Mashed Potato Bulletin

A journal grappling with the mish-mash of American politics

Brian Carter

Brian Carter
Northern, California, USA
October 23
My professional and academic background is fairly broad including a Bachelor's in Cultural Anthropology, a Master's in Environmental Science along with a hefty injection of world history in the mix. Professionally, my experience is in public health and environmental health where I have been lucky enough to work with people from varied backgrounds and cultures. I started the Mashed Potato Bulletin to explore answers to questions not being asked and to insert, hopefully, a broader perspective into the current conversation. -----------------------------------


JANUARY 31, 2013 2:56PM

Gun Control Debate: A few facts

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    Given the numerous calls for the gun control legislation after the multitude of mass shootings this past year alone and the subsequent debates across the country taking shape now, it goes without saying many a gun control proponent has found themselves in an elongated back and forth with a pro-gun advocate. Much the rhetoric from the pro-gun side includes claims that “They’re taking away our guns” or “Obama is violating the 2nd Amendment, impeach him” or “Gun laws don’t work”. Much of this rhetoric sprouts from any number of right-wing blogs or Fox News opinion page and of course from the current leader of the National Rifle Associate, Wayne LaPierre whose recent comments have yet to endear him in the minds of American public.

    The debates many of us find ourselves entrenched in may seem daunting given the support the pro-gun individuals appear to have, especially for those who claim gun laws are not effective. They will launch into a flurry of copied and pasted statistics with many focusing on Chicago since that is Obama’s hometown which serves a poster child for how these laws don’t work given the city’s high crime rates. But in response it’s worth pointing out that the Supreme Court ruled against a city-wide handgun ban in 2010. In response city officials sought to tighten registration requirements. This is also used as an apparent argument supporting the pro-gun side since gun-related violence continues in high numbers. But there’s a caveat to this. One in ten of the guns used in shootings within the city of Chicago were either bought outside of the city limits are across state lines, in places like Mississippi which has less restrictive terms for the purchase of firearms. The city’s gun laws are circumvented in this way beyond the jurisdiction of the Chicago’s laws. This is also the case with other cities and states with tighter gun restrictions.

     Now, when the debate moves into the broader realm of “Gun laws don’t work,” then here are a few references to lob over an opponent’s head, a few scientific, peer -reviewed sources that may just be of use.

From the Harvard Injury Control Research Center:

1. Where there are more guns there is more homicide (literature review).

Our review of the academic literature found that a broad array of evidence indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for homicide, both in the United States and across high-income countries. Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the US, where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.

Hepburn, Lisa; Hemenway, David. Firearm availability and homicide: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior: A Review Journal. 2004; 9:417-40.

2. Across high-income nations, more guns = more homicide.

We analyzed the relationship between homicide and gun availability using data from 26 developed countries from the early 1990s. We found that across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded.

Hemenway, David; Miller, Matthew. Firearm availability and homicide rates across 26 high income countries. Journal of Trauma. 2000; 49:985-88.

3. Across states, more guns = more homicide

Using a validated proxy for firearm ownership, we analyzed the relationship between firearm availability and homicide across 50 states over a ten year period (1988-1997).

After controlling for poverty and urbanization, for every age group, people in states with many guns have elevated rates of homicide, particularly firearm homicide.

Miller, Matthew; Azrael, Deborah; Hemenway, David. Household firearm ownership levels and homicide rates across U.S. regions and states, 1988-1997. American Journal of Public Health. 2002: 92:1988-1993.

4. Across states, more guns = more homicide (2)

Using survey data on rates of household gun ownership, we examined the association between gun availability and homicide across states, 2001-2003. We found that states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide. This relationship held for both genders and all age groups, after accounting for rates of aggravated assault, robbery, unemployment, urbanization, alcohol consumption, and resource deprivation (e.g., poverty). There was no association between gun prevalence and non-firearm homicide.

