Gospel of the Gun: Why the Fight for Gun Control will be Harder than We Think

We’ve all seen the stickers. Driving along road and our eyes are drawn out of sheer boredom as we wait for the light to change.

“When They Pry It From My Cold Dead Hands”

“Come and Take It!”

“Pro Life, Pro God, Pro Gun”

Simultaneously incredulous and affronted we roll our eyes or even give a slight shake of the head. For those of us on the Control side of the debate we think about our arguments, and the reality that either gets twisted by the anti-regulatory forces, or merely dismissed out of hand.

We think about the statistics.

The US has the highest rate of gun-related homicide in the industrialized world. Over 30,000 fatalities each year. 19.5 times higher than other high income countries.

You’re twice as likely to be a victim of gun violence if you own a gun.

Suicide risk increases with gun ownership.

Then there’s the inevitable counter-propagandistic platitudes:

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

“It’s just an instrument, a tool. People are killed from knives and cars and we’re not trying to ban them.”

“Hitler’s first step was to take away people’s firearms.”

“Criminals will still have guns. They don’t follow the laws.”

We get suckered into debating meaningless semantics making no headway and end up frustrated for our efforts.

I’ve never had a rational debate about gun control, either online or in person. Most people simply haven’t done research, and guns as a priori to the American consciousness as… well there really isn’t anything else that comes close, not even Christianity. The vitriol is on the same level as the abortion issue. You’re either Pro-Life, or Pro-Choice, and each side’s adherents will tell you, in no uncertain terms, there is no middle ground. However the raw emotion, the unwavering, unquestioning support on the Pro-Gun side borders on religious fervor. There is no questioning of scripture, and if you do you’re cast out from the flock.

Just ask Dick Metcalf. I had never heard of Dick Metcalf until I read an article by Ravi Somaiya in The New York Times. Formerly a preeminent columnist for Guns & Ammo Mr. Metcalf had the temerity to suggest that the 2nd Amendment wasn’t a Biblical Commandment, and therefore not sacrosanct.

“In late October, Mr. Metcalf wrote a column that the magazine titled “Let’s Talk Limits,” which debated gun laws. ‘The fact is,’ wrote Mr. Metcalf, who has taught history at Cornell and Yale, ‘all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be.’
The backlash was swift, and fierce. Readers threatened to cancel their subscriptions. Death threats poured in by email. His television program was pulled from the air.
Just days after the column appeared, Mr. Metcalf said, his editor called to tell him that two major gun manufacturers had said ‘in no uncertain terms’ that they could no longer do business with InterMedia Outdoors, the company that publishes Guns & Ammo and co-produces his TV show, if he continued to work there. He was let go immediately.”

Granted Guns & Ammo is basically a church bulletin for the 2nd Amendment crowd, but it illustrates just how contentious even talking about regulation of the firearm industry is. If a man who up until October 2013 spent his career writing for “dozens of gun magazines” and has taught history at two prestigious universities can be summarily dismissed for even suggesting that regulation isn’t a new, or even illegal thing than gun control advocates have a long, hard fight on their hands.

Metcalf’s article doesn’t call for repeal of the 2nd Amendment, or even strict control. It merely points out that regulation of constitutional rights is a thing, and will always be a thing. He didn’t advocate a position, but merely discussed factual, verifiable reality which is something that 2nd amendment advocates will have to deal with at some point. Whenever a movement’s continued existence is predicated on the willful denial of evidence, of fact-based reality that existence is on life-support. It’s akin to a man eating the “Quadruple Bypass Burger” with a side of “Flatliner Fries” at the “Heart Attack Grill” and dismissing the chest pains while he waits on the bus. Reality always comes back to collect on its tab.

Conservatism is ultimately a losing proposition. Eventually every conservative movement loses out in America because its essential nature is a denial of change, to conserve the status quo. There are not many Pro-Slavery adherents, or people against Women’s Suffrage. We lump into the same category as people who think the world is flat, and for good reason. Firing Dick Metcalf was Guns & Ammo’s choice. They have every right to do so, but they’re doing their readers a disservice. Hearing uncomfortable truths is how we refine ourselves, and make our arguments better. It’s the thing that allows for change, without which we rob ourselves of a crucial aspect of our own humanity: the ability to adapt and improve.

