The Geography of Friends and Family

My sisters and brother-in-law just finished a visit to North Carolina, so I have been thinking about a recent post on Scatterplot about “the geography of friends.” The post highlights an analysis of friendship links on Facebook from the New York Times.

The article cites existing research as showing: “The typical American lives just 18 miles from his or her mother. The typical student enrolls in college less than 15 miles from home.”

Although this is true for my sisters, who live less than 3 miles from each other and our parents in our hometown in California, I could not live much further from home. I live over 2,300 miles as the crow flies, and over 2,700 miles driving distance. Although I graduated from UC-Berkeley (30 miles from home),  I began college 2,500 miles away in Washington, DC at The American University. I haven’t lived in California since I graduated from college in 1991, and having raised kids and married a woman from North Carolina, the odds of moving back are slim.

I would think that the social networks of California Facebook users would be broader than North Carolinians, but the data show otherwise. The interactive map in the NY Times story shows that the county I grew up in is not very different from the county I currently live in. In San Mateo County, California, 54% of Facebook connections live within 50 miles of each other and 59% within 100 miles. In Forsyth County, North Carolina, those percentages are 54% and 65%. Nationally, the average is 63% within 100 miles.

Even in the world of online social networks, most people know people close to them. And people who live and work far from home are outliers.

The Problem with Averages in Understanding Guns, Violence, and Crime: No One Lives in “The United States”

The problem with averages is that there is no “United States of America” when it comes to guns, violence, and crime, but many Americas. Some of these Americas – like my neighborhood in Winston-Salem – are more like our first world counterparts in the OECD, and some of them are more like the third world politically, economically, and socially.

Back in January, a video called “Number One with a Bullet” by someone named Bill Whittle – apparently a conservative blogger — got a lot of attention on the various internet gun sites I survey. People loved it. As of today, it has over 700,000 views on YouTube, and thumbs up are nearly 7,000 to just over 300 thumbs down.

In addition to these cheers, the video also drew jeers, notably in a response by the consistently anti-gun founder of “Armed with Reason,” Evan DeFillipis, on the ever faithful(ly anti-gun) Huffington Post (“Better Than Somalia – How to Feel Good About Gun Violence”).

I watched the video, saw some good and some bad in it, and moved on. Or at least I thought I had. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, especially about how Whittle and DeFillipis basically talked past each other and so, as happens most of the time in these gun debates, no mutual understanding is gained.

For my part, I think Whittle is completely unhelpful on one point, and extremely insightful on another; DeFillipis is the mirror image, being very helpful on one point, and completely blind on another.

Round 1: The U.S. and Per Capita Homicide Rates Inter-Nationally

Whittle spends the first three minutes or so of the six minute video showing the ranking of the countries of the world according to per capita homicide rates. #1 Honduras, #2 Venezuela, etc. Whittle smugly notes that the United States is not even in the Top 5 or the Top 10, 20, 30, etc. The United States with 4.7 murders per 100,000 population in 2012 ranks #111 in the world, just behind Yemen and Niger and just ahead of Latvia and Micronesia.

Here, Whittle’s data is not incorrect, but his interpretation is questionable. Do I care that the United States’ per capita homicide rate is better than Venezuela’s or Mozambique’s or Turkmenistan’s? Or, as DeFillipis correctly observes, better than Somalia’s? Absolutely not. I care how the United States compares to comparable nations – advanced, (post-)industrial, democratic nations. DeFillipis looks at Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member nations ranked as high-income by the World Bank (those with a gross national income > $12,616). Among these 31 countries, the United States has the highest per capita homicide rate. That is significant.

Not even knowing what the other 30 high income OECD nations are, I could just watch the list as Whittle scrolled through the countries and know that his argument was ridiculous. Not a single country I think is comparable to the United States politically (democratic) and economically (rich) ranks higher than the U.S. No country I would want the U.S. to emulate ranks higher. That is significant and here Whittle’s rhetoric is simply unconvincing.

My judgement: DeFillipis 1, Whittle 0.

