The real impact of gun laws, and what that means

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A few years ago, Minnesota passed a concealed carry law that was strongly supported by the pro-gun lobby and strongly opposed by the anti-gun lobby. As an aside, I’ll note that this was a stupid law, as in, a law engineered stupidly by people who did not know what they were doing, and here I refer to a newly elected crop of right wing legislators who did not know how to be legislators. The original bill was added to some other bill that needed to be passed, as a “rider.” I’m sure you know what a “rider” is but you may not know unless you are from the Northstar State that we can’t have riders here. They are illegal. A bill must not establish statute related to more than one thing in the State of Minnesota. So, a provision that says “it is illegal to crush baby kittens” and a provision that says “you can carry a concealed weapon if you fill out a certain form” can not be part of the same bill. Since the concealed carry bill was a rider, it was tossed out a few weeks after it passed as a matter of routine by the state courts.

That is a bit of a digression and a bit of a distraction, but it is fun to point out because it links ignorance and failure to think things through with the pro-gun lobby and a pro-gun bill. Shortly after the ill fated and illegal bill was chucked by the court system, the legislature consulted the rule books and re-passed the bill. Thereafter we’ve had a concealed carry law.

People who were in favor of this law had gone on and on about how people needed to carry weapons, concealed, because … well, because of all the usual reasons. Someone might pull out a gun in a public place and threaten someone and if we had a concealed carry law there would be someone there to stop them. Or, even better, the mere thought that the person you were about to mug or rob or rape or attack in some other way might be armed will make a potential perpetrator think twice and not do the bad thing. And anyways, the police never got there on time so people who lived in certain places, that were either far away or that were extra dangerous, needed to be able to carry around concealed handguns. And so on and so forth.

The anti concealed carry lobby argued that if the law passed, there would be more accidental gun violence because of all these people walking around with guns stuffed into their pants or coat pockets. They were concerned that more people would shoot each other on highways over traffic altercations or in bars over stupid arguments. They thought people would take the law into their own hands in ways that were dangerous and that a wild west mentality would grip the State and increase the level of deadly violence.

And who was right? Which of these things came true? Well, actually, neither. The nay-sayers can’t really point to changes in crime rates or behaviors that increased the danger of living in Minnesota that can be traced to the concealed carry bill. But, the concealed carry proponents can’t point to any evidence that the things they wanted this law to accomplish came true either.

This means, of course, that those that wanted this bill so badly were wrong; they had strong feelings that changing statue was necessary, and were rather insistent that they were right and altering the law of the land had to happen. But their arguments have not been borne out. The trouble and tribulations of altering our criminal code were a waste of time and energy and should not have happened, unless one believes that it is OK to make up usless laws.

Of course, this assumes that the stated reasons for passing a concealed carry law are the real reasons it was supported. And, I suspect that this is not the case. I suspect that people who sell guns wanted the law passed so they could sell more guns, and I suspect that people who like to own guns wanted the law passed so they could have more fun playing around with their toys. This nonsense about needing to carry these weapons around for the greater good or for protection is just that … nonsense.

The fact that the anti-gun lobby was wrong, and that the end of civilization as we know it did not actually occur, is instructive but it is hardly important. They were not the ones arguing for a change. They were the ones arguing against the change, and they were right in the main; the concealed carry law was not needed.

None of this reasoning (or lack thereof) applies to the other kind of gun-related law that has been pushed over the last few years, enacted in seventeen states, and recently passed by the legislature but vetoed by our governor in Minnesota. I refer, of course, to the laws that expand the “Castle Doctrine” sometimes referred to as “stand your ground laws.” This is the sort of law that caused the police of Sanford Florida to not arrest a self appointed vigilante who had stalked, run down, and summarily executed a young neighbor because he didn’t like the way he looked. Apparently, the police in Florida interpret their “stand your ground law” to mean that if you feel threatened by another person at the general, philosophical or social level … like the way I feel threatened by people who habitually get drunk and drive badly … you can just identify them, stalk them, and then summarily execute them, and the police will not bother you.

