When stupid people become dangerous

I am a great admirer of the United States of America, but one of the things that distinguishes the US from Europe – and not in a good way – is the American attachment to the private ownership of firearms. Where this can lead is shown in this wholly weird news story.

Yesterday, December 30, two men walked into a shopping centre at 5 am and started shooting with rifles. Given the tragic incidents that take place from time to time involving unbalanced citizens with guns, it might have seemed to those present (who were forced to scatter and flee) that this was another such occasion. It wasn’t. Rather, the two men had simply decided to ‘have some fun’, and their concept of fun as they planned it was to shoot at some street lights at a time when, they believed, there would be nobody around. In fact one of the shops in the area had just opened, and so there were people present.

I cannot even begin to understand how the ownership of guns can be seen as a human right. Crazy events such as this, involving crazy people, ought to persuade reasonable citizens that gun control is a necessity. You’d think.

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25 Comments on “When stupid people become dangerous”

  1. anna notaro Says:

    ‘I cannot even begin to understand how the ownership of guns can be seen as a human right.’ Me neither, however what is perceived as human right here is ‘the right to self defence by fire arms’, even the UN has acknowledged the link between small arms control and human rights. (http://www.iansa.org/issues/GunsVsHumanRights.htm)
    In any case, together with the death penalty these are the two issues that make me feel glad I am a European everytime I set foot in the US!

    • Anna, I agree with you about the death penalty, which I also strongly oppose. But I don’t ever have a feeling of European superiority, because alongside the things I may not support in the US, I hugely admire them for others: their sense of adventure and can-do; their capacity for advancing new social initiatives (Europe was far behind the US in equality measures); their sense of generosity’ and so forth.

      • anna notaro Says:

        I also admire a lot of American culture (particularly when it comes to literature and visual arts) in fact I did not wish to express a sense of European superiority (although I appreciate that one could read it like that) rather a sense of European distinctiveness and sensitivity on some crucial issues which make for a cvilized society..

        • Absolutely, Anna – that’s how I read it! I guess my own view is that it’s more evenly balanced between the two. Also, these days I cannot help feeling a sense of pessimism in Europe, an inability to cope with what the world throws at us and a loss of self-confidence. I suppose that’s aggravated for me by the realisation that, outside Europe (in Asia and America in particular) there is an assumption that Europe is in long term decline.

          • anna notaro Says:

            Assumptions by their own nature are often wrong because they are not based on full assessments of facts, on the alleged European decline the picture is a rather complicated one: there are countries like Italy, France which are experiencing a cultural and economic decline but then others are doing rather well, today, Jan.1st Estonia joins the Euro and I really hope that their optimism will spread over the whole continent in 2011!

  2. rigumagoo Says:

    Yesterday, December 30, two men walked into a shopping centre at 5 am and started eating ice cream. Given the tragic incidents that take place from time to time involving unbalanced citizens with ice cream, it might have seemed to those present (who were forced to scatter and flee) that this was another such occasion. It wasn’t. Rather, the two men had simply decided to ‘have some fun’, and their concept of fun as they planned it was to eat at some street lights at a time when, they believed, there would be nobody around. In fact one of the shops in the area had just opened, and so there were people present.

    I cannot even begin to understand how the consumption of ice cream be seen as a human right. Crazy events such as this, involving crazy people, ought to persuade reasonable citizens that ice cream control is a necessity. You’d think.

    • Rigumagoo, you may have intended to make a point with this, but unfortunately it is lost on me. Want to explain? Are you claiming that guns are no more dangerous than ice cream?

      • rigumagoo Says:

        Like ice cream, firearms are only dangerous in the wrong hands. You are taking the idiotic actions of two rednecks and holding them up as proof that firearms should be outlawed for everybody.
        Another analogy would be to claim that some drivers- through their own irresponsibility- get into terrible car crashes that injure other people. Therefore all cars should be outlawed and treated as dangerous weapons, to be used only by the state.
        It ignores the root of the problem, and attempts to absolve these two people from responsibility by shifting the blame from the perpetrator to the implement.

        • Sorry, your first point involves a silly analogy. No matter what you do with ice cream, it won’t kill anyone. As for cars, you need to strike a balance between utility and danger, and you overcome the danger aspect as far as you can through traffic regulations. But cars have a valid social purpose. General gun ownership doesn’t.

          Your argument would suggest that we should make nuclear weapons freely available to everyone, and if anyone misuses them, it’s because we haven’t addressed stupidity adequately.

          • rigumagoo Says:

            “No matter what you do with ice cream, it won’t kill anyone.”

