The Unintended Costs of an Armed Society

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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90 Responses

  1. Avatar Mike Dwyer
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    says:

    I’m trying to find a resource but if memory serves, there were far less shootings in the ‘Old West’ than there are now. And that was with a more heavily armed populace.Report

  2. Avatar NewDealer
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    says:

    This is a very good post. I am not in complete agreement but it was all very well thought out.

    I’ve never been much of a cluber but was convinced to go clubbing by a friend in January 2011. There was a double homicide at the club that night. Both were stabbing murders. One seemed to be very random. The other might have been gang-related, I don’t remember.

    The police were trying to keep things as calm and orderly as possible while they investigated. Sadly they were dealing with a lot of young 20-somethings who were drunk and probably a decent amount were high. Eventually the police decided to let people leave through the back entrance while asking people if they saw anything. Some people tried to create a bit of a panic in order to overwhelm the police and push through.

    This was when the murders were done with a knife. I can’t imagine what the panic would be like if a gun was involved.Report

  3. Avatar ThatPirateGuy
    Ignored
    says:

    I haven’t seen anyone mention it on the league but yesterday only 16 days after Aurora a bro-nazi shot several people at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee WI

    6 people died and the police killed the shooter.

    I seriously hope we go longer than sixteen days before the next mass shooting.Report

  4. Avatar MFarmer
    Ignored
    says:

    Long ago I frequented a bar in south Georgia, a part of the country in which most people carried a weapon. The only time I ever saw a gun pulled was on a guy travelling through, Viet Nam vet, who went berserk and started kicking the asses of everyone in the bar, sent three to the hospital, with one suffering brain damage from a pool stick the Nam vet used on him.. The only thing that stopped the attacker from seriously hurting more people was one guy pulled a gun, cocked it and held it on the guy until he left.Report

  5. Avatar MikeSchilling
    Ignored
    says:

    you cannot escape risk no matter how hard you try.

    Just leave the minute they bring the game board out. This works with Monopoly and D&D too.Report

  6. Avatar Wardsmith
    Ignored
    says:

    Actually I liked this post. Truth be told I like almost all Tod’s posts. In a reasonable society many things become reasonable. CCW could be denied for the young, dumb and full of cum crowd for instance. And I can’t think of a state where carrying in a bar is even legal.Report

  7. Avatar BlaiseP
    Ignored
    says:

    While it may be true that increasing the number of the number of people carrying firearms and the average amount of time per day that people have those firearms on their person, the Law of Large Numbers isn’t applicable here. LLN would only clarify the risk thus imposed, exposing an expected value.

    What you’re looking for is a lambda hazard function. It’s the Barney Fife Syndrome. Remember how Barney only got one bullet? He was forever getting in trouble because he chambered that round. The probability of an accidental discharge is nil if you don’t carry a weapon with a round in the chamber. If everyone carried a loaded weapon and nobody chambered a round, there wouldn’t be any accidental discharges either, excluding Black Swan events.

    Here’s where the Barney Fife Syndrome kicks in. People are stupid. They chamber rounds anyway. They lose their tempers and bad things happen. Doesn’t matter if you locked that weapon up in the heart of Fort Knox with the gold bars, there’s always a Barney Fife to mess around with it and blow his toes off.

    There are roughly equal numbers of cars and guns in the USA. The situation is far enough advanced and the rhetoric so heated, there really is no hope for common ground. We are an armed society and we are no more polite for it. There’s only one choke point where we might reduce risk: keeping live rounds out of the chamber.Report

  8. Avatar Pinky
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    says:

    I think the hope is not that more people would own guns, but that more people who are responsible with their guns would be allowed to carry them. You don’t have to increase the number of people who own guns. And a lot of one-rifle people aren’t going to start carrying their firearms. But, as you noted, we could increase the average time per day that a licensed and trained person has access to his firearm.

    I don’t know if that’d work or not. How many accidents are caused by people carrying their guns? I’d guess a good number are the result of guns being found and played with. The right denominator could be “total guns” rather than “total gun hours”.

