Over the weekend, The New York Times ran an op-ed by Daniel J. Levitin, a professor, scientist, and author, who recounted an incident in which an alleged burglar was casing his residence while he was home. Initially, Levitin grabs his gun and calls the police. But then he realizes, “There is nothing in my home worth a man’s life,” and instead of confronting the man, decides to exit the house, flee to a nearby street corner, and wait until the police arrive. I suggest you read the entire column. In the closing paragraphs, he argues that guns don’t make us safer and that owning one “feels rational, even if it isn’t.”
We all know the statistics that guns don’t make us safer. But we fool ourselves into thinking that those statistics don’t apply to us, just as we all think we’re better-than-average drivers, and every gambler thinks he can beat the house. In the same way, we reach for guns because if there is a confrontation, we don’t want to be unprepared and we think we will beat the odds.
We are a planning species. We buy fire insurance though most of us will never need it. So I’m keeping my guns nearby, just in case. It’s what feels rational, even if it isn’t. And for one more night, I will go to bed as someone who has not killed another human being.
Levitin cited stats in the article that suggested that having a gun in the home doubles the risk of violent death and another that suggested unintentional fatal shootings are twice as common as justifiable gun homicides.
The problem with these stats is that they are junk or, at the very least, grossly misleading. Let me debunk the first stat which comes from a 2004 study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The problem with the study is that, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t differentiate between lawful gun owners and criminals with firearms in its findings.
Put another way, there’s no doubt that if your roommate is an armed drug dealer with a boatload of unsecured black-market street guns under his bed, your chances of dying violently do increase. That’s a no-brainer. Compare that household with your Uncle Jerry’s ranch in Mesa, Arizona. Uncle Jerry keeps some hunting rifles and shotguns in a locked safe and a pistol in a biometric safe in his nightstand.
Per this study, there is no difference between the two. No accounting for the drug dealer versus good old Uncle Jerry. The failure to discern between the two environments leads one to falsely conclude that guns in any home make it a dangerous place to live.
Yet, it’s important to distinguish between the two scenarios because what we do know, in general, about gun violence in this country is that the vast majority of it is perpetrated by prohibited persons, those banned from owning firearms in the first place. We’re talking drug addicts, gang members, felons, mental defectives, among others. We’re not talking about Uncle Jerry and his hunting buddies.
Think about it. The city of Chicago had nearly 800 murders last year, roughly 7 percent of the all the gun homicides in the U.S. (assuming there were approx.12,000 total gun homicides). Who do you think was responsible for all those murders?
Yeah, again, it’s not Uncle Jerry and his Remington 700. What makes a home dangerous is not the tools in the yard or the cutlery in the kitchen or the guns in the safe, but the individuals who live there. That should be self-evident. It’s the company you keep, stupid! Pal around with pimps or gang-bang with thugs on local street corners and one shouldn’t be surprised if one ends up pushing daisies. Yeah, no thanks, I’ll crash with Uncle Jerry.
The second study is even more suspect because it was produced by the anti-gun think tank, the Violence Policy Center. It claimed that there were “259 justifiable gun homicides (that is, people turning the tables on an aggressor), but more than twice as many unintentional fatal shootings,” according to Levitin.
That 259 number is probably inaccurate because tracking justifiable homicides is an inexact process. But even if it is accurate, the reality is that defensive gun uses, instances were good guys use firearms to defend themselves — that includes justifiable gun homicides as well as non-lethal confrontations where, for example, brandishing a firearm is enough to eliminate a threat — are at least as common as instances where criminals use firearms in the perpetration of crimes.
That’s not my own claim, but that of, guess who? The CDC. A 2013 Centers for Disease Control report stated the following on the subject of DGUs:
Defensive uses of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence, although the exact number remains disputed. Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year, in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008.
So, yeah, guns are used at least as often by good guys to defend themselves as they are by bad guys to commit crimes. At the very least, the presence of guns in our society has a net neutral effect, but more likely a net positive effect given the data. Additionally, one could argue that guns, in fact, make us safer when one examines the expansion of concealed carry laws over the past decade and the corollary across-the-board drop in crime, including violent crime, property crime, and homicides.
Before I go there is still one thing that needs to be addressed. The collectivist mindset of Levitin. He writes, “We all know the statistics that guns don’t make us safer.” To be honest, aside from national defense as it relates to our men and women in uniform and a run-of-the-mill municipal police force, I’m not really interested in what makes us safer, I’m interested in what makes me safer.
On that front, I know that owning a firearm is 10 percent hardware and 90 percent software. Anti-gunners don’t understand this. They don’t get that getting the gun is only the beginning of responsible gun ownership. Learning how to safely store it and use it with confidence in all conditions, including high-stress situations, is really what keeps one from becoming a statistic.
As someone once said, you will fight as you’ve have trained. If you fail to train, you can’t expect to put up much of a fight. My advice to anyone — including Levitin — who keeps and bears arms is simple: practice, practice, practice and train, train, train. It’s through this dogged commitment to perfecting one’s software that one can expect to “beat the odds,” even if those odds are actually in one’s favor.