Guns Do Not Stop Crimes

Vigilante Justice

I’ve abbreviated the more awkward title of a Scientific American (SciAm) article that, in full, readsĀ More Guns Do Not Stop More Crimes, Evidence Shows. It appears to me that the full article is publicly available, not behind a paywall, which would be a praiseworthy public service, although I’m a SciAm subscriber so I can’t tell for sure.

When I recently read the hardcopy version, I skimmed through it quite rapidly, because the article conforms to my beliefs, so I didn’t really need any reinforcement.

Then came yet another mass shooting (this one in Texas, though it’s hard to keep up with them these days), and the resulting press coverage. As usual, when the shooter is a white male, “mental illness” was cited by many as the “cause” of the mayhem.

What really bothered me, though, about this incident, was the characterization of a couple of local men who pulled out their guns and wounded the shooter, then engaged in a high-speed car chase that ended in his death. These vigilantes were almost universally called “heroes” by the press. This made me shudder. As far as I can tell, these two men acted outside the law and caused the death of a man. Has it come to this, that private citizens can take the law into their own hands and conduct what amounts to an extrajudicial execution, and be praised for it?

In any case, the publicity surrounding this latest gun rampage made me turn back to the recently-read article for confirmation that this sort of behavior should not be held up as the standard we wish to achieve.

Guns Don’t Make Us Safe

The majority of people who buy guns do so for self-defense.

In a June 2017 study, researchers surveyed American gun owners about why they owned handguns, reporting that 88 percent bought them for self-defense; many felt they were likely to become targets of violent crime at some point.

In a recent year (2015), 36,000 lives in the US were lost to guns. This number is staggering, and exceeds the number of deaths attributable to a wide range of other causes, including automobile accidents. Yet, the number also indicates that only 1 in about 10,000 Americans is killed by a gun in a given year. And the majority of these deaths are suicides.

Numerous surveys and studies cited in this article conclude that households with guns are much more likely to experience gun violence than households without guns. And the use of guns for self-defense is relatively trivial (1 to 22) compared with accidental shootings, criminal assaults, and suicide attempts.

There are plenty of such statistics and conclusions in the article, if you need facts to counter some of the myths we commonly hear. The author’s final observation centers around the role of guns as arbiters of passions.

People, all of us, lead complicated lives, misinterpret situations, get angry, make mistakes. And when a mistake involves pulling a trigger, the damage can’t be undone… life is not target practice.

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