Safety First

In the wake of today’s horrific shootings at Virginia Tech, some on the Right are calling for looser gun control laws. Although Virginia itself is one of the least restrictive states in the Union regarding guns, the campus was supposed to be a “gun-free” zone.

“Just imagine if students were armed,” writes one. “We no longer need to image what will happen when they are not armed.”

I got to that site from a link on Michelle Malkin’s blog, who quotes one of her readers: “Imagine if sensible CCW [concealed carry weapons] laws allowed people to defend themselves, this tragedy could have been avoided.”

Gun enthusiasts (they do take offense if you call them “gun nuts”) have a pure and transcendent faith that those states that allow citizens to carry concealed weapons for their own protection have enjoyed a dramatic drop in crime. Some of these states have seen a drop in the rate of violent crime, but so have states with stricter gun control laws that don’t allow citizens to carry a concealed weapons. Violent crime rates have been dropping all over for the past several years.

A few years ago I spent some time digging through the FBI’s uniform crime stats by state to see if there was a correlation between violent crime rates and gun laws. There wasn’t one, either way. Some states with lax gun laws had higher violent crime rates than some states with strict gun laws, and some states with strict gun laws had higher violent crime rates than some states with lax gun laws. I assume that’s still true.

For example, Texas, which has allowed concealed carry of weapons since 1995, has a murder/manslaughter rate (per 100,000 inhabitants) of 6.2 and a forcible rape rate of 37.2. Gun-unfriendly New York state has a murder/manslaughter rate of 4.5 and forcible rape rate of 18.9 (FBI, 2005). But, as I said, if you were to compare two other states you might see something very different. There are just too many variables affecting crime rates to say categorically that any particular gun law makes any measurable difference.

That said, if you want an argument for not allowing concealed carry of weapons, just check out Michelle’s previous post. Her theme today is that black people are scary and cause crime. Her link for “the truth about black crime rates” leads to this utterly reprehensible article by a Heather Mac Donald which says, in effect, we can’t blame the NYPD for shooting and killing innocent black men by mistake, since black crime rates are so high.

Her example is Sean Bell, a young man who was gunned down by NYPD last year as he left his own bachelor party. Ms. Mac Donald takes umbrage at the suggestion that the NYPD are “trigger-happy racists.” The neighborhood was a high-crime area, she says, and Mr. Bell and his companions were behaving erratically (having just left a bachelor party, remember).

Mr. Bell was not wanted for a crime and was not armed at the time of his death. He was killed for celebrating while black, in other words.

Ms. Mac Donald says blacks committed 68.5 percent of all murders, rapes, robberies, and assaults in New York City last year, a statistic that seems to her to justify shooting boisterous black men first and asking questions later.

However, did you know that men commit 88.7% of all homicides in the United States? And without looking it up I’ll assume men commit a whopping majority of forcible rapes, too. Does that mean unjustified shootings of men are more forgivable than unjustified shootings of women?

It is true that African Americans commit violent crimes at a higher rate than whites. But Did You Know that if you are ever murdered or assaulted, the odds are that your murderer/attacker will be the same race you are, whatever that is?

Lo (click here for bigger picture):

A stroll through the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, can tell us a lot about people who commit crimes. For example, renters commit more crimes than homeowners. Women are considerably more likely than men to be murdered by a current or former spouse or lover, especially in rural areas. Next time some farmer’s wife offs her husband, she should use that statistic in her defense.

Hmm, rural guys. Texas guys. Ladies, watch out for cowboys.

I’m sure if we kept looking we would find correlations between income, level of education, and several other factors and crime rates. I found a study that claimed children who went to high-quality preschools are less likely to become violent criminals than those who don’t. Information like this is useful if you’re trying to figure out ways to reduce crime.

But when you’re dealing with an individual, you need to look at an individual. It is simply not true that every black man is more dangerous than any white man. Serial killers are nearly always white men, for example.

