Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Guns Do Not Make You Safer

Someone with a gun in their house may feel safer, but from an epidemiological perspective, they're not. That gun's presence is statistically much more likely to cause the death or injury of someone they know than it is to save anyone from a criminal. Believing anything else is just wishful thinking, based on the illusion of control.

I got to thinking about this (again) yesterday, after reading a post on thebicker. (Note: it starts out quoting a post from another site, kohenari):

Earlier today, I asked whether or not gun advocates who extoll the virtues of defending your home with a weapon wouldn’t perhaps do better to buy an alarm system or adopt a dog.

This question was met with a level of paranoia that’s at once depressing and exhilarating, as it provides a look into the minds of some of these gun advocates.

Here are just a couple.

The first guy explained to me that buying a gun is a sensible and cost effective way to deter crime, which a spoiled bourgeois like me obviously doesn’t understood:
It’s almost as if some of these people can’t afford to maintain a large dog or to install electronic alarm systems. It’s almost as if some of these people aren’t privileged enough to live in high income areas where these countermeasures are common. It’s almost as if some of these people would rather spend 200 bucks on a shotgun so that they can continue to afford to feed themselves and make payments rather than investing bundles of cash into alarms and dogs.

Drawing a weapon on someone who is attempting to harm you is deterrence. Most defensive uses of firearms do not result in anyone being shot. The logical response to someone pointing a gun at you as you try to rob them is to run away.
If you notice, he suggests that alarms and dogs are only to be found in fancy gated communities like mine. I suspect that he’s desperately wrong, at least about dog ownership. But, then, I don’t often drive my Ferrari out of the suburbs so I can’t know for sure.

He also suggests that drawing a weapon is deterrence. And that’s fine … as long as we’re changing the definition of deterrence. You see, deterrence involves preventing someone from doing something (in this case, home invasion). But if they’re already in your home and you’re drawing a gun, you haven’t deterred them. You’ve just significantly raised the stakes.

The second guy went about a thousand steps farther:
Wait even if you do have those things how about we cut the power to your home? No alarm? Dog? Poison it days before you plan To break in or simply lead it out and dispose of them quietly. Look your first line of defense is gone now I’m in your home armed. Checkmate.
You see, in this guy’s mind, the criminal wants so badly to break into your home that he’s planning his home invasion days in advance. He’s poisoned your dog; he’s cut the power to your house so your alarm doesn’t work; and now nothing stands in the way of his nefarious schemes. This burglar is a criminal mastermind and no one but an armed homeowner will ever be safe from him. And criminals are all like him. So forget about dogs and alarms; they’re pretty much worse than useless.

Get your guns and a pile of ammo, board up all the doors and windows, and stay awake for the rest of your life.
Oh man. I had a hearty laugh at both of these. “But home invasions!” is a piss-poor defense of American’s gun violence epidemic. Despite what police procedurals would have you believe, there are not scores of violent burglars sitting in a van with a blueprint of your home and your neighborhood’s electrical grid. Most crimes like that are crimes of opportunity: They notice a window left open, or see the lights haven’t been turned on for a few days, or think you make an easy target. A large, visible alarm and/or a barking dog is a much more obvious way to say “It’s a bad idea to rob me!” than having a gun in your nightstand.

Yahoo put out a list of nine ways to deter burglars. Dogs and alarms (along with visible surveillance cameras and motion-activated lights) are on there. So is having neighbors make it look like you’re there when you’re out of town. Notably, the list — compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services — does not have “own a gun” on there. Alarms and dogs make criminals think twice before robbing you. Having a gun in your house makes it significantly more likely that you or a family member will die from being shot with it.

If a criminal comes to your house, cuts the power, and poisons your dog, they proooooooobably have a plan for if you have a gun. Look, I don’t want to scare anyone, but if someone is going to that length to get into your house they’re going to get into your house.

Yes, there are occasionally news stories about someone shooting and killing a home invader. But there are many, many more about kids or irresponsible adults accidentally shooting someone.

If you want a gun because you hunt or shoot or because you think America is destined for ~tyranny~, at least those are semi-valid reasons to have one. Owning it to protect your home is just a bad and dangerous plan.
The sad paranoia of that commenter is encouraged (if not caused in part) by media portrayals of real and fictional violence. From an evolutionary standpoint, we're not meant to know about every bad thing that happens somewhere in the world, because it feels as though it's happening to our tribe. And we're especially not helped by the beautifully produced Law and Order-type fictional representations of killers lying in wait in our cars, houses, and around every corner. I can't tell you how much my mood lightened after I stopped watching that junk.

It also reminded me of a piece I read a while back and haven't linked to enough. It was an answer to a question on Quora by a former Marine, a weapons instructor who outlined why you are less safe with a gun than without. A few quotes:
You are much more likely to have a burglar take the gun from under your bed while you are at work or on vacation than to actually arrive when you are present....

I've literally shot thousands of rounds from several different weapons systems and even in a completely stress free environment; a nice indoor range with my family just practicing, and I still don't always hit where I want to. If you have never fired before then how well do you think you are going to do when you really need it?

...what if you are disarmed because you aren't ready to use the weapon.... Now your weapon is his weapon, and you are worse off than if you just got a dog.

As a side note, I also have a serious grievance with those who think that they can use a weapon for personal self defense outside the home. The fact is that if you are considering carrying a weapon in your pocket or purse, you are literally endangering everyone around you with virtually no chance of being of any use to anyone. First, a weapon that is not holstered is one of the most dangerous things a person can do to those around them. There are many ways that a weapon floating around can go off. If you carry one like this, I hate you. You're going to hurt someone....

I know that questions like this are often asked out of fear. People want to have a great deal of control over their situation, but when others put you in danger you can almost always never get it back. The best bet is to rationally consider your options before a situation occurs.
It also reminded me of a blog post by writer Pete Hautman, from just after the Newtown killings, describing a night in his life when someone was trying to break into his house. Or so he thought. And why he doesn't have a gun at home anymore. (I've linked to this once before, but it's worth a reread.)


Here's an earlier post with my thoughts following the Newtown shootings. We all said we'd never forget. We proclaimed that things would change. Uh-huh.

And also this:  The gun is in the eye of the beholder. A post from February 2013 listing justifiable uses of guns for defensive purposes in Minnesota.

1 comment:

Michael Leddy said...

Merely anecdotal evidence, but evidence anyway: when my wife and I were knocking on doors for Obama in 2008, virtually every house had warnings about alarms and dogs. We were knocking in neighborhoods of deep poverty. The alarm decals may have been phony, but the dogs were real.