An Important Book On Gun Violence Is Worth Waiting For.

A new voice is about to be added to the debate about gun violence, and for those who take this debate seriously (because there are some debate participants who don’t) this is a voice with something important to say.  I am referring to Caroline Light, who directs undergraduate studies of women, gender and sexuality at Harvard and is about to publish a book, Stand Your Ground, America’s Love Affair With Lethal Self-Defense.

blacks-gunsNow you would think that a Harvard faculty member would, of course, be anti-gun.  But Professor Light happens to be a Southern girl who, not surprisingly, grew up in a family where there were guns. And while she clearly understands that gun violence can’t be separated from the existence of guns, particularly so many guns, she’s not barking up the usual, gun-control tree.  What she is after in her narrative, and certainly succeeds in this respect, is to explain how and why ‘stand your ground’ (SYG) laws have become so evident and pervasive throughout many parts of the United States.  Because the point is that 33 states now have such laws. And most of these states also grant residents the unquestioned right to walk around with a gun. Put two and two together and what do you get?  The legal sanctioning of gun violence, which is what the book Stand Your Ground is really all about.

Like most of our legal system, these laws came from the British common law tradition, which, on the one hand, recognized that a person had the right to protect himself from attacks except that the attack had to occur within the home; i.e., the ‘castle doctrine’ as it was known.  British law did not sanction lethal self-defense outside of one’s domicile, in fact, it was presumed that in a civilized, ordered society, retreat in the face of possible injury was always preferred.

The sanctity of human life transcending the necessity to protect oneself from possible injury disappeared, however, in the evolution of American penal law.  For that matter, the law’s recognition of armed self-protection in the case of home invasions (the ‘castle doctrine’) was extended to justify lethal self-defense in any location where the defender had the legal right to appear.  Cases which upheld this kind of reasoning appeared as early as 1806 and became common in the decades following the Civil War, particularly in the South.

Here is where Professor Light’s narrative gets interesting.  Because what she argues is that armed, self-defense, as codified in SYG laws coupled with concealed-carry laws (CCW) reflect a culture which celebrates the dominance of white men, particularly in the South, where ‘rugged individuality’ is a code for keeping women and African-Americans in their (subservient) ‘place.’ And rather than guns being used to equalize the power relations between white males and everyone else, what the author refers to as do-it-yourself (DIY) security just hardens the degree to which white male dominance continues to control the perceptions of crime, gender and race.

This is a complicated subject and I cannot really do justice to this book or fully discuss its subtle twists and turns. But it should come as no surprise that when we talk about anything related to gun culture (which certainly would embrace SYG) that we are basically talking about the South, because that’s where a majority of the civilian-owned guns and a majority of NRA members happen to be.  And while SYG and CCW laws have spread far beyond Dixie, this region gave birth to those laws and this is where such laws have resulted in significant increases in ‘lawful’ violence against women and Blacks.

The South may have lost the Civil War, but the mind-set which justified slavery back then is the same mind-set that embraces inequality today.  And anyone who believes that owning a gun endows them with more freedom than someone who is unarmed is drinking the same Kool-Aid that Jefferson Davis drank before Fort Sumter when he believed that Lincoln would back down. But plenty of that Kool-Aid is still going around.

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Do More Guns Equal Less Crime? The Lone Star State Says ‘No.’

An article has just appeared which may prove to be one of the most significant contributions by public health research to the ongoing debate about gun violence.  Not that there is much of a debate about the fact that guns kill 30,000+ yearly, injure at least 60,000 others, the total costs of which amount to more than $200 billion each year.  But the response of the pro-gun gang to this state of affairs is to deny the negative effects of gun violence when compared to the positive role that guns play in keeping us safe from crime.  And to bolster this rather disingenuous way of getting as far away from the evidence as possible, the gun gang invariably rolls out Kleck’s phony telephone survey which found that gun owners prevented millions of crimes each year, or they listen to John  Lott on some red-meat radio station promoting his discredited thesis that ‘more guns equals less crime.’

Unfortunately, most of the research on whether gun ownership does or doesn’t prevent crime suffers from the admitted failure by public health researchers to construct a research model that can really explain to what degree a coincidence (i.e., concealed-carry licenses going up, crime rates going down) is actually a causality or not. What the research team which published this study did to sharpen the focus of this question was to look at county-level issuances of CCW in 4 states (Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas) and compare this date against county-level arrest data in the same 4 states for, and here’s the important point, ten years following the issuance of CCW, or what is also referred to as CHL.

        Gov. Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Perry

Before getting to the results of this study, I should mention one very important distinction between the research team that was responsible for this work, as opposed to public health researchers who have been active in this particular field.  For the most part, the work that has debunked the ‘more guns = less crime’ argument has come out of either elite, Ivy League institutions like Harvard or Yale, or has been the product of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.  And since everybody knows that the anti-gun monster Bloomberg funded the Hopkins School of Public Health, everyone knows that their work is only published when it supports something that is anti-gun.  And if you think I’m overstating the degree to which the pro-gun gang dismisses public health gun violence research through the shabbiest form of academic character assassination, take a look at what Gary Kleck recently said about criticisms of his work.

The group that researched and wrote the referenced article aren’t faculty from Hopkins, Stanford, Harvard or Yale.  They are from the Department of Health Policy and Management at Texas A&M. Whoa!  Texas A&M?  A school located in the state where the previous Governor claims he carries a gun for self-protection against prairie dogs when he’s out for his morning jog? But Texas, on the other hand, is not only the state for guns, but next January the Lone Star State will roll back a 140-year old law and let its good citizens carry guns openly just about anywhere they choose.

That all being said, exactly what did this team of Texans discover about the relationship between concealed-carry and crime?   They discovered that there’s no relationship at all.  Between 1998 and 2010, the personal crime rate in Florida dropped by 9%, it was flat even in Michigan, and went up slightly in Texas and Pennsylvania.  The property crime rate declined in Florida and Texas, murders increased slightly in Pennsylvania and the Sunshine State.  The burglary rate in all 4 states decreased, even though a major portion of Lott’s book was devoted to ‘proving’ that non-personal crimes would increase after CCWs were issued because criminals were afraid that more citizens would have guns.

I’ll end this comment by quoting the researchers themselves: “Is CHL licensing in any way related to crime rates? The results of this research indicate that no such relationships exist.” As my grandmother would say, “and that’s that.”