Round 2: The U.S. and Per Capita Homicide Rates Intra-Nationally

In the second half of the video, Whittle looks more in depth at per capita homicide rates in different U.S. cities. Here he is onto something extremely important in terms of the problem with averages. Aggregating data for the entire United States helps us see some things, but blinds us from other things. Most importantly as concerns exposure to homicidal violence, no one lives in “the United States,” per se. We live in 50 different states (and the District of Columbia). But we don’t just live in one of 50 states, we live in one of over 3,000 particular counties or county-equivalents. But we don’t just live in one of 3,000+ counties, we live in one of thousands of cities, towns, municipalities, unincorporated areas, and so on. My risk of being a victim of homicide in my home town of Winston-Salem, is different from my risk in the next city over, Greensboro, or the state’s capital, Raleigh.

Unequal Distribution of Homicide in NC CitiesWhittle recognizes this, and begins by observing the homicide rate in Detroit (54.6 per 100,000) is almost 12 times the average for the United States. Were Detroit ranks alongside the world’s countries, it would rank #2, just behind Honduras and just ahead of Venezuela. Whittle lists other extremely violent cities like New Orleans, St. Louis, Baltimore, Newark, Oakland, etc. – all of which inflate the average murder rate for the United States.

By contrast, there are cities which have extremely low homicide rates, like Henderson (Nevada) at 1.5 per 100,000, Lincoln (Nebraska) at 1.1, and Plano (Texas) at 0.4. Whittle observes that if the entire country had Plano’s homicide rate, the United States would rank #211 out of 218 countries, including a number of those OECD nations we ought to be comparing ourselves to like France, Italy, Denmark, Spain, and Germany.

Moreover, even city-wide averages can obscure the realities of relative risk. We don’t even live in particular cities, but in particular neighborhoods. I don’t have data on the geographic distribution of homicides in Winston-Salem, but the following graphic shows the geographic concentration of assaults in particular neighborhoods in my home town. The ring shows my neighborhood.

Unequal Risk of Assault in Winston Salem GraphicWhittle mentions Chicago, and as I have written previously, Chicago is very instructive. Chicago is the 13th most murderous city in the United States with 18.5 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, 4 times the national average. But as Andrew Papachristos has shown in his research there are vastly different rates of homicide and gunshot injury according to where one lives in Chicago.

Papachristos takes these distinctions even further, because even in a high-crime neighborhood in Chicago not every person is equally exposed to homicide risk. In a study of gun homicides in one high-crime neighborhood in Chicago (82,000 people living in a 6-mile area), Papachristos and his co-author Christopher Wildeman found that “41% of all gun homicides occurred in a network component consisting of approximately 4% of the population of the community.”

Papachristos, Anthony Braga, and David Hureau have also studied the risk of gunshot injury in Boston’s Cape Verdean community. Again, the risk of gunshot injury is highly concentrated in certain social networks. 85% of gunshot victims are found in the network, as depicted in the graphic below.

Papachristos: Co-Offending network of high-risk individuals in a Boston community, 2008. Red nodes represent the victims of fatal or non-fatal gunshot injuries, and these are clustered within the network. http://yins.yale.edu/illustrative-projects/social-networks-help-explain-gun-violenceAn implication of Papachristos’s research accords with Whittle’s ultimate conclusion: “Maybe it’s not the guns. Maybe it’s the people holding the guns.” Maybe more guns in the hands of the wrong people leads to more crime, and more guns in the hands of the right people leads to less crime? I wrote previously about a promising study I saw presented at the American Society of Criminology which looked at homicide in New Orleans. The authors set out to move the guns and crime debate forward by distinguishing between the effect of legal and illegal guns on homicide. They hypothesized that presence of legal and illegal guns affect homicide rates, but in different ways. Legal guns reduce gun homicide rates (supporting Lott’s more guns, less crime argument), while illegal guns increase gun homicide rates (supporting Cook’s more guns, more crime argument).