    I’m thinking of something more like a “well-regulated militia”, essentially a deputized class.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Pinky
      Ignored
      says:

      Pinky, I suspect 75% of those “accidents” occurred while cleaning the weapons. I heard one guy shot himself on three different occasions while cleaning his gun. Actually it appears I mis-remembered the story. When I read a story like this one I’m not thinking accidental shooting, I’m thinking failed suicide. So some of the stats are bound to be skewed. Would we still have 20K suicides per year without handguns or simply more bridge jumpers and pill swallowers?Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to wardsmith
        Ignored
        says:

        We’re 41st among 107 rated.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

        1 Lithuania 61.3 10.4 34.1 2009
        2 South Korea[3] (more info) 41.4 21.0 31.2 2010
        3 Guyana 39.0 13.4 26.4 2006
        4 Kazakhstan 43.0 9.4 25.6 2008
        5 Belarus[4][5] 25.3 2010
        6 Hungary[6] 40.0 10.6 24.6 2009
        7 Japan (more info)[7] 33.5 14.6 23.8 2011
        8 Latvia 40.0 8.2 22.9 2009
        9 People’s Republic of China [8]
        (more info) 22.23 2010
        10 Slovenia 34.6 9.4 21.9 2009
        11 Sri Lanka[9] 21.6 1996
        12 Russia[10] 21.4 2011
        13 Ukraine 37.8 7.0 21.2 2009
        14 Serbia and Montenegro 28.4 11.1 19.5 2006
        15 Estonia 20.6 7.3 18.1 2008
        16 Switzerland 24.8 11.4 18.0 2007
        17 Croatia 28.9 7.5 17.8 2009
        18 Belgium[note 1][6] 26.5 9.3 17.6 2009
        19 Finland[11] 27.2 8.6 17.6 2010
        20 Moldova 30.1 5.6 17.4 2008
        21 France 26.4 7.2 16.2 2008
        22 Uruguay 26.0 6.3 15.8 2004
        23 South Africa[12] 25.3 5.6 15.4 2005
        24 Austria 23.8 7.1 15.2 2009
        25 Poland 26.4 4.1 14.9 2008
        26 Hong Kong 19.0 10.7 14.6 2009
        27 Suriname 23.9 4.8 14.4 2005
        28 Czech Republic 23.9 4.4 14.0 2009
        29 New Zealand[13] 20.3 6.5 13.2 2008
        30 Sweden 18.7 6.8 12.7 2008
        31 Cuba 19.0 5.5 12.3 2008
        32 Bulgaria 18.8 6.2 12.3 2008
        33 Romania 21.0 3.5 12.0 2009
        34 Norway 17.3 6.5 11.9 2009
        35 Denmark 17.5 6.4 11.9 2006
        36 Ireland 19.0 4.7 11.8 2009
        37 Bosnia and Herzegovina 20.3 3.3 11.8 1991
        38 Canada 17.3 5.4 11.3 2004
        39 Iceland[14] 17.9 4.5 11.3 2009
        40 Chile 18.2 4.2 11.1 2007
        41 United States (more info) 19.0 4.9 11.8 2008Report

        • Avatar Pinky in reply to Tom Van Dyke
          Ignored
          says:

          Very interesting numbers, Tom. I’m not surprised that the former Soviet Union / Warsaw Pact dominates the list, and I knew about Japan’s problem, but I was surprised to see South Korea so high on the list.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Pinky
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            says:

            In Tokyo, if someone is found, having lost his wallet, and dead by gunshot through the chest, they are likely to rule it a suicide.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kimmi
              Ignored
              says:

              Heh. They’ll wait twenty minutes and that lost wallet will turn up at the nearest kouban. From what I’ve heard, all these lost possessions become something of a problem: there must be metric tons of lost umbrellas stacking up at police stations all over Japan.Report

            • Avatar Pinky in reply to Kimmi
              Ignored
              says:

              Really? There does seem to be an East Asia thing within the data. I believe that Taiwan has a high rate as well. And there is a cultural tradition of noble suicide. I’m sure that North Korea has no suicides, though, and an officially happy, healthy population.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to wardsmith
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        says:

        Yeah, that sounds believable. I’d bet that a lot of accidental shootings are the result of kids finding Dad’s “hidden” gun, too. I’m sure there would be some increase in the number of accidental shootings if more people carried weapons, but I don’t think it would increase by the same percentage. There are only so many ways a person can accidentally shoot himself/others while carrying a holstered gun.

