Once again the fertile soil of the gun control debate has yielded a meme of absolute asininity. My favorite part of this meme is at the end, when the author brazenly asserts that if you don’t understand (and presumably agree with) his point, as expressed in this half-assed meme, then you are an intellectual lightweight. Well, anonymous author, I beg to disagree. The gun control debate is not so simple, and anybody who thinks it can be expressed in such simple terms does not really understand it himself. Of course, I have a sneaking suspicion that many pro-gunners don’t want to understand the intricacies and implications of gun control. They have a single-minded dedication to a goal (unfettered access to unnecessary firearms) and anything that demonstrates the idiocy of that goal is anathema.
As I’ve said before, I’m not necessarily in favor of banning all guns, but they should be heavily regulated. Obtaining a firearm ought to be a real chore, similar to getting your driver’s license. You ought to have to check in regularly to make sure you haven’t lost any of the completely necessary weapons you own. Even then, I won’t be convinced that putting more guns into the hands of untrained citizens makes for a safer society. If you want to convince me of that, you’re going to have to do a hell of a lot better than this meme. Gun advocates, you do yourselves no favors by creating and sharing memes like this one.
Let’s start at the top, shall we? The bad guys look absolutely ticked that the good guys have guns, which I find comically ludicrous. Any bad guy who despairs that his life of crime will be derailed by the presence of good guys with guns has only to examine the data. How many mass shootings – indeed, how many shootings of any kind – have been stopped by an armed citizen? Spoiler alert: it’s not that many.
The fact is that good guys with guns very rarely stop bad guys with guns. In fact, according to FBI data, for every “justifiable homicide” (which could arguably be called a good-guys-with-guns scenario) in 2012, there were thirty-four criminal gun homicides, seventy-eight gun suicides, and two accidental gun deaths. Let me restate that, folks, so the message is not lost: statistically, you are twice as likely to accidentally shoot yourself to death as you are to use your gun to kill a criminal. Less than one percent of gun-related deaths are caused by a good guy with a gun stopping the commission of a crime. Sorry, gun advocates, but that argument simply doesn’t hit its target.
Furthermore, if good guys with guns deterred bad guys with guns, then certainly the amount of gun violence would have risen in recent years. After all, the General Social Survey report entitled Trends in Gun Ownership in the United States, 1972-2014 (PDF) shows that the number of Americans who own guns, or who live in a household with somebody who owns guns, has declined over the past 25 years. Fewer gun owners = more crime, right? Well, no. Gun homicide rates have actually decreased by 49 percent since a peak in 1993, according to the Pew Research Center.
Let’s pull this all together. The number of people who own guns has been decreasing over the last few decades, as has the rate of gun violence. I’m not trying to say that A causes B; after all, I understand that correlation is not the same as causation. But…and this is important, so pay attention, gun advocates…these data do not show that gun violence decreases when there are more gun owners, nor that it increases when there are fewer. The implication made by the top part of this meme simply is not true. No matter how often gun advocates parrot the words of Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, there is no evidence to suggest that good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns.
If you’re a gun advocate and you’re not already frothing mad at me, frantically scrolling down to find the Comment link, perhaps I can push you over the edge with my dissection of the second part of this meme.
If good guys don’t have guns (or if they have to work harder to get them, and are held accountable for what happens to them) then bad guys will have fewer guns. Allow me to explain how.
A study (PDF) published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, in 2001, interviewed criminals who were serving time for gun-related crimes. When asked where they obtained the firearm they carried while committing the crime that landed them in prison, about 40% divulged that they obtained their guns from their social network; i.e. from friends and family. Another 40% claimed to have obtained a weapon from street or illegal sources. The “illegal sources” category was not further subdivided, but one presumes that this percentage includes stolen guns. Not surprisingly, very few criminals obtained their guns through usual legal channels: retail stores, pawn shops, etc.
Aha, the gun advocate might now be saying, that proves that criminals don’t get their guns from legal sources! Harsh restrictions on law-abiding citizens will do nothing to stop criminals from obtaining weapons. Well, not so fast. ATF agent Jay Wachtel, speaking to PBS Frontline, says that stolen guns account for only 10 to 15% of the guns used in crimes. In other words, 85 to 90% of the guns used in crimes were given to the criminal willingly, often by people who had acquired the guns through legal means. In some cases a person agrees to purchase a gun for another person who would otherwise be unable to buy one. In other cases a corrupt gun dealer makes an under-the-table sale to a buyer who wishes to remain anonymous. In all of those cases, tougher restrictions on the legal sale and trading of guns – and harsher punishments for people who break the rules – would reduce the number of guns that eventually find their way into the hands of criminals.
So, there isn’t any conceivable way in which this meme is correct. There’s no good evidence to suggest that a more heavily-armed American public will deter gun crime, nor can it be argued that disarming honest people will result in more criminals committing crimes with guns. And for heaven’s sake, you’re not stupid if you disagree with the point this meme is trying to make.