The problem with averages is that there is no “United States of America” when it comes to guns, violence, and crime, but many Americas. Some of these Americas – like my neighborhood in Winston-Salem – are more like our first world counterparts in the OECD, and some of them are more like the third world politically, economically, and socially. DeFillipis unintentionally recognizes this in making another point using a U.S. State Department travel warning for Guatemala: “Violent crime is a serious concern due to endemic poverty, an abundance of weapons, a legacy of societal violence, and weak law enforcement and judicial systems.” This could very well be issued as a travel warning to U.S. citizens traveling to certain parts of certain cities here.

DeFillipis is largely silent on distinctions like this, and dismisses any talk of racial disparities in homicidal violence and violence due to gang involvement.

Hence my judgement for round 2: DeFillipis 0, Whittle 1.

Conclusion: A Lose-Lose for Understanding

In the end, it’s a tie: DeFillipis 1, Whittle 1. But rather than seeing it as a “win-win,” I see this as yet another “lose-lose.” No dialogue, no understanding, not even any attempt at understanding. But of course, I already knew that.

Poverty and Racial Attitudes

One of the most significant books I read as an undergraduate was Racial Attitudes in America: Trends and Interpretations, by sociologists Howard Schuman, Charlotte Steeh, and Lawrence Bobo (1985). (A revised edition was published in 1998 by Harvard University Press.)

In fact, my first ever academic conference presentation (at the Western Anthropology/Sociology Undergraduate Research Conference at Santa Clara University) was inspired by this book. It was based on a paper I wrote for Dr. Yossi Shavit’s social statistics class: “From Bensonhurst to Berkeley: Trends in American Racial Attitudes, 1972 to 1988.” In that paper, I used General Social Survey (GSS) data to analyze whether American racial attitudes had improved or, I feared, declined or stagnated over time.

With the help of Shavit and my teaching assistant Eleanor Bell, I created a Guttman scale for racial attitudes based on 7 questions from the GSS.

Guttman Scale for GSS Race VariablesAs the snippet from my paper above shows, Guttman scales are hierarchical so that a person who agrees with a certain item should also agree with lower-ranked items. For example, a person who favors busing to achieve desegregation (the hardest item in the racial attitudes scale) should also favor easier items such as interracial marriage and having a family member’s black friend home for dinner.

I was reminded of this work today when I was surfing around the internet trying to find ways people have used the General Social Survey to study racial attitudes recently. Many of the same survey questions I utilized continue to appear, but I was taken aback when I stumbled across the following graphic on racial attitudes from Nate Silver’s FiveThiryEight website that examined responses to a question I had not analyzed:

Graphic on Blacks Lack MotiviationWow. That is all I can say.

Scrutinizing Claims About Guns in Homes as a “Risk Factor” for Homicide in the Home

Getting into the sociology of guns has been both fascinating and frustrating. The fascination comes from deeply immersing myself in something entirely new to me. The frustration comes in attempting to understand the reality of guns in a scholarly – that is, objective and nuanced – manner. In the sociology of guns, the line demarcating science and advocacy is very blurry indeed.

I was thinking about this recently when Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America issued a “report” claiming that there had been 74 “school shootings” since the massacre at Sandy Hook. A map of the shootings went viral and President Obama picked up on this figure, giving it considerable political weight. But when gun advocates started to scrutinize the “data,” they found something quite interesting: Moms Demand defined “school shooting” as any shooting that took place on school property. This included events that took place after hours, events that did not involve students, suicides, etc. But clearly when people hear the phrase “school shootings” something else comes to mind. Soon, Pulitzer Prize-winning Tampa Bay Times Politifact declared the claim “mostly false.”

This incident reminded me of some of the other statistics frequently invoked in the debate over guns. Take a simple empirical statement, for example: “people who keep guns in homes are almost 3 times more likely to be murdered.” This seems fairly straightforward and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence invokes it on their website as evidence that “legislatures should adopt common sense gun laws that increase the safe and secure storage of firearms in the home.”

