Monday, March 26, 2018

The Fantasy that Arming Civilians Will Save Lives

We've all heard the slogans.  The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.  Guns don't kill people, people kill people.  

Wayne Lapierre, the CEO and Executive Vice President of the NRA is the most prominent advocate for these views.  Mr. Lapierre - like our President - avoided service in Viet-nam and was never in the military.  Perhaps that is why he has such an airy fairy view of arming civilians.  The real world demonstrates that the more people have guns, the more people get shot. 

Despite the enormous amounts of time and money spent training our military to handle firearms safely, accidental shootings happen regularly.  In Iraq between 2003 and 2011 ninety (90) soldiers were killed by accidental firearm discharges not involving combat.  

That figure doesn't include the much larger battlefield casualties from "friendly fire" - inadvertently shooting fellow soldiers in the heat of the moment.  The Wikipedia annotation on Friendly Fire states:  

"According to the most comprehensive survey of casualties (both fatal and nonfatal), 21 percent of the casualties in World War II were attributable to friendly fire, 39 percent of the casualties in Vietnam, and 52 percent of the casualties in the first Gulf War. In the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, casualty rates are 41 percent and 13 percent, respectively.  (These figures includes firearm, artillery and bombing casualties so firearm injuries would be some subset of these numbers)

Add to these figures the millions of inadvertent civilian casualties in wars and the true scope of the danger of firearms becomes apparent - any time the bullets start flying lots of people besides the bad guys are at risk, maybe more at risk than the bad guys. 

Remember when a shooter shot a bunch of soldiers at Fort Hood?  Some argued this demonstrated the fallacy of the notion lots of guns will stop shooters.  But they assumed military bases are full of people walking around with loaded guns.  Soldiers outside a combat zone may have a weapon, but they will not have ammunition.  There are probably more people walking the streets with loaded guns in any town in this country than are walking around packing heat on Military bases.   It is illegal and seriously punishable offense to carry a loaded firearm on most military bases unless you are law enforcement or have some special permission based on your duties.    The military learned long ago more loaded guns equals more shootings, even among a population trained in proper firearm safety. 

On the civilian side a couple times a year some highly trained police officer is a victim in an accidental death involving firearms in the hands of the police, not to mention the regular litany of people killed by police misreading a situation as more dangerous than it in fact is - mistaking a phone for a gun, or seeing non-existent guns.

Both the military and law enforcement go through weeks of rigorous training to learn how to use firearms and are generally required to refresh their skills every year.  Are armed civilians going to be required to do the same? 

The irony in all this is 100 years ago or so as a country we were moving away from our frontier habits where everyone packed guns because our forefathers had learned more guns in the civilian population means more violence.   History demonstrates that arming civilians will mean more shootings, not less.  It will lead to a net increase in shooting injuries and deaths.  

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