And from Kanuk, a blogger who has done a significant amount of research on this topic;

1) Hidden Homicide Increases in the USA, 1999-2005. Journal of Urban Health Jul2008, Vol. 85 Issue 4, p597-606:

Abstract: Prior to 1999, dramatic fluctuations in homicide rates were driven by changes in the rates of firearm homicide among men aged 15-24. Since 2000, the overall homicide rate has appeared stable, masking any changes in population subgroups. We analyzed recent trends in homicide rates by weapon, age, race, gender, state, and urbanization to determine whether the risk of victimization increased substantially during 1999-2005 for demographic subgroups. The analysis of WISQARS (TM) data and Wonder data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed no trend in the homicide rate nationally between 1999 and 2005; this obscured large increases in firearm homicide rates among black men aged 25-44 and among white men aged 25-34. Between 1999 and 2005, for ages 25-44 combined, the increase for black men was 31% compared with 12% for white men. Significant increases among men aged 25-44 occurred in Alabama, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington. The firearm homicide rate increased the most in large central metropolitan areas (+32%) and large fringe metropolitan areas (+30%) for men aged 25-44. We conclude that the recent, unrecognized increases in firearm homicide among men aged 25-44, especially black men, in large metropolitan areas merit the attention of policymakers.

2) Hoskin, A. (2011) Household gun prevalence and rates of violent crime: A test of competing gun theories. Criminal Justice Studies 24 (1), 125-136:

This study analyzes the reciprocal relationship between a direct measure of gun availability and three types of violent crime across the 120 most populous counties in the USA. Survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System are used to construct a measure of household gun prevalence. Hypotheses derived from four competing perspectives concerning the role of guns in the production of violence are tested. Strong support is found for the view that easy access to guns raises the risk of serious violence by giving the perpetrator the power to inflict greater victim injury. By contrast, no support is found for the argument that widespread legal gun ownership lowers violent crime by deterring prospective offenders.

3) Gun control and suicide: The impact of state firearm regulations in the United States, 1995–2004. Health Policy, Volume 101, Issue 1, June 2011, Pages 95–103:


Objective: To empirically assess the impact of firearm regulation on male suicides.

Method: A negative binomial regression model was applied by using a panel of state level data for the years 1995–2004. The model was used to identify the association between several firearm regulations and male suicide rates.

Results: Our empirical analysis suggest that firearms regulations which function to reduce overall gun availability have a significant deterrent effect on male suicide, while regulations that seek to prohibit high risk individuals from owning firearms have a lesser effect.

Conclusions: Restricting access to lethal means has been identified as an effective approach to suicide prevention, and firearms regulations are one way to reduce gun availability. The analysis suggests that gun control measures such as permit and licensing requirements have a negative effect on suicide rates among males. Since there is considerable heterogeneity among states with regard to gun control, these results suggest that there are opportunities for many states to reduce suicide by expanding their firearms regulations

4) Preventing suicide and homicide in the United States: The potential benefit in human lives. Psychiatry Research Sep2009, Vol. 169 Issue 2, p154-158

Abstract: In order to assess the potential benefit in human lives if all geographical regions in the US (Northeast, South, Midwest, and West) achieved the lowest suicide and homicide rates observed within these regions, age-, race- and gender-adjusted suicide and homicide rates for each of the four regions were calculated based on data retrieved using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database for 1999-2004. Data on known risk factors were retrieved from online sources. Overall suicide rates (10.42 per 100,000) exceeded homicide rates (6.97 per 100,000). Almost 27% (12,942 lives per year) of the 288,222 suicide and homicide deaths during the study period might have been avoided if all US regions achieved the mortality rate reported by the Northeast. A firearm was used in 55% of all suicides and 66% of all homicides. In the total estimate of avoidable deaths, firearm suicides (90%) and firearm homicides (75%) were overrepresented. The Northeast had the lowest access to firearms (20%) contrasted to almost double in the other regions, whereas greater firearms availability was related to unrestricted firearm legislation. Measures to restrict firearms availability should be highly prioritized in the public health agenda in order to achieve an impressive benefit in human lives.

5) Gun availability and violent death. American Journal of Public Health v. 87 (June 1997) p. 899-901:

The relationship between the availability of guns and violent death is discussed. In this issue, Cummings et al. report the findings of a case-control study to estimate the effects of handgun ownership on a family member’s risk of suicide and homicide in a large health maintenance organization population for the period 1980-92. The results, which agree with the findings of other epidemiological studies involving different populations and techniques, indicate that owning a handgun or having a family member who owns a handgun significantly increases the risk of violent death. When all the confounding factors are accounted for, the results of Cummings et al. indicate that although it may be in the interest of particular individuals to purchase a gun to protect their families, it may not be in the interest of society for every family to purchase a gun. Although epidemiology cannot settle the political, ethical, and philosophical dilemma between the individual and society, it can enhance our understanding of violent death and how to prevent it.

6) Rosenbaum, Janet E . Gun utopias? Firearm access and ownership in Israel and Switzerland. Journal of Public Health Policy Feb2012, Vol. 33 Issue 1, p46-58.

