Defenses: Guns

What we’re not hearing much of after the Tucson shooting is serious talk of tighter gun control. A few people have brought it up, of course, but IMO in a half-hearted way. Because it ain’t gonna happen. Not in today’s America. And I think large chunks of the progressive Left have accepted that and don’t push it much.

Of course, the reaction of the Right is that America needs more guns. An Arizona Congressman, Rep. Trent Franks, said after the Tucson shooting, “I wish there had been one more gun in Tucson.”

But according to Timothy Egan, some people in the crowd were armed.

The only gun-carrier I can find reference to in news stories is described by law professor John J. Donohue 3rd:

Joe Zamudio, the first lawful gun carrier on the scene, came around a corner and saw a man with a gun. Zamudio “grabbed his arm and shoved him into a wall.” Thankfully, Zamudio didn’t shoot because this was not the shooter, but the person who disarmed the shooter. Zamudio, age 24, displayed further caution in that he didn’t pull out his own 9 mm handgun because “he didn’t want to be confused as a second gunman.”

You may remember that Jared Loughner was subdued while reloading by several bystanders, including a woman who grabbed the loaded magazine when Loughner fumbled and dropped it. Another bystander clubbed Loughner in the head with a folding chair, while a 74-year-old retired colonel who had just been wounded wrestled him to the ground.

Timothy Egan continues,

It defies logic, as this case shows once again, that an average citizen with a gun is going to disarm a crazed killer. For one thing, these kinds of shootings happen far too suddenly for even the quickest marksman to get a draw. For another, your typical gun hobbyist lacks training in how to react in a violent scrum

Lots of “gun hobbyists’ also don’t seem to understand that a firearm is not necessarily the self-defense tool of choice in all situations, especially in urban settings.

You might remember, back in 2000, a young woman was sexually assaulted in broad daylight on the south end of Central Park. She was in a big crowd of people gathered to watch the Puerto Rico Day parade. And when I say big crowd, it was big even by New York City standards. There were hundreds of thousands of people in the immediate vicinity, in some placed packed elbow to elbow.

So on some web forum some yahoos in Texas were smarting off about how that wouldn’t have happened to a Texas woman, because Texas women know how to shoot, or some valiant Texan male with a gun would come to her rescue, or some such nonsense. After pointing out to the yahoos that New York City had a much lower rate of forcible rape than Dallas (and still does), I tried to explain that in a crowd like that it was unlikely anyone could have gotten a clean shot at the perpetrator. And they just jeered that I obviously didn’t know what I was talking about, because guns are the solution to just about everything.

Now, I realize that there are lots of responsible gun owners out there who have a lot more sense than these goons did; the young man in Tucson with the 9mm pistol he didn’t shoot, for example. But it’s exchanges like this that make me leery of the “more guns are the solution” attitude. And I’m sorry, but it always seems that the hotheads who holler the loudest about their gawd-given right to carry anything anywhere are the last people you’d want to have handy in a crisis like Tuscon. Hooray for the guy with the folding chair, I say.

Bob Drogin wrote for the Los Angeles Times that back in the Wild West days of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, Arizona cities like the infamous Tombstone had tougher gun laws than they do today. Then, visitors were supposed to check their guns at the sheriff’s office and pick them up when they left town. Today, however,

Arizona’s gun laws are among the most lenient in the nation. Under legislation passed last year, guns are permitted almost everywhere in the state except doctors’ offices and some businesses. It is one of three states, along with Alaska and Vermont, that allow people 21 or older to carry concealed weapons without a permit. Concealed guns may be carried into bars as long as the gun owner isn’t drinking, and guns are permitted on school grounds as long as the weapon is unloaded and the owner remains in a vehicle.

Any law-abiding citizen 18 or older may buy or possess a rifle or shotgun. To buy a handgun, federal law requires a minimum age of 21. Firearms may be sold 14 hours a day, seven days a week, except Christmas.

