NY Times Op-Ed: Gun Ownership ‘Feels rational, even if it isn’t’

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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.

About the author: S.H. Blannelberry is the News Editor of GunsAmerica.

{ 33 comments… add one }
  • Mike April 3, 2017, 2:42 pm

    Who let’s idiots like this professor of no wisdom have such a public forum to speak on. This turd has likely never seen a gun in person. As is typical a left wing nut comes out of the bastion of liberalism called higher education. A put on by people who have never left college to experience the real world

  • elgavilansegoviano April 1, 2017, 10:51 pm

    ………America, remember that the NY Times is own and paid for by the Mexican Drug Kingpin Carlos Slim, he also owns Univision, channel 41, TeleMundo, Radio stations, TV stations, and many more, This SOB is the Mexican Soros, and he is also in the same quest as Soros, so what can you we all expect, they want to Disarm America so they can do what ever they want with out any repercussions!!,……Doe it ring a bell??,…….does it sounds like what is happening in his country Mexico!!,…The Rich, Corrupt Lefty, Liberal, Oligarchy, running the Drug Business, Controlling the Media, controlling Public Opinion, Corrupt Politicians, The Military, and you the regular Joe, unable to do crap about it!!…….Well they didn’t counted on DONALD TRUMP and the American Patriots!!,…….USA!,….USA!,…..USA!,……..and lets make sure the WALL is very Tall!!,…..

  • Frank April 1, 2017, 8:44 am

    The author did hat he thought was right under the circumstances, and I can’t disagree. I wouldn’t want to shoot someone unless I had to,and I was military for 24 years… certainly don’t have a problem shooting someone if necessary . But he did grab his gun for protection if he did need it — like he ran into one of the robbers while exiting or was followed out. As others have said, he was the only one in the house. If there had been others to consider (wife, kids… the dog…) I’m not so sure he would have just left. Maybe tried to get them and leave and avoid a confrontation. Wouldn’t be a bad idea, just hard to do. And if there was a confrontation, he was ready.

  • Chad March 31, 2017, 6:36 pm

    I live in a fairly low crime rural area that being said there’s just enough meth heads and dipshits running around that covets what my ass works 50 hour weeks for I carry no matter what !!!!

  • jd March 31, 2017, 5:47 pm

    The author does not understand that once criminals find any easy touch they keep coming back. it is like black mail. it never ends. if you open your door to a criminal and make it easy pickings they will be back again. this guy thought about retreating to his neighbors and waiting for the police. How many times do the criminals leave the area before the police show up? What will the criminal do when he finds out crime pays again and again? come back again and invite his friends along for the easy profitable pickings. that is just common logic.

  • Willard March 31, 2017, 2:29 pm

    I have not, and will not believe any story coming from the New York Times nor the Washington Post since they have at least an 87% registered Democrat work force (3 years ago) and are dedicated to the Leftist and Liberal ideals of reporting only what serves their Leftist purposes. News is news and should be reported as facts, not edited to serve an agenda. Slanted news is propaganda. Sooner or later the American public will realize what BS these Leftists have been handing out as news for what it is: Total propaganda in order to keep their FCC and other licenses to broadcast. To date, ABC, NBC and CBS (to a lesser extent) are following the money. Their once respectable reportage is now just parroting what they have been told not to report and what to report in language to influence the Public towards the ideal. Who is responsible? Look above the Constitutional Government we all believe in. We Americans are being had, every day, until we finally think the news is correct. Wake up!

    • Willard March 31, 2017, 2:37 pm

      I was under the impression that my comments were my own and was sure I did not step on toes. I do NOT like the idea that my comments are “under moderation”. What I wrote is totally moderate and much less than what it could have been. It sounds like censorship by someone. Who “moderates” my writing, please? If no cogent answer I will report this site to all.

      • R.H. March 31, 2017, 4:51 pm

        Keep cool Willard, they’re just making sure your comments are within “reasonable” standards – it’s pretty normal on many sites. I’m sure they get some real wackos that post absolute garbage and filth – this is a pro-gun website. I’m not criticizing you, just trying to explain why…

  • R.H. March 31, 2017, 2:01 pm

    This is nothing more than his opinion. He doesn’t want to take a life and will run away to avoid a confrontation. That was an option for him. Personally, I will not be run out of my home because a burglar wants to enter it, nor will I force my family to flee. I assume he has no training and likely doesn’t practice. He likely incidentally received his firearm. I also assume he had no plan for such an incident so he probably did the right thing. On the other hand, I do have extensive training and many plans. The bottom line for me is this: If the bad guy doesn’t comply with my instructions to the letter, he will likely be fired upon, center mass. My family members also know the rules and are trained so same goes for them. No one wants to kill or seriously injure someone, however, no one wants to be a victim either. If you present a firearm in a confrontational situation you better be prepared to use the firearm, know the law where you live and you better be justified in using deadly force. Based upon what I read in this article, Mr. Levitin was not prepared in any way and he correctly chose to flee instead of fight. This in no way means we all should follow his example.

