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.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Guns: Who needs them?

Cross posted at Media Matters Gun Facts

In this post, I want to talk more about the real need for a gun. This thoughtful article examines the need for a gun in cases of rape. Do women need to carry a gun around with them to ward off a rapist? Would a gun work in the case of rape? Will a gun actually protect a woman against being raped? If not, what else can be done? In this thoughtful article, all of these questions are examined. The writer comes to this conclusion:
"Having a gun in your possession would probably only increase the possibility of you being shot. Even in stranger rapes, the rapist is much more likely to be prepared to use violence than the victim — and may use the weapon against her.
We all want to reduce the number of women who are attacked in our community. But we have to be careful not to increase the number who are killed — especially by their own weapons."
And further, the author asks some important questions to end the article:
Do we want to live in a community filled with fear? A community where innocent citizens feel they have to carry a gun everywhere they go? A community where violent criminals are able to turn our own fear, and our own weapons, against us?
Or, do we want to make our community safe — for all women, children and men? If we do, we have a lot of work to do, and the first step is education and prevention — not carrying a weapon.
Indeed. We have a lot of work to do. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has managed to co-opt the message about the need for guns for everyone because of the very slight chance that you might have to use a gun in self defense. It defies the statistics and reason, but that doesn't matter to the NRA because part of its' mission is to make sure the gun manufacturers and dealers stay in business. Follow the money. And so, to accomodate those trumped up fears about the need for guns in cases of rape or for women in general, the gun industry has complied. Here, here, and here are photos of the small ( or even a Hello Kitty assault rifle for goodness sake) and sometimes pink guns made especially for women to carry in their purses or their bras. I blogged about this previously. For the record, guns are not cute. Guns are dangerous. They kill people. Check out the photos on the second link to see how the gun industry markets guns for women- or is this marketing for men?

If we look at actual data about the use of guns in the home for self defense and by women, it's hard to make a case that a gun will make you safer. Reading this article about guns in the home and the advantages and disadvantages, one can conclude that, from a public health aspect, more people are shot with guns in the home than they use them for self defense. Further, this is an interesting slant on the contentious debate about gun policy in our country:
Hemenway takes a very narrow focus on public health issues related to the presence of guns in the home. "The article does not examine some of the possible benefits (e.g., the fun of target practice) or costs (e.g., loss of hearing) of gun use." It also generally avoids dealing with the consequences of what happens once the gun leaves the home. Instead, it focuses on death, injury and intimidation, and balances that against the protective value provided by guns.
When it comes to violence, nearly every figure suggests that increased presence of guns correlates with higher levels of injury and death. Homicide rates among the US population between 15 and 24 years of age are 14 times higher than those in most other industrialized nations. Children from 5 to 14 years old are 11 times more likely to be killed in an accidental shooting. Within the US, areas with high gun ownership have higher rates of these problems. And, for every accidental death, Hemenway cites research that indicates 10 more incidents are sufficient to send someone to the emergency room. Suicides are more likely to be successful when guns are involved, even though most people who survive such an attempt don't generally try a second time.
The article goes on to quote from David Hemenway's study:
(...)  In the limited scope of the review, the primary positive effect assigned to guns is deterrence, and, more specifically, deterrence against violence. Although, "Results suggest that self-defense gun use may be the best method for preventing property loss," this doesn't count from a public health perspective. And that's only the start of the problems; as the National Academies of Science noted in a report quoted by the author, "self-defense is an ambiguous term." As Hemenway himself puts it, "Unlike deaths or woundings, where the definitions are clear and one needs to only count the bodies, what constitutes a self-defense gun use and whether it was successful may depend on who is telling the story."(...)
That concurs with the views I have expressed in this blog. A gun in the home is more likely to be used against you or someone in the home than in self defense. So women, if you choose to have a gun in your home or on your person, consider whether it will actually keep you safe against the chance that you could get killed by that gun. Here's why:
Worse still, using a gun in self-defense is extremely rare (most instances involve using a gun to defend against animals): studies place defensive gun use at about one percent in home invasions and 0.1 percent in sexual assaults. Moreover, police reports suggest a lot of these uses involved inappropriate use of the gun.
And, from the author's perspective, that's probably inevitable. "Regular citizens with guns, who are sometimes tired, angry, drunk, or afraid, and who are not trained in dispute resolution, have lots of opportunities for inappropriate gun use," he wrote. "People engage in innumerable annoying and somewhat hostile interactions with each other in the course of a lifetime." In contrast, the opportunities to use guns in a context where the user isn't any of the above are probably always going to be rare.
That does fit with the statistics about overall gun deaths in America and overall uses of guns for legitimate self defense. Yes, self defense with a gun does happen. My readers send me plenty of stories about these incidents. But there are many many more instances of guns used to kill another human being, kill oneself or kill someone accidentally. In other words, guns are dangerous and common sense tells us that they get used inappropriately, even by law abiding gun owners. I know that from personal experience. People kill others when they are angry, depressed, under the influence of drugs and alcohol, or under some sort of stress. When a gun is handy, it gets used and is more lethal than other weapons for killing. But never mind common sense. That is not how gun policy is made in this country. It is made from fear of an "uber" gun lobby that uses its' money and its' influence to intimidate and buy our elected leaders. Thus we have continued rhetoric that convinces women that a gun will keep them from being raped, or at least give them a fighting chance. Thus we have rhetoric that convinces many in America that a gun will keep them safer even though the evidence does not prove this assertion. Thus we have gun rights extremists screaming about those of us involved in gun violence prevention planning to take away their guns; this leads to any reasonable gun policy placed on the back burner. Indeed, we have gun policy going in the opposite direction- making guns more available to people who should not have them and encouraging everyone to carry their guns into every nook and cranny of our communities.