The truth is that this Florida law was enacted several years ago and nothing like this seems to have happened until now, or if it has, it has not been much in the news. The truth is that a “stand your ground” law has been enacted in several states and the fundamental nature of society has not changed, and we do not have daily shootings of people who looked funny at each other sanctioned by these laws.

But, the fact (to the extent that it is true) that the laws have not changed much is in no way related to the fact that the laws are wrong and must all be abrogated. Why? Because of the test case in Florida. Simply put, there is a law on the books in seventeen states of the USA that says you can follow someone down the street, catch up to them after a block or two of them walking away from you and doing nothing threatening to anyone, and kill them on the spot, having decided that you don’t like the way they look, and that’s OK.

And the thing is, it isn’t OK. It is not OK under any circumstances to have a set of rules in our society that allow this sort of barbaric and asinine behavior to be sanctioned in any way whatsoever. The legislators who introduced, supported, and voted for these laws are idiots. The voters who elected those legislators are morons. The courts that allow the utter and widespread violation of basic Constitutional rights are blind, and not as in “blind justice” but rather, as in “What? Are you blind drunk or something?”

And the reason that this is not OK is not related to the fact that there was or was not a problem to be solved, or that the laws did or did not solve any such problems (though in truth there wasn’t and they didn’t). These laws are not OK because they devalue, deconstruct, and denigrate the basic tenants of civilized society. We as individuals set aside our own desires, often born of strong emotions, to mete out personal justice, and hand those responsibilities over to a professionalized and managed force under our employ, integrated with a system of justice based on the rule of law. That is what we do. We don’t, in contrast, summarily execute people because they are wearing a hoodie. Laws that defy the civil social contract and support the personal implementation of vigilante justice reflect medieval values that we set aside centuries ago. “Stand your ground” laws resemble ancient codes from before, or at least the early days of, the initial evolution of our justice system. They represent the worst that society managed to create in ways of being. They are several steps backwards, and that is why they are not OK.

There is something wrong with a world in which there are more guns owned with the distinct intent of using them on other humans per capita over time rather than fewer, and there is something dreadfully wrong with a political movement to un-tether the use of these guns from the mores of civilization.

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39 thoughts on “The real impact of gun laws, and what that means

  1. Good post. Of course, I may be biased because I’ve got a good deal of confirmation bias making me feel good about the first part: I have a pronounced ambivalence when it comes to gun control because I think the effect on gun violence is moderate, yet the idea of guns-as-protection is just silly in this modern world where you are far more likely to kill your spouse in the middle of the night thinking (s)he is a burglar, or randomly decide to off yourself (when you might have thought for another second and changed your mind if confined to other methods) than you are to actually defeat a burglar or mugger or whatever. Gun control laws? I’m generally in favor, but I don’t feel like it matters that much.

    I know you are a lot more pro-gun control than that — but I totally agree with you about the expanding Castle doctrine thing. That stuff is messed up, I don’t know who thinks that was a good idea…

  2. What happened is horrible, and the statute is badly worded, but I really can’t believe there’s no way to implement a broad, reasonable self-defense standard that’s resistant to this kind of abuse. I simply don’t believe that the only alternative to this kind of abuse is to require people to back down from and roll over for every violent bully in the country.

  3. I’m more pro-gun responsibility than pro-gun control. I want to see the “control” part be more about being smart than about what you can’t do. Own the damn gun if you must, but if your 14 year old blows himself away with it because you did not keep it locked up, you’re more responsible for his death than, say, vehicular homicide cases. (as an example)

  4. I’d rather see more gun responsibility laws than control laws. Such as laws requiring safety locks or certifications stating you have had training in owning a firearm as well as signing a statement saying you accept responsibility if the gun is ever stolen.

    As for making a difference, I can say that I’m alive because my state does NOT have conceal carry. In April of 2009 I heard there was a tea party protest near where I work so out of curiosity I went there over lunch. They were protesting Obama for the taxes they had to pay in 2008 (which of course was under Bush but when have you known teabaggers to let a little thing like facts get in the way). One claimed that Obama was going to destroy the christian values this nation was founded upon (but he said it with more profanity and racial insults). I asked him if he could name six of these values. He looked at me like I was the dumbest person he met for asking such a simple question. Then he realized he couldn’t answer that simple question and got pissed over it. He pointed out that six was also the number of bullets in his revolver and if I wanted my six values (again with profanity) and patted his jacket pocket as if he was carrying. I honestly believe that if he was carrying (as permitted under conceal/carry) that he would have shot me. And with all his friends there, they would have said it was self defense. As it was, I refused and left without getting killed.

