Gun Control Dishonesty

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom

Gun Control Dishonesty

by Bruce Tiemann

Tiemann presented the following piece as a speech on March 21 at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The event was sponsored by the CU Campus Libertarians. The article is reprinted from

The gun control issue usually stirs up heated discussion whenever it arises since people tend to have strong feelings, one way and the other, on the topic. Typically, people from both sides have made up their minds about the subject, and buttress arguments in favor of their position with statistics, factoids, and rhetorical arguments based on concepts such as liberty, the children, or the common good. Curiously, both sides claim they seek to accomplish the same goals, such as reducing crime and school shootings, though they would go about accomplishing this in opposite ways, in the extreme, by banning guns altogether, or requiring everyone to be armed.

I initially had no strong thoughts or feelings on the matter. But about two years ago I started noticing how much the coverage of school shootings was focusing on guns themselves, instead on the people pulling the triggers. In fact, it was what appeared to be the demonization of guns and gun owners that actually got me involved in this subject, and the more I looked, the more I found dishonesty coming from the gun control camp. The level of deceit ranges from misuse of a single word all the way through the commission of scientific-looking, and widely cited, studies which are based on logical fallacies, and everything in between. It is my position, and the title of my webpage, that deceit is central to the gun control movement. In a moment I'll enumerate several families of deception, and provide a few examples of each type, to illustrate this. An old lawyer joke, and maybe its funny because non-lawyers can't tell if it's a joke or not, goes, "If the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If the law is on your side, pound the law. If neither is on your side, pound the table." It is my contention that neither the law, specifically the Constitution, nor facts regarding crime rates, etc., support gun control - and hence, the need for a lot of very loud table-pounding.

Such as the following.

First, there are bad faith arguments, solutions advanced which on their face cannot possibly fix the problems they are being proposed to solve. For example, there was a mass shooting at a Xerox building in Hawaii in 1999, in which the shooter used a handgun to kill 9 people at his workplace. In response to this massacre, several politicians and gun-control groups called for national gun registration and gun owner licensing, because, they argued, such measures will reduce crime. But what they didn't tell you was that Hawaii already has such measures in place, and that in fact there a licensed gun owner used his registered handgun to commit the massacre. Hence, they advocated for the rest of America, a gun-control proposal which had failed in Hawaii, and they used the specific case of its failure, a mass killing, as the reason to adopt it elsewhere.

Other examples of this sort of Orwellian thinking abound. When LAPD chief Bernard Parks's granddaughter was murdered in a gang rivalry hit (Don't ask!), he called for harsher penalties to be made available for people who perpetrate crimes with guns. Her alleged murderer was caught, and is already eligible for the death penalty if convicted. How much harsher can you get?

Similarly, in response to school and church shootings, several groups, again including high-level politicians, have called for a ban on carrying concealed weapons in churches and schools. But it isn't the carry permit holders who are committing these massacres, so banning legal carry there won't stop anything - and this is even if it were true that someone bent on mass murder would be thwarted by a gun control law. "Gee, I want to go commit first-degree mass murder, nope, I guess not, can't legally carry a gun there."

Another type of deception is the misuse of words. For example, the term "cop-killer" bullets was coined by the anti-gun forces in an attempt to rouse support for their ban. These bullets were steel or bronze core, and some were teflon coated to spare the barrels of the guns they were to be shot from. They are also able to penetrate ballistic vests better than soft lead bullets can, all else being equal, which makes them "armor piercing." Of course, nearly any deer rifle bullet will penetrate nearly any ballistic vest, but these aren't called "cop killer bullets" despite being much more deadly. The deceptive word use comes from the name. Despite their anti-armor ability, not a single officer had been killed by such a bullet penetrating a ballistic vest. However, the media emphasized in its propaganda the police officers ALWAYS wear such armor - which at the time was not widely known by criminals. Consequently, some officers have since been killed by criminals taking head shots, now knowing police always wear armor. In other words, what we really have is not cop killer bullets, but cop-killer propaganda, brought to you by the gun ban lobby and the complicit and sensationalistic mass media.