Arizona also has among the highest rates of firearm-related deaths of any state in the nation. Arizona ranks eighth nationally, with 15.1 deaths per 100,000 people. By comparison, the state in which you are least likely to get shot is Hawaii, with 2.6 deaths per 100,000 people.

What about the claim that more guns equals less crime? This is from Daniel Webster, a professor and the co-director at the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

It is not clear that permissive right-to-carry laws haven’t increased violence. There have been numerous studies of these laws, many of which have substantial flaws. The best study was done by Ian Ayres and John Donohue, law professors at Yale and Stanford, respectively, and disaggregates the effects for each state and type of crime.

The estimates from their best models show right-to-carry laws associated with increases in 7 of 9 crimes studied, with the largest effect (+9 percent) being the crime many researchers would have hypothesized would increase – aggravated assaults.

I can already see the “gun hobbyists” reaching for their well-thumbed paperback copy of John Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime. Don’t bother, fellas; Lott’s name has become synonymous with “cherry-picked data.” See also the John Lott “alternative Q and A.”

Related: See also “Police Fear War on Cops.”

Defenses: Insanity

Jared Loughner’s federal court arraignment is today. It is expected that he will plead “not guilty,” and that at trial his lawyer will offer an insanity defense. Insanity defenses rarely get a defendant acquitted, but an insanity defense might help Loughner avoid a death penalty.

I’m already seeing a re-hash of the same misinformation about “insanity” that was sluicing around after the massively psychotic Andrea Yates drowned her five children in 2001. For example, some genius always points out that the mentally ill are, statistically, no more likely than the general population to be violent. Which I believe is true. Therefore, they figure, mental illness doesn’t cause violence.

Let’s assume that, statistically, people with heart disease are no more or less likely to cause traffic accidents than people without heart disease. And then let’s say someone has a sudden heart attack while driving, loses control, and causes a five-car smash-up on an interstate. How logical, then, is it to say that the heart attack was not a factor in the accident because statistics tell us heart diseases don’t cause accidents?

By the same token, while mental health experts agree that most mentally ill people are no more likely than anyone else to become violent, I doubt many of them would willingly lock themselves in a room with an armed paranoid schizophrenic.

The next thing we’re gong to hear, and I’m sure it’s been said already, is that Loughner “knew” what he was doing because he planned it. But as I understand it, people with some types of schizophrenia are perfectly capable of making plans and carrying them out. The issue is that the motivation to act largely is being generated by the disease. Dr. Beatriz Luna, an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology, wrote in the New York Times:

For example, Jared Loughner’s criminal act appears to have involved careful planning that required voluntary and well-thought out steps. However, the aim of this planned behavior may reflect a disordered, diseased state. Neuroimaging studies could show that such a criminal engages brain systems to support voluntary acts in a similar way as the normal population. However they could also show abnormalities in brain processes that support the ability to have empathy and control over anger, or show that reported hallucinations recruit brain processes that support real sensory experiences. Although such a person would be able to operate in a voluntary planned manner, their acts would reflect brain abnormalities that contribute to their urge to commit crimes.

The larger problem is that “insanity” is not a medical term. The best psychiatrist in the world couldn’t tell you if Jared Loughner is “insane” under the law, because psychological science doesn’t recognize a condition called “insanity.” The insanity defense is based on antiquated ideas about mental illness that don’t apply to reality.

Dr. William T. Carpenter Jr., a professor of psychiatry, writes in the New York Times:

In the post-Hinckley era, the standard in many states has become a simple cognitive test that has little relationship to the scientific or clinical knowledge regarding psychotic illness. Rather than state of mind and the defendant’s understanding of his or her actions, the standard is close to simply whether the defendant knew the act was unlawful. Insanity acquittals, already rare, now face an almost impossible standard.

One wrinkle in this issue is that Arizona is, I believe, the only state with a “guilty, but insane” verdict. I’m not sure how this works, but I think this gives the court the ability to sentence the convicted-but-insane person to a secure psychiatric facility, but if he gets better and no longer needs hospitalization he is transferred to a prison to finish his sentence. I guess we’ll learn more about this when we get into the state proceedings.