  5. Greg Laden writes:

    The fact that the anti-gun lobby was wrong, and that the end of civilization as we know it did not actually occur, is instructive but it is hardly important. They were not the ones arguing for a change.

    Let me abstract a little bit, and explain why I don’t agree with what your wrote there. The abstraction is that you’re putting the burden of argument on those who want to relax how law regulates personal liberty, vis-a-vis putting the burden on those who want to regulate for safety’s sake. I would put the burden the other way around. If those who want to legalize marijuana promise it will cure cancer and cause no harm, and those who oppose argue it will increase crime rates, and the legalization results in no significant change at all, my view is that the legalization side won the debate. With neither statistical benefit nor statistical harm, err on the side of relaxing regulation. Same with helmet laws for bicycles and skaters. Or mandating life jackets for sailors. Or any number of similar regulations.

    I agree that Zimmerman committed murder. I detest the NRA. And I’m happy to balance personal liberty against safety regulation that actually makes a difference.

    But if we drop some regulation like this and no harm comes? I’m inclined to think it was a good idea. Even if forward by a bunch of wing-nuts.

  6. The carry aw was not Really the equivantof dropping a regulation. It was a law supporting a change in practice tat ace with specific promises, which never materialized.

    At best it was a draw, but really, it wasn’t.

  7. I agree with Russel no.5. I’m pretty shocked that you don’t get this Greg. This was a change…to a change (the law making them illegal to start with). Shouldn’t our government favor liberty when there is no demonstrable benefit to regulation? If 50 years of study showed that seat belts didn’t contribute to the saving of lives or the reduction of injuries, would you care if someone wanted to repeal laws that enforce the use of seat belts or would you argue to leave them in place because there is no good reason to change them?

  8. “These laws are not OK because they devalue, deconstruct, and denigrate the basic tenants of civilized society. We as individuals set aside our own desires, often born of strong emotions, to mete out personal justice, and hand those responsibilities over to a professionalized and managed force under our employ, integrated with a system of justice based on the rule of law.”

    Russell (#5) and JohnS (#7) miss Greg’s point, quoted above, which is the essence of maintaining a strong group. We humans have been, slowly, constructing society for a long time. We do so for the benefits we accrue as a whole. It seems the very nature of a society that one’s emotional impulses are set aside for the long-term good.

    Freedom and Liberty are not identical: freedom is a lack of constraint, liberty is a set of fundamentals that are supportive of a healthy society. As civilized beings we give up the freedom to do whatever we please to whomever we please because to do so is destructive of the good of the whole.

    We have been making halting progress with our society, but we are moving in the right direction.

  9. Heres the Florida website on general rules for concealed carry:

    Basically, to legally get away with shooting someone you have to believe you are in serious and imminent danger. If the person you shoot is attacking you with something not considered a deadly weapon you cant shoot him. One example they give is if you shoot someone because in the heat of an argument they attack you with a garden hose, you WILL be charged with assault with a deadly weapon. SO the problem in the Florida case seems to be more one of enforcement than letter of the law. Additionally since the shooter instigated the confrontation, I would think the need to arrest him would be even more evident.

    Personally Im in favor of both concealed carry and castle laws, but also in favor of stringent training requirements for carry and requiring a license to own a gun. I own several guns, and use them for hunting and target shooting. I also feel safer knowing that if someone tries to break into my apartment I am armed, and the law protects me if I end up in that situation. That sounds a little loony and paranoid, but when me and my wife were living in our last apartment someone tried to kick in the door. I also have a friend who had to draw a gun in a similar situation when someone broke into their apartment. I realize that you are more likely to shoot someone you wish you hadn’t than an actual robber as an over all statistic, and maybe my opinion is warped from living in cheap apartments on the not great side of town, but I still feel that in a case where someone shoots a person who breaks into their house there should be legal protection for that person rather than leaving it up to the police of DA’s decision.