            Ice cream, left unattended, can garner any number of infectious organisms. This includes pathogens like TB which can kill people.

            “But cars have a valid social purpose. General gun ownership doesn’t.”

            Guns serve as your only protection against thieves and murderers. When Gardai response time is on the order of ten minutes or greater, I cannot realistically rely on them to save me.

            “Your argument would suggest that we should make nuclear weapons freely available”

            Nuclear weapons are, by their very nature, an offensive rather than a defensive weapon. Nobody can fabricate a scenario in which the use of nuclear weapons could be used to defend oneself against direct, personal assault on one’s home and property.

        • “Guns serve as your only protection against thieves and murderers”.

          If that were a valid point, there would be far fewer burglaries and murders in the US. Not so.

          • rigumagoo Says:

            According the the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the United States ranks #17 in the world, with a rate of 7.09996 per 1,000 people. This ranks behind Switzerland, South Africa, the UK, Finland and Australia, all of which have far stricter firearm regulations than the US.
            Australia has the highest rate of burglaries in the world, and also has some of the strictest gun restrictions.
            Clearly firearm ownership has no measurable effect on the rate of burglaries, and probably acts as a deterrent.

        • Firearms-related homicides (per 100,000 population):
          Australia – 0.31
          Switzerland – 0.56
          UK – 0.12
          Finland – 0.43
          United States – 2.97

          Only drug-cartel overrun countries in Latin America and Zimbabwe have higher figures than the US.

          • Mark Dennehy Says:

            Firstly, those are homicide statistics. If you contemplate legislation with public safety as your metric, then it is not correct to consider homicide, because homicides are not matters of public safety; they are matters of law enforcement. Changing the law to stop someone breaking a far more serious law is evidence that you have not fully grasped the nature of the mentality that will break laws that say things like “Thou shalt not kill”.

            Secondly, they appear to be wrong anyway. Krug (“Firearm-related deaths in the United States and 35 other high- and upper-middle-income countries.”, International Journal of Epidemiology 1998) lists off South Africa, Colombia, Thailand, Guatemala, Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Estonia and Paraguay before the US for firearms homicide, all with different rates than those you’ve mentioned, and all exceeding the US by up to a full order of magnitude.

            BTW, Australia and the UK have outright firearms bans in place for various classes of firearm yet have seen their firearms homicide figures more than triple since those bans were instituted, because the reasons behind the atrocities (Port Arthur, Hungerford, Dunblane) that prompted those bans were never addressed by politicians because it was so much easier to blame the tools and ban the tools than it was to address mental health issues in the general populace (or, in the case of Dunblane, to enforce the new regulations they brought in – Hamilton would have had his firearms confiscated and would in fact have faced jail time had those laws been followed by the police, who were meant to phone the shooting club Hamilton claimed membership of when applying to renew his firearms licences — in reality, that phone call would have revealed that the club had kicked him out on suspicion that he was a pedophile, and that’s lying on a firearms application form to the police which is an offence here and there).

        • And, for good measure, robbery data (per 100,000 population):

          Australia – 78.3
          Switzerland – 56.0
          Ireland – 55.7
          Finland – 32.0
          United States – 141.8

          There is absolutely no evidence that availability of firearms produces lower crime rates. All the evidence points the other way.

          • Mark Dennehy Says:

            Actually, that’s not what the evidence and studies say. According to the National Academy of Sciences, who reviewed all available studies on the topic in 2004, there is no reliable evidence that clearly supports either position, either for gun control or against it, based on 253 journal articles, 99 books, 43 government publications, a survey of 80 different gun-control laws and its own independent study. No link between increased firearms controls and lower crime rates or homicides or even accidents with guns was found. And this was a panel established by Clinton (who introduced badly-written anti-gun legislation) and staffed by mostly (ie. all bar one) anti-gun members.

  3. jfryar Says:

    I often think the US ‘gun ownership’ laws are now viewed by some proponants as a form of the Mutually Assured Destruction philosophy once applied to nuclear weapons … if everyone has a gun, noone will have the guts to use them!

    The problem with the MAD philosophy was you had potential countries who’d use nukes despite the consequences, and the application of the philosophy in its pure form wouldn’t defend your ‘way of life’ or ‘offer security’ because that life would no longer exist.

    Unfortunately, in typical American fashion, they thought big and got rid of MAD in relation to nukes. Hopefully they’ll someday be able to think small and do the same in relation to guns.

  4. Mark Dennehy Says:

    You’re arguing to ban firearms ownership on the basis that stupid people do stupid things. But that’s not an argument to ban anything but stupid people.