The 2011 attempted assassination of a US representative renewed the national gun control debate. Gun advocates claim mass-casualty events are mitigated and deterred with three policies: (a) permissive gun laws, (b) widespread gun ownership, (c) and encouragement of armed civilians who can intercept shooters. They cite Switzerland and Israel as exemplars. We evaluate these claims with analysis of International Crime Victimization Survey (ICVS) data and translation of laws and original source material. Swiss and Israeli laws limit firearm ownership and require permit renewal one to four times annually. ICVS analysis finds the United States has more firearms per capita and per household than either country. Switzerland and Israel curtail off-duty soldiers’ firearm access to prevent firearm deaths. Suicide among soldiers decreased by 40 per cent after the Israeli army’s 2006 reforms. Compared with the United States, Switzerland and Israel have lower gun ownership and stricter gun laws, and their policies discourage personal gun ownership.

Additional Article:

Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States

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there are more gun homicides every week in the usa than spree killings in 5 years. the middleclass only takes notice when this spills over into their cozy world.

gun deaths in america are overwhelmingly either suicide or symptomatic of street crime.

gun limitation is only talked about as a means of restricting spree killing in leafy neighborhoods, because no one in america wants to link gun homicides and poverty, drugs and resulting crime. the gross hypocrisy of this purposeful blindness removes all claim to morality in those who participate.

switzerland has a more widespread possession of genuine 'assault weapons' than the usa, due to their national militia, but a radically lower incidence of gun crime of any nature. by itself, this establishes that the central driving force of gun homicide is not gun possession, but poverty, and its consequences.

most spree killing is done with semi-auto pistols, which no one has dared to suggest limiting. empty hypocrisy once again. i have no great regard for the arguments of the gun lobby, corporate profits and personal character flaws seem to be the core. but the 'progressive' arguments are even more crooked, and will do little good even if successful.
Al> The spree killings are what gets the public's attention that leads to action that is long overdue. Yes, we should be paying attention to all the shootings that occur everyday. Unfortunately, the media has a hand in what is reported and what isn't. But as we have seen since Aurora and Sandy the media is reporting a lot more gun-related crimes than, in my, recent memory.

Limiting gun ownership by those who are afflicted with certain mental issues and/or with a history of violent crime through comprehensive, national background checks is a substantive action that can reduce a number of these occurrences. And making the reporting to these national databases a requirement will, hopefully, eliminate many of the issues that arise from a patchwork of reporting laws like we have now. Many states do not participate in the background check database currently in place.

Per the last citation in this post, the Switzerland example you draw upon is inaccurate. Gun ownership in the US is much greater per capita and per household than Switzerland.

"most spree killing is done with semi-auto pistols, which no one has dared to suggest limiting."

They are proposing limits on high-capacity magazines for semi-automatic pistol like those used in the Tucson shooting. This in conjunction with background checks may well have a significant impact for reducing these types of shootings.

I will have to disagree with you as far as the assertion that "'progressive' arguments are even more crooked". There's nothing crooked in attempting to find the multiple causes of gun violence and addressing them rather than trying to find one "silver bullet" solution.
The searing sting of facts!
"They are proposing limits on high-capacity magazines for semi-automatic pistol like those used in the Tucson shooting. This in conjunction with background checks may well have a significant impact for reducing these types of shootings."

But it didn't. We already had a ban on so-called high-capacity magazines for semi-auto pistols. There were two main effects: first, the price of pre-ban magazines went way up, and second, gun manufacturers developed highly-concealable, sub-compact semi-auto pistols designed around the ten-round magazine limit (e.g., the Glock 26). The law of unintended consequences at work.

What we're seeing now are really goofy laws, like what happened in New York. In New York it is now illegal to put more than seven rounds in a ten-round magazine, even in the privacy of your own home. I guess the idea is that some guy who wants to murder twenty or thirty people and then kill himself will say "dang, now I can't put any more than seven rounds in my ten-round pistol mag!" And of course he wouldn't even consider buying a high-capacity mag from out of state!

Someone with a little metalworking knowledge can make high-cap rifle mags in his garage. Recently, one group created a fully functional high-cap rifle mag with a 3D printer. The entire mag -- body, baseplate, follower -- was printed, with the exception of the metal spring.

