The recent tragedy in Oregon where an active shooter took several lives and injured others has once again brought energy to topic of gun control. Before the victims had all been located and identified our President was at the microphone again touting new laws and assigning political blame. Lobbyists from both sides of the argument immediately activated and nothing new was discussed. Folks from both sides of the argument and even one good friend of mine that I think loves to play "Devil's Advocate" began posting charts, articles and studies to social media attempting to show what stricter gun laws in certain states produce. Of course, as we in law enforcement have known for years numbers can be manipulated to show just about any side of an argument. What's the old adage; figures don't lie, liars figure. So, to the "devil" that is my friend Mike I decided to take his chart, present it and then demonstrate how using those numbers can produce different perspectives depending on what you may or may not WANT to see.
As a matter of full disclosure, I am not a "gun enthusiast"; don't collect them, don't hunt anymore and only own the one I bought from the Greensboro Police Department when I retired. I tend not to blame the gun as much as the actions of the people that pull the trigger. I also believe (as I will later discuss) that there are two points of emphasis that I believe would at least reduce the number of these type acts that occur.
The chart presented by Mike was from the website njdc.com, and was credited to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. It rated all 50 states with regard to total number of gun deaths (murder, suicide, accidental, etc) per 100,000 state residents. It then used 6 criteria to judge and rank ( and even give their opinion quite frankly) the gun control law strengths in each state. The idea was to show that the states with the strongest laws had the least deaths. The 6 categories are;
1. Permit required?
2. Universal Background checks?
3. Handgun registered or reported?
4. "Stand Your Ground law?
5. Difficulty Obtaining Concealed Carry Permit?
6. Open Carry law?
The answer to number 5 is obviously in the "eyes of the beholder" and I personally have a problem with the "Stand Your Ground" law as self defense statutes seem to cover most of that. In other words if a man points a gun at you what choice do you have? You can stand and shoot back or you can run and get shot in the back. If someone enters your home at night are you going to retreat and leave your family behind or do you defend them? If a person is on top of you beating you senseless, do you allow that to continue or do you act to save your life? That is a call for every individual to make but the law provides for your act of protecting and defending yourself or others.
I choose not to cover all 50 states but I will pick some of the more commonly mentioned ones for demonstration. Let's use New York, California, Illinois, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. This represents the some of the charts best and the 3 worst with regards to the gun control law criteria according to the referenced chart. The chart claims that these states rank in gun control laws in this order.
New York 4.1 (gun deaths per 100K) 3rd (overall rank per 50 states)
California 7.5 8th
Illinois 8.4 11th
Mississippi 17.7 48th
Louisiana 19.1 49th
Arkansas 19.9 50th
This chart is designed to say that the states with the most lax gun laws have more gun deaths. However, let's now rank them by total gun deaths.
Mississippi 529 (using 2013 data via the chart referenced)
New York 809
This represents 2013 and certainly does not include the massive two year spike in Chicago, Illinois alone. There are other anomalies in the chart. For instance the state with the most lax gun laws in the country also ranks 7th in LEAST amount of deaths (New Hampshire, 6.2, total 82). As my other friend Mark points out, "that's a small population state and I cannot let you get away with that". Point taken but remember this isn't my chart or even my argument. The same would hold true of the state that the chart considers to have the strongest laws, which is Hawaii (2.5, 35 total) as it is also a low population state. The chart places the strongest state and the weakest state with regard to gun control laws in the top 7 with regard to least number of gun deaths. Mark, we can call that one a wash. We can also argue that Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas more than likely have more "accidental" gun deaths than intentional shootings/assaults per percentage than New York, Illinois and California. If we put our minds to it, we can probably use the same numbers to prove any number of points based on the perception of the audience you are trying to reach or the agenda you are trying to put forward. I would also wager that if we looked at statistics for intentional assaults with firearms that did not result in deaths the states of New York, Illinois and California would look even worse.
So what's the answer; more laws, enforcement of what we have on the books? I believe there needs to be an emphasis placed on the parents or spouses of these folks with known mental issues that own guns. We hold bars responsible now for drunk drivers that are served too much in their establishments then go out and kill people on the roads. We even have held tobacco companies responsible for smokers who develop lung cancer. Why would it be so difficult to hold parents and spouses responsible for not reporting to the authorities when their loved ones with known mental issues have guns? As a police officer, the State of North Carolina allowed me to fill out a form and send you back to the DMV for re-evaluation if in my opinion there was a question in my mind of your capability to possess a driver's license. Certainly we should be able to confiscate weapons in lieu of an evaluation to determine if you are mentally stable enough to possess a firearm.
Also, when it comes to the potential of violence a psychological professional should have the duty and responsibility beyond client/patient confidentiality to report those patients that demonstrate violent tendencies, especially of a person they deem to be capable of suicide. There are ways to do this without jeopardizing legitimate non threat clients. Currently in North Carolina, it takes a doctor or a close family member to commit a person for psychological evaluation against their will unless a law enforcement officer observes behavior that would likely result in harm to the person or others. This duty should be made law with consequences provided of loss of license if it is determined that a dangerous person was not reported intentionally and that sufficient evidence existed to report. These required reports should help to prevent some of the attacks on innocent, unsuspecting people.
The point is that arguments on both sides will continue; the Second Amendment versus Gun Control Advocates. This argument can branch off into many directions and bleed over into the overriding social issues such as parenting, equal standards in education, etc. Society has to decide which direction we want to go; hold people responsible for their actions or continue the culture of enabling by making excuses for bad behavior. Who killed those innocent folks in Oregon, Sandy Hook and Columbine? Was it guns?
A "gun" is a what, not a who.