Which takes us back to gun laws. The NYPD has a sorry history of killing black men who weren’t doing anything wrong. And the cops get training; they get guidelines; they have a chain of command. And they make mistakes. Wouldn’t yahoos carrying concealed weapons to deter crime make mistakes, too? How many mistakes are we willing to tolerate in the name of “safety”?

If someone wants to keep a firearm in his home or behind the counter of his convenience store that’s his business. But people who are frightened or excited make bad judgments. If Virginia Tech students had been armed today, would there be fewer dead? Or more? I think either is possible.

If someone wants to keep a gun in his home or behind the counter of his convenience store for protection, that’s his business. I’ve said many times that if I lived in some isolated cabin in Montana I’d keep a loaded shotgun on the wall, too. But the world is full of guys with Rambo fantasies and poor impulse control. The thought of those guys carrying concealed weapons does not make me feel safer.


On a related note — MSNBC and CNN keep saying that today’s shooting is the “worst massacre” or “worst mass shooting” in American history. It isn’t. If you stipulate “worst massacre/mass shooting with one perpetrator,” then maybe. But there have been many worse massacres with multiple perpetrators. For example, there was a nasty little episode in 1866, in New Orleans. At least 48 men at a peaceful meeting — mostly black men, btw — died at the hands of a gang of white men who broke into the room and started shooting. More than a hundred more were wounded. There were reports that some of the dead were executed after they were found hiding in closets and under floor boards. That counts as a worse mass shooting than today’s tragedy, I’d say.

There have been a number of worse mass killings than that, although all the ones I can think of involved multiple means of killing, such as fires or axes. Wounded Knee might not count because it was called a “battle” even though most of the 300 Sioux killed by soldiers were unarmed and unable to defend themselves.

Of course we all hurt because of what happened today, and I’m not saying the shootings at Virginia Tech were less terrible than past incidents. I just want to set the record straight.

Update: E.J. Dionne provides some more stats in his column today:

According to the U.S. Census, black households in 2005 had a median income of $30,858, compared with $50,784 for non-Hispanic white households. The black poverty rate was 24.9 percent. The white poverty rate was 8.3 percent.

14 thoughts on “Safety First

  1. The events of today deeply sadden me. Each time that a sensless brutal slaughter takes place it is a huge travesty including Iraq, Darfur, Congo etc. It could have been anywhere or any of us caught in such a rampage. We are still in the dark as to who and why this was commited. Yet I am puzzled by the purported timeline. Assuming it was the same killer he had over 2 hours to decide to continue his rampage. Somewhere there was a failure in the system.

    As for the wingers who blame gun control, perhaps they should look at Virginia’s gun control laws. No problem with assault weapons. Do they really think any campus would allow students to pack concealed weapons? I am glad that I didn’t have that option at 19. No, I would not have shot people but I am sure campus ‘target’ practice would have been common place.

  2. Americablog has some good examples including Columbine (168) and 9/11–can’t remember the others.

    While this is a little off-topic and possibly black humor, I heard that Gonzales’ testimony has been postponed to Thursday. I was immediately disappointed. Then, I thought I hope the extra wait after giving up his vacation to rehearse his lies will be “sheer torture.”

  3. First, I guess I am one of those ‘gun nuts’ you hear ’bout. I don’t have a concealed carry permit because I have not gotten around to applying. Speaking for myself, I think the amount of class training to get a conceal carry permit should be increased with an emphasis on the legal & moral implications, and with a requirement that anyone who choses to carry legally do time on a regular basis on a gun range.

    Second, I was not stable enough to carry a weapon as a teenager. Most teens are not. Speaking of my teens, I could have been a star in the movie ‘jackass’ with some of the stunts I survived. But no one in their right mind would have endorsed giving me a gun full-time. So let’s file that away as a bad idea.

    Last, this is an example of how the blogosphere allows response too fast. Whether you are for or against gun control, decency suggest a reasonable delay after a tragedy like this before you cite the situation to promote your view. I am not faulting Barbara here, I am displeased with bloggers on either side of the issue who lost all sense of propriety by wanting to be the first one to claim that the deaths only prove that – and then blurt out their position.

