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.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Who's right and whose rights?

Every so often, one of the "threads" of commenting on my blog get to a point of being ridiculous. Such was the case in the most recent post, Happy shopping everyone. Suddenly we were into it about whether or not it is or should be legal to carry guns in shopping malls and whether or not "spree" shootings have occurred mostly in places where guns are not allowed. That, of course, would support the argument that if only someone had had a gun at the mall in Omaha, Nebraska on December 5, 2007 nine people would not have been shot to death. If only someone at Virginia Tech had a gun on him or her, surely Cho would have been stopped. If only there were guns everywhere, those shootings would not occur or a permit holder would naturally be able to save the day. That's a given for some. That's why they want to carry their loaded guns wherever they go. Danger lurks around every corner. And, in some ways, these folks are right. Shootings occur just about everywhere in America.

Let's examine the idea that most "spree" shootings have occurred where guns are not allowed and whether or not it would make a difference to the shooter if he/she knew there were guns in that place where they want to shoot people. I maintain- this is an opinion- that a shooter doesn't much pay attention to whether or not there are armed people in the place of their shooting destination. Once a mass murderer gets an idea or is mentally ill or has a big grudge against someone or a group, that person is irrational and doesn't think through the consequences. Often these "spree" shooters have problems that they can't or won't seek help for or are able to solve and they are suicidal. How often to mass shooters kill themselves once the shooting of others is done? This was true for the Columbine shooters, for the Red Lake shooter, for the Virginia Tech shooter, for the Omaha mall shooter, for the recent young man who held a classroom hostage with his loaded gun, for the man who held the Panama City, Florida school board hostage with his gun. In this frame of mind, it's hard to imagine that the person is thinking about whether someone inside has a gun or not. They are bent on their irrational idea and won't be stopped. In the end, they can't be held responsible if they also take their own life.

So perhaps it is true that most mass shootings happen where guns are not allowed. To me that does not matter. The fact is, there are places where guns should not be allowed for obvious reasons. Some would disagree but I am betting that most would agree with me. Some want their guns in schools, hospitals, shopping malls, bars, ball games, etc. They want to think they can save the day and be a hero for doing so. They feel threatened by all of those people just lurking around every corner. But let's turn our attention to the most common shootings. They are the ones that take one or two lives here and there and don't make the national news. They make local news stories and the media abounds with these stories because they are happening every day. One in Miami on Thursday when police officers shot a man carrying an AK 47 outside of a Middle School. Three shooting injuries in Newport News, VA yesterday. Two shootings in Kansas City early this morning. Where did these occur? Most of them were on the streets and some in private homes where guns are allowed. One was someone firing at someone sitting in a car. Unfortunately, this man in Fleming, New York was shot with his own gun while trying to defend his home. Luckily for him, he was only injured. And, oops, this tragic case is something to think about. A Pennsylvania lawyer "accidentally" shot a hunter using a high powered rifle not legal for hunting in Pennsylvania. This lawyer has been involved in several other incidents of shooting or assaulting another person. He was actually a felon in possession of a gun and out hunting with friends. This does not look good. And, of course, hunting accidents happen and sometimes intentional shootings happen while people are hunting. These would be in places where guns are allowed.

My point here is to say that the argument of the gun guys is moot. One can be in a place where guns are allowed or not allowed and shootings will happen. There are few cases of a permit holder saving the day. Yes, there are surely some. If there are a lot, they are just not making the news. Rather, what makes the news are all of the shootings happening every day in homes, on the streets, in public places and many are happening where guns are allowed. I believe that street gangs understand that the other guy is armed. And yet, they still kill each other. I believe that the general public understands that police officers are armed. And yet, police officers are shot often. See Tacoma, WA where 4 police officers where shot to death while having coffee after their shifts were over by a felon with a gun. See Pittsburgh, PA where 3 police officers were shot by a man who was so afraid that President Obama was going to take his guns away that he had stockpiles of guns and ended up ambushing police officers. He was exercising his second amendment rights that he was so afraid would be stripped from him. And the officers where shot in a home or on the streets where guns are legal for self defense or to be carried by permit holders.