    So I guess my position is that there is a place for guns, castle laws, and concealed carry, but there needs to be a balancing effort to keep guns out of the hands of the stupid and enforce the laws when gun owner break them.

  10. Alverant, your clause about “signing a statement saying you accept responsibility if the gun is ever stolen” seems like a bad idea (unless you would prefer that no rational people own guns), because the only way to be absolutely sure something can’t/won’t ever be stolen from you (regardless of precautions) is to not own it in the first place.

  11. I think there should be a law mandating all guns to be fitted with an “undo” button — and every gun owner should be made to allow a firearms inspector to test the “undo” functionality, at least once a year, by shooting them and then undoing the shooting.

  12. If you are carrying a weapon I think I’m entitled to know that about you. I promise you it’ll change how I deal with you – if I elect to deal at all. As for self protection it’s obvious that open-carry works better. Nobody fucks with people openly carrying guns!!

  13. My issue with the proposed change to Minnesota law was not that it removed the duty to retreat, but that it shifted the burden of proof. Under current law, if you shoot someone and claim self defense, the burden of proving that your actions were a reasonable act of self defense falls to you. Under the proposal, your shooting was presumed reasonable and the prosecution had to prove that it was not.

  14. hmmm…so if you are a minority and get pulled over by an officer that has racially profiled you and approaches your car with a drawn weapon…what does the castle doctrine say about shooting the officer?

    seems to me the police should hate this type of law.

  15. If you are carrying a weapon I think I’m entitled to know that about you.


    As long as that person isn’t actively shooting at you or threatening you, I don’t see that it’s any of your business any more than demanding that anyone who studies a martial art identify themselves to you.

    … and open carry even of unloaded firearms almost inevitably results in panicked phone calls from people freaked out at the mere sight of guns assuming that they’re about to be instantly murdered for looking at people funny.

    What I do love seeing here is the instant presumption that all gun owners are the same, that if you elect to carry a concealed weapon, you’re automatically some redneck asshole who will use it to threaten people.

    Funny how making snap judgments on race, gender, sexual orientation, physical appearance or any number of other factors is completely unacceptable, but assuming that all gun owners/ccw holders are the same? That’s just dandy.

  16. seems to me the police should hate this type of law.

    As a general rule I believe that they do, usually the biggest resistance to stand your ground laws comes from Police chiefs based on the argument that it’ll put their officers in danger.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t like stand your ground laws because they basically encourage vigilantism and unless you’re Batman, that’s generally a bad thing.

  17. In Minnesota, the expansion of the Castle Doctrine was opposed by the police chiefs. That is one reason the governor gave when he vetoed the bill.

  18. When it comes to gun control, the people on the front lines are the police. They are the ones who take the hit in PR when people like the guy in Florida go all vigilante on society and kill someone. They are the ones the guns in the wrong hands are often, more than any one group, aimed at and fired upon.

    So when the police organizations take a position on gun control or gun responsibility, this relatively uninformed individual tends to defer to their expertise. And I’ve yet to hear any of them be in favor of more liberal gun laws. They are not saying “Yeah. Let’s get more guns out there on the streets and let everyone and their mother carry them concealed. Makes a lot of sense.”

  19. The police would also like it to be illegal to video tape them during arrests, do you defer to their expertise there as well?

    You can’t say that the public should defer to the better judgment of the police solely on the point of gun control but then claim better judgment in every other instance.

  20. Just for the record, I do keep my guns in a safe and have never felt the need to carry one, but I do believe that the decision to carry one rests with the individual.

    That said, I would like to see stricter limits on training before someone is allowed to do so, but then I’d also like to see the driving test made as difficult as it is in Europe as well, so I guess I’m just a freedom hating liberal hippie on that point.

  21. I think that a requirement that it be locked in a safe whilst legally carrying would likely result in a great many more bludgeonings rather than shootings, so I suppose that’s a win?