But the empirical reality underlying this claim is not as simple as the Brady Campaign suggests. The claim is based on a study by an influential/notorious (depending on where you stand) researcher, Arthur Kellerman and his colleagues: “Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home,” published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993. (I have written more about this on my Gun Culture 2.0 blog here and here.)

Kellerman and his colleagues studied Memphis and Shelby County (TN), Seattle and King County (WA), and Cleveland Cuyahoga County (OH). They identified 420 cases (subsequently reduced to 388 cases in the final analysis, of individuals who were firearm homicide victims in private homes between 1987 and 1992. Using a case-control design, they identified a sample of control subjects who were matched to case subjects (those who were killed) by sex, race, age group, and neighborhood of residence.

To determine what differences there were between those who were killed and the control subjects, control subjects and proxies for case subjects were interviewed and asked an identical set of questions to identify risk factors such as gun ownership, drug and alcohol use, previous violence in the home and so on. Proxies for case subjects were identified from police records, newspaper accounts, obituaries, and funeral homes.

Using this information, researchers can estimate how much more likely individuals exposed to a particular risk are to experience the outcome of interest (being killed) than those not exposed to the risk. These estimates are typically expressed in the form of crude/raw odds ratios (from univariate analyses) or adjusted odds ratios (from multivariate analyses). Simply put, “a person exposed to X, is Y times more likely to experience Z,” where X is the risk factor, Z is the outcome of interest, and Y is the odds ratio.

Kellerman’s study, picked up by the Brady Campaign and many other gun control advocates, reported adjusted odds ratios for homicide from multivariate logistic regression as follows:

  • Illicit drug use in household         5.7
  • Home rented                               4.4
  • Previous fight in home                4.4
  • Lived alone                                  3.7
  • Gun(s) kept in home                2.7
  • Previous arrest in household      2.5

Hence, the Brady Campaign’s claim that “people who keep guns in homes are almost 3 times more likely to be murdered.” From this, Kellerman and colleagues concluded, “In the light of these observations and our present findings, people should be strongly discouraged from keeping guns in their homes.”

But, as is the case with all research – but even more so with research that is taken up by political advocates – the devil is in the details. What is the mechanism by which keeping a gun in the home makes a person more likely to be killed in the home?

Thinking of the Moms Demand “school shooting” report, I asked my Facebook friends what they thought the most common scenario would be for these firearms homicides. The imagined scenarios varied widely, but included domestic violence, home invasions, and drug/gang related situations. A number of people also wanted to throw accidents and/or suicide into the mix, which is interesting but were excluded by definition. I think it is a fair conclusion to draw from this admitted unscientific poll that when people hear that “people who keep guns in homes are almost 3 times more likely to be murdered,” they imagine the gun in the home actually being involved somehow (whether it is used for the killing or somehow escalates the situation). (Here the accident and suicide responses are suggestive of what people are imagining.)

Looking at Kellerman’s study more closely, we actually find that of the original 420 homicides committed in the homes of victims, only 209 (49.8%) of them were by any firearm at all. 26.4% were by cutting instrument, 11.7% by blunt instrument, 6.4% by strangulation or suffocation, and 5.7% by other means.

Of those 49.8% of homicides by firearm, how many of them involved a firearm that was kept in the home? Kellerman does not say. Sociologist Gary Kleck, however, has used Kellermann’s data and some additional assumptions to try to determine what percentage of homicide victims were killed in their own home using a gun “kept in the home where the shooting occurred.” He concludes that as few as 9.7% and as many as 14.2% of gun homicides were committed in the victims’ home with a gun kept there (“Can Owning a Gun Really Triple the Owner’s Chances of Being Murdered?” published in Homicide Studies in 2001). So, 209 gun homicides x 0.142 (proportion own gun, own home) = 30 cases. This leads to two conclusions:

1. Of the total number of homicides committed in the homes of victims, only 7.1 percent (30 of 420) were committed using a gun kept in that home. 92.9 percent were committed using a gun brought into the home or another mechanism of death.