Gun buy-backs reflect another insidious word misuse. As you may know, these are when police agencies offer cash for guns, no questions asked. You might not know that this puts the police in the position of fencing stolen goods, but that's a different topic. The term itself, "buy-back" is misleading since it carries the connotation that guns are the property of the police. Guns aren't bought by the police, they are bought BACK as if they came from them in the first place. This differs from stock buy-backs, when a company buys its own stock in the market, often making it go up, but here the stock really did come from that company. Gun buy-backs might even enjoy some rubbed-off favorable connotation because of stock buy-backs, except that police always offer far below-market prices for guns - and it isn't their money they are spending, it's your money taken from you in taxes. And, needless to say, stolen guns, when they do turn up, aren't usually returned to their rightful owners, but instead are destroyed with the rest of the guns collected.

Perhaps the most difficult and complex subject is that of studies or statistics which purport to show the evil of guns or gun ownership. Strictly speaking, they are true, but they are incredibly misleading.

A simple one is that 13 kids a day are killed by guns. The Bar association goes for 14 here. Actually, the number has been revised to 10, but 13 is still widely quoted. Last year here at CU, S.A.F.E. Colorado distributed flyers in the UMC calling for the protest of invited speaker Charlton Heston. It states that 12 not just youths, but "students" are killed each day by gunfire.

Before going behind the number itself, I'd like to ask you all to consider a reality check. Does it suggest to you that 12 kids in schools - STUDENTS - die each day in gunfire? If it does, how can it be possible that a certain school shooting, such as the one in Santee a few weeks ago, in which two students were killed, could possibly capture national attention for so long? After all, if 12 a day were killed, what about the other 10 that day, and the 12 the next day, and 12 more the day after that? No, probably 12 kids aren't killed in schools each day - in which case, why does SAFE say 12 STUDENTS? If anyone from SAFE is here I welcome them to explain - or retract - this particular claim.

But let's go back to the number itself. In the fine tradition of lying with statistics, the Bell campaign flyer actually tells the truth, legally speaking. (Here it is again.) It admits that the age range is 0-19, therefore including legal adults 18 and 19 years old, who can vote, marry, and die for their country. It also includes suicides as well as homicides and accidents. Since people can and do end their lives by other means than guns, including the suicides to pad the number as a reason to support gun control is dubious. Furthermore, the vast majority of the homicides are due to mid- and late- teenage gang members killing each other in drug turf battles, and consequently, including ages 18 and 19 substantially increases the total. Ironically, many of the 15-17 year olds who pull the triggers are charged as adults when they are caught, but these same people count towards 13 kids a day when they are killed. But wait! There's more! Recall that justifiable homicide is still homicide, incredibly, when felonious youths are shot by police or lawfully by homeowners, these deaths are added to the total. I must confess how much it offends me when justifiable killings of criminals are added to the "child gun death rate" in order to win support for further gun rights erosion. FYI if you distinguish "children" from adults and adolescents, which is how the dictionary defines it, and take the death rate from say, 0-14, then the number is about 1.5 a day, including suicides. You might say, and I will agree, that this number is still tragic, but then why use the number 12 or 13? I can only infer that it isn't quite tragic enough for them.

I don't mean to minimize these deaths, but the lower number now dwindles below the toll from drownings in pools and bathtubs, from poison, from falling off of ladders, and from fires, let alone car accidents, and one is left wondering why the gun control movement seeks to exploit the deaths of children to such emotional effect, when they are dying from other causes in far greater numbers.

Here's another. A famous study, penned by Arthur Kellermann, concluded "The home can be a dangerous place. We noted 43 suicides, criminal homicides, or accidental gunshot deaths involving a gun kept in the home for every case of homicide for self-protection. In light of these findings, it may be reasonably asked whether keeping firearms in the home increases a family's protection or places it in greater danger." First off, as with 13 kids a day, the 43 number includes 37 suicides, and most of the remaining 6 criminal homicides are, again, criminals known to one another, killing each other, in turf wars. From the point of view of the ordinary non-criminal household, the risk of gun ownership is far overstated by this "study."