        This article makes a good point about morons, alcohol, and guns though. I’m sure the gun enthusiast doesn’t like the idea of government tracking such things, but there’s got to be a way to expand the opportunities to carry a weapon without encouraging the kind of situation this article describes. I wonder if anyone’s interested in finding the middle ground.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Pinky
          Ignored
          says:

          Make a gun like a car… use of it (or perhaps even carrying it)* while intoxicated gets you in deep doody, perhaps so deep that you are temporarily or maybe even permanently barred from carrying again. Yes, some responsible folk suffering from a momentary lapse of judgement will get the screws put to them. But, by and large, this will filter out the types of folks discussed in the article without infringing on those who fully intend to be responsible with their weapon.

          * Perhaps the weapons experts can way in on mechanisms that can effectively disable a weapon, such that someone who leaves his house at 8AM, takes public transportation to and from work, and wants to grab a beer before heading home can safely carry his weapon during the earlier part of his day and disable it before hitting the bar. I realize that a disabled weapon can be enabled, even by someone drunk. But the point is not so much to guarantee that no one ever does something stupid with a gun, but to put enough incentives in place to remain responsible with the weapon that hopefully people act a bit wiser. To take the car analogy further, some folks opt not to drunk drive because they realize the danger of the situation. Others opt not to because they fear the legal repercussions. The latter, in my experience, will often insist that they know they COULD make it home safely, but it’s not worth getting caught up in a checkpoint or getting their license revoked because of a busted taillight and a breathalyzer. Responsible gun owners likely realize that a bar is not a wise place to carry a locked and loaded weapon. Someone less responsible might think they’d be fine to bring it there, but would be given pause if they knew simply having it (or having it loaded or enabled or whathaveyou) was enough to cause them some trouble.Report

          • Avatar Scott in reply to Kazzy
            Ignored
            says:

            Kazzy:

            “Make a gun like a car… use of it (or perhaps even carrying it)* while intoxicated gets you in deep doody, perhaps so deep that you are temporarily or maybe even permanently barred from carrying again.”

            Do you mean like the deep doody that Teddy K got into after his drunken accident?Report

          • Avatar Wardsmith in reply to Kazzy
            Ignored
            says:

            A gun with a breathalyzer? I invested in a company doing a biometric hand grip. Never went anywhere but the tech is trivial. Losing batteries at a bad time would suck of course.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Wardsmith
              Ignored
              says:

              I would still put the onus on the user. The gun can be enabled at any time (though might prove difficult for a highly intoxicated person). But can simply be disabled in such a way to be rendered a paperweight when so desired and which would require a deliberate action to enable.Report

        • Avatar damon in reply to Pinky
          Ignored
          says:

          Concur. It’s carelessness or someone finding something they shouldn’t.

          You follow the 7 rules of firearm handling and you’re fine. When I was a little kid I knew how to handle firearms. I knew they were dangerous and not to touch them without my Dad around, even when I found that hidden one Dad kept. That’s why you cover the bases. Knowing how to handle them and the proper precautions and knowing NOT to handle them when you’re a kid without adult supervison.

          And one final thing Tod, it’s a magazine, not a clip.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to damon
            Ignored
            says:

            I wonder what the stats look like on gun owners who grew up in a house with guns versus gun owners who did not. Many folks, both here and elsewhere, talk about the respect they learned for the power of guns and the importance of responsibility, safety, and precaution did so in the context of lessons imparted when they were young. This is obviously very anecdotal, but I can see a certain intuitive logic that folks growing up around responsible gun owners might themselves be more likely to become a responsible gun owner than someone who grew up watching GI Joe and playing with Nerf guns before deciding to arm up at 18 or 25 or whatever.Report

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy
              Ignored
              says:

              It’s easier with girls. My daughters took zero interest in guns. Sometimes I leave them in a corner of the living room (unloaded) for days. To them they are just furniture. They always knew that if they touched them, they were going to catch a beating. Boys get into more mischief. If I had sons I would be more careful.

              Still though, being around guns growing up takes away the taboo. It makes them less scary. It’s always a little bit sad when I see a first-time shooter that is an adult. They are wise enough to know that the gun is very dangerous and inexperienced enough to fear it. That creates a lot of nerves you have to overcome. But the reward is awesome if they take to it. There’s also nothing I like more than introducing people to shooting sports.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer
                Ignored
                says:

                Interesting.