    To give you an idea of how dangerous firearms are, look at the CDC’s mortality statistics for 2007 which is the latest available data from the CDC.

    Looking at the top ten causes of death, the top four are all diseases (stupid people don’t take care of themselves and eat badly, but let’s not look at that), and number five is accidental death, with 123,706 people dying accidentally.

    Of those, 613 are firearms-related accidents (see table 18 in the CDC data on page 89). That’s 0.49% of all accidental deaths.

    Let’s look at stupid people driving cars/trucks? Comes to 42,031 deaths (33.98%) of which by the way, 20,582 (that’s 48.9% of all car/truck-related deaths) are pedestrians, bicyclists, and other non-occupants; so more than 33 times as many innocent bystanders are killed by stupid people driving cars or trucks than all the people (bystanders and the stupid firearms wielders alike) that are killed by stupid people with firearms.

    How about stupid people allowed to play with fire or other hot objects? 3774. More than six times as many as were killed in firearms accidents.

    How about stupid people falling over? 22,631 (I’m not counting the 731 suicides there btw). Drowning? 3,443.

    Basicly, stupid people in cars or on high buildings or near water are far more dangerous than stupid people with guns. It’s counterintuitive because we’re raised with sensationalist media reporting, but the simple facts are that for accidental deaths, firearms are not something worth worrying about given the far more serious dangers out there.

    BUT, I hear people say, what about suicide by gun? Yes, that’s extensive in the US. 17,352 people in 2007. But banning firearms won’t solve that problem, it will only cause the suicidal people to use different means. This is a fairly well-accepted and proven point in mental health circles.

    OKAY, but what about crime? Yes, criminals use firearms. Criminals in fact killed 12,632 people in the US in 2007. The thing is, THEY ARE CRIMINALS. The US’s second amendment doesn’t cover their abuse of firearms. In fact, most of the US Penal codes exist to put criminals behind bars, and under US law if you’re using a firearm for a criminal act, you have forfeited your rights under the second amendment in even the most pro-firearms interpretation of that amendment. So criminals are simply not germane to the argument, any more than it would be germane in a discussion on car control to cite joyriders and bank robbery getaway drivers as a reason to not allow ordinary citizens to own motor vehicles privately.

    And lastly, it should be noted, all this applies to the US. Which doesn’t have the worlds worst firearms record (that would be Mexico for accidental deaths by firearm, and South Africa for homicides with a firearm – by an order of magnitude – though it does have to be said that the US does actually top the poll for suicide using a firearm).

    The US, by the way, is an unusual example in the first place, being one of very, very few countries in the world to have a modern constitution. Take a look at countries with similar (Canada) or higher rates of gun ownership under different systems (Finland, Switzerland, Germany, France) and see how much of a non-issue this all is there.

    To point out a rational approach to all this, take Switzerland. Until two or three years ago, it was completely legal in Switzerland to wander into the federal government buildings to watch their equivalent to the Dail debates from the visitors gallery while carrying a pistol concealed on your person; but you could face financial ruin for speeding in your car, lose your licence instantly for driving without cleaning the snow off your windscreen or rear window, and all forms of car racing are banned there. Why so strict on cars and so lax on guns? Because cars kill more people every year than guns kill every century, and the Swiss government addressed the more serious threat with a higher priority, instead of addressing what the sensationalist media’s bete de jour was.

    Far more sensible.

    • rigumagoo Says:

      hear, hear.

    • Sorry, that doesn’t hold water at all. The free availability of firearms helps everyone who wants to use them maliciously. In the US far more people die from firearms related issues – whether accidents or crime – than in almost any other country.

      The fact that cars also kill people is totally irrelevant. That’s a whole different issue needing its own approach. I mean, what are you trying to say? Too many people get killed by careless driving, so let’s not worry about guns? How does that make sense?

      • Mark Dennehy Says:

        It holds water quite well, it’s just not intuitive. Given how many things aren’t intuitive and are correct, that doesn’t worry me very much.

        For example; firearms are available freely in the US, *except* in 49 states. Each state has different firearms laws to every other state and with the exceptions of the extremes of places like Texas, the rules are far less extreme than most news media would portray them as. Anyone carrying a concealed firearm legally in the US, for example, is on a list with a police department somewhere (accessible federally in most cases), similar to firearms licenceing in Ireland (granted, less stringent, but our laws are draconian to the point of being penal and in violation of what everyone else consider to be human rights like privacy, medical confidentiality, and so forth).

