Welcome to Common Gunsense

I hope this blog will provoke some thoughtful reflection about the issue of guns and gun violence. I am passionate about the issue and would love to change some misperceptions and the culture of gun violence in America by sharing with readers words, photos, videos and clips from articles to promote common sense about gun issues. Many of you will agree with me- some will not. I am only one person but one among many who think it's time to do something about this national problem. The views expressed by me in this blog do not represent any group with which I am associated but are rather my own personal opinions and thoughts.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Guns and poor people

Sometimes comments on my blog posts take unexpected turns- sidebars, I'll call them. I am not exactly sure if the commenters are serious about the issues they raise or if they are raising them as a distraction to the main issue- which is that too many people are being shot to death every day. The latest is the conversation about whether the cost for getting a permit to carry is just too high for poor people. In some states where commenters live, the cost for a permit is $250.00 which they say is too high and discriminates against poor people. My contention is that if "poor" people can afford to buy a gun, then the cost of a permit is likely not too high. 

On further thought, I decided to examine this more. The poverty levels can be found here. So for a family of four, poverty is considered to be $22,050 a year. I submit to you all that that is mighty low and I find it hard to believe that a family living at that level would even care whether or not they could buy a gun and/or apply for a permit to carry one. If they can't find shelter and afford food and clothing and other everyday items, a gun seems like the last thing on the list of necessities. These are folks struggling for their very existence and trying to hold their families together. 

This article from the Washington Post outlines the many problems the very poor face every day to obtain bare necessities. And, yes, it is true that often people in poverty find themselves living in dangerous neighborhoods where there is more risk as the article points out: ""I moved out of my old apartment. I hate that area. They be walking up and down the street. Couldn't take the dog out at night because strangers walking up and down the street. They will knock on your door. Either they rob you, kill or ask for money. If you're not there, they will steal air conditioners and copper. They will sell your copper [pipes] for money.""  Unfortunately, many gun deaths occur in low income neighborhoods where gangs seem more prevalent. Guns, for them, are a way of life and mostly used against each other. As other articles have explored, street and crime guns are often stolen and then trafficked illegally on the streets to people who should not have them. But sometimes innocent people are caught in the cross fire and lose their lives in senseless shootings. Whether or not a gun would have protected them from stray bullets that go through cars,windows and walls or hit children playing on the street is debatable. 

So I can see where some of the commenters are coming from here. But my counter argument is that I don't think we can say there is discrimination against poor people in states where the cost of getting a permit to carry are high. I am also saying that guns are not at the top of the list of basic human needs for people who are barely existing in our communities. It would be great if our economy would improve so that more people could get themselves out of poverty in the first place. Human conditions for the poor are awful and more so around holiday time. Guns are expensive items and they are weapons designed to kill. I just can't buy the argument that everyone needs one or that everyone must be able to afford a permit to carry. There is a right to own a gun if one chooses but not a necessity to own a gun.

The sale of guns and permit holders have both increased over the past 10 years or so. Obviously many people have afforded guns and the cost of a permit. They may have given up something else to do so but hopefully not food or clothing for their families. Here is from my own state of Minnesota about permits to carry: " The fee for a new permit to carry will be determined by the county sheriff, not to exceed $100. A fee for a renewal permit (applied for before the expiration date of a current permit to carry) will be determined by the county sheriff, not to exceed $75. An additional $10.00 fee will be charged for those applying for a renewal after the expiration date on the previous permit, but within 30 days of that expiration date." I believe that is less than in other states. People pay for car licenses, drivers' licenses, and any number of other fees required for certain activities. That is expected. 

So whether everyone can afford a gun or a permit to carry one, or whether everyone can afford a car or a driver's license can be debated. But until everyone can afford food, clothing, shelter and basic necessities, we should not be obsessed with the side bar issues. They are distractions from the real issues facing our country right now. Common sense tells us that we can help low income people the most by giving of our time, money and talents in our communities. I had the occasion to experience this first hand when the furniture in my mother's apartment needed to be moved out after her recent death. I learned at my church that a family in need was moving from the local family shelter to a low income apartment complex. This family had no furniture and very little of anything else. With the help of volunteers, my mother's furniture was donated to this family. They were very grateful. It would have made my mother happy to know that her belongings went to a family in need. I would venture to say that this family was much more in need of the furniture than a gun or a permit to carry.


  1. There are costs beyond the costs, so to speak.

    If you're a single mother, living in Minneapolis, you get news that your abusive ex was just released from prison, and decide that you need a gun, how expensive is it?

    Yes, there's the cost of the permit - $100. And the training - $75 (though most trainers have a policy of waiving their fee for recipients of emergency permits)

    And then there's the cost of the gun. Minnesota has a "Saturday Night Special" law, which forbids the sale of inexpensively made handguns, so the cheapest you're likely to find is more than $300.