Some of the arguments about whose rights are being infringed upon and who is right about the gun control issue are meant to deflect the truth. The truth is that too many people are being shot to death or injured every day. The gun lobby can continue to hide behind the second amendment and continue arguing about their rights compared to mine or that they are right and I am not. In the end, there is absolutely no common sense to the arguments when lives are lost senselessly to bullets.


  1. We're not all paranoid. Some of us are prepared. Why should we be paranoid?

    We're not all worried about being shot either -- fists, knives, bricks, feet -- all can be dangerous and even lethal objects when employed with force. The carrying of a firearm is to level the playing field.

    I pose no danger to you when I'm in public carrying, and I resent your implications that it somehow poses a threat to you. None whatsoever -- in fact -- even if you were in the midst of being assaulted, I'd pick up my cell phone and call the police rather than intervene directly. The laws and rights of a permit carrier do not extend to the protection of people other than the holder and his/her family.
    We're not vigilantes, in fact, the permit training classes EMPHASIZE that point repeatedly - we're not police officers...no duties other than normal citizens. Just a little better prepared.

  2. Mass murderers are cowards. You act is if it is a spur of the moment thing....
    In most cases the shootings are pre-meditated, and planned out. They choose the gun free zones in effort to maximize their damage , and limit their danger.

    "This was true for the Columbine shooters, for the Red Lake shooter, for the Virginia Tech shooter, for the Omaha mall shooter, for the recent young man who held a classroom hostage with his loaded gun, for the man who held the Panama City, Florida school board hostage with his gun."

    It's funny you should mention those... In EACH of those instances, the shooters took their lives once they came up against ARMED resistance.
    They are now training police in "active shooter" scenarios to move in with as little as 3 or 4 offices as soon as they are on scene.
    The reason is that every moment they don't act is a moment that another person could be dying.

    They know that the coward will take his life as soon as someone fights back. It has happened time and time again. A law-obiing citizen could prevents the loss of quite a few lives.

  3. There is *something* that causes undefended areas to be disproportionately the location of spree shootings. Tight restrictions on overall gun availability might have some impact on these specific types of shootings (although other violence would certainly increase by more)--but restrictions on where license holders may lawfully carry, or restrictions on handguns that can reasonably be carried for defense, while leaving some guns available obviously makes no sense in reducing spree shootings.

  4. "Yes, there are surely some. If there are a lot, they are just not making the news."

    Exactly. And that's not unintentional. Stories of defensive gun use never make the national news. If the story is such that it has to be reported by the national media, they're very careful to leave out the presence of the defensive gun. (Remember the coverage of the shooting at the Appalachian School of Law? None of the reports in the national news mentioned the fact that two of the three individuals who'd "tackled" the shooter had retrieved guns from their cars.)

  5. Joan, more laws are not the answer. If more laws WERE the answer then the UK, South Africa, and Australia wouldn't have seen an upswing in violent crime with the implementation of their draconian gun control laws.

    The guy who shot those 4 cops in Lakewood (which is south of Tacoma btw) was a prohibited person. How the hell are you going to prevent criminals from obtaining and using guns?

    Reporting stolen guns stolen isn't going to help because all it does is let cops know that "someone, somewhere" has a gun they shouldn't.

    More background checks and one gun a month limits aren't the answer, see Virginia Tech.

    So you say you offer a solution, but you are like a snake oil salesman. You have no proof that your snake oil works, and yet you keep pitching it as a wonder drug.

    Your vigorous assertion of your stance is a logical fallacy, and proof of a weak argument. Just give it a rest and enjoy your golden years.

  6. Insulting and unnecessary, anon.

  7. C'mon anon.. stick to the facts, and leave the insults at home.

  8. "Once a mass murderer gets an idea or is mentally ill or has a big grudge against someone or a group, that person is irrational and doesn't think through the consequences."

    Knowing that, will you admit that a "Gun Free Zone" is just a cruel joke against the eventual victims?

    Or do you expect that said "irrational" individual to have a split second of rationality when he sees that "No Guns Allowed" sign?

