Tag: guns

When “Zero Tolerance” Means Zero Logic

Schools work very hard to curb drunk driving, so when a sober student offers to drive an inebriated friend home from a party rather than let her attempt to drive home herself, no doubt any school would hold her up as worthy of emulation, right? Wrong, sadly, at least at North Andover High School in Massachusetts:

Two weeks ago, Erin [Cox] received a call from a friend at a party who was too drunk to drive. Erin drove to Boxford after work to pick up her friend. Moments after she arrived, the cops arrived too and busted several kids for underage possession of alcohol.

A North Andover High School honor student, Erin was cleared by police, who agreed she had not been drinking and was not in possession of alcohol. But Andover High told Erin she was in violation of the district’s zero tolerance policy against alcohol and drug use. In the middle of her senior year, Erin was demoted from captain of the volleyball team and told she would be suspended from playing for five games.

One of the central purposes of education is to teach students to consider the consequences of their actions. In this sense, Cox and her friend demonstrated greater wisdom than school officials. While the students clearly considered the potentially lethal consequences of attempting to drive drunk, school officials apparently haven’t considered how their “zero tolerance” policy might discourage sobers students from aiding inebriated colleagues in the future. As Alexander Abad-Santos notes at the Atlantic, “Cox did not break any laws; she did not drink, did not party — yet was still punished by the school. By reprimanding Cox, North Andover High is likely sending out a confusing and contradictory message to teens about drinking, designated drivers, and asking for help.” The Cox family lawyer agrees:

Bureau of Justice Statistics Reports Firearm Homicides are Down 39% Since 1993; Continues to Severely Under-report Defensive Gun Use

Yesterday, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released a special report, Firearm Violence, 1993-2011. Not surprisingly, at least for those who follow crime statistics, the report shows that firearm homicides went down 39% between 1993 and 2011. The report also reconfirms many things that gun-rights supporters have been saying for decades: that less than 2% of prison inmates in 2004 bought their firearm from a “flea market or gun show,” and that “2% of state inmates and 3% of federal inmates were armed with a military-style semiautomatic or fully automatic firearm.”

Also not surprising is that very few people know about the dramatically reduced crime rate. Also released yesterday was a Pew study on Americans’ perceptions of the crime rate. Despite cutting the murder rate nearly in half in less than twenty years, only 12% of Americans believe that gun crime has dropped in the past two decades. Fifty-six percent believe it has increased, and 26% believe it stayed the same. This is not new. People often don’t realize how much better things are getting, and this fact can push public policy in misguided directions.  

Many have tried to explain this precipitous drop in crime, including one study that connected it to the decreased amount of lead in the environment. Whatever the cause, one thing is clear: there are about 50 million more guns in America now than in 1993 and crime did not go up.

Now, I will not oversell that statistic, not only because it does not prove the thesis “more guns, less crime,” but also because overselling statistics is a big problem in the gun control debate for both sides. For example, to take another statistic from the BJS report: the number of times per year people use guns to stop or curtail crime.   

Despite the fact that the BJS is quite good at some things, it is uniquely bad at measuring the level of defensive gun use (DGU) in America. And despite the fact that I can easily demonstrate this to anyone with even the slightest inclination to allow their minds to be changed, I am not optimistic that the gun controllers will listen.  

Gun controllers are constantly accusing gun-rights supporters of over-estimating the instances of DGU, and their primary source is the data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, which they rely on unquestioningly. The disparity between the BJS statistics and other studies is stark, as much as 30x. For example, yesterday’s BJS report claims that, between 2007-2011, crime victims used guns to stop or curtail crime 235,700 times. This aligns with the general tendency for the BJS to record between 60,000 and 100,000 DGUs per year. By contrast, Florida State’s award-winning criminologist Gary Kleck has found there may be as many as 2.5 million DGU instances per year. Gun-controllers almost always dismiss Kleck’s data as wildly inaccurate, if not NRA-funded propaganda (it is neither), and instead unquestioningly accept the BJS numbers. See, for example, this study by the Violence Policy Center, which simply regurgitates the BJS numbers, and this discussion of the VPC report at Mother Jones. This New York Times post on the VPC report sneeringly offers this observation on the disparity between Kleck’s and the BJS’s numbers:

Readers can judge for themselves whether the V.P.C. or the N.R.A. is likely to have better numbers. The V.P.C. used data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The N.R.A.’s estimate is the result of a telephone survey conducted by a Florida State University criminologist.