    And Minneapolis, of course, has driven all gun shops, through abuse of the zoning laws, so buying a gun involves taking a time off work for a half-day bus trip to the suburbs. And if you're deferred by the "instant" background check, it means a second bus trip to pick up the gun.

    And since Minneapolis has also driven every shooting range out of the city, it means a day trip every time you want to practice.

    There was a time, not so long ago, when you could buy a gun for $15 at any hardware store. When they had shooting ranges in the high schools. When even in New York City, Abercrombie and Fitch had a public shooting range in the basement.

    Of course, the violent crime rate was a small fraction of what it is now - there's no way we'd want to go back to that ...

  2. Don't forget that most states also have a training or competency requirement before you can even APPLY for said permit. That equals a training class running currently between $100-150 in Minnesota. Tack on $15 for a box of ammo and $25 for range fees.
    We're back to the "Let them eat cake" statements you make. If I'm struggling to put food on the table and clothing on my family, I agree that buying firearms is probably not high on the list. The problem is that someone else in my neighborhood will probably take the easy way out and try to take what is mine by stealing it and/or assaulting me or my family in the process (again Human Nature). Why should I be restricted financially in my ability to defend my family and what is mine?
    This is the problem with prohibitions against "Saturday Night Special" type weapons. They're meant to be affordable to people in this particular socio-economic class.

  3. I think where we differ is that you don't consider self defense a basic necessity. A firearm for self defense doesn't have to be expensive, and the cost of a permit should only be as much as necessary to cover the background check and making the card itself. Any more than that, and it's paying for the privilege.

    I'm not suggesting that the government should be handing out guns along with food stamps and Medicaid. I just don't see how you can admit that they often are forced to live in dangerous neighborhoods, but defending themselves shouldn't be a primary consideration, along with food and shelter.

  4. Joan, I'm glad your mother's furniture went to folks who needed it--and again, my condolences for your loss. It may be that this family didn't feel they need a weapon; however, a family in a dangerous area might rather sit on the floor, yet know they had a means of self-defense. I don't know. I live in a rural area. When I was a kid, we made do with what little furniture we had, but we fed ourselves, in large part, with what we could grow, and what we could hunt.

  5. People can receive guns as gifts...

    The fact is exercising a civil right (which driving is not) should not be prohibited by cost.

  6. "My contention is that if "poor" people can afford to buy a gun, then the cost of a permit is likely not too high."

    How cold this sounds. You have an obvious barrier to the exercise of a fundamental right, one that disparately affects the poor, and your response is, to hell with them. Would you allow the right to free speech, to vote, or to worship as one chooses to be hostage to how much money one has in the bank account? Is that common sense?

    I wrote about this last month, including a story out of Houston that shows that Concealed Carry licenses were more common in the richer, whiter areas and less common in the poorer, less white areas. This is wrong, and should change. The only barrier to ownership and carry of a firearm should be criminal or mental health. It’s the last poll tax.


  7. Yes, it is so inconvenient to buy a gun and spend money and have to take time off to practice and all of that. It was doggone inconvenient for my family and the many others who are affected by gun deaths to bury their loved ones and go through the pain and suffering of living without a person near and dear to us. Also, the crime rates have dropped recently.

  8. I publish these because they speak for themselves. Some comments do not deserve a response and reading them, above, you can see why. Enjoy your Thanksgiving and your guns everyone.

  9. There is a difference between rights and needs. We have decided in other areas that taxing a right is not allowed--poll taxes for example. Nobody NEEDS to vote...but poll taxes are illegal for good reason.

    There is also not a black and white 'poor' and 'not poor'. There are some people on the edge of being able to afford to carry-you can get an inexpensive but adequate used gun and a pocket holster for under $200--so requiring a class and a $100 license fee pretty much doubles the minimum cost of carrying legally. I have not heard of any evidence that mandatory training has better results than merely requiring a background check--Do Indiana license holders have a worse record than Ohio license holders?

    So somehow you have the idea that those who can afford unneeded taxes and economic restrictions are a better class of people than the poor? The poor should only have the rights they can afford to license? Poor people are more likely to misuse guns than the elite?

  10. I don't know you get that out of what I wrote.

  11. Sean- " You have an obvious barrier to the exercise of a fundamental right, one that disparately affects the poor, and your response is, to hell with them. Would you allow the right to free speech, to vote, or to worship as one chooses to be hostage to how much money one has in the bank account? Is that common sense?" This is utter nonsense. That is not at all what I am saying. Quit putting words into my mouth.