  22. To No. 8 Stephen Foster: I think its pretty clear at least one of Greg’s points was that there is no need to change this as there is no benefit or detriment. Other points may indeed be fair. I agree with the fact that society gives up some freedom, especially the destructive, for the benefit of all.

    However, I want this process to be careful and no more than need be in terms of what we give up. I understand the necessity of seat belt laws considering I expect to be treated by the hospital staff in case of a car wreck. It isn’t fair of me to expect social services, if I’m engaging in a stupid risk like that. When there is an example where freedom can be increased with no detriment to society, shouldn’t we err on the side of freedom? I can’t even figure out what the other side is. How can a freedom be justifiably restricted when there is no evidence in support of the idea that the restriction betters society?

  23. This part of your argument doesn’t make sense:

    “This nonsense about needing to carry these weapons around for the greater good or for protection is just that … nonsense”

    Um, isn’t that precisely why police officers carry handguns? For the greater good or for protection?

    Look, if someone with a high school education, average intelligence, and six to twelve weeks of training can carry one around a handgun for protection then why can’t the average citizen? Especially since it seems clear to me that it’s a basic Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

    I just wish more liberals like me were into guns, because then I feel like there’d be some balance. It scares me that a good portion of conspiracy theorists, religious zealots and conservative reactionaries tend to also be gun freaks.

    From my vantage point, it’s the same as if only really, crazy religious nuts in this country were interested in exercising their right to vote.

  24. I understand the necessity of seat belt laws considering I expect to be treated by the hospital staff in case of a car wreck. It isn’t fair of me to expect social services, if I’m engaging in a stupid risk like that.

    I kind of agree, but then you have to figure that people engage in stupid activities all the time, so drawing a line at seatbelts seems kind of inconsistent.

    Even with full leather gear & helmet, you’re infinitely more vulnerable on a motorcycle than you are in a car with or without seatbelts. If one were to stop someone getting medical attention for being involved in a car crash without a seatbelt, would it not then go without saying that any motorcyclist injured in a crash should also be denied those same services?

    California has a “click it or ticket” law, I don’t really have an answer and I don’t get the inconsistency here, why ticket people for driving without a seatbelt but not ticket motorcycles just on general principle?

  25. To No 26: Well its a combination of the arbitrary “dividing line” that our society has chosen on the spectrum of “safety” and “freedom”. To get into a bit deeper, people generally view seat belts as a simple, free, way to greatly help society w/o any cost whatsoever (other than its mildly irritating). Banning motorcycles would increase safety, but (our) society views the cost to freedom as too high. Another example is worker safety. Banning diners from smoking is seen as a.) not too big an imposition and b.) very good for worker health. At the same time, we tolerate coal miners suffering far worse effects. However there is no simple way to fix this and we aren’t going to go cold turkey on coal tomorrow.

  26. I’ve not made an argument against people carrying guns.

    Indeed, but I’ll admit I’m very curious as to what you consider would be valid restrictions on doing so.

    So, what restrictions would you place on concealed carry permits and defensive gun use?

    Personally speaking, I would be happy with this;
    1: Mandatory training for concealed carry (and it should be at least as involved as a driving test).
    2: All states should therefore become shall-issue.
    3: Abolition of “stand your ground” laws. CCW holders should have a duty to retreat unless doing so would result in the death or grievous injury to themselves or another innocent party.

    That pretty much covers concealed carry insofar as I’m concerned, but for recreational gun use I would also add;

    4: Any firearm not being used as a carry weapon should be stored unloaded (or with an important part) in an approved safe (though I don’t see the point of storing ammunition separately).
    5: Mandatory registration of all new firearms in a central database. (because you will never manage to register the stuff in circulation).
    6: All firearms purchases are subject to the FBI NICS system (which should also feed the aforementioned database).
    7: Get rid of any purchasing/waiting period restrictions for any firearm other than the first, NICS is instant, there’s no reason for a delay (seriously, if I already own 4 guns, why is there a 10 day “cooling off” period on the 5th?).
    8: No arbitrary (read: California style) restrictions on firearms (California bans the weirdest shit, I think mostly to just make it look like they’re doing something, seriously, California gun laws are like trying to stamp out speeding by banning rocket powered dragsters).
    9: Standardize these practices across all States, what’s the point of California having these restrictions when Nevada & Arizona do not?