All hope isn’t lost for Mr. Metcalf. Maybe Sarah Palin will take up defending Mr. Metcalf’s First Amendment Rights like she did with Phil Robertson. Maybe this time she’ll actually read his article.

  • http://usrimfireshooters.wordpress.com/ RimfireShooter

    “Over 30,000 fatalities each year. 19.5 times higher than other high income countries.” – I hate this contorted number. 2/3rds are suicides. If someone overdoses we don’t call it a Pharmaceutical fatality, but because its a gun suicide its lumped in as a gun death. Its silly. Want to make yourself look uninformed, use this number. And of the 1/3rd that’s left, most are drug and gang related in big urban cities.

    “I’ve never had a rational debate about gun control, either online or in person.” – From the previous article December 15th, it seemed more like you ignore the truths being presented. I’m not overly sure you realize this, but you don’t exactly make persuasive arguments. About the best you present as facts are what i’d sum up as ‘gun ownership increases risk.’ That’s pretty weak sauce.

    “….than gun control advocates have a long, hard fight on their hands.” – Yes you do indeed. Its a losing policy all around. Let me remind you Dems only gained seats when they made the issue a 3rd rail. Now that’s its not again, let’s see how many seats Dems lose this next election.

    “Conservatism is ultimately a losing proposition. Eventually every
    conservative movement loses out in America because its essential nature
    is a denial of change, to conserve the status quo.” – The gun issue isn’t a R vs D dichotomy. Never has been. Its rural vs urban and regional. There are plenty of places in the country where an anti-gun Democrat is unelectable. President Clinton and Al Gore for instance were strongly pro-gun until they ran for national office. Over 40 states this year introduced legislation to nullify federal gun control laws altogether. Outside of big blue states on each coast, the country is largely pro-gun.

  • John

    Finally someone made sense concerning the 2nd Amendment argument. Thank you Wireknob. Frederic, your throw away last paragraph concerning the conservative movement makes no sense and is not based in any factual reference whatsoever. Conservatives are pro slavery and against a woman’s right to vote, please get real and get some facts to back up your charge. A historical fact, the Republicans passed the 13th and 14th Amendments and the Democrats were either opposing or sitting with their mouths shut as they have always done when it came to the major civil rights movements in this country.

  • wireknob

    The problem is that gun control advocates don’t look critically at the evidence and facts, they rely more on emotional reasoning and demagoguery than rational debate, and they eagerly parrot the conclusions of very flawed and biased studies.

    Unbiased, critical reviews of the facts, evidence and analysis have concluded time and again, here and elsewhere, that gun control does not work and in some cases has been counterproductive.

    Consider the 2004 study by the National Research Council entitled “Firearms & Violence: A Critical Review”, which is freely available here:

    http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309091241

    And what about the investigation started during the Carter administration by the Social and Demographic Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, (under a grant from the National Institute of Justice) and described in detail in the book “Under the Gun” by Wright, Rossi, and Daly.

    These critical evaluations found no support for the efficacy of gun control policies at reducing overall crime and suicides, and also debunked a lot of the gun-control advocacy that masquerades as research. And yet gun-control advocates ignore these findings, disingenuously focus on gun-related crime rates as opposed to overall crime rates, cherry-pick the data and comparisons, use simplistic methods of analysis, and push predetermined but unsupported conclusions.

    I’m willing to have a rational debate with gun-control advocates, but first they have to leave aside their playbook of disingenuous “messaging” tactics, found here

    http://cdn.freedomoutpost.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Gun-ViolenceMessaging-Guide-PDF-1.pdf

    and start actually dealing in facts, evidence, reason, logic, and intellectual honesty. Mr. Poag’s banter is not a good start in that direction.

    • Frederic Poag

      So your go to responses are a “study”, (again I really wish you pro gun folks would learn the difference between a study and researched book), and a political messaging power point? Yup and I’m the one that’s cherry picking.

      Okay lets start with a basic, foundational, bedrock premise and go from there.

      Do you think that amendments can be regulated? By regulation I mean their scope expand or restricted.