  12. I reject the idea that owning a gun is a "civil right." Are all of the pro-gun guys who keep referring to Heller and McDonald effectively saying that before those historic cases, there was no individual right. No, they're saying the right always existed and just recently did the Supreme Court get on board.

    In a similar way, I say there is no individual right, there wasn't 5 years ago and there isn't now. The Supreme Court made two bad rulings which will eventually be reversed when the balance of the Court changes. Remember those two cases were decided by the slimmest possible margins.

    So, I agree with what I think japete was saying in the post. Owning a gun and paying for the license and training and everything else is similar to a luxury item that comes after the other basic needs are met. The fact that some people really need the home protection and can't afford it, is another one of the many unfair aspects of life.

    Another thing I seem to hear from the pro gun crowd, and disagree with, is the idea that the solution to the possibility of violence is owning a gun. In all but the most extreme cases this is just not true. The opposite is. Guns are more likely to be misused than to be used to save the day.

  13. If you read the text of Heller, you'd see that AN individual right was recognized by all 9 justices, although 4 of them disagreed on the extent.

    I have asked you (mikeB) and others repeatedly to explain what the collective rights theory would actually protect, how it could be infringed. I have yet to have any response at all.

  14. "No, they're saying the right always existed and just recently did the Supreme Court get on board."

    Exactly. This is the idea, and it's long been recognized:

    "The right of a citizen to bear arms, in lawful defense of himself or the State, is absolute. He does not derive it from the State government. It is one of the high powers delegated directly to the citizen, and is excepted out of the general powers of government. A law cannot be passed to infringe upon or impair it, because it is above the law, and independent of the lawmaking power."

    - Cockrum v. State, 24 Tex. 394, at 401-402 (1859)

  15. @MikeB -- You make me laugh. It doesn't matter what you "reject". You can't reject the Bill of Rights. I don't agree with what you write on your blog - but I don't reject your right to say it.
    Heller and McDonald can't be "reversed" -- they're now settled law. Were you awake in Civics class when we learned how the Judicial Branch of the US Government works? Precedent has now been set - and further cases in lower courts can refer to the Supreme Court ruling as having "settled" the various debates. Watch Wisconsin, California and Texas in the coming year!

  16. Joan,

    I see my first submission didn't make it past your moderation filter, because some other comments have been approved since I submitted it. Here's a second attempt.

    Would you be opposed to a two-tier pricing system? A "full price" permit for most people, and a lower price for lower income individuals? This could be easily made revenue neutral; for example, your state already clears half a million dollars in net profits, and if necessary, prices for full price permits could be raised a bit to subsidize low income permits.

    An example would be fishing licenses in Alaska. A typical resident fishing license costs $24 ($62 to include hunting and trapping as well). A license for low income people is offered for the nominal fee of $5.

    Here's the requirements to qualify:
    "The hunting/trapping/fishing license fee is $5.00 for a resident who is receiving or has received assistance during the preceding six months under any state or federal welfare program to aid the indigent, or has an annual family gross income of less than $8,200 for the year preceding application."

    As I mentioned before, there are inexpensive yet safe firearms. HiPoint manufactures handguns made-in-America with a lifetime warranty for <$150; mine functions adequately (they only use 10 round magazines too!). Old police surplus revolvers can often be found inexpensively. Eastern Bloc Makarovs are quite cheap (although I wouldn't be as comfortable about their reliability; the commies weren't know for quality control...).

    For $200 you can get a safe firearm and several boxes of ammo for practice and carry. When viewed in that light, a high fee certainly is a barrier to entry! Moreover, that high fee takes money out of an already tight budget, making it harder to afford more practice ammunition, range time, or training classes.

    I think a two-tier pricing solution is the quick and easy solution to this issue. There is no compromise on criminal background checks, training standards, or any other relevant factors. Does that sound like a reasonable compromise between "free permits for everyone!" and prices that are so high that they form a barrier to entry that disproportionately affects certain disadvantaged demographic groups?

    I'll have to assume that for some reason you reject this proposal if this isn't worthy of posting.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Chris from AK

  17. Chris- those are not my decisions to make. I can't commit to anything unless I have thought it out and discussed with others. I am one person here advocating for common sense. I don't make the laws. Have a nice Thanksgiving.

  18. Pat, you're right that my saying "I reject" something is kinds arrogant, it sounds funny. What I mean is I don't believe in it.

    You said, "I don't agree with what you write on your blog - but I don't reject your right to say it." Where did that come from? That's quite a leap. I don't reject anyone's right to say anything they want, either.

    Sevesteen must have forgotten the many times I have answered his question about "what the collective rights theory would actually protect."