  4. What it proves is…

    There’s people among us who have no business owning or using firearms…

    There’s also one helluiva lot of firearms out there…

    It’s not all that big a surprise, anymore…

  5. Doug Hughes, I agree with you totally.

    Is there anything at all that will stop people with an agenda from using any and every tragic event to attempt to further that agenda? Can’t people just react and be human?

    Just as Bush et al didn’t stop to think out all of the possible ramifications of all war all the time, I don’t think any rightie has even tried to think through the ramifications of “a gun in every person’s hands.”

  6. America as “Deadwood” nation.
    Where every boy can be John Wayne; and every girl Annie Oakley.
    I can hardly wait. A potential “show-down” any day on any street. The slightest provocation can lead to justifiable homicide.
    The facts are that guns do kill people. And people kill people. And stupidity kills people. As does anger. And rage. And hatred. And bigotry. The list goes on and on…
    Just think about some angry, drunken idiot you know. And we all know someone who fits that description. Now think about that person carrying a gun 24/7/365. With a licence to kill….
    “Deadwood” nation, here we come…

  7. To me, the best argument against universal gun possession is to look at what happens when it is tried. Look, for example, at Lebanon in the 1980s. Everyone was armed. No one was afraid to use their weapons. And yet, somehow, domestic peace and tranquility was lacking.

    Even in Iraq, everyone had and has an AK-47, and it stopped neither massacres nor dictatorship.

    So, to me this seems like another fallacy of the last move. Arming all of the students would solve nothing, except maybe to change details of the next outrage.

  8. It’s easy to see the superficial logic in allowing individuals who have been suitably vetted (though that in itself is a problem) to carry a concealed weapon, but I think that this policy is wrong-headed in the long term.

    While one brave person with a gun may well have brought down the shooter at Virginia Tech, I shudder to think what life would be like, day in and day out, with everyone being allowed to carry a gun. Even the supposedly most level-headed amongst us have our bad days. Loving mothers who would never raise a hand to their kids sometimes lose it and give their kids a smack on the head. A mild mannered colleague who has just lost a close relative might go into a screaming fit at work, etc. etc. I suspect that the number of murders would trendly significantly upward if people carried around a firearm on a regular basis. People just lose it sometimes and I’d rather not be around such people if they are carrying a weapon.

  9. Locked and loaded college republicans getting into a hunkered down gun battle in the middle of a university campus at the drop of a hat…. what a bizarre vision of civilization even for Malkin….

  10. Canadian Reader — every now and then a state puts a concealed carry referendum on the ballot. Nearly always these initiatives are approved in rural areas and fail in urban areas. Having lived in both sorts of places I understand the difference, which is something I wrote about awhile back. In short, people in sparsely populated areas want to protect themselves from scary strangers. People in densely populated areas are accustomed to seeking safety in crowds (including crowds of strangers) and are more likely to be afraid of stray bullets fired by some whackjob.

  11. Can’t cite the source right now, but it was authoritative: vast majority of people owning handguns for their own protection either shoot themselves, shoot someone innocent by accident, or have the gun taken from them and get shot with it. Unless you are quite well trained, a process that takes many hours, a weapon is mostly dangerous to the person who carries it.

  12. After a couple of hours watching CNN and MSNBC this morning, I decided to tune into a conservative radio talk-show to see how the righties were reacting. Caught the beginning of Neal Boortz today (Tues). He began by apologizing for his initial reaction yesterday as the news was breaking. By his own admission, his reaction was to ask a question: “Where’s Marcus Vick?”

    Vick, for those who don’t know, is a black athlete. His brother, Michael, starred at Tech and now plays quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. Marcus, also a gifted athlete, followed his brother to Virginia Tech and had some troubles.

    Boortz blamed a listener for the suggestion, and apologized for his “joke.”

  13. Pingback: The Mahablog » A Message From the Gun Guys

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