Friday, May 31, 2013

The good guys with guns myth Part II: Identifying good guys

Earlier, we asked whether good guys with guns are really a deterrent to bad guys with guns. Spoiler: They aren’t. Today, we’ll delve a little deeper and ask, ‘what exactly is a good guy, and how do we recognize him so that we can make sure he’s armed?’

Here are a few examples of people with guns. See if you can spot the good guys.

I don’t bring up these examples to suggest that any possession of a gun will inevitably lead to grief. Obviously, that’s not the case (though these kinds of disasters occur more often than you might think). My point is that the idea that you can protect society from gun violence by arming ‘good guys’ is absurd. Don’t you think the parents in this and every other such tragedy would have sworn that they were responsible gun owners? In the first case, the parents were teaching their son how to use a rifle from the age of four. I think it's fair to assume that they were very familiar with their own guns.

Up until the day you shoot your own granddaughter because you’ve mistaken her for an intruder, you’re a good guy with a gun. Up until the day a four year old shoots and kills your wife with a gun you left lying on a bed, you’re a responsible gun owner.

Let’s make an analogy with another dangerous invention: the car. Tens of thousands of people are killed each year in motor vehicle accidents. Many of those deaths are caused by what we could term ‘bad’ drivers, though more descriptive adjectives might be ‘reckless’, ‘inattentive’ or ‘intoxicated’. Does anyone think that a solution to the problem of bad drivers is to increase the total number of cars on the road by putting more 'good' drivers behind the wheel? Leaving aside the problem that on any given day, the same person might be a good or a bad driver, how could adding more cars to the road possibly result in fewer accidents? 

Like with drivers, there’s simply no such thing as a ‘good guy’ with a gun, there’s only good behavior and bad behavior. There’s safe behavior and reckless behavior. And just like with drivers, the same person might fall into one category one day and the other the next, depending on the circumstances. The fact is that guns are dangerous and accidents happen. The more guns in circulation, the more chance for errors in judgment, as many families have found to their sorrow.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The good guys with guns myth Part I

A common refrain heard from representatives of the National Rifle Association is ‘the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.’ At first glance, this may make a bit of sense. After all, there will always be some ‘bad guys’ out there with guns. Don’t we good guys need our own guns to protect ourselves? And more importantly, don't our guns serve as a deterrent to the bad guys?

If you think so, consider this 2009 study from the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers found that in a pool of about 1400 people, those who had a weapon were four and a half times more likely to be shot during an assault than those who were unarmed. Assault victims who had a gun were four times more likely to be killed.

Let that sink in for a moment. The people who were carrying a gun for ‘protection’ got shot far more often than the people who didn’t have a gun. According to this data, even in the scenario where you’re actively being attacked, you’re much better off if you don’t have a gun.

There are lots of statistics being thrown around about whether gun control helps or hinders attempts to curb gun violence. The truth is that there are always confounding variables. For example, Chicago has a very high gun homicide rate despite having strict gun laws. However, Chicago is not an island, and most of the weaponry used in those murders comes from outside the city limits where there are no such restrictions. This makes it very difficult to gauge the effectiveness of Chicago's gun laws.

That’s why I find this particular study so interesting. The researchers compared matched groups of people from the same community in Philadelphia that either did or did not have their own guns. That’s about as tightly controlled as a gun study can be, and the results are devastating for the ‘good guy’ hypothesis. Being armed neither deters 'bad guys' nor does it protect against their actions. 

By the way, in case you're wondering about the 'Part I' in the title, I have plenty more to say about guns. So just stay tuned.

Click here for Part II.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Good news for atheists

Perhaps you’ve heard the good news. According to Pope Francis, even atheists can go to heaven.  Of course, as an atheist, I don’t believe in any afterlife, let alone heaven. It’s a bit like being told I get to go to Middle-earth. Nevertheless, I think most atheists are pleased by the surprisingly favorable shout-out.

I don’t claim to know what prompted the Pope to make this rather extraordinary pronouncement. Perhaps he thought this news would entice the growing numbers of atheists to join the Catholic church. Though even if we did secretly believe in heaven, a common misconception about atheists, thanks to Francis’ homily, we don’t need to join the church to get there. We just have to do good deeds. If that's not a win-win situation, I don't know what is.

Whatever his motivation, the announcement did not sit well with church officials. The Vatican is busily walking back this statement from their infallible leader. Apparently, when he said atheists could get into heaven, what he really meant was that they could get into heaven after converting to Catholicism and accepting Jesus. 

To be honest, I don’t mind either way. I think it’s nice that the Pope acknowledged that we atheists exist and that it’s possible for us to be good people. That’s progress.

Monday, May 27, 2013

This Memorial Day, get the money out!

Happy Memorial Day everyone! To celebrate, here's the inaugural post of my new blog. This blog is going to tackle a whole host of social issues, many of them controversial if not downright contentious. So, let’s get the ball rolling.

As I’m sure you know, Memorial Day is a holiday set aside for us to honor and remember our fallen military personnel. It's fitting that we commemorate the lives of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Unfortunately, we have no shortage of people to honor. We seem to be in a perpetual state of aggression, if not of outright war. Why is this?

I think President Dwight D. Eisenhower hit the nail on the head with his January 17, 1962 farewell address*.

What he warned against has come to pass. The military industrial complex has become so powerful that it is seemingly unstoppable in its quest for conflict. Why should organizations whose aim is to create more destruction be given such a revered position in our society? One word: money. 

Companies that make weaponry or supply soldiers make money during times of war. They make lots of money. Thanks to Citizen’s United and other rulings, they can use unlimited amounts of that money to buy politicians. The politicians then do the bidding of the companies that bought them. This leads to those companies making even more money, and the cycle continues. 

There are groups fighting to break that cycle. Some hope to overturn the Citizen’s United ruling, but others, among them Wolf-PAC and Move To Amend, believe that the only solution is to pass a constitutional amendment limiting the power of corporations and stipulating that corporations are not people. Believe it or not, such an amendment is gaining momentum in several states. Click the links to learn more and to help push your own state into calling for a constitutional convention to pass this 28th amendment.

Obviously, we have a long hard road ahead of us before we can take back our democracy and insist that our representatives actually represent us. However, I’m an optimist by nature. I hope the time will come when we’ll be a lot more judicious in adding to the ranks of people we have to think about on days like today.

Since I posted this, an update came out about the efforts of Wolf-PAC, which I'm including here. Full disclosure, I volunteer for Wolf-PAC.

*You can read the entire speech here.