    Because right now the signs only prevent rational people from having a chance to defend themselves.

  9. No and no-Aztec Red. I feel like I'm writing to a bunch of people with strange "handles" who haven't read the post. What I wrote is what I feel unless I admit to an error. Why keep pestering with provacative questions? The answer is in the post. Take a break fr commenting and go shopping or something productive.

  10. Rob's post is right on.

  11. Interestingly, your examples of pointing out police officers who are targeted and shot makes a decent argument in favor of concealed carry.

    I disagree with your contention that these mass murderers are irrational. They do not act randomly. They just have wildly different incentives than you or I. Their objective is to maximize the body count; they don't care about going to jail or even if they live or die. While some have a perverted "code of honor" most don't care about who they hurt. Within those constraints they act logically, just as most criminals or terrorists do. We know that criminals choose their targets based on vulnerability; we also know that terrorists tend to carefully recon their targets and select the most exposed where their chances of success are greatest.

    On one hand, then, armed security (police, private cops, private citizens) openly bearing firearms is a good deterrent. However, it also means that if a criminal DOES choose to target that facility, they'll likely take out the visible security first. The ABC special on campus concealed carry really did a great job of highlighting this; if the active shooter knows who is armed, they can very quickly take them out.

    That's where concealed carry comes in. If concealed carry is allowed in an area, the would-be mass murderer doesn't know who is armed and who isn't. In any group of, say, 100, the odds of someone being armed approach 100% (simple statistics; say 2% of people CCW, that means the odds of somone carrying are around 9 out of 10; use the formula 1 - 0.98^100 to run it yourself...). Even in smaller groups there is likely some deterrent effect. For example, the cops don't have to pull over every speeder to deter others; TSA doesn't have to full body scan or "enhanced patdown" every passenger to deter terrorists.

    Confronted with these odds, mass murderers apparently substitute different tactics that they think might be more effective, or they are deterred. For example, bombings are a common substitute for active shooter suicide attacks. We can argue about whether or not it is preferrable to have someone set off pipe bombs (or suicide bomb a place), or whether it is better for them to go in with a gun.

    Overt security combined with unpredictable and difficult to observe measures including CCW is the best defense. They complement and enhance each other's weaknesses.

    I assume that you are very concerned about the odds of a concealed carry permit holder shooting you. I'm not sure why. The odds of them murdering you are about 1/14 those of any other random Minnesotan on the street. Still, not all emotional responses are rational and I guess that's ok -- that is why they are emotional, right?

  12. "The laws and rights of a permit carrier do not extend to the protection of people other than the holder and his/her family."

    In Utah, you are allowed to use deadly force if you before that your life is in jeopardy or if you are about to sustain grievous bodily harm. If you another person in a similar situation, you are allowed to intervene and use deadly force to stop the threat to the person. However our instructor warned and showed us that it is extraordinarily dangerous to intervene in a situation like that, because it's easy to not fully understand what is happening.

  13. Chris, I just love all of your formulas. I don't buy them by the way. I don't think the odds are 9 out of 10 in a group of 100 people. In places where I go, I would be quite surprised if anyone was carrying. I must hang around with a different crowd than you.

  14. In places where I go, I would be quite surprised if anyone was carrying. I must hang around with a different crowd than you.

    You are likely right when you are at Brady and Million Mom activities--but out in public, I am sure you would be surprised to find out how many people you encounter every day who are carrying. Most states wind up with about 2% with licenses, my experience is that about half of them carry other than at work.

    Most of us take great care in avoiding being spotted--That's worse than leaving your fly unzipped. With the right holster, a full-sized handgun makes less of a lump than a cellphone.

  15. "With the right holster, a full-sized handgun makes less of a lump than a cellphone".

    Absolutely, and a print shirt even covers that.

  16. In Pennsylvania, there's 600,000 licenses issued in a state with an adult population of about 9 million. So statistically about one in fifteen adults has a License to Carry in this state. Obviously those number are not evenly distributed. You might feel more comfortable in Philadelphia, where the number is only one in thirty six adults have a license to carry. I'd not recommend Pittsburgh, however, where the number is double that. Definitely avoid the rural counties were it's close to a guarantee that you'll run into people carrying firearms, and where hardly a vehicle won't have a pistol in the glovebox.

