Columns

Powers ’15: Let’s talk facts about guns

By
Opinions Columnist

It seems to be almost a constant background fixture of national debate — periodically taking to center stage in the aftermath of horrific tragedy. Just last month, Nico Enriquez ’16 wrote a column calling for stronger firearms regulation (“The blind gun,” Sept. 20) in which he made many points that, to me, seemed at best misleading and at worst either factually inaccurate or logically fallacious.

Enriquez began with a purely emotional appeal derived from anecdotal evidence and supported by rhetoric. Among other selected stories, he presents the example of Megan Bookstaver: “A college student … dead because of an unregistered gun. No criminal charges are being filed.” Given the contextual tone and lack of details, one could easily misinterpret this case as an instance of lax regulatory policy directly precipitating the murder of an innocent woman and allowing her killer to get away scot-free.

In reality, Bookstaver was accidentally killed when her boyfriend was cleaning one of her family’s many firearms. The gun, a long gun, was not registered because registration of long guns is not legally required. No criminal charges were filed because no crime was ever committed. Bookstaver’s father steadfastly continues to support gun rights.

Of course, the only thing gun control advocates like bringing up more than individual victims of gun violence is multiple victims of gun violence. For instance, Enriquez writes that “Thirteen people were gunned down … in the middle of Chicago.” But “gunned down” may be a bit of a strong term ­— given that there were zero fatalities in that case. Additionally, Enriquez failed to mention that the firearm used to perpetrate the crime was illegal, so it seems unlikely that more stringent legal restrictions could have prevented this incident.

When repeatedly bringing up cases like these, the purpose is never to present some new and convincing logical argument, but rather to get people riled up. It is obviously true firearms can be used to perpetrate appalling crimes — no one is on the other side of that argument. But it’s not logically inconsistent to agree with that point while simultaneously supporting gun rights. Let’s quit it with the demagoguery and stick to substance.

If you ever watch Michael Moore’s film “Bowling for Columbine,” you’ll notice that he never actually conducts any sort of cost-benefit analysis on his proposed changes in firearms policy. It’s taken for granted that since people die because of guns, it would be crazy not to ban guns. And Moore is by no means alone in this view. Invariably, when a multiple-victim shooting occurs, media frenzy is sure to follow — immediately condemning conservatives as murderers by proxy. Enriquez’s column is just a drop in this ocean of hair-trigger emotionalism.

The one empirical argument in Enriquez’s column makes a comparision to driving fatalities. Decades ago, automobile-related deaths were more prevalent than they are today. Enriquez points out that automotive regulations were initially resisted by a “well-financed industry lobby,” and that when restrictions finally were passed, deaths declined. Similarly, organizations like the National Rifle Association resist proposed firearms regulations in today’s world.

I completely agree with these points as matters of fact, but I disagree that the conclusion is that we should more heavily regulate guns. Success through increasing regulation in one industry doesn’t lead me to believe that the same success will necessarily be had through increasing regulation in an altogether different industry. Moreover, the analogy is simply unnecessary. Why bother looking at driving fatality data with respect to automotive policy when we could just look at firearm fatality data with respect to firearms policy?

Media personalities relish pointing out that the United States has by far the highest gun death rate. Moore’s film features a montage of countries’ names with their respective statistics. Ironically, Moore essentially admitted the fallacious nature of making such comparisons by noting the inexplicable crime differences between Canada and the United States even though they have similar gun laws.

It is more instructive to examine the temporal changes in gun crime rates over a period during which firearms regulation changed. During the 1970s and 80s, both Washington, D.C. and Chicago instituted gun bans and saw massive increases in crime, both of which went away as soon as the bans were lifted. Island nations with strict border controls — such as Ireland and Jamaica — experienced similar effects. The intuition behind these findings is that banning guns disarms law-abiding citizens while having little effect upon criminals, encouraging crime. The empirical findings corroborate this understanding.

Enriquez also raised concerns that firearms manufacturers create “interfaces that allow children to shoot themselves.” As is the case with mass shootings, accidental gun deaths are extremely rare events that garner disproportionate media coverage. Each year, more children drown in buckets than shoot themselves or other children. And don’t get me started on the real killer — bathtubs. This is a laughably weak basis for criticism, but it does make for a nice soundbite on the news.

Toward the end of his column, Enriquez proposed policies that demonstrated a real dearth of understanding of firearms technology and the related politicized terminology.

But maybe gun control advocates like Enriquez are right about something. Maybe 30,000 people don’t have to die every year. Tell your Congressman. Deregulate.

 

 

Andrew Powers ’15 can be reached at andrew_powers@brown.edu.

  • DIYinSTL

    Ah, the old confuse the people with truth and facts gambit. Too bad it doesn’t work. Enriquez simply took a page out of “Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging” which instructs its advocates to skip the facts (and especially don’t wait for any following a shooting) and appeal to emotion. The sad truth is that Enriquez probably believes the lies of people he quoted.

    • TopCat_Texas

      ” The sad truth is that Enriquez probably believes the lies” – if you are correct it is a sad day for the country.

  • Arafat

    Great article. Analytical instead of anecdotal.

  • Biff Sarin

    A remarkably well thought out and well written article.

    In response to ‘DIYinSTL’: To your point, have you ever noticed how many anti-gun youtube videos and blogs have blocked the ability for the public to comment? Apparently they don’t want intelligent individuals to cloud their narratives with facts or a dissenting view point.

  • sedona2A

    we need young people like you with a brain.

  • Everybody

    I luv talking facts