Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Where I talk about guns. A lot.

This post is not meant to downplay what happened on Friday. It is absolutely tragic and my prayers are with the families and friends of the victims as well as the young students and teachers who witnessed the shooting. What is discussed in this post is not meant to belittle that.

As you may know, I am a Ph.D. student in Criminology. When I found out about the shooting I was studying for a final exam for my Guns & Violent Crime class. I do not want to get political on this blog or intentionally offend anyone. However, I have knowledge that can inform the general public as well as policymakers. If I keep quiet and let the wrong information spread, what's the point of knowledge? Having an informed conversation is what is needed at this point and that is all that I ask-- before you speak up on an issue or act on an issue, please take the time to learn about it.

I know I may not change anyone's opinion with this post. It is meant for those who are genuinely interested in the best research behind the impact of guns on crime. It is not meant to be a debate or to argue that guns are good/guns are bad, etc. 

Most of my information comes from a book by Dr. Gary Kleck titled Targeting Guns. If you are interested at all in this topic and want more detail, I highly recommend you check it out. It is based off of the best research on the topic and is not sponsored by any gun-related lobby. Due to space limitations I won't be able to go into all aspects of guns, but I will discuss some major facts.

First and foremost, there is no difference in guns that are referred to as assault weapons vs. those that are another type of semi-automatic firearm. See these scary guns?
They are no more lethal than these.
The term 'assault weapon' carries with it no special technical definition and just refers to its cosmetic, superficial appearance. In fact the term was developed by someone in the media. It refers to a semi-automatic long gun or handgun that looks scary with its black matte, military-like appearance. So, banning any type of assault weapon is just picking specific brands of guns that look scary but are NOT more dangerous than other guns.

Second, automatic weapons are banned in the US. There are a few in the US right now owned by collectors and are very tightly regulated, but they are NOT owned by criminals and are NOT used in crimes. Even the military does not like to use automatic weapons as they are a waste of ammo and are hard to shoot accurately.  

Another important point is to look at the overall use of guns in the US. According to the National Victimization Survey, guns are used in about 500,000-700,000 crimes in the US/year. That's a lot, yes. However, there are approximately 2.5 million defensive use of guns/year. This is where someone defends themselves using a gun (either through threatening with it or shooting it) when someone is committing a crime against them. This defensive gun use is not only more common than criminal gun use, but those who defend themselves are less likely to be injured and less likely to lose property

Less than 1% of all guns in the US are used to commit a crime. Think about that. There are over 280 million guns in the US today in the hands of citizens, but fewer than 1% of those will ever be used to commit a crime. This is a primary reason why completely banning guns is unrealistic.

There is a lot more that I could go into when discussing firearms and their impact on crime. Most of this information came from Kleck's book that I referenced earlier, so if you have any interest in learning more about guns and gun control, I highly recommend it. There is without a doubt a lot of information about guns out there, both correct, slightly misleading, and completely wrong. It is thus very important to look at the issue, like any issue, from both sides and gather the best research together possible to formulate a position. 

My intention for this post was to help inform you of some lesser-known facts about firearms and their policies. I do not want to start a debate about legislation. I will leave comments on in case you have a question. If there are any comments that are rude, mean-spirited, or otherwise unnecessary, they will be deleted. If you read all of this- go you! I hope it was somewhat interesting and informative.