    But then again, Philadelphia is where all the violent crime is. The rest of Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia is safer than most of Western Europe, statistically.

  17. Part 1 of 2


    Let me spell out the assumptions that fed that formula more clearly since you don't like it. It turns out that your state has a relatively low percentage of CCW permits so my initial number may be a bit high; in many states, 2-4% of the population has a CCW permit but MN's actual numbers are a bit lower. Sorry for somewhat overestimating the chances earlier! You were actually right to be a bit skeptical. Still, the original estimate was in the ballpark.

    1) 1.7% of MN adults hold CCW permits. I have high confidence in this point. It is based on your state's annual CCW report and the US census bureau's data (69,313 CCWs at the end of 2009 / 4,007,588 adults in Minnesota = 1.7%)
    2) Half of all CCW permit holders carry a firearm while going about their business outside the house. This is an assumption in which I have low to moderate confidence. The actual number could be higher or lower.
    3) CCW permit holders are no more or less likely to frequent public places like restaurants, malls, and so on than the average adult Minnesotan. I have less confidence in this assumption and I am unsure in what way it will bias the results. On one hand, we know that gun ownership is correlated positively with income in most places; that would imply that gun owners have disposable income and thus may be more likely to go to shopping malls or movies than the average Minnesotan. However, it also would make sense for CCW permit holders to be concentrated in higher crime areas (on the idea that more people who feel threatened get permits). In this case, assuming that most of your time is spent in low to moderate crime areas, there may be fewer CCW permit holders at the places that you personally go to.

    The math itself is pretty simple. You can use this formula:

    Percentage chance that at least one person is carrying in a group = 1 - (Percentage chance that any given individual is NOT carrying) ^ (Size of the Group)

    The caret "^" means to use an exponent. (As a mathematical aside, I find it much easier to find the probability that someone is not carrying then subtract from one to find the converse, i.e. the chance that someone is carrying... It only works for binary situations but it is a handy math trick).

    This is the same formula that you'd use to solve a problem like, "I have a jar of holiday colored jelly beans. If you pull out any given bean, there is a 2% chance it will be red and a 98% chance that it will be green. If you pull out 100 jelly beans, what are the odds that you'll get at least one red jelly bean?"

  18. Part 2 of 2:


    I'll run three cases; first a moderate case using the assumptions as above, then a lower carry rate and a higher carry rate in order to examine what happens if you change the assumptions above.

    MIDDLE OF THE ROAD Estimate using all assumptions as above: There is a .9915 chance that any individual is not carrying a firearm.

    Group of 10 (coffee shop): 8%
    Group of 100 (restaurant): 42.5%
    Group of 500 (big box store): 98.5%
    Group of 1000 (shopping mall on busy day): 99.98%

    LOW-END Estimate that assumes that only 1/10 of CCW carriers are carrying in the places you frequent. 1.7%/10 = There is a .9983 chance that any individual is not carrying a firearm.

    Group of 10 (coffee shop): 1.7%
    Group of 100 (restaurant): 15.6%
    Group of 500 (big box store): 57.3%
    Group of 1000 (shopping mall on busy day): 81.75%

    Even in this low-end scenario, the chance that you run an errand to each of the four places above (Say, you go get a coffee at Starbucks, then swing by Best Buy to get some DVDs, then visit Red Robin for lunch, and finally swing by the mall for some last minute stocking stuffers) and have been in the presence of at least one CCW permit carrier during the course of your day is around 93.5%.

    HIGH-END Estimate that assumes that every single CCW permit carrier carries every day and that they are exactly as likely as any other Minnesotan to go to "typical" places: There is a .983 chance that any individual is not carrying a firearm.

    Group of 10 (coffee shop): 15.7%
    Group of 100 (restaurant): 18%
    Group of 500 (big box store): 99.98%
    Group of 1000 (shopping mall on busy day): 99.999996%



    This means that nearly every day you are personally in the presence of people who are CCWing. Nothing bad happens. In fact, you probably don't even know that they're there!

