer new gun laws the better. 
Police should enforce current laws. Courts should impose severe sentences on gun-toting criminals.
• Democrats (and Liberals) generally favor strict control.
– The fewer guns the better
Easy access to too many guns is to blame when disturbed people or politically or religiously motivated terrorists cause mass shootings. Police brutalize and too often shoot unarmed Blacks.
• Republicans (and Conservatives) generally favor moderate regulation.
– The fewer unjust gun homicides the better. 
Aggressive police tactics in high crime areas are often necessary, even if they have uneven racial impacts. Stop, Question (Optionally Frisk)” policies actually save proportionately more Black than White lives.

Discussion of the above bullet points:

NRA (and Libertarians) - I am not now and never have been a member of the NRA. However, while living in a rural upstate area of New York State for over three decades I did own and use a 12 gauge shotgun and a .22 rifle (both bolt-action). While I have never considered myself a Libertarian, I do like a lot of what John Stossel, the resident Libertarian at Fox News says.

In general, I would like to see current gun laws enforced, particularly as they relate to stiff jail time for anyone who uses a gun in commission of a crime. On the other hand, while I am skeptical about the ability of "the government" to do anything particularly well, I think there are some common sense changes to US gun laws that could help reduce unnecessary gun violence, as I will outline later in this series of postings.

So, while sympathetic, I cannot subscribe to the idea that the fewer gun laws the better.

Democrats (and Liberals) - A photo of Democratic icon and four-times elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt hung on the wall of the Brighton Beach bungalow in Brooklyn, NY, where my brother and I lived with our parents and grandparents. My whole family voted Democrat up until my father scandalized us in the neighborhood by voting for Republican Dwight Eisenhower for President.

It was as an engineering student at the uber-leftist City College of New York where I discovered that the honorable appellation "Liberal" had been hijacked by Socialists and Democrats and turned upside-down and inside-out. I still consider myself a "Liberal" in the classical sense, as "the term used to designate the ideology advocating private property, an unhampered market economy, the rule of law, constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and of the press, and international peace based on free trade." But, I digress.

At first glance, the idea that, since all gun violence involves a gun, it would be better if there were fewer guns, makes sense.

However, that does not follow logically. For example, all medical malpractice involves doctors and medical personnel, so (following parallel reasoning) it would be better if there were fewer doctors and medical personnel. Of course, that is ridiculous! Only a small percentage of doctors and medical personnel are bad, so what we need to reduce medical malpractice is fewer bad ones and more good ones!

The same is true of guns. Only a tiny percentage of guns are involved in unnecessary gun violence. Most of those (perhaps as many as 80%) are possessed by criminals, particularly gang members and drug dealers. So, rather than fewer guns overall, what we need to do is reduce bad gun possession by criminals, gang members and drug dealers. A very small percentage of guns are used by mentally-disturbed people and politically or religiously motivated terrorists, so we need to reduce their access to guns. Finally some guns deaths are accidental, including poorly secured guns inadvertently found by children, and guns used by people who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Therefore, it would be good if we could use new technology to allow guns to be fired only by competent adults.

As we all know, technological advances have made high resolution surveillance cameras very inexpensive. I think it is, on balance, good that these cameras are ubiquitous both outside and inside most businesses and many public areas, that police cars have dashboard cameras, that individual policemen have body cameras, and that virtually everyone now carries a cell phone camera.

As a result, damning images have been captured of policemen unnecessarily and brutally shooting unarmed people, including a disproportionate number of Black men. These videos have been broadcast for all to see and prove, even to "pro-police" people like me, that some policemen are trigger happy, and some are also racist.

Despite these videos, I do not think many Democrats/Liberals would seriously consider disarming law enforcement. I join all right-thinking Americans in condemning the policemen involved. I think it would be good if we could use new technology to reduce official misconduct by providing police with what I call "UltraSmart" guns that are designed to be safer and that automatically capture images of each shot, along with time and location data.