        Also, the US’s nearest neighbours, Canada, just put in a large, modern, computerised firearms database intended to track firearms ownership and ammunition usage rates and so forth clear across the entire country. Several years on, it’s a widely acknowledged failure, which hasn’t prevented a single crime or suicide or accident, has cost ten times its original multimillion dollar budget and is going to get the chop as soon as is politically expedient.

        In other words, the controls you’re advocating *do not work* and we know they do not work because they have been tried, many times, most recently with the best technology available.

        As to cars being irrelevant, that’s stupid. As stupid as the rednecks you cited in your original argument. There is no other word that adaquately describes that thesis. You’re talking about social change in order to benefit public safety, but you don’t want to talk about the single biggest accidental killer around? One that kills one innocent bystander for every culpable idiot behind the wheel according to the statistical data the CDC collect?

        Damn right I’m saying lets not worry about guns, I’m saying let’s worry about reckless driving that kills people, let’s put in place better training for drivers, more stringent driving tests – that you have to re-sit regularly instead of once in your life – let’s bring in an annual training requirement as part of the conditions of that licence (as Ireland now does for commercial drivers), let’s improve road design and policing and enforcement of these things, because they kill more people in accidents than any other cause in the developed world. In other words, let’s do what the Swiss government did.

        And while we’re at it, let’s tackle the mental health problem, with more open acknowledgement of its existence, more funding for treatment centres and more funding to train more mental health professionals and lets get rid of the stigmata our society in Ireland in particular associates with it (we’re one of the very few western countries which have more suicides than road deaths).

        When you do those things, you will have cut the number of accidental deaths by some 40-50% and you will have hopefully cut the number of suicides by a similar amount and the total number of people you’ll save in *ONE YEAR* will exceed the number of people killed in firearms accidents in *ONE CENTURY*.

        If you want to talk about public health and safety, it is better for society as a whole to do so from a dispassionate, informed and utilitarian point of view than from the same point of view as a tabloid newspaper editor looking to sell more advertising space!

      • Mark Dennehy Says:

        And you will also find, by the way, that the majority of the firearms obtained for crime or other malicious use, are not covered by any form of licencing system and are utterly unrelated to any form of legal system you bring in; so any change to firearms law does nothing whatsoever to effect that problem.

        For an example, forget the US, and look at Ireland. In 2004-6 we saw the Minister for Justice draft the Criminal Justice Act 2006 which *completely rewrote* the Firearms Act which had been in place since 1925. Following that, large swathes of it were again rewritten by his successor in 2009. I know this because I’m a target shooter myself and I’m one of maybe twenty people in the entire country who knows what the current firearms legislation actually is (because it has 9 Acts, dozens of SIs, two EU directives, and parts from the Wildlife Acts, Road Traffic Acts, and several other places which must all be composited). In other words, our legislation is so draconian it surpasses even the wildest dreams of the anti-firearms lobby in the US, and we follow every last rule to the letter, including home inspections, audits and so on and so forth.

        And despite all this, suicide rates remain unaffected because controlling the means doesn’t control suicide rates; and crime rates using firearms have risen geometrically because criminal firearms are not bought legally, are usually smuggled in with drugs in Ireland (and in just one single seizure last year, more pistols were confiscated while being smuggled than were licenced in the entire country at the time).

        This is why malicious abuse of firearms is not a supportable reason for changing firearms legislation in *any* jurisdiction. And why blindly changing laws without knowing about the technical aspects of what those laws are meant to govern, or without at least examining the data surrounding the effects you wish to affect, is not in the best interests of that society.

  5. Dan Says:

    I forget where I saw or read it, but I remember a comedy skit that poked fun at the “guns don’t kill people, people do” argument. “Guns don’t kill people, it’s the bullets that are at fault. No, bullets don’t kill people, it’s the pointy bit at the end that do the damage. No, the pointy bit doesnt kill people, blame the wounds – they’re the fatal cause…”

  6. Cathie W. Says:

    For more weird stories involving Americans and their guns, please check out my blog – http://ohhshoot.blogspot.com/

    And Mr. Dennehy needs to go back and re-read the review from the National Academy of Sciences. Their main conclusion was that there is not enough relevant, reliable data to do an adequate assessment of gun laws. “Nevertheless, many of the shortcomings described in this report stem from the lack of reliable data itself rather than the weakness of methods. In some instances—firearms violence prevention, for example—there are no data at all. Even the best methods cannot overcome inadequate data and, because the lack of relevant data colors much of the literature in this field, it also colors the committee’s assessment of that literature.”
    Of course, the gun lobby does everything it can to prevent such data from being collected. Like passing laws in most states to keep the names of those with concealed weapons permits secret – even from the federal government.

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