  19. And please don't claim that it is due to the number of permit holders which is still only 1 in 15- not many.

  20. Chris- honestly- thanks for all the work you put in to come up with these statistics. I have never seen anyone so into proving his point that he goes to such lengths. I can buy the first post about the percentages.But once you get started on the percentage of people carrying out of 10, 100,500, etc.- you lose me and I just don't see how that can be right based on the numbers in your firsst post. First of all, by my numbers, 75,000 people in Minnesota are permit holders out of 5,266,214= .014% being permit holders. Of course, that does include those who are below the age of 21 and the permit holders would be in an age category above that so the percentage would be even smaller. But using your numbers- less current than mine, I get .017% of Minnesotans as permit holders not 1.7%. So I believe you have come up with the wrong formula. Your numbers are way too high. I suppose we could have a mathemetician involved but I used a calaculator and that is what I came up with. In case you didn't use one, it would 69,000 divided by 4,007,588= .017%. To get your number you would have to move a decimal point. To get to 1.7% of 4,007,588 permit holder numbers would be 681,289 and that is way too high.

    I don't know- check it out for yourself.

  21. As best I know, no one has done any surveys that show how often people who have obtained licenses actually carry regularly or semi-regularly. I know a mix of semi-regular and occasional toters. I suspect in states where they are harder to get, more of the people who have them carry regularly or semi-regularly. In Pennsylvania, LTCs are easy to get, and it's a good idea to have one even if you only transport firearms in a vehicle. I'd say half would be very generous for this state. A quarter I might buy.

  22. O.K. My figuring was wrong. Chris's numbers are also off. By my re-figuring, the number of permit holders per population of Minnesota would be about 1.4%. Of course, that total number includes all people in Minnesota, so those under 21 can't have permits to carry. It's may be hard to know the numbers but from one place, I figured using some 2007 numbers that about 70% of Minnesotans are over the age of 20. We would have to subract only those between 20 and 21 from that pool, but if we use that number, then actually about 2% of those over age 20 have permits to carry. That is assuming a larger number than it actually is. If 1/10 of those are carrying at any given time that 7500 are carrying in the state of Minnesota. The chance of my having someone carrying just in my town is pretty small so I still don't see how Chris gets his probability numbers. At any rate, I am the one who didn't include a decimal point when I should have. Sorry. None of this really matters anyway. If you all are trying to prove that there a lot of folks carrying in public places, the numbers just do not add up that way. I will do some more thinking about this anyway and get back to you.

  23. Sebastian,

    I agree that 1/2 might be significantly high. That's why I ran a "low case" that divides that number by 5 (i.e, seeing what happens when 1/10 people carry on a regular basis). It doesn't change the outcome significantly, i.e., a typical person running a few errands is quite likely to come across someone who is concealed carrying.

    Let's take an extreme case though. Say 1.7% of Minnesotan adults have a CCW permit. Let's further argue that 1 in 50 of them carry with any regularity. The odds that someone is not carrying are 0.99966. If you go to a shopping mall with 1000 customers, the chances that one of them is packing are still 29%. Those are still decent odds that virtually guarantee that you run into someone who is carrying on a regular basis (depending on how often you go out in public).

  24. Joan,

    According to the US Census, there are around 4,007,588 adults in Minnesota over the age of 18. I used the 2009 census data because I used the 2009 data for CCW permits and I wanted to compare apples to apples. I'd prefer to compare against the population >21 but data is not available. Anyways, that bias works in my favor (that is, if you drop out the 18-21 year olds, the percentage of the adult population with a CCW increases as you found).

    Whether it is 1.4%, 1.7%, or 2% it doesn't change the outcome too much though.

    The chance of my having someone carrying just in my town is pretty small so I still don't see how Chris gets his probability numbers. I don't know where you live or really care to find out. Not my business. However, the annual Minnesota CCW report seems to release data by local jurisdiction for # of permits. So you could easily look up how many people in your town have permits and divide it by the number of adults that live in your town.

