Michael Shermer drops his usual skepticism to argue that we’re better at killing Americans than our enemies are:
If your gut tells you that mass public shootings are alarmingly common, your gut’s right.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a mass murder as four or more deaths during a single incident with no distinct time period between killings. By this definition, according to Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, between 1980 and 2010 there were an average of 20 mass murders per year, or an average of one every 2.6 weeks.
I would expect a skeptic to point out that those are really small numbers in a population of over 300 million, with 15,000 homicides per year.
If we could easily stop the hundred or so deaths per year by previously law-abiding young men who are legally sane but alienated, that would be wonderful, but that leaves the other 99.3 percent of homicides by common criminals.
This is the least skeptical argument though:
In other words, the fantasy many of us have of facing down an intruder with a firearm is belied by the fact that a gun is 22 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault, an accidental death or injury, a suicide attempt or a homicide than it is for self-defense.
Guns aren’t randomly sprinkled amongst the population. They’re owned, illegally, by common criminals, they’re bought by suicidal men, and they’re owned by a third of ordinary Americans — who range from extremely conscientious to extremely negligent, with most in between.
Gun ownership isn’t the cause of gun-homicides, gun-suicides, or gun-accidents, and buying a gun does not mean that the gun is likely to be used in a criminal assault, etc. It depends on who is buying the gun and what the buyer’s intentions are.
For most owners, a gun has a negligible chance of going on to be a part of a homicide, suicide, or accidental death.
In the other direction, is a firearm useful for self-defense? Not if you accept Shermer’s straw man:
If you own a gun and keep it safely locked up and unloaded with the ammunition somewhere else (recommended by gun safety experts), do you really think that, in the event of a break-in, you could get to your gun, find your ammo and load it, engage the intruder, accurately aim and kill him, all before he takes your things? If you do, you’ve been watching too many movies. Go to a firing range and try shooting a handgun. It isn’t easy to do. It requires regular training.
If a gun is going to be out of your control, you keep it unloaded, etc. If it is going to be in your control — say, in your holster — you keep it loaded. If it’s going to be somewhere in between — say, on your nightstand — you can keep in an in-between state of readiness — say, unloaded, but with a loaded magazine in reach, or in a quick-opening safe.
A well-practiced shooter can load a magazine and be ready to shoot in a couple seconds.
Shooting a handgun quickly and accurately does take practice — and tens of thousands of shooters do practice regularly. But even “naive” shooters can shoot quickly and accurately across a room.
I’m appalled by the inverted skepticism of this claim:
A 2009 study corroborated these findings. Conducted by epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and published in the American Journal of Public Health, it found that, on average, people with a gun are 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun.
Perhaps people who are likely to be shot in an assault choose to go get a gun?