                I never shot anything until the past couple years. For one of my buddy’s bachelor parties, we rented a cottage out in the middle of nowhere. Him and many of his high school friends were outdoorsman, avid hunters and fishermen and the like. His college friends, like myself, grew up in more urban areas absent this culture. We all got along great and had a really fun time. But there was a stark difference to how we approached our trip to the range. Most of the high school friends brought their own guns, some of them with multiples. They spent the morning cleaning them and making sure everything was ready to go. I had a beer and made sure to put on my camo pants because, well, that is what I figured I ought to wear.

                At the range, most of them went right at it, while a few stayed back and gave us lessons. Really helpful, really patient. But there was a noticeable lack-of-seriousness amongst those of us who hadn’t handled guns before. Some of it was novelty, some of it was our own discomfort at being fish out of water, but some of it was certainly a lack of familiarity and respect for the power of the weapons we were holding. At one point, I accidentally brought the business end of my gun across another guy. I could best describe his response as a restrained flip out.

                “Woh dude. Don’t ever bring the barrel of the gun across someone like that.”
                “My bad. But, I mean, it wasn’t loaded. And the safety was on.”
                “Doesn’t matter. You don’t do that. I don’t know either of those things to be true and, frankly, neither do you.”
                “I hear ya. But it’s not like I’d ever shoot you. My finger wasn’t even on the trigger.”
                “Doesn’t matter. I’ve seen supposedly safer situations go awry. Just don’t do it. It’s dangerous and poor form. Nothing is going to piss someone off like that. And that’s assuming nothing does go wrong.”

                His point was a sound one and I later thanked him for ultimately how cool he was throughout the situation (he would have been totally justified in flipping out on me once the gun was out of my hands and never letting me pick it up again).

                There was a degree to which those of us who were unfamiliar and largely uninterested in guns were play acting through the experience. “Look at me! I’ve got a gun! Check out this badass pose! Now watch me shoot something awesome!” (Note: I missed every target that day.) This carried over, ever so slightly, to how we handled the guns. The other gentlemen, those for whom this was a hobby of a way to feed their families or something they loved, approached it in a much more serious and respectful manner.

                I don’t know if this typical or not. Like I said, many of us were fish-out-of-water who likely wouldn’t have strayed into the mountains of western Maryland, let alone to a shooting range, on our own. There was a broader discomfort some of us were feeling and dealing with that likely impacted how we handled ourselves. But I wouldn’t be shocked if that is how many folks who didn’t grow up with guns have their first shooting experience.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy
                Ignored
                says:

                That sounds very familiar to me. I’ve seen similar situations with friends.

                The closest I have probably come to that was the one (and only) time I have driven a motorcycle. A buddy let me try his dirt bike one weekend at the farm. I was terrified and it probably showed. I never really felt comfortable on it, although I enjoyed the experience.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Pinky
      Ignored
      says:

      …that a licensed and trained person has access to his firearm.

      I’d be happier if that training were required to be more thorough. Here, it can mean as little as two-and-a-half hours in a classroom (they seem to keep compressing the amount of time) and zero range time. Yep, this state allows someone who has never fired a handgun in their life to buy and carry one. Their absolute first shot may be in a crowded, stressful situation. And that terrifies me.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Michael Cain
        Ignored
        says:

        County-sponsored ranges. Everyone who has a permit is allowed to shoot for free once a month. And everyone with a permit is required to shoot once a year, and his permit rides on the results. Reasonable?Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Pinky
      Ignored
      says:

      Most Carry Accidents I hear of are people trying to catch a dropped firearm, which is about as smart as trying to catch a dropped knife.

      Modern guns are drop tested with a round chambered. A gun in good working order will not fire if dropped. If you hear of an accidental discharge from a dropped gun, someone tried to catch it & caught the trigger.Report

  9. Avatar Liberty60
    Ignored
    says:

    Damn, we DO live in a wild, dangerous world!
    “Bee Swarm Attacks Hillary Clinton”!
    http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/242307-hillary-clinton-entourage-come-under-attack-from-swarm-of-bees

    See? Instead of Uzis, the Secret Service shoulda been packing Epi-pens.