    Then, just plug the data into the formula given and you'll know the approximate chance that there's someone carrying a gun in Chilis when you go out for dinner. If you want to round off the numbers and email them me I'd be happy to do the math for you.


    As for the formula itself, I have high confidence that I selected the right one. For example, say we wanted to solve a similar probability question.

    If you roll a normal die 6 times, what are the odds of getting at least one six? You might think that they'd be 1 in 6, duh! Another common answer would be 100%. However, both are wrong.

    You can restate that problem to be, "What are the odds that I roll six times in a row and get a 1 through 5 each time?" The chances of that happening are 5/6 * 5/6 * 5/6 * 5/6 * 5/6 * 5/6 = 33%. Thus, the odds of getting at least one six are the inverse of 33% -- that is, 66%!

    Apply that to our scenario. Say we have six random Minnesotans in a coffee shop. What are the odds that one of them has a CCW permit? You can restate that and ask, "What are the odds that none of them have a CCW permit?" That is easily calculated: 0.98 * 0.98 * 0.98 * .98 * .98 * .98 = 88%. There's a 88% chance that none of them have a CCW permit, which means that there is a 12% chance that at least one does. Stated more concisely: 1 - 0.98^6. Yes, I rounded off to the 2% figure just to keep the math simple here.

    If you entered two coffee shops, each with six random Minnesotans, then the odds that neither one of them contained a CCW permit individual would be: 0.88 * 0.88 = 77%. That means that the chances that you've just run into a concealed carry permit are almost 1 in 4 now!

    The interesting thing about probability is that it leads to some counter intuitive results. Even though the chance that any individual has a CCW permit (and is packing) are quite low, when you aggregate many people together then the chance that at least one of them is carrying increases and approaches 100%. This is exactly the same reason why you can get a relatively small group of people together and the odds that two of them share the same birthday are quite good.

    Thanks for your kind words about being willing to put in some work. Because probability is so counter-intuitive, I think that sometimes people have a significantly distorted view of what is actually going on. For example, if you think that concealed carry is very, very rare, then you don't realize that every day you're likely in the vicinity of someone carrying a loaded, deadly, concealed weapon -- and nothing bad is happening.

  25. As of Nov 30th, 2010 -- there are 78,562 Minnesotans with a carry permit (MN BCA Stats).

  26. Sebastian's remarks at 11:37 are really funny since he and his friends love to use that causation and correlation doubletalk so much.

    But when it suits, I guess his argument is Philadelphia is worse off BECAUSE there are fewer concealed carry guys there.

    And speaking of double talk, Chris got on the bandwagon in a big way.

  27. "They feel threatened by all of those people just lurking around every corner."

    As well they should since in your first paragraph you said danger lurks around every corner, along with the crime and shooting sprees we all know about, (and the ones that never happen because the criminal knows some people might be armed), and then later you cite numerous other shootings.

    "The truth is that too many people are being shot to death or injured every day." They sure are. So what is your solution? Take guns away from law-abiding citizens so that only the government and other criminals have guns?

    It was already illegal for the Florida school board shooter to have a gun and to have a gun on school grounds, but he did anyway, and was stopped by another person with a gun. If you think you will be safer if only government and criminals have guns, that's fine, but history proves otherwise.

    How are those gun laws working in Mexico? How's the crime rate in the UK? How many gun murders in D.C. and Chicago with their bans? Yeah.

    "So perhaps it is true that most mass shootings happen where guns are not allowed. To me that does not matter."
    Don't let facts get in the way of your opinion and how you Feel.

    "The fact is, there are places where guns should not be allowed for obvious reasons."
    What "facts"? And why shouldn't guns be allowed in those places? You didn't actually say why.

  28. MikeB, you are exactly correct, Philedelphia, as well as New York, Washington DC, and Chicago all have disproportionately high crime because of a lack of legal concealed carry.

    I'm glad to see that you are getting it. Remember Robert Peel's 9 principles, I'm particularly fond of this one :Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

  29. What????? This makes absolutely no sense.