So, I cannot subscribe to the idea that the fewer guns the better.

Republicans (and Conservatives) - OK, I must confess here that I am an old Goldwater/Reagan Republican, and a Proud Conservative in the modern sense (i.e., Classical Liberal).

{Trump tangent, skip over if you wish} 

As postings to this Blog (one, two, and three) and my Facebook page demonstrate, I think Donald Trump has tapped into the deep frustration we feel after seven years of President Obama's brand of "change" and the GOP leadership's failure to effectively reign him in. Trump is shouting what we want to hear (yes, even what I want to hear), but his bluster does not stand close examination. His rhetoric is mostly generalities, and in the few instances when he gets specific, he gets his facts wrong. 

Donald Trump is a Crony Capitalist Democrat pretending to be a Republican. As recently as 2004, Trump told CNN's Wolf Blitizer "In many cases, I probably identify more as Democrat" and in 2007, also with Blitzer, he praised Hillary Clinton's ability to negotiate with Iran. Trump gave more of his ample money to Democrats than Republicans between 1989 and 2009 according to NPR. At the first GOP debate this year, he bragged: “I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said, ‘Be at my wedding,’ and she came to my [third] wedding. ... You know why? She had no choice, because I gave.” Until recently, Trump's views on military action in the mid-east, abortion, drug legalization, and health care have been more in line with leftist Democrats than with independents and Republicans. 

To repeat, Trump is a Crony Capitalist DEMOCRAT who is wrecking the Republican Party I know and love, with the inadvertent assistance of the ratings-hungry media, including Fox News, and the feckless response of the dozen other candidates competing in the Republican Presidential Primary, several of whom are excellent in my opinion. 


{end of Trump tangent} 

To gain traction in the primary process, Republican candidates must take anti-gun control positions close to that of the NRA because a substantial portion of Republican Primary voters demand it. I know many of these people personally as hard-working, upstanding, good family men and women who (like me) do not trust the government to do anything except take the money we earn and use it to buy the votes they need by promising and delivering unearned assistance to people who, in many cases, cannot or will not work consistently or hard. Unfortunately, many of these fellow Republicans will reject, out of hand, my ideas for common sense changes in gun regulations and the introduction of "UltraSmart" gun technology. Please note that the NRA does not, out of hand, reject the introduction of "Smart" guns, so long as they are reliable and safe and voluntarily adopted in a free marketplace.*

So, here is where I think most Republicans and Conservatives agree with me. That the problem is not too many guns, but, rather too many unjust gun homicides. The fewer unjust gun homicides the better. Aggressive police tactics in high crime areas are often necessary, even if they have uneven racial impacts. As I will show in Part 3 of this "Gun Rights and Wrongs" topic, "Stop, Question (and Optionally Frisk)" policies actually save proportionately more Black than White lives. 

So, I DO subscribe to the idea that The fewer unjust gun homicides the better

I hope my fellow Republicans and Conservatives will read and give fair consideration to my "UltraSmart" gun technology* concepts in the Part 2 of this "Gun Rights and Wrongs" topic.

* According to the NRA, they have "never opposed smart guns, believing the marketplace should decide their future. Rather, NRA opposes government mandates of expensive, unproven technology, and smart guns are a prime example of that."

Ira Glickstein




Part 1 - The Problem. Is it too many restrictive gun LAWS, too many GUNS, or too many gun HOMICIDES?

Part 2 - New Technology. Might "UltraSmart" gun technology, that allows only Authorized Users to fire the gun, help address part of the problem?

Part 3 - Absolute Liability. Within the context of the Constitutional Second Amendment "right to bear arms", could gun owners, over time, voluntarily adopt "UltraSmart" guns, to mitigate the financial liability risks of owning conventional guns?

Part 4 - Aggressive Police Tactics. "Stop, Question (and Optionally Frisk)" has a disproportionate effect on Blacks, but it has been shown to save proportionately more Black than White lives.

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