      • wireknob

        The studies I’m referring to were conducted by committees or groups of experts that are critically reviewing the research, pro and con, like referees of a journal. These assessments of the data and methods serve to distinguish between well-conducted and poorly conducted research. The book I referred to is a published version of the study conducted. If there was a bounty of well-conducted research supporting the pro-gun control agenda, I’m sure the gun-control advocates would not be resorting to the emotional pleading, misinformation, and demagoguery that is pushed in their “messaging” playbook. The playbook is a tacit acknowledgement that the facts and evidence are not on the gun control side.

        But to your question: Yes, carefully tailored government regulations have been applied to constitutionally protected rights. The real questions are (1) what is the scope of the regulation, and (2) what type of scrutiny is applied to the proposed regulations: strict scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny, or rational basis review? As with other fundamental rights protected by the Constitution, any regulation that significantly impacts the fundamental right should be subject to strict scrutiny, which demands that the regulation addresses a “compelling government interest”, it is “narrowly tailored”, and it is the “least restrictive means” possible to achieve that interest.

        That is not what the vast majority of gun control proponents propose. The proposed gun control policies have little or no scientifically sound evidence to support their efficacy relative to addressing a compelling interest, they are not narrowly tailored to achieve the minimal impact to the lawful exercise of the right, and they are not the least restrictive means of achieving the purported interest. If you want to discuss particular policies (assault weapons ban, magazine capacity limits, universal background checks, etc.) I’d be happy to do so. We can even go through them all. You can start by describing how these proposals pass strict scrutiny.

        • Frederic Poag

          So the 2nd Amendment isn’t sacrosanct? Then you’d agree that regulation that is a minor burden on the individual, doesn’t restrict firearm ownership, but produces a massive good for the public is fine?

          And no I’m not playing the “strict scrutiny” game. That’s just you loading up the definition. It’s fallacious.

          So to get us started tell me if you find anything wrong with these facts by Ezra Klein:

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/07/23/six-facts-about-guns-violence-and-gun-control/

          • wireknob

            Strict scrutiny is not a game, it is part of constitutional law relevant to judicial review. But of course you wouldn’t want to abide by that.

            Here are my comments regarding Ezra Klein’s facts:

            1) Simply comparing the U.S. to other countries (called an “ecological” study) does not tell us anything about what variables affect crime in the U.S. or these different countries. But we do have some rather unique crime problems due to gangs and pockets of socio-econonomic dysfunction (e.g., , in parts of Chicago, D.C., Detroit, New Orleans, and Newark, NJ).

            2) It is not particularly informative to compare large geographic regions in the U.S. either because the distribution of crime in the these areas is very non-uniform both geographically and demographically. Likewise, it is not helpful to associate crime statistics driven up by gangs and criminal-infested ghettos with law-abiding gun citizens in other areas.

            3) It is not possible to measure gun ownership rates directly. Estimates are generally extrapolated from very small surveys or divined by guessed-at relationships with proxy variables (e.g., magazine subscriptions) that can be measured. The one thing we do know is that per capita gun ownership rates have been going up in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean that a higher fraction of U.S. households own guns (many gun owners are very guarded about giving out this information for surveys).

            4) Here is where you want to read a unbiased, critical review of the research, like the NRC review I linked above. But even where there a correlation that does not imply a causal relationship (it may even be reverse causation, where crime causes people to buy guns for defensive purposes). If you look across all countries, not just those hand-picked ones, you’ll find that murders (and even gun-related murders) are generally higher in countries with low per-capita gun ownership rates.

            5) First, the concentration on “gun-related” homicide rates is disingenuous. The parameter of interest is overall homicide rates, because criminals can easily substitute other weapons (especially when their victims are likely to be unarmed) and the defensive use of guns serves a beneficial function in deterring and disrupting crimes. If you do a simple cross-correlation between the strictness of gun control laws (say, the Brady Campaign score) and the overall crime rates by state you find almost exactly zero correlation.

            6) Gun control is certainly less popular now that it was decades ago. I think whether the public is more or less accepting of a specific gun control policy depends a great deal on the rational basis for it and the impact it has on the rights of law-abiding citizens (and in the short run it may depend on tragic events that excite an emotional response).

            But let’s get to your stipulations regarding a regulation that is a “minor burden, doesn’t restrict firearm ownership, and produces a massive good for the public”? Which gun regulations would those be?

          • JozefAL

            If you truly believe that “we have levels of scrutiny to determine whether a law violates the constitutional protection,” then please explain why a person’s First Amendment right to free speech does NOT permit the advocacy of violent overthrow of the government? Why can I yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater IF there’s actually a fire, but I CAN’T yell it if there isn’t one?