The next step will be to "print" the lower receiver of an "assault rifle." Legally, the lower receiver IS the gun. Actually receivers have already been "printed," but they fail pretty quickly. But in the not-too-distant future I'm sure that stronger polymers will be developed that will allow people to literally print their own guns. In addition to that, an "assault rifle" can be assembled from spare parts. And if worst comes to worst, the black market will kick in, and guns will be imported from Mexico. We already get a gazillion tons of narcotics from Mexico every year, so it shouldn't be a problem adding firearms into the mix.

The "progressive" idea seems to be that laws have some kind of magic power to shape reality. If you don't want certain kinds of guns you just make them illegal and poof! all of a sudden they don't exist. Of course, the problem is human nature, and if there is a demand for guns or booze or narcotics or whatever, then people will get that, regardless of how many laws prohibit it.
“But it didn't. We already had a ban on so-called high-capacity magazines for semi-auto pistols.”

When did this occur? I've looked around and have found nothing on a current ban. Please, if you would, send me some information on this.

“Someone with a little metalworking knowledge can make high-cap rifle mags in his garage. Recently, one group created a fully functional high-cap rifle mag with a 3D printer. The entire mag -- body, baseplate, follower -- was printed, with the exception of the metal spring. “

One or two instances of usurping the law through some DIY projects does not mean that all of a sudden this will be the norm.

With every law or attempt to reform something or really to do anything meant to improve a situation there will ALWAYS be someone who can provide 1 or 2 instances that it created unintended consequences but when compared to the entire population of whatever it happens to be, those 1 or 2 or even 10 instances do not amount to much.

“The next step will be to "print" the lower receiver of an "assault rifle." “

Seriously? You honestly believe there are going to be people “printing” gun parts in their garage? Do you realize how expensive that equipment is?? People can fabricate just about anything now but we don't see these mass killers with those kinds of resources.

I think there's a need for some realism here.

“The "progressive" idea seems to be that laws have some kind of magic power to shape reality.”

Well, we don't have all that many people producing C4 in their garage or building Apache helicopters from spare parts found a the local salvage yard do we? The “progressives” are not banning everything found to be disagreeable. Here's where the realism comes in, the laws being worked on are to remove particular types of weaponry and/or accessories that tend to be prevalent in particular crimes, mass shootings in this case. There are also background checks which more than likely have already helped even at the limited capacity they are currently operating. We don't know precisely because money funding such studies has been nonexistent in the past decade or so, especially for the CDC. Regardless, the laws under consideration are intended to make it more difficult to acquire such weaponry. As with other bans or restrictions we have for other damage causing devices or substances, C4 for example, it makes it much more difficult to acquire them. Yes, a pipe bomb might make an appearance occasionally but imagine the frequency of occurrences if those bans, restrictions and/or regulations were NOT in place.

It's best to remember doing nothing does nothing to fix the problem.
"Please, if you would, send me some information on this."

During the Clinton administration and for some years afterward, high-cap mags were prohibited for people not in law enforcement. The was the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, also known by other names. It was in effect from 1994 to 2004, after which it expired and was not renewed. Under that law only high-cap magazines manufactured prior to the act were allowed; all other magazines could have no more than ten rounds. Look at the Wikipedia article "Federal Assault Weapons Ban" for a full description of the law.

"One or two instances of usurping the law through some DIY projects does not mean that all of a sudden this will be the norm."

If we are talking about people who intend to commit mass murder and then likely kill themselves, I suggest to you that the DIY manufacture of the relevant items will be more than enough to supply them. Not to mention that millions of high-cap magazines already exist.

"With every law or attempt to reform something or really to do anything meant to improve a situation there will ALWAYS be someone who can provide 1 or 2 instances that it created unintended consequences . . . "

The problem wasn't just the unintended consequences. The problem is that the ban never delivered on its promise to reduce gun violence. After ten years the evidence of a positive effect just wasn't there. So the unintended consequences were THE consequences.

"You honestly believe there are going to be people “printing” gun parts in their garage?"

They are now. As I mentioned, the failure rate is very high, but as soon as better polymers are available, don't be surprised to see home-printed gun parts. I mean, look at the Glock pistols. The Glock frame weighs almost nothing. All the weight is in the slide and barrel. That's because the frame is made from a polycarbonate material. Printed rifle magazines are also happening. Again, better materials will make them sufficiently durable.

"Do you realize how expensive that equipment is??"

Ok, so lease it instead of buying it. The prices will drop, just like everything else. More important than the printer is the information. You scan the part to be made, load the data into the printer, and then anyone with a 3D printer can make the part. The data are in a CAD (computer-aided design) file. Upload the CAD file to a web site, and then anyone in the world with a 3D printer can download the file and make the part.