  27. Well, as I see it, if you’re the gun owner, then unlocking two safes isn’t that much harder than unlocking two.

    I can see the point in making things as difficult as possible for kids to get hold of loaded firearms, but I’d rather just see gun owners use a single, expensive, sensible gun safe than two cheap ones.

  28. @JohnS:

    I just wish there were a clearer way of divining the dividing line, it seems to largely just be influenced by whatever society happens to be focused on at any given time.

    I agree that seatbelt laws really came about because society decided the risk vs reward exchange was worth it, although I suspect it’s due primarily to media pressure, but at the same time, society is happy to let people endanger themselves and others by driving ridiculously overpowered or overweight vehicles.

    The inconsistency drives me nuts.

    I always felt that banning diners from smoking wasn’t specifically to protect the workers (not that that’s not a good reason), but that smoking pisses off every other diner about as much as someone playing the bagpipes in a confined space, even most smokers I know don’t like people smoking while they’re eating, so it’s really a case of codifying society’s attitudes as a whole.

    Ordinances banning smoking in diners are still very much a regional thing, it strikes me that if it were a safety based issue then it would be national, ie. society as a whole enforces the idea.

    So, back to the sensationalism….

    A lot of gun laws are based around the sensational, like California banning 50 BMG rifles because “nobody needs one” or because “they can shoot down a plane”, despite the fact that these things are NEVER used in crimes because they’re too bloody expensive (seriously, we’re talking $8k minimum) and difficult to conceal (again, we’re talking rifles that are a good 5-6 feet long).

    The only major crimes I’m aware of involving 50 BMG rifles were in Northern Ireland and Columbia; Both crimes were murders by terrorist organizations (the IRA & FARC respectively) and in both countries the rifles were already illegal anyway.

    Seriously, what’s the point? These things are range queens, they’re toys for playing out in the desert with. If you’re going to want to commit a terrorist act with one of these things, local gun laws are not going to stop you.

    California’s “assault weapons” laws are the same way, they’re designed around certain features that qualify a gun as an assault weapon but they were obviously drawn up by people who really didn’t know what they were doing, because all you need to do is take an AR-15, fit it with a funny looking stock and it’s just as dangerous as a regular AR-15, except that it’s legal and looks bloody stupid.

    Seriously, whose writing these laws and have they ever held a gun?

  29. Greg, I wasn’t arguing that you had.

    I am simply taking issue with how you characterize the motives of those who support a concealed carry law. I’m pretty sure there ARE those who support the legislation for the stated reasons you dismiss as nonsense, and that not every supporter is either a gun seller pushing sales or a gun owner infatuated with his/her toys.

    Sure, there are profiteers and posers, but there are also the principled and the pragmatic. The electorate is multi-dimensional (well, maybe not in The Gopher State). : )

    Overall, I think you made an eloquent and convincing argument against the “stand your ground” doctrine.

  30. The “standard” NRA response is that more guns equals more effective self-defense. What is needed is a program to put guns in the hands of people who “need” them for self defense.

    If Trayvon Martin had a gun, he would have been able to shoot that guy stalking him in self-defense first and would be alive today.

    What should be done is institute a program to get handguns in the hands of all black children and young adult so children and young adults “guilty” only of “walking while black” will be able to defend themselves.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  31. T kyoseki no: 34: I agree with a lot of what you say. I’m for sensible gun laws. As far as the dividing line being messy, well humans are messy. If you want a system of laws based on pure reason and principle, they aren’t going to come from the negotiated compromises made between pragmatic individuals. I like to view that subjectivity as the “play” in the system that makes it robust. The best example, especially in a thread on guns, is the old M16 vs ak47 argument. The ak47 has a sloppier design and construction. This causes a loss in accuracy BUT a huge increase in reliability since its simple and loose design are far more difficult to clog up compared to the intricate and fine engineering of the M16.

  32. That pop can has a shiny metal top and bottom. Cops have gotten off shooting several innocent citizens that happened to be holding shiny metallic objects. I’m betting he gets the best expert witnesses and financial backing from gun groups.


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