  • Chris March 31, 2017, 12:42 pm

    In the story above, I believe the author did the correct thing, get your gun, call the police and get out (I’d call the police after getting out, but whatever). However, it’s only the right thing if you are the only one there and there is a safe path out of the house. If your kids are on the other side of the house, what then? I’m coming out 12 gauge first (XD Mod2 for backup) and they’d better run.

  • Kellen Quick March 31, 2017, 12:32 pm

    I feel my life and the lives of my family members are worth more than any assailants.

  • mauser6863 March 31, 2017, 12:20 pm

    Hopefully, the Author of the story made the whole thing up. I would be interested to know the date this occurred in Los Angeles, as LAPD would have a record of the arrest. If it is actually true, then Mr. Daniel J. Levitin has committed at least two criminal acts in the State of California and has confessed to it in the New York Times article.

    In the article, he says he received the Shotgun and the Pistol from an aging relative, which is how he became a gun owner. He does not mention obtaining a California Handgun Safety Certificate or completing the Private Party Transfer of these firearms at a licensed dealer and going through the mandatory 10 day waiting period and DROS process.

    All of these steps are required even if transferring a firearm from one relative to the next. The only exception is for Antique Weapons and for Spouses/Domestic Partners, who must still obtain a California Handgun Safety Certificate in order to possess a pistol, even if only for a temporary loan. If true, both Mr. Levitin and his unnamed relative have committed multiple crimes and need to be prosecuted to the full extent of California Law.

    Mr. Levitin is probably the same celebrity music professor I found on a Google search. If so, I’m sure he feels that the laws do not apply to him. He did nothing wrong, didn’t know, etc, He is a good person, blah, blah, blah. In my opinion, he still needs to be prosecuted for his crimes of illegally obtaining firearms without a background check, not registering his handgun. He’s acting like a common street thug and should be punished the same. No one should be above the law, period.

    Holding my breathe

    From the California DOJ Website:

    Firearms dealers are required to process private party transfers upon request but may charge a fee not to exceed $10 per firearm for conducting the transfer. For example:

    For a private party transfer involving one or more handguns, the total allowable fees, including the DROS, safety, and dealer transfer fees, are not to exceed $35.00 for the first handgun and $31.00 for each additional handgun involved in the same transaction.

    For private party transfers involving one or more long guns, or a private party transfer involving one handgun, the total allowable fees, including the DROS, safety, and dealer transfer fees, are not to exceed $35.00. The dealer may charge an additional dealer-service fee of up to $10.00 for each additional firearm.

  • 2War Abn Vet March 31, 2017, 12:04 pm

    Failure to possess the means to protect yourself and your family may make you feel tolerant and smug, but leaving them open to the tender mercies of criminals just makes you stupid.

  • gary March 31, 2017, 11:59 am

    you are again DEAD wrong ………….. the life of myself and family is worth more than the life of an invading low life. Yes, material goods can be replaced but my wife can not. So as we say in the south, ESAD!!!!! To the burglars of course, and your OPINION like most journalist these days STINKS like so much excrement………

  • Charles Glenn March 31, 2017, 11:37 am

    It is not for me to decide if my stuff is worth someone’s life. The decision is up to the thief. Come in and try to get it if you like, but you need to decide if it’s worth getting lead poisoning over first! The courts don’t seem to be able to stop thieves, but the graveyard will!

    • GeoInSD March 31, 2017, 12:38 pm

      What many people don’t understand is that property is important. Every person has a finite lifetime. The money you earned in life you basically sold your time or energy or intellect to get. You bought your property with the money you earned. So basically, a thief is stealing part of your life and you won’t be able to get that part of your life back. You can earn more to buy that stuff again, but you won’t be able to get that time/energy/intellect back that you exchanged to get the original property. Some people don’t believe in private ownership, but I am not one.

  • Mister Ronald March 31, 2017, 11:33 am

    This guy did the smart thing by just leaving the house and standing on the corner until the Police arrived.
    This way if the burglar was gone by the time the Police got there, He could rob another house on another day and possibly kill a homeowner in the process.
    Yes, He sure did the right thing.

  • Cam March 31, 2017, 10:29 am

    The New York Times is a crap business, they say all this bull shit and have disabled and removed comments sections so people can’t call them on third bull shit.

  • Fleet Feet Running March 31, 2017, 10:15 am

    Another fool moving through life, self-identifying as nothing more than the lowest common denominator in some set of statistics. May your fate be equal to the non-exceptional standards that you aspire to.

  • Jerm March 31, 2017, 9:44 am

    Nothing in his house worth killing for…Try yourself? Is your life, your partner’s life, your kids life not worth killing for? Just because some liberal I know everything professor doesn’t think so doesn’t mean he can take my guns away.


  • Cyrus March 31, 2017, 9:08 am

    OK – so I will go out on a limb with this story here and assume that the professor, scientist, and author lives in NYC. If so I cry Bull Shit to the whole story. In order to get a permit to legally own a gun in NYC you would have to be God! There are 5 boroughs in NYC (Manhattan, Bronx, Stain Island, Queens & Brooklyn) and if you by some means you did secure a permit it would only be good in that Borough! Getting a permit is almost impossible there! Please feel free to chime in should you live in the 5 Boroughs . . .