    Now she can honestly say she had to run across a tarmac dodging bees.Report

  10. Avatar Mark Thompson
    Ignored
    says:

    Great post. For what it’s worth, the best estimate I could find was that there are 8 million active CCW and/or open carry permit holders: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concealed_carry_in_the_United_States. Presumably, a good chunk of those folks don’t carry as often as they possibly can, but given that, 3 million seems like it might be slightly on the low side in terms of people who do. Still, even if that applied to all 8 million folks, I don’t think it would significantly alter your analysis.Report

  11. Avatar Scott
    Ignored
    says:

    Tod:

    So what is wrong with having a neighbor like Joe Horn? It is nice to know that he gives a fish about his neighbors.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Scott
      Ignored
      says:

      Well Scott, you and I just hear different things. I didn’t hear a man that was very concerned about his neighbors. I heard a man that was angry and wanted to shoot somebody. He didn’t tell them to stop, he didn’t warn them, he didn’t try to hold them in his sights until the police got there, he just walked out and shot them. To me it sounded less like a defense, and more like an execution.

      Now I’m guessing that for you, that’s an even trade; you take a tv that doesn’t belong to you, you get executed – or if you prefer, just gunned down by surprise without warning. To you, the worlds a better place without those scum, yes? Me not so much. It’s a values difference. Plus, who’s to say my kids might not someday do kid things, like ding-dong-ditch it, or get the football in the guy’s yard? Since the guy is a shoot people first kind of guy, I’d just feel safer him not living near me and my family.

      But hey, it all works out ok. You can now go on and call me a bleeding heart liberal that hates America, and I can think of you as one of those guys that isn’t in law enforcement but still uses the word “perps” unironically.

      Everybody wins.Report

      • Avatar Scott in reply to Tod Kelly
        Ignored
        says:

        Tod:

        Did you really listen to the tape? He called the cops first so your claim that he just wanted to shoot them is silly, plus when he did finally go out he did tell them to freeze and then shot them when they came toward him. Not to mention that if you research the incident, there was a plain clothes cop at the scene who witnessed it but did not interfere, so he hardly executed them.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Scott
          Ignored
          says:

          “One vital piece of evidence is certain to be the audiotape of Mr. Horn’s 911 calls. In a low, calm and steady voice, he said he saw the men breaking in and asked: “I’ve got a shotgun; do you want me to stop them?”

          The Pasadena emergency operator responded: “Nope. Don’t do that. Ain’t no property worth shooting somebody over, O.K.?”

          Mr. Horn said: “But hurry up, man. Catch these guys will you? Cause, I ain’t going to let them go.”

          Mr. Horn then said he would get his shotgun.

          The operator said, “No, no.” But Mr. Horn said: “I can’t take a chance of getting killed over this, O.K.? I’m going to shoot.”

          The operator told him not to go out with a gun because officers would be arriving.

          “O.K.,” Mr. Horn said. “But I have a right to protect myself too, sir,” adding, “The laws have been changed in this country since September the first, and you know it.”

          The operator said, “You’re going to get yourself shot.” But Mr. Horn replied, “You want to make a bet? I’m going to kill them.”

          Moments later he said, “Well here it goes, buddy. You hear the shotgun clicking and I’m going.”

          Then he said: “Move, you’re dead.”

          There were two quick explosions, then a third, and the 911 call ended.

          “I had no choice,” Mr. Horn said when he called 911 back. “They came in the front yard with me, man.””

          http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/13/us/13texas.html?_r=1&oref=sloginReport

  12. Avatar Jnc
    Ignored
    says:

    You could test your argument by comparing accidental shooting rates from the time before so many states adopted concealed carry laws.

    If more concealed carry leads to more accidental shootings, the number of such shootings should spike in proportion to the number concealed carry permits.Report

  13. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    The thing I noticed about the story is that the main antagonists are in the military.

    If there is one group in this country that is allowed to carry guns, it’s the police… but if there is a second that would be allowed to have them, even in the most restrictive reading of the 2nd Amendment, it’d be the military.

    Not that you were arguing that we’d need to limit gun ownership, of course. If you were, however, I think that the detail of the profession of the antagonists was an interesting one.Report

    • Avatar NoPublic in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      Two groups of people you never want to piss off when they’re drinking (three actually)

      1) Cops
      2) Military
      3) Firemen

      with a corollary of
      4) Wanna-be’s

      Worst experiences of my bouncing career have been with combinations of these groups.Report

  14. Avatar M.A.
    Ignored
    says:

    Besides, I can’t think of any draconian gun-controlling actions that wouldn’t favor the people I most want guns kept away from: criminals, the overly irresponsible, Glenn Beck listeners that are buying gold because they think (and are hoping) that the government is about to collapse, and the mentally ill.

    The latter two in your list are identical.Report

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