It’s Not Guns That Cause Gun Violence. It’s Handguns.

By the time I went to bed last night, the ether was filled with reactions to the Alexandria shootings, most of them reflecting the alt-right view of things about guns and violence, namely, that if there had been more good guys at the ballfield with guns, the bad guy wouldn’t have shot anyone at all. But at least one sane voice emerged belonging to Chelsea Parsons and her colleagues at the Center for American Progress (CAP) who put up a podcast, ‘Too Many Guns in America,’ and discussed the event.

cap-logo1CAP has been a mainstay in the effort to strengthen gun regulations, and much of their approach can be found in their report, America Under Fire, which makes a persuasive argument that gun violence and laws regulating gun ownership and access go hand-in-hand; i.e., more laws equal less injuries caused by guns. You can download the report right here.

Much of yesterday’s podcast was devoted to talking about the efficacy of different gun laws which exist in a minority of states, which also happen to be the states where less gun violence occurs.  In particular, the podcast mentioned universal background checks, regulating assault rifles and hi-cap mags, and preventing domestic violence abusers from getting their hands on guns. Chelsea and her colleagues made a point of saying that all three strategies enlist wide, public support, although you wouldn’t know that from the GOP-alt-right chorus that was braying last night.

I want to make it clear that I am four-square in favor of government regulation of guns. I don’t believe anyone should be walking around armed who isn’t either required to carry as part of a job, or can’t demonstrate skilled, appropriate and continuous proficiency. And that means real, live shooting evaluated by the public authority that issues the license for carrying a gun.

The problem which comes up again and again whenever the gun violence prevention (GVP) community talks about gun violence, is not how they define ‘violence’ caused by guns, which should include suicide because self-violence happens to be part of the definition of violence used by the World Health Organization; rather, how GVP defines a ‘gun.’  Because when it comes to the ten ‘indicators’ of gun violence cited by CAP to create the America Under Fire report, nine of those ten indicators contribute to the annual gun-death toll not because of the existence of guns per se, but the existence of handguns, which poses all sorts of different issues than the existence of guns overall.

Take gun trafficking for example.  Ever notice that when the cops bust a bunch of dopes for bringing guns from down South into New York that most of the guns are small, concealable pistols, Glocks and stuff like that?  Sure, there’s a rifle here and there, but what sells in the street are the little bangers – the shooter in Alexandria, the shooter at the Pulse, the shooter at Aurora, the shooter at Sandy Hook – they used assault rifles that were all legally owned.

What frustrated me about the CAP podcast was that neither Chelsea, Igor or Michele said one word about the discussion’s title, namely, the existence of too many guns.  And with all due respect to the work that has been done linking gun violence to lax gun laws, it’s the number of weapons floating around which is the numero uno reason why so many Americans get shot with guns. But even noted scholars like our friend David Hemenway gets it wrong when he says that our rate of gun violence compared to other ‘advanced’ countries is so much higher because we have so many more guns, because if he compared per capita ownership of handguns rather than all guns, the disparities between our level of gun violence and the gun violence suffered by other societies would be two or three times worse.

Sorry to repeat what I have said so many times, but we will continue to suffer an extraordinary level of gun violence until we get rid of the guns. The little ones. Those guns.



2 thoughts on “It’s Not Guns That Cause Gun Violence. It’s Handguns.

  1. Virtually all of the correlation in the CAP report, from what I could see, was due to suicides and numbers of guns. Yes, I suspect those little guns but CAP didn’t say and they didn’t respond to my written request for information on their algorithms they used to create that chart in the report, which I have.

    I think they oversold the study, over-inferring cause and effect wrt gun laws as well as averaging at the state level, but the bottom line is when you combine over 300 million guns, some in questionable hands and some easily stolen, with a desire to shoot holes in people, whether one’s self or someone else, you get a death and injury toll on society. Its hard to argue with that, even if we quibble about the validity of studies. Combine a universal availability of a potentially dangerous device or compound (guns, cars, dope, alcohol) to the statistical likelihood of misuse, and you get a lot of casualties.

    Poured myself a cup of joe this morning, opened the paper, and found out we just had a mass shooting over in Rio Arriba County, NM last night. A 21 year old executed his immediate family and then shot and killed someone else to steal a truck. Then drove to a popular store near Abiquiu and shot and killed another stranger before being chased down and captured by police. There is too much of that in these parts. Very violent subcultures. And yes, we have more guns in New Mexico so we should have less crime, right? Well, it sure didn’t stop that guy, because guess what? He had one too.

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