I want to follow up the blog I just posted with a comment about the nature of gun violence – what it is and what it isn’t. And I want to write this as a response to another Big Lie promoted endlessly by Gun Nation, namely, the idea that guns don’t kill people, it’s people who kill people. And the way that Gun Nation promotes and justifies this Big Lie is to just as endlessly promote the notion that just about everyone who gets killed with a gun is either shot by a maniac, a home-grown terrorist or the favorite shooter-personality of all, the ‘street thug.’
It’s the caricature of guns always being used by drug dealers and gang-bangers which shows up again and again in attempts by Gun Nation to spread the gospel of the ‘armed citizen’ as our first line of defense against crime. This started with the discredited nonsense created by Gary Kleck, moved into high gear with the even more-discredited work of John Lott, and has now become the standard talking-points of 2nd-Amendment enamorate like Rubio and Trump. And frankly, I think it’s time for GVP advocates to stop paying any attention at all to occasional attempts by pro-gun sycophants who pretend they do ‘research’ which justifies the human carnage caused by guns. It’s not science, it’s not honest, it’s nothing more than pure, unadulterated junk.
Want to really understand gun violence? Read the remarkable commentary by the late Lester Adelson, who was Cuyahoga County Coroner from 1950 until he retired in 1987 at the age of 73. During his extraordinary career he wrote and published 117 articles, along with a classic textbook, The Pathology of Homicide, which remains a seminal work of forensic medicine up through today. The textbook runs about 1,000 pages so I wouldn’t recommend it for a quick, casual read. But what you might do is take a look at his 1992 article on gun violence which, to my mind, remains the most brilliant and comprehensive approach to understanding the problem that you will ever read.
I’ll get right to the point of this article by quoting what Adelson has to say: “The most reasonable explanation for the use of firearms in the majority of culpable homicides is that a gun, illegally used, is a coward’s weapon. This is true whether the killing is committed in connection with a family argument, political terrorism, an armed robbery, a drunken quarrel between friends, or a skulking assassination. With its peculiar lethality, a gun converts a spat into a slaying and a quarrel into a killing.” The reasoning (based on great experience) behind this statement is very simple, namely, that guns achieve their intended use most easily when the perpetrator and victim come face-to-face. And the implication of this statement, which Adelson details in his textbook, is that gun violence is overwhelmingly an event which takes place between people who know one another and not, as Gun Nation would like us to believe, between a victim and some unknown, anonymous ‘thug’ who accosts his victim in the street.
All of the data on gun violence from the FBI-UCR, NVDRS and the NCVS bears him out. Homicide data published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that upwards of 80% of all murders, including gun murders, occurred between perpetrators and victim who knew each other; this percentage zooms to nearly 100% when the victims are females (who represent 20% of all homicide victims) because those episodes invariably rise out of domestic disputes. For that matter, even though FBI data shows that 15% of all homicides occurred during other felonies (robbery, burglary, etc.,) more than one-third of home ‘invasions’ occurred in homes where the ‘invader’ knew the people living in the home.
We could end gun violence tomorrow by developing magical elixir that would modify the behavior of people who express anger or violence by picking up a gun. But that’s not going to happen tomorrow or any other time, so why not just get rid of the guns?