Assumptions are made about the safety of having a gun for self defense in the home and in public that don't fit with reality. Take this recent case of an off-duty police officer who was the victim of an attempted robbery on the street. When he engaged the robber by pulling out his own gun, the police officer was shot to death. Senseless. There is no way of knowing whether the officer would be alive today if he had chosen not to pull out his gun. In this case, he was not in uniform and thus looked like any other citizen ( maybe one carrying a gun?). But I don't think robbers assess situations like that. I doubt that they think twice about whether someone is carrying a gun once they have determined their course of action. And even law enforcement officers with guns cannot prevent shootings from happening.

Or take the case of assuming that kids will not handle a gun when visiting your home so guns are openly displayed with no idea that, though maybe you have taught your own kids not to touch, others may not have received the message. This case of an Arizona teenager at a sleep-over shooting a friend is one more example of how guns in the home are more likely to be used to shoot someone you know or love than in self defense. Thankfully, it appears that the victim will survive but not without some emotional trauma. And the boy who shot his friend? He will be dealing with this for a very long time and is very lucky the friend did not die of his wounds. If you have decided that you need a gun in your home, safely storing guns and keeping them unloaded is just plain common sense.

Who needs guns then? Well, hunters need guns for the sport. Some people need guns for their profession- law enforcement, security guards, people who transport cash from businesses to banks, etc., gang members, drug cartels, felons, robbers and those who, without a gun, could not do their jobs. There are some people who justify the need for a gun for their particular profession or personal situation. Other gun uses are wants; guns for target shooting and recreational uses, guns for self defense in the home, guns in public places, children and teens when considering suicide or curious, terrorists, felons, adjudicated mentally ill people, domestic abusers, gang members, drug cartels, and generally people who are afraid that they will be attacked by an amorphous villain waiting in every shadow. I use the term "want" here because not all people have chosen to have guns in their homes or to carry them around everywhere they go. Remember, it is about 2-3% of American adults who have permits to carry guns in their states. In addition, the Violence Policy Center has released this study about the number of homes reporting guns in their abodes.
Household gun ownership peaked in 1977, when more than half (54 percent) of American households reported having any guns. By 2010, this number had dropped more than 20 percentage points to 32.3 percent of American households reporting having any guns in the home--the lowest level ever recorded by the GSS. In 2010, fewer than a third of American households reported having a gun in the home.
Personal gun ownership peaked in 1985, when 30.7 percent of Americans reported personally owning a gun. By 2010, this number had dropped nearly 10 percentage points to 20.8 percent--the lowest level ever recorded by the GSS. In 2010, slightly more than one out of five Americans reported personally owning a gun.
So, presuming this is true, based on the study, above, only 32% of homeowners have expressed a need to have a gun in their homes. That means that the majority of households are getting along just fine without what the gun lobby claims is an absolute need. Apparently many folks are neglecting their basic human needs. Er- maybe they are just too busy trying to deal with their actual needs- like food, clothing, having a job, health care, taking care of young children or older parents, owning and maintaining a home, recreation and physical activity- you know- like Maslow's heirarchy which many of us learned about in college? In his heirarchy, he states a basic need for safety:
Safety and Security needs include:
Personal security
Financial security
Health and well-being
Safety net against accidents/illness and their adverse impacts
So I suppose the personal security need could be interpreted by some to mean the need for a gun but you can't find that in Maslow's needs. Personal security can be maintained in many ways- getting a dog, leaving lights on, locking your doors and windows,  making sure kids don't run into the streets, keeping poisons and dangerous substances from kids, installing a home security system, not walking alone on dark streets at night, etc. Being careful and cautious is a good idea. But one does not need a gun to accomplish that. If the general public was convinced of this, then 100% of households and humans would have guns to meet their basic needs.