"I think there's a need for some realism here."

That's why I'm telling you this. You have to understand that we are on the verge of a new world:

"It's just a matter of time before you can construct an entire firearm that any terrorist with a thousand dollars and a 3D printer can get past the metal detector at the local airport and get on a plane." -- Representative Steve Israel, (D., N.Y.)

Frankly, I don't know about the airport thing; firearms still need metal parts. But you'll be able to make most of the other parts yourself. The key is having the relevant CAD files, and even those are not all that hard to create.
Ineffectiveness of Assault Weapons ban and high capacity clips:

Well the results aren't as clear cut as you'd like assert. The results are actually mixed but do indicate the ban was not in effect long enough to see the full results given the grandfather provisions. It is worth noting, due to the ban or not, gun-related deaths dropped 33% since the mid-1990's.

I suggest reading this article for the views of the researcher who authored the last report on the ban:

DIY and Printing of guns/part

I'm sorry but this is just beyond pragmatic realism. Yes, there might be one or two people who might take the time to put together some duct-taped version of something they can effectively sneak into a business or movie theater but they are NOT going to printing guns or producing glock-type weaponry in their back shed. They simply will not have those resources and leasing would not be much less than buying. Come on, really, let's come back to Earth here.

And while we're on the topic of “what may come from technology so why make any laws that can't predict them” I'd like to lay this at your feet. Had the Founders actually predicted the impacts of the 2nd amendment are having today with the use of weapons beyond their comprehension to imagine in the hands of average people who are killing their own fellow citizens on a daily basis then I submit they may well have clarified their intent much better. It is doubtful, if they could have seen what is going on today, that they would have been as free with the wording in that text. The point is if they were unable to predict the direction weaponry would take and the broad “right” to bear those technologically advanced weapons then WHY are you so persistent that these new laws predict what MAY come in the near future? No one is going to be able to create provisions for every possible occurrence. 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing for critics isn't it?

"I think there's a need for some realism here." That's why I'm telling you this. You have to understand that we are on the verge of a new world:”

No, we're not that close to the verge. And like I said before, there will always be one or two instances that may circumvent the situation or law or whatever but to expect we can eliminate ALL possibilities or cover for EVERY contingency is not realism.
"They simply will not have those resources and leasing would not be much less than buying."

CNET this month reported on the Replicator 2X, a 3D printer that sells for under $3000. The CubeX printer sells for between $2500 and $4000, depending on how many colors you want to be able to print. Perhaps I'm missing something, but that seems very affordable to me. Of course there is a cost for the consumables, but the cost of the printer is no longer prohibitive, and we're still in the relatively early days of 3D printing.

I worked for many years at a medical university. I remember when the university had its first fax machine. There was only one machine for the entire campus of close to 10,000 people. Within a few years every building had a fax machine, and within a few years after that every department had its own fax machine. The same kind of thing will happen with 3D printers as the prices fall. Eventually for a few hundred dollars you'll have one at home, if you want one.

" . . . WHY are you so persistent that these new laws predict what MAY come in the near future?"

In my view it's not about predicting what may come. It's about availability and the potential ineffectiveness of regulation. Legal regulation works well with items that require specialized equipment and knowledge to make. As items become easier to make and require less knowledge, regulation works less well. For example, we have draconian laws against marijuana, but they aren't effective because anyone can grow it.

In a few years it is likely that people will be able to make many functional gun parts, including lower receivers and high-cap mags. At that point you can make all the regulations you want, but you've lost control of the gun business, at least as far as criminals go. And to be frank, banning so-called assault rifles and magazines will turn a lot of gun owners into criminals. There's already a great deal of distrust of the federal government, and banning whole classes of firearms will play into that, and there will be many who do not cooperate.

And another issue is -- why assault rifles? What is it about assault rifles that make people think that they are significantly more dangerous than other guns? My contention is that they aren't, and that there are a number of positive features that make them desirable to own.
What amazes me about your exchange with Mishma666 is when he notes that gun regs were a failure because the gun manufacturers simply made new models to get around the ban. Duh! Most of the issue is with the gun manufacturers.
Second, Mishma points our that the need/desire to own these weapons would trump lawfulness. If you ban these types of guns, then we will simply make them in our garage, thereby making ourselves criminals. Well, okay, I guess these two positions reveal the heart of the whole gun fetishism mess.
And note that the Sandy Hook killer used his mother's legally purchased weapons. She was a law abiding citizen and those guns would not have been available to him had they been illegal. They were a hobby, something to play with.