2. Of the total number of homicides committed in the study area, only 1.6 percent (30 of 1,860) were gun homicides committed in the victim’s home using a gun kept there. 98.4 percent we either outside the home, were not gun homicides, or did not use the victim’s gun. People in the case sample are 62 times more likely to be killed under these other circumstance than to be killed in their own home with a gun kept there.

In his effort to prove that guns are dangerous, Kellermann clearly overdraws his conclusions. He might have been better off focusing on the relative infrequency of justifiable homicides to argue that there is not a huge protective benefit from owning a firearm, rather than characterizing it as a risk factor for homicide in the home. But that claim is much weaker and doesn’t make for good anti-gun advocacy group talking points.

Gun Digest Magazine Shows How NOT to Create a Pie Chart

Thumbing through the February 13, 2014 issue of Gun Digest magazine, I was excited to see data on a recent survey of first-time gun buyers, attributed to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the shooting, hunting and firearms industry.

Two pie charts, shown below, describe (1) the percentage of new shooters who engage in certain activities (target shooting, hunting, plinking, etc.), and (2) how frequently new shooters shoot.

These are both very important pieces of information, but what’s wrong with this picture?

Gun Digest magazine, 13 February 2014, p. 11
Gun Digest magazine, 13 February 2014, p. 11

If you answered that the pieces of the pie chart do not add up to a meaningful whole, you are correct. The first pie chart totals 264% and the second totals 80.3%. A meaningful whole in this case would be 100% of new shooters.

Pie charts are appropriate visual displays of information when we want to show the relative sizes or proportions of different phenomena as a part of a fixed whole. If one slice of the pie grows, another slice has to shrink. You can’t just expand the pie (to 264%). If you remove a slice of the pie, the other slices have to grow. You can’t just shrink the pie (to 80.3%).

A pie chart is not appropriate for a situation in which a single respondent can choose more than one category (a new shooter can be a target shooter and a hunter and a plinker, for example). Or when there are categories of responses that are not displayed (19.7% of new shooters shoot less than once a week or did not respond to this particular question, we can infer). In these cases, a bar chart is more appropriate to display the relative sizes of phenomena.

For a really excellent discussion of pie charts and their potential pitfalls, see “Understanding Pie Charts” on the eagereyes blog.

The Most Rational Fear According to Michael Glassner: Guns

In a previous post I discussed sociologist Michael Glassner’s argument about the “culture of fear” that pervades America, especially the fear-mongering that takes place around very rare and anomalous events like public mass murders, especially at schools. In his book, Glassner uses the example of the 1997-98 string of school shootings in Pearl (MS), West Paducah (KY), Jonesboro (AK), and Springfield (OR). His argument applies perfectly to the string of mass murders we saw in 2012 in Oakland, Aurora, Oak Creek, and Newtown. In this second post on Glassner, I move from the part of his argument I get, to the part I don’t quite get.

It is possible to attribute to Glassner the view that we have nothing to fear – that all fear is basically a distortion of reality. But he hastens to add that he does not agree with Teddy Roosevelt that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (p. xxv). The title of the introduction to the 1999 edition of his book, “Why Americans Fear the Wrong Things,” suggests this also. It is not that we have nothing to fear; it is that we fear the wrong things. As Glassner puts it, “Valid fears have their place; they cue us to danger. False and overdrawn fears only cause hardship” (p. xxiii).

What then are “valid fears” for Glassner? In both the 1999 and 10th anniversary editions of his book, he makes clear that the danger “that by any rational calculation deserves top billing on Americans’ list of fears” is guns (p. xxvii).

Glassner writes: “Yet even after tragedies that could not have occurred except for the availability of guns, their significance is either played down or missed altogether.” Referring back to the school shootings of 1997-98, he concludes that without access to guns, “some or all of the people they killed would be alive today. Without their firepower those boys lacked the strength, courage, and skill to commit multiple murders” (p. xxvii).

Here Glassner shifts from recognizing that youth homicide rates had been declining in the years leading up to the publication of his book – and continued to decline from then until now – and that people are more likely to be killed by lighting than violence at schools, to focusing on the fact that their weapon of choice was a gun. But the fact that guns were used, even the fact that they HAD to use guns given their age, does not make these events any anomalous.