            What if I want to start up a religion that absolutely mandates the smoking of marijuana and the sacrifice of live animals but I don’t want to go to any government official to get the “necessary permissions” to permit those actions? (Smoking marijuana is protected when done as part of a Rastafarian ceremony but can be prosecuted when a Rasta does so in the privacy of his own home depending on the state. And animal sacrifice is permitted for Santeria but the priests need to receive approval from local authorities, largely to ensure the sacrifice is done in a humane manner.)

            And why should my freedom of assembly be limited? Parades require permits; public assemblies can require permits. And who provides these permits? Government officials who can deny them with minimal chance to appeal.

            The First Amendment is rife with freedoms and every single one of them is bound by restrictions and limitations.

            Why should the Second Amendment be more sacrosanct than the First? Especially as the Second leads off with the clause “A well-regulated militia being necessary” which, until the “anti-judicial activist, pro-original intent” right-wing faction of our current Supreme Court determined otherwise, was a MAJOR limitation on that Second Amendment right. (Also, the clause was a way to ensure that only WHITE men could have weapons since, to be a member of a State militia at the time, you had to be a “free” man. It had NOTHING to do with “fighting Indians”–except for the fact that the settlers who were doing that particular fighting just happened to be white. Slave owners only moved to the “frontier” after it had been tamed.)

          • wireknob

            Your examples in the first paragraph are exactly what judicial scrutiny is about. For example, yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater could unnecessarily get people hurt in the stampede for the door (it’s also a nuisance), it serves no significant purpose as a form of personal expression, the restriction serves the compelling interest of public safety, it is narrowly tailored to apply on specific time, place, and manner grounds. Restrictions on civil rights may exist but they must pass judicial scrutiny to be considered constitutional.

            As to your religion example, as a civil libertarian I think people should be free to do what they choose (e.g., smoke pot) so long as it does not impinge on the rights of others to do the same. As for animal sacrifice, you are now involving another living being, not just committing acts that only affect yourself, so the equation changes (same thing if you drive your car intoxicated or high). The restrictions on assembly generally come down to time, place, and manner (they are content neutral) and the intent is not to interfere with the purpose of the assembly but, rather, to limit it’s interference with other people’s rights.

            I’m not saying that the second amendment should be more sacrosanct than, say, the first. I’m saying it should be just as sacrosanct as the first and all others. If you read what I said above you will see that I advocate consistency in the application of the same level of judicial scrutiny to the second amendment as is applied to all others.

            And, as a matter of fact, the individual rights interpretation of the second amendment was the norm from the founding of the nation (actually, before that with respect to many state constitutions) up to the U.S. vs. Tot (1943) decision. The Tot decision was actually the anomaly, and the collective rights interpretation is not supported by the historical references in that decision. Cases that followed Tot merely referenced that flawed decision. The vast majority of constitutional scholars now accept the individual rights view, even many liberal scholars. Please read the original writings and debates concerning the Bill of Rights and the second amendment and also read the relevant judicial decisions predating Tot. You will find that Scalia’s view is in line with the original intent of the second amendment.

            The second amendment has a manifold purpose: (1) to ensure that the general militia, consisting of all able-bodied citizens, is armed for the defense of the nation against invasion or insurrection, (2) as a check on the standing army and select militias (i.e., the National Guard), and (3) to secure a free society from the impositions of an overreaching government that might infringe on the fundamental, natural rights of its citizens. The history of the second amendment is very interesting, around the time of the civil war it was used to protect the rights of freed slaves by allowing them to keep arms for their defense.

      • Douglas Snyde

        “You’re twice as likely to be a victim of gun violence if you own a gun.”

        This study includes people with criminal and violent histories and grouped them along with people free of such records.

        From your study (Discussion section) I quote:

        “Third, it is possible that the association between a gun in the home and risk of a violent death may be related to other factors that we were unable to control for in our analysis. For instance, with homicide, the association may be related to certain neighborhood characteristics or the decedent’s previous involvement in other violent or illegal behaviors. Persons living in high-crime neighborhoods or involved in illegal behaviors may acquire a gun for protection. The risk comes not necessarily from the presence of the gun in the house but from these types of environmental factors and exposures.”