Some of my readers will vehemently disagree with my opinions and my views about needs for guns. But what they can't disagree with are the facts. Firearms are more lethal than other weapons in violent deaths. Firearms are more lethal in suicides than other methods among certain age groups. Firearms do accidentally kill children and others often enough to be of concern. So we can argue about gun policy, but we can't argue about the public health affects of gun injuries and deaths. And gun policy should be based on the reality of the very high number of gun deaths in the U.S., not on fear, power and undo influence.

(This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program. The fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.)


  1. Thanks for the article on rape and guns, japete. It answers a question I have wondered about.

    We all know how gun control advocates feel about robbery and guns: Don't use a gun to defend against robbery. But I wondered if that also applied to rape. Yes, women should try to avoid rape when possible. But when brutal rape occurs, should no resistance be offered?

    Now we know your position. I suspect that there are many women who disagree.

    That raises another question: Are you satisfied with just recommending that women not resist rape? Or would you also take action to deny women the best means to resist an unavoidable and brutal rape?

  2. Did I say no resistance should be offered? So you don't know my position after all because you put words in my mouth. But that won't stop all of you gun guys from distorting my words. As to the best means, I am not sure what that would be. It is rare for a woman to even have a gun on her person since so few women even own guns and fewer still carry them around with them. Did you read the article? Most rapes are committed by someone who knows the victim. Will you kill that person? Date rape is common. Does a young college woman want to kill her date? Resisting can come in other forms. Guns are not necessarily the best means to resist a rape, as the article stated. But then, I knew you guys wouldn't agree because you believe guns are the be all and end all to everything and I don't.

  3. Date rape is not the only kind. Note that I wrote of "brutal" rape, by which I meant the rape by stranger which often entails a beating or threat of beating or worse.

    Yes, "date rape" may warrant a different response. I do not advocate one type of response for all types of situations. But you appear to favor limiting response to the worst type of situation.

  4. Sometimes I wonder how you guys come to your conclusions about what I say. Brutal rape is, of course, worse than date rape. Did you read the article? Guns just don't work in these situations no matter date rape or brutal rape. That is my point. By not advocating for women carrying guns to protect themselves against rape does not mean I think women should not fight back. Guns are not the answer-that is what my post is all about or did you miss that?

  5. There is no doubt that having a gun will not always the answer.

    But the question isn't whether having a gun is the right answer, the question is who is it who is best able to make the decision of whether having a gun is or is not the right answer.

    And the answer to that is - not you.

    I have no argument at all with a woman who decides that carrying a gun is not the right answer. It's her life, and her choice.

    My argument is with you, who believes that she has the right to make that decision for someone else.

    You don't.

    Its' her life, and her choice.

    Not mine, and not yours.

  6. jdege- really, do you have to take everything in such a black and white interpretation? Did I say anything about my deciding who should or should not have a gun? No.

  7. You asked who needs guns. To us gun owners, that's the wrong question. We don't have to offer a need to exercise a right. How about this--ask of what utility are guns. Guns can be used for legitimate purposes. As long as that is true, we shouldn't curtail the right that we have.

  8. You write: "So I suppose the personal security need could be interpreted by some to mean the need for a gun but you can't find that in Maslow's needs. Personal security can be maintained in many ways....But one does not need a gun to accomplish that."

    Your list of ways to maintain personal security are also not covered by Maslow.

    In his original 1943 Psychological Review article, "A Theory of Human Motivation," Maslow merely notes being safe from "wild animals, extremes of temperature, criminals, assault and murder, tyranny, etc." He does state HOW one maintains safety from such things but notes "The peaceful, smoothly running, 'good' society ordinarily makes its members feel safe enough" from such events.

    So your list is essentially one *opinion* of how to maintain personal security. But by saying "one does not need a gun to accomplish [maintaining personal safety]" you are attempting to place yourself in a position of authority on the subject and dictating behavior to us.

    No. You don't get to do that.

  9. It is not a matter of what I get to do. That is my opinion. You fon't share my opinion.