But that only scratches the surface of how flawed it is. Quoting from Reason magazine "But since Kellermann and Reay considered only cases resulting in death, which Gary Kleck's research indicates are a tiny percentage of defensive gun uses, this conclusion [about protecting a family vs. placing it in greater danger] does not follow. As the researchers themselves conceded, "Mortality studies such as ours do not include cases in which burglars or intruders are wounded or frightened away by the use or display of a firearm. Cases in which would-be intruders may have purposely avoided a house known to be armed are also not identified." By leaving out such cases, Kellermann and Reay excluded almost all of the lives saved, injuries avoided, and property protected by keeping a gun in the home. Yet advocates of 'gun control' continue to use this study as the basis for claims such as, "A gun in the home is 43 times as likely to kill a family member as to be used in self-defense." Only those who measure the effectiveness of their police force solely by the piles of dead bodies, bad guys vs. good guys could possibly accept this study on its face, since police protect the peace by other means than just killing people. As a matter of fact, armed civilians responding to crimes mistakenly kill people misidentified as criminal less than half as often as police officers do. Besides, using the same methodology, you could also say "A gun is over 500 times more likely to be used to defend against criminal threat than to accidentally or unintentionally kill anybody" - but for some reason this statistic is not as widely cited as 43 to 1 is.

I'll finish with a third study, leading to a widely-cited statistic, which is, "a gun in the home nearly triples the risk of homicide," also penned by Kellermann. The methodology was that a group of homicide victims was identified, and matched with a "control" population of people still alive, living nearby and with similar socioeconomic and other characteristics. Then, gun ownership of the two groups was determined by interviews, of the deceased by interviewing survivors. Lo and behold, the homicide victims tended to own guns more than the similar, and still living, control members did.

Can you spot the fallacies? The study confuses correlation with causation and also the dependent and independent variables. The assertion is that having a gun in your home increases your chance of being murdered. But rather than dividing the population into gun owners and non gunowners, and then looking at their murder rates, instead the study looks at murdered people vs. non-murdered people, and looks at gun ownership levels in the two groups. It's perhaps a subtle distinction, and maybe even a bit confusing to explain, but it makes a great example of how far the gun control camp is willing to go to advance its agenda. An analogy with cancer and chemotherapy makes it clear. Does chemotherapy cure cancer? To properly answer this, one should divide cancer patients into two groups and give some the therapy and some not. (Kellerman's study already fails here since people choose whether they are to be gun owners or not.) Then, you look at survival rates for the two groups. But what Kellerman's study does is look at the people who have died of cancer, and sees how many of them have done chemo compared with a group of socioeconomically similar people, who didn't die of cancer. Obviously, people who don't have cancer won't take chemo, and won't die of cancer, but some people who do have cancer will take the therapy and die anyway. If you look at the numbers, you will find that far more people who have had the therapy will die from cancer than in the population at large, but it does not follow that taking chemotherapy then increases your risk of dying of cancer.

Going back to guns, it could be that criminals tend to be murdered, and also tend to own guns, or it could be that people who believe they are at risk of being murdered, buy guns specifically to protect themselves, but are not always 100% successful at doing so. Or, I suppose, it could be that guns emit evil gun rays, which attract murderers, who then come and kill the gun owners, which is more or less what is implied by the conclusion "a gun in the home nearly triples one's risk of homicide."

Let me mention that this study was originally published in the NEJM, and elicited many letters to the editor pointing out its fallacies. Kellerman's rebuttal is stunning in its denial that there's a problem. He wrote: "If a gun in the home affords substantial protection from homicide ... we should have found that homes in which a homicide occurred were less likely to contain a gun than similar households in which a homicide did not occur. The opposite was true." If chemo cures cancer, we should find that people who died of cancer were less likely to have had chemo than people who didn't. You would think that the NEJM would spot such an obvious flaw in methodology, being doctors and all, but they not only accepted the paper, they wrote an editorial supporting it and more gun control in the same volume.

For finishers, I'll give some bogus rhetoric and outright lies. At least here words are being used correctly, they're just lying.