        Now you see how horribly skewed the results are.

        A lot of anti-gun studies are junk, the Kellermann 1993 one is a prime example.

        Read your own studies next time Frederic, otherwise you’ll look like a fool when somebody who is more knowledgeable comes into the picture.

        Furthermore overall suicide rates did not decline in Canada, New Zealand and Australia after gun control was implemented, gun suicides went down however hangings rose. The overall suicide rates did not change significantly.

        But as long as people are hanging themselves instead, there is no body for you to stand on, am I right?

  • chris ellis

    Who knew God was pro gun?! If only Jesus was packing’…

  • Arcnor

    It may be backward and demographically-doomed as a political movement, but it’s perhaps better understood as an apocalyptic religious cult. Especially where firearms are concerned.

    One imagines their daily prayer goes something like this:

    Our Arsenal, who art in gun racks, firearms are thy name.
    Thy deregulation come, thy proliferation be done, in America, and who gives a damn what happens anywhere else?
    Give us this day our daily ammo ration, and don’t worry about trespasses, because we’ll sure as hell blow away any trespassers we see.
    And lead us not into disarmament, but deliver us from the United Nations, for thine is the extended magazine and the armour-piercing ammunition, for ever and ever.
    Amen.

  • Christopher Foxx

    Whenever a movement’s continued existence is predicated on the willful denial of evidence, of fact-based reality that existence is on life-support.

    So “Harder than We Think” means we’ll just have to wait them out?

    • Frederic Poag

      It means we’re confronting a fundamentalist religious view.

      • wireknob

        Perhaps the uncritical view, based on faith and emotional reasoning alone, is that gun control works and that people will eventually be willing to sign over their rights to a government bureaucracy run by naive do-gooders.

        • Christopher Foxx

          The unthinking view, based on faith and emotional “reasoning” alone, is that any gun control at all has to be sarcastically dismissed with ridiculous hyperbole.

          • wireknob

            Who is saying that? Your comment and its caricature of gun rights advocates is actually an example of ridiculous hyperbole. Just because gun rights advocates are against the ill-conceived gun control legislation proposed by professional gun-control advocates does not mean that gun rights advocates are against all gun control policy.

          • Christopher Foxx

            Who is saying that?

            You are. You’re the one who suggested gun control doesn’t work, and equated it to “signing over your rights” to the gov’t.

            how does it make sense to outlaw so-called “assault weapons” which are functionally equivalent to many other non-ban worthy guns, very popular among sportsmen, … Please make sense of that for me

            Unless you can support it, I don’t accept your premise. How is a “functionally equivalent” gun not a “so-called ‘assault weapon’”? And why would something functionally equivalent to an assault weapon be needed by “sportsmen”? As I was brought up, hunting with a machine gun was not “sporting”.

          • wireknob

            Read the thread. I was responding to Frederic who characterized gun rights advocates as adhering to their position due to a fundamentalist religious faith rather than a principled, factually supported, and well reasoned stance.

            On so-called assault weapons:

            1) Take a semi-automatic receiver and a matching barrel: (a) slap a wooden stock and forearm on it and you’re not banned; (b) put a plastic, adjustable stock, a pistol grip, and/or a plastic, vented forearm on it and you’re banned.

            2) Assault weapons are distinguished only by stylistic and ergonomic features (telescoping stock, synthetic barrel shroud, pistol grip, etc.), not functional capabilities.

            3) So-called assault weapons are not automatic “machine guns” (you’re betraying your ignorance with this one). They are semi-automatic, i.e., they fire only once per trigger pull. Many other, ordinary-looking rifles and handguns are semi-automatic.

            Just look at the attempted definition of assault weapons in the legislation. Of course, the definition does not differentiate based on functional capabilities, so to avoid having non-scary looking guns being swept up in the ban they have to name all the banned firearms explicitly (i.e., they cannot be differentiated by their function). So you should address your question to gun control proponents: How is a functionally equivalent gun not a so-called assault weapon? Or, how is an assault weapon not functionally the same as any other semi-automatic rifle?

            So-called assault weapons, or modern sporting rifles as they are often called, are desirable because they easily adjust to the shooter (length of pull, etc.), are easier and more comfortable for some people to hold and control, are light weight, etc. What problem do you have with any of that?