Indeed, his language that the tragedies “could not have occurred except for the availability of guns” may be correct in the case of 11 and 12 year-old kids involved in a school shooting, but the argument cannot be extended to all public mass murders. Some of the most notorious mass murders in US history did not involve guns: the attacks of 9/11 (box cutters and airplanes), Timothy McVeigh (explosives), the Bath (MI) school disaster (explosives), the Happy Land arson (gasoline).

Which is not to say that if there were zero guns in American society that there would not be fewer gun-related deaths. But Glassner’s entire culture of fear argument about mass shootings is that they are used to create an irrational fear in the American population, so it is odd that he would then turn his attention to what he says is “by any rational calculation” the biggest fear we should have. It conveys the impression, as I have seen from at least one other sociologist, that he simply does not like guns and wants them to go away. Perhaps that is a misreading of him. If so, I apologize.

Glassner does cite other evidence, such as:

  • More guns stolen from gun owners in America annually (300,000) than many countries have gun owners.
  • Great Britain, Australia, and Japan, where gun ownership is highly restricted, has only a few dozen gun deaths each year
  • In the US, with 250,000,000 guns in circulation, 15,000 are killed, 18,000 commit suicide, and 1,500 die accidentally from firearms.
  • “American children are twelve times more likely to die from gun injuries than are youngsters in other industrialized nations” (p. xxvii).

These are selected statistics and Glassner does not (feel the need to?) elaborate much on them. It is as if they speak for themselves. But to compare the US legal and cultural context to that of Great Britain, Australia, and Japan is no easy matter. And how does the likelihood of American children dying from non-gun injuries compare to youngsters in other industrialized nations? And what is the relationship between stolen guns and gun deaths? Glassner does not say, instead assuming that the conclusion to be drawn from the statistics is evident.

In trotting out these statistics, but not putting them in any context, Glassner seems to ignore some of his own criticism. He knows, for example, the juvenile homicide rates were declining during the time he was writing, including gun homicide rates for juveniles, and also for the entire population (see table below as well as the related table in my previous post). The number of accidental deaths have also dropped substantially. At the same time, the total number of guns in circulation – especially AR-15 style “assault rifles” – have gone up dramatically, as have the number of individuals who are concealed weapon permit holders. Without making a causal argument, the fact that there are more guns around, but fewer gun-related deaths (and a declining gun-death rate) I would think at least give Glassner some pause to think about what “any rational calculation” would conclude.

Firearms Related Deaths Juveniles 1993-2009

What I think deserves “top billing on Americans’ list of fears” are the things that are most likely to kill us. So, according to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the leading actual causes of death in the year 2000 were:

  1. tobacco (435 000 deaths; 18.1% of total US deaths)
  2. poor diet and physical inactivity (400 000 deaths; 16.6%)
  3. alcohol consumption (85 000 deaths; 3.5%)
  4. microbial agents (75 000)
  5. toxic agents (55 000)
  6. motor vehicle crashes (43 000)
  7. incidents involving firearms (29 000)
  8. sexual behaviors (20 000)
  9. illicit use of drugs (17 000)

There is some suggestion that poor diet and physical inactivity (esp. obesity) has overtaken tobacco as the leading cause of death in America. Deaths by motor vehicle crash declined to 35,900 by 2009. Even though firearms-related deaths increased slightly from its low point in 2000 to 31,300 in 2009, it still does not surpass motor vehicle crash deaths in this ranking.

Of course, it is important to think about deaths in relation to rates of exposure, but here it is difficult to come up with common metrics. Using a typical public health practicing of giving a death “rate” (number of deaths per 100,000 population) is not exactly apples to apples, because people are more exposed to motor vehicles than they are to guns. The fact that people are more exposed to motor vehicles than they are to tobacco, and yet tobacco causes 18.1% of all US deaths, suggest that truly our biggest fear ought to be tobacco. And tobacco related deaths, like auto related deaths, do not only take a toll on the individual responsible. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 49,000 smoking-related deaths are the result of secondhand smoke exposure. That is, more people die from secondhand smoke than from incidents involving firearms.