    • GeoInSD March 31, 2017, 12:40 pm

      Just because a person works in NYC doesn’t mean one necessarily lives there. I know people that worked in or near NYC and lived in NJ or Connecticut and commuted every day.

    • Max May 16, 2017, 5:35 pm

      Yes, I do live in one of the boroughs, namely Manhattan. Getting a “Residence Premises permit” is a major PITA, however possible, given time, money and energy to go through multi-layer bullshit around the whole process. Good for 3 years and renewal is automatic as long as you come up with $300. Once you get it, you can take your gun to shooting range approved by NYC PC (meaning you can’t take it outside of 5 boroughs), gunsmith and pretty much that’s it. You’ll need a hunting sticker on your permit to take it to the woods. And, of course, permit is only valid for the address stated on it and not anywhere else in USA. NY State permit is NOT valid in NYC. Now getting a Carry Permit is practically impossible – you’ll have to prove that you’re carrying thousands of $$ daily or change your name to Robert De Niro.

  • Jose Delgado March 31, 2017, 8:56 am

    That’s a great story. It tugs at the heart and makes you think about the fact that things are replaceable and not worth a person’s life. Im not sure how the writer was able to determine the individuals intent but I would pay a lot for the ability to see into a person’s heart. The fact is we don’t know the motivation of an individual. In the case cited it may have been just someone who wants your stuff but what if what they want is you or your loved ones? Then how do you wipe a way violence perpetuated against your child or even your person and why shouldn’t you be free in your own home?
    The author was lucky to just be up against someone with theft on their mind and not rape.

  • Robert March 31, 2017, 8:46 am

    Guns in homes……For hunting or recreational such as skeet is one reason…….The other…….Society……..Just over the last eight years……How many back ground checks have been done? How many NEW gun owners? Our society has changed…….Enforcing laws, such as immigration….NOT doing the enforcing has resulted in criminals coming into the country, racial tension and anger made more so………Our society has broken down……..

  • martin davis March 31, 2017, 7:39 am

    The homeowner was a pussy!

  • shrugger March 31, 2017, 3:07 am

    I’d argue that there is in fact at least one thing in your home that’s worth a mans life.

    • gerald serlin March 31, 2017, 10:59 am

      I’d argue that a thug intent on burglarizing, or robbing you of your property…well his life just doesn’t matter.

  • Mark N. March 29, 2017, 2:28 am

    The VPC study is garbage because it suggests that all defensive gun uses result in a shooting of another human being, and that that other human being will necessarily die. This is utter hogwash. The vast majority of defensive gun uses, according to a variety of sources including the CDC do not involve shots fired. Most criminals would rather flee that find out if the gun holder is willing to shoot; they are after all risking their lives to find out for sure, and most won’t. Moreover, statistics indicate that roughly 7 out of 8 persons shot with a handgun survive; hence, recognizing that the justifiable homicide figure is highly suspect due to a lack of reporting, the number of persons shot in defensive gun uses is very likely far higher than the figure that the VPC likes to tout.
    Last but not least, the “statistics” of the risk of being shot with your own gun include all suicides with firearms, incidents that are certainly not accidental and maybe not even criminal. Moreover, suicide statistics are stable over time, and are in many ways a cultural phenomenon; just as many people in Japan commit suicide as in the US, despite its much smaller population. And the Japanese don’t use guns. Guns do not cause suicide; hence it is an illegitimate exercise to include those statistics in the count.
    I do not fault the author for deciding not to confront the burglar; that is indeed the most personal of choices. However, I might suggest that he revisit the statistics from other than the gun banning left and realize that he might very well protect himself adequately and without firing a shot by informing the burglar that his presence is known, that the owner is armed, and that the police have been called.

    • Ahmed N. Dangerous March 31, 2017, 10:33 am

      Exactly, Mark. The VAST majority of successful defenses of self with a firearm don’t even require one to point, or even brandish, the weapon. The presence of the firearm itself, once it’s presence becomes known, is usually enough to make the perp depart–usually with great dispatch. In addition, let’s consider the source of this article: NYT? Please, let it suffice to say that the once great newspaper has become a propaganda rag for the left–it might be useful to start fires with, and I’m not even sure about that.

    • GeoInSD March 31, 2017, 12:49 pm

      That NYC author makes the assumption everyone has the option to bug out. Sure, his scenario, that was the case, but others only have the option of being killed/raped or kill the bad guy. It is simply stupid or dishonest of him to assume that everyone has the same options.

  • Daniel Levitin March 28, 2017, 12:39 pm

    you’re absolutely correct. The gun ownership statistics are from a heterogeneous set and not easy to partition. That’s part of the equation that didn’t make it into my NYT piece due to space limitations and editorial dept. editing. Thanks for your clarity of thought.

  • William Kelly March 28, 2017, 11:58 am

    The only problem with this article is that you are “Preaching to the Choir”. We all know the stats are fudged to make gun owners look bad. What really needs to be done is to get articles like this out to the Liberal masses that read the drivel put out by these Lefty media giants…

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