    Nothing, nothing at all in today's society. The "militia" idea ceased to have any meaning in the early 19th century. Since then the 2nd Amendment is as meaningless as the 3rd. It's only you gun owners with your NRA and your gun manufacturers and your lobbyists who push another agenda, with some success I hasten to add.

  19. Sevesteen must have forgotten the many times I have answered his question about "what the collective rights theory would actually protect."

    Nothing, nothing at all in today's society.

    YOu've made that claim, but haven't explained what it protected before whatever changed. What other amendments can be effectively eliminated by a mere change in policy?

  20. "Chris- those are not my decisions to make. I can't commit to anything unless I have thought it out and discussed with others. I am one person here advocating for common sense. I don't make the laws. Have a nice Thanksgiving. "


    Thanks for posting my proposal! I'm sorry if the first version was somehow offensive. I certainly didn't intend to be rude.

    You regularly endorse other changes in our firearms laws at both the state and national level. I suppose it is possible that you never considered the impacts that some of those common sense laws have on lower income people.

    Now that you are aware of the issue, I hope that in the future an awareness of the tradeoffs of laws and how they impact multiple demographics -- including lower income people -- is something that we can rationally discuss. I think that it makes "common sense" to consider people other than those in your own demographic when proposing public policy that would apply to everyone.

    I'd be curious to hear what you think about my proposal at some point in the future. Go ahead, chew it over with some of your coworkers, mull it over. Playing devil's advocate here, the best reasons I can think of to oppose it are:
    (1) The intent is to limit carrying concealed firearms to a relatively privileged socioeconomic elite. Higher fees have been found to reduce the percentage of a state's population that chooses to get a CCW.
    (2) It is unfair for higher income CCW permit holders to effectively subsidize the discounted permits (in which case I hope you're also a flat tax supporter! ;) ).
    (3) You feel that the ability to pay a fee of several hundred dollars is significantly correlated with a decrease in violent crime. That is, if we had two otherwise identical permits (one that costs $300 and one that costs $5) with identical background checks, safety training, and marksmanship standards, we'd see statistically significant higher violent crime rates among cheap permit holders.
    (4) You prefer to provide a no-cost alternative, such as "Alaska Style" carry or legal open carry.

    I'd be curious if you can think of any more reasons!


  21. The issue here is also time. It takes time to go to the classes required for many state CCW permits. A right delayed is a right denied.

    If you have a need for a gun NOW, then likely you will get a gun NOW, and possibly try to make it legal later. Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.

    The more barriers their are between a citizen and her rights, the more that citizen will find themselves forced between self defense and breaking the law.

    And Joan, if you think that you can defend yourself without a gun, think about your sister. A smaller, weaker, slower, woman needs a gun to equalize the lethality of a larger, faster, stronger, predatory male. There are some awesome female martial artists out there, but they generally don't come from the poorest of our society, only those who can afford the years of lessons. By comparison a pistol is much more affordable.

    Self defense is a human right. Firearms are the most effective means of self defense. And poor people can't afford the bodyguards that the rich can, nor the gated communities, nor the monitored alarm systems. The gun makes much more sense as a tool for the poor than a toy for the rich.

  22. I have commented on this before, AM. You know nothing about the circumstances of my sister's shooting death so it would be wise of you not to assume anything. I don't intend to share it with you here. I have done this before and just hate to keep going over it again. Suffice it so say that she could not have defended herself. The element of surprise is often a factor that cannot be overcome. You guys must all have a picture in your mind of how you would certainly be able to defend yourself in any circumstance. Such is just not the case. That's all about this. I don't want to have a lengthy go around about it. I'm done with this thread.

  23. To AM- my brother is suffering from PTSD many years after he was in Viet Nam and is getting all kinds of help. He needs it. His life is a mess. Mine, however, is not. I have dealt with my sister's death long ago. Just because I don't admit that she could have defended herself with a gun does not mean I need to talk to a Psychiatrist. And just because I don't want to talk about her shooting death with you, in particular, I do not need help. I have written about her death many times. I do not need to keep defending what happened to her with guys like you who cannot know what the circumstances are and there is not a need to know for you. I thank you for your service in the military. I know what awful things happen to those who served once home again. My Dad, a WWII Vet, also had panic attacks and some other more sublte left-over effects from his experiences in North Africa and Italy. My brother also has serious panic attacks and depression along with a host of other problems. I process my sister's death through my writing. And, though I think you have good intentions, your advice is not helpful because I am not sure you really mean it. I just hate to be demeaned or devalued by readers just because I don't agree or push back or don't see things the way you do. Thanks anyway, but don't write to me again about your take on what my sister could or should have done. If you have some other constructive comments, feel free. Until then, please no more second guessing what people could have done with their own guns when they got shot. I would suggest that the military experience is quite different from a domestic shooting.