Again, I do not know what Glassner would propose, but I read him as suggesting that the biggest problem is access to guns, and so if there was no access to guns, we would have much less to fear. At this point, I do not agree with this conclusion. If there were a wholesale ban on access to guns, what that effectively means is that law-abiding citizens would not have access to guns. People who use guns to murder other people are by definition criminals and criminals do not care whether the guns they use are banned. Chicago had a ban on handguns for 28 years (up to 2010). 16 years into that ban there were over 700 homicides in Chicago.

I have previously mentioned the NPR Fresh Air interview with David Kennedy, author of “Don’t Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner City America” (St. Martin’s Press, 2011) and director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. When Dave Davies notes there is nothing about gun laws in his book and asks him whether restrictions on access to guns would help address the problem, Kennedy answers emphatically no. Actually he says, laughing because it is ludicrous, “How’s that working for you?” Kennedy actually began his work with the idea that eliminating illegal gun markets was the key solution, but changed his mind. So, banning guns may not make us safer because only law-abiding citizens will respect such a ban.

One friend I was discussing this issue with said that Chicago is not a good example because it was an island in a sea of guns. The ban would have to be nationwide to be effective. Again, I do not agree. We have a complete and total ban on certain drugs – cocaine, methamphetamine – and it has not prevented people from obtaining and using either. Cocaine makes it from South America to Chicago routinely. I have no reason to think that guns would not do the same. Such a ban would, however, prevent law abiding citizens from obtaining guns, rendering them defenseless against the criminals.

This part of his argument aside, Glassner really did draw my attention to the question of what the real dangers are that we confront, and what we can do about them. Why are we focusing on banning “military style assault rifles” and “high capacity magazines”? These are responsible for very few deaths annually. According to the FBI, in 2009 there were 348 homicides using rifles – of which “military style assault rifles” are a subset, and “military style assault rifles” with “high capacity magazines” a further subset. This is strictly political posturing, and a form of fear-mongering that Glassner rightly criticizes.

If we want to impose some restrictions that will save more lives, here are some I thought of:

  • Driving fast is dangerous to self and others. No one needs to drive 70 MPH when 55 MPH will get you there more safely (and have less of a negative impact on the environment). All civilian motor vehicles should be governed to go no faster than 55 MPH. Only law enforcement and safety officers should be permitted to drive above 55 MPH
  • Alcohol consumption is the 3rd leading cause of death according to the JAMA article cited above. Individuals should be allowed to purchase only one six pack of beer, or one bottle of wine, or 375ml of hard liquor each week. Any drinks consumed in bars should be counted against these purchases.
  • In addition to limiting drinking capacity, we should also impose an outright ban on drinking and driving. None of this 0.08 BAC stuff. Why shouldn’t it be 0.00? How many children’s lives would be saved every year if the legal BAC for driving were 0.00? This would bring driving cars in line with the safety measures in place for carrying firearms, at least in North Carolina. A concealed weapons permit holder in the state of North Carolina cannot carry a firearm any place where alcoholic beverages are sold and consumed. Also, it is unlawful to carry a concealed handgun in North Carolina while consuming alcohol or at any time while the person has remaining in their body any alcohol or in their blood a controlled substance previously consumed. I.e., 0.00 BAC to carry a firearm.

To be sure, there are too many gun-related deaths in America, particularly the deaths of innocent people — whether at the hands of friends and loved-ones or gun-wielding criminals. I need to learn more about the process by which minor disputes between friends and family escalate into homicides when guns are present. That is quite troubling. I also need to learn more about the likelihood that a gun kept for self-protection will end up being used against the owner. And I also want to think about and try to answer the question of whether banning guns or restricting access to them or restricting the types of guns/accessories that can be LEGALLY owned will make law-abiding citizens that much safer. Or if it will just make criminals’ work easier to accomplish. These are authentic questions for which I do not have predetermined answers.