Gun Control

Mark Pottenger


Gun control in the US can be boiled down to a simple summary:

Unless you change human nature, “x” guns in the country will produce “y” deaths per year. Who is voting to continue causing “y” deaths per year?

To replace variables with numbers, a 1996 study estimated that there are approximately 192 million privately owned firearms in the US, 65 million of which are handguns. The census bureau estimated the US population in 1996 as 266 million. That works out to one gun for every 1.4 people in the country. By the time you add all the guns that aren’t privately owned (police, military, etc.), there are probably more guns than people in this country. That goes beyond ridiculous to obscene.

For another sort of number, the Handgun Control web site quotes some numbers from the CDC: “In 1997, 32,436 people in the United States died from firearm-related deaths - 12,942 (40%) of those were murdered; 17,566 (54%) were suicides; 981 (3%) were accidents; and in 367 (1%) the intent was unknown.” One year’s US gun deaths almost equal the total US deaths in the Korean War, and two years at that rate exceed the total US deaths in the Vietnam War. The census bureau estimated the US population in 1997 as 269 million. That works out to about 1 out of every 8,300 people in the country per year! Firearm deaths are a lot likelier than big lottery wins.

To look at the numbers another way, 32,000+ deaths from 192,000,000 guns works out to about one death per 6,000 guns per year, so any law that reduces gun ownership in the US will save one life per year per 6,000 guns eliminated. Congress should have more recent figures than I quoted above, but I doubt that the conclusion will change much.

The responses to the school shootings in recent years prompted me to try to clarify some thinking about guns and violence. I think killing by children is inevitable (appalling but not surprising) and other gun-caused deaths will continue at war-zone rates as long as our culture makes guns widely available.

Here are some questions tied to my simple summary above. Answers may be found in developmental or "abnormal" psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology, or some combination of disciplines.

Does any measure exist of a given individual's proneness to violence (VQ: violence quotient), especially lethal violence (LQ: lethality quotient)?

Does any measure exist of individuals' ability to control violent impulses (SCQ: self-control quotient)?

Have any studies been done of enculturation or socialization or growing up that address development of the ability to control violent impulses? If so, are there mean ages at which toddlers or children or teens or young adults usually develop enough control not to strike out verbally, bodily, or with weapons? If so, what percentage of the population of a given age in a given society can be expected to control their own violent impulses and what percentage can't? Who are the exceptions to control: children, psychopaths, sociopaths, criminals, etc.?

Is there any connection between failure to understand consequences and/or picture the future and lack of control of violence?

Is there a correlation (positive or negative) between having witnessed or experienced real violence vs. vicarious violence (TV, movies, games, radio, books, etc.) and committing violence?

Have any studies been done of degrees of violence? What determines escalation from no action to verbal abuse to bodily violence to limited reach single-victim weapons (knives) to long reach multiple-victim weapons (guns) to assault weapons?

Have any studies defined how frequently people experience violent impulses?

Have any studies been done of the effects of enforced cooling off periods on violence? (Yes. They reduce violence.)

What are the degrees of correlation between gun ownership and gun violence, as accidental perpetrator, as deliberate perpetrator, and as victim? (Guns in home are dangerous to owner and family.)

Whether or not any of the above factors are understood, equations can be defined predicting deaths from use of guns.

For example:

1) Gun attacks in region in time "t" = guns in region * accessibility of guns * number of people with poor control of violence * degree of violent impulses * frequency of violent impulses.

2) Fatalities and woundings = gun attacks in region * accuracy of aim * number of bullets shot * damaging power of bullets.

Once such equations are defined, one can literally say that you will (as a statistical mean) produce "x" deaths per year per uncontrolled gun.

Even if none of the questions above are answered, all of the unknowns can be described as “human nature”, simplifying the above equations to:

Unless you change human nature, “x” guns in the country will produce “y” deaths per year. Who is voting to continue causing “y” deaths per year?

Copyright © 1999 Mark Pottenger

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