Book review: Every Handgun is Aimed at You
As you might have guessed from a couple of posts excerpting the book, I purchased a (used) copy of Every Handgun is Aimed at You; The Case For Banning Handguns written by Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center. The raw hyperbole of the title is continued through most of the book, blaming most of the violence in society on the easy availability of handguns, going so far as to say “The reality is that America’s gun violence problem has less to do with the people who have guns than the guns the people have [p188].” I will give him credit in one major area: He is up front with his goal. He makes no pretence of being for “reasonable restrictions,” he wants a complete ban. It is nice to see them have the honesty to say it.
He argues that the Second Amendment has not been held by the courts to restrict the ability to ban handguns, which might have been true at the time, but the recent decision in D.C. v. Heller invalidates that argument. The Second Amendment has been held to protect an individual right to bear arms, and handgun bans have been held to violate that right.
He relies on work like that of Michael Bellesiles, and Arthur Kellerman. Bellesiles is the author of Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, a book so flawed that (after Sugarmann’s book was published) the Bancroft Prize he received for the book was rescinded, and Bellesiles resigned his professorship in disgrace after a committee at Emory University investigated him and found him “guilty of unprofessional and misleading work.” A study by Kellerman and others is frequently used, claiming that a gun in the house is 43 times more likely to kill someone in the house than to be used in a self defense justifiable homicide. There is a large body of work out there debunking the Kellerman study, but two main points are: the majority of the cases that Kellerman looks at are suicides, not homicides or accidents, and Kellerman also only counts defensive gun uses when the criminal is killed. The majority of defensive gun uses end without a shot even being fired, with the criminal surrendering or fleeing when faced with a gun.
A chapter focuses on gun use in suicide, and while it may be true that in a few cases the availability of a gun gives someone the opportunity to end their lives, in a case where they might not have, had the means not been available, most people who want to end their lives find the means. He also points to areas in the U.S. that have higher rates of both suicide and gun ownership, many countries where handguns are banned or severely restricted have equal or higher rates of suicide compared with the U.S.
He goes on to claim:
“The link between handgun ownership and suicide was decisively established in a 1999 study of California handgun buyers that showed that the suicide rate during the first week after the purchase of a handgun was 57 times higher than for the population as a whole. [p39]”(Italics in original)
I think it’s easy to see the flaw in the cause and effect relationship here. The author seems to say that it proves people that have guns are more likely to commit suicide, or at least more likely act on suicidal urges. I would say that the more likely scenario is that people who are already suicidal are more likely to buy guns, to acquire a means to act on their suicidal feelings. This would tend to support the contention that suicidal people will find a means of committing suicide, rather than most suicides resulting from an impulse that is only acted on because a means is at hand.
A big deal is made over the fact that most homicide victims know their killer, including family member, friends, and intimate acquaintances, implying that arming yourself will do little or no good in these circumstances, and the person that chooses to arms themselves may only be providing a weapon for an attacker. He goes on to say that in 1997, there only 14 self defense justifiable homicides involving a female shooter, proving that there are very few instances where a woman shoots and attacker. However, of the 14, half involved a person known to the woman, six were strangers, and in one case the relationship was unknown. While this may prove that self defense shootings by women are rare, it would also disprove his contention that arming yourself is ineffective because most attackers are known to their victim.
Regarding the Evil Gun Lobby, Sugarmann can’t seem to keep his story straight, one minute the gun lobby is an almost unstoppable powerhouse, the next minute withering and dying.
Sugarmann also makes several claims of racism, including that Charlton Heston’s saying “The Constitution was handed down to guide us by a bunch of those wise old, dead, white guys who invented this country. It’s true–they were white guys. So were most of the guys who died in Lincoln’s name, opposing slavery in the 1860s. So, why should I be ashamed of white guys? Why is Hispanic pride or black pride a good thing, while white pride conjures up shaved heads and white hoods?” was evidence of a deep seated racism. Remember, Heston marched with Martin Luther King, in a time when it wasn’t necessarily the popular thing to do. And as I read Heston’s statement, I see the opposite of racism, I see an affirmation that it is alright to be proud of your race, whatever race you happen to be.
I already addressed his contention that handguns disproportionately affect minorities. It boils down to: You cannot contend that handguns are the main problem, when the homicide rate is higher, and the gun ownership rate is lower in minority communities.
In the last chapter, the author goes over a lot of reasons “common sense gun laws” don’t work. While his answer is to ban all handguns, instead of reduce the number of ineffective gun laws we have, it is good to have it in their own words that things like trigger locks, safe storage laws, and “smart guns” don’t work [p188-192].
Overall, it is an interesting look at the gun control crowd’s view of the world. The arguments he makes could be somewhat convincing if you are not aware of many of the problems with his arguments, but mainly on an emotional level.
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