Consider the Second Amendment. It reads "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." One popular argument against the individual rights interpretation is that only the well-regulated militia, that is, something like the National Guard, has the right to keep and bear arms. Why, it says it right there in the Amendment! Grammatically, it does no such thing; it is an explanatory clause, not a restrictive one. Since people who have already taken sides on this issue have already decided they know what it says, I'd like to make a parallel sentence with the same construction but a silly topic. This is important, since the emotional charge of thinking about children being gunned down in schools, tends to cloud thinking about what the Second Amendment itself is actually says.

"A well-crafted pepperoni pizza, being necessary to the preservation of a diverse menu, the right of the people to keep and cook tomatoes, shall not be infringed."

I would ask you to try to argue that this statement says that only pepperoni pizzas can keep and cook tomatoes, and only well-crafted ones at that. This is basically what the so-called states rights people argue with respect to the well-regulated militia, vs. the right to keep and bear arms.

A different angle to the Second Amendment's original interpretation has recently been clarified. Some people concede that that article protects an individual right, and that its central purpose was actually to repel tyranny. Basically, in fact, to enable citizens to overthrow the government. But, these people also say, that article was written in a bygone era, and the Second Amendment is now an anachronism. Why, they say, we don't need guns anymore, especially not so-called assault weapons, to overthrow a tyrannical government, since we vote and therefore tyranny is impossible in America today, nevermind that the Framers set up that vote in the first place. It's interesting to point out that many of the people who hold this opinion most strongly also believe that George W. Bush stole the Florida election and is now ruling illegitimately!! Whoops!

Let me close on a very common talking point, Why not treat guns like cars? After all we license drivers and register cars, why not license gun owners and register guns? First off that is a great rhetorical debate tactic since it's a question, why not treat guns like cars? If you can't answer it right up front, you lose, and are pushed into agreement by default. What, you don't have an answer? Well then! First of all, those seeking to change something so fundamental as the right to self-defense, bear the burden of showing why this should be done, as opposed to placing the burden on others to show why it shouldn't be.

Well, they continue, registration is needed to keep guns out of the criminal hands, which will reduce crime. That's deceptive in two different ways, first since cars are used criminally to as getaway vehicles in bank robberies, and as an essential element of drive-by shootings, and registration doesn't stop this at all, see Hawaii, and second, since the Supreme Court has already held that criminals are specifically exempt from gun registration, since it violates their right against self-incrimination. (Since registration is admission of ownership, and since criminals can't legally own guns, they can't be forced to register them without self-incriminating. Thus, ONLY non-criminals would have to register, and go into the database, while criminals owning guns illegally are not affected. How does that reduce crime?)

Then, of course, is the small matter of accuracy; treating guns like cars is not what they really want. For one, you are not required to license or register unless you seek to drive on public roads. On your own private property, your underage, unlicensed, blind kid can legally drive your unregistered race car all day long, without a wearing seatbelt, without signaling turns, and without any speed limits. Legally. Just not on public roads. But gun registration proposals always criminalize possession of unregistered firearms on private property. Though there are no legal limits to how powerful a car can be (despite speed limits) there are legal limits to the power of guns people may own. Though a driver's license is good in 50 states, not so for gun licenses. Similarly there are no background checks for cars, and felons may legally purchase them for cash, but not so with guns. In fact, treating guns JUST LIKE CARS leads to some pretty outrageous consequences, favorable to the gun-rights side, and it might not be such a bad idea after all, except that, as by now you are beginning to suspect, it isn't what the antis really mean when they suggest it.

I'd like to leave you tonight with a parting thought. For most of the talk I have tried to illustrate examples of how the gun ban lobby misleads in order to sway public opinion in favor of increased restriction of self-defense rights. If I have been successful, you will leave here not only with an awareness of the specific examples I've selected, but also of the methods they employ, and even a vigilance to detect other such arguments in the future. If you are more interested in the matter, I urge you to look for yourself at the arguments that both sides put forth - check out, for example, Handgun Control Inc. and the Violence Policy Center, as well as the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Sisters. Critically weigh the claims of both sides, and see for yourself what they are saying, and what they are leaving out.

And please also ponder the following. If gun control really were beneficial, righteous and for the children, why do those who support it employ arguments such as the above? And if it isn't beneficial, righteous, or for the children, what is it, what and who is behind it, and what they really trying to accomplish?

The Colorado Freedom