I accept the Times’s invitation, and I will judge for myself:

This Week in “Gun Disgust”: Social Services Visits New Jersey Man’s House Because of a Facebook Picture of His Son Holding a Gun

A picture of Shawn Moore’s 11-year-old clad in camouflage and holding a scary-looking gun prompted New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families to visit his house for an “inspection,” according to Moore. As reported by the Associated Press:

The elder Moore was at a friend’s house when his wife called, saying state child welfare investigators, along with four local police officers, were at the house, asking to inspect the family’s guns.

Moore said he called his lawyer Evan Nappen, who specializes in Second Amendment cases, and had him on speaker phone as he arrived at his house in Carneys Point, just across the Delaware River from Wilmington, Del.

“They said they wanted to see into my safe and see if my guns were registered,” Moore said. “I said no; in New Jersey, your guns don’t have to be registered with the state; it’s voluntary. I knew once I opened that safe, there was no going back.”

The Department of Children and Families has not confirmed that the Facebook picture was the reason for the surprise “inspection,” but a spokeswoman did comment that it is “important to note the way an investigation begins is through the child abuse hotline. Someone has to call to let us know there is a concern.” 

Yesterday, I argued on FoxNews.com that the gun debate is really a culture debate. Two cultures are emerging in America. One culture respects guns as important tools in the hands of responsible citizens. The other culture is disgusted by guns. It is becoming increasingly difficult to bridge the gap between those cultures in order to devise reasonable and effective gun laws that respect citizens’ Second Amendment rights. 

Clearly, Mr. Moore is in the former camp and has taught his son how to responsibly use firearms. Appearing on “Fox and Friends” this morning, Moore’s son Josh said he’d been shooting guns since he was five, that he likes to hunt, and is a “pretty good shooter.” 

Yet many who are animated by “gun disgust” believe keeping firearms in the home is tantamount to child abuse. But the actual number of accidental firearm deaths of children are usually grossly overstated. In 2010, the CDC reported 62 deaths by accidental firearm discharge for children between 0-14 years old. (You can check the numbers yourself here.)

While each and every one of these deaths is undeniably tragic, the number is far less than deaths due to accidental drownings (726) or bicycles (approximately 100 in 2006). Yet I’m sure social services would not have visited Mr. Moore’s house if he had put up a picture of Josh on a new ten-speed. In fact, for an instrument with such potential for lethality, the number of accidental gun deaths for children is remarkably low. Even seemingly innocuous things, such as adult beds, can kill dozens of children per year. Between 1999-2001, 41 children under five died after being caught between a mattress and a wall or headboard. Nevertheless, during the Clinton administration the Department of Justice ran a series of ads designed to frighten parents about the dangers of unlocked guns, claiming that “an unlocked gun could be the death of your family.”

Those numbers are unlikely to change the minds of the gun-disgusted. As in many areas of public policy, facts often matter less than we’d like to believe. 

Some Pictures for Michael Moore

This week, Michael Moore took to his blog to ask someone to publish the assuredly horrific pictures of the Sandy Hook Elementary School crime scene. Like the horrific pictures of 1955 lynching victim Emmett Till, whose mom wanted the photographs published, or the heart-wrenching images of the Vietnam War, Moore believes that the pictures will finally galvanize people to meaningful gun control. He writes:

I believe someone in Newtown, Connecticut—a grieving parent, an upset law enforcement officer, a citizen who has seen enough of this carnage in our country—somebody, someday soon, is going to leak the crime scene photos of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. And when the American people see what bullets from an assault rifle fired at close range do to a little child’s body, that’s the day the jig will be up for the NRA. It will be the day the debate on gun control will come to an end. There will be nothing left to argue over. It will just be over. And every sane American will demand action.

This is a horrible suggestion, obviously. I do, however, have some pictures for Michael Moore:

Sgt. Castellano

Jeanne Assam

The first picture is of Sgt. Lisa Castellano. Two days after the Newtown tragedy, Sgt. Castellano was off-duty and working security at a movie theater. A gunman walked in and began firing. She stopped the gunman after he had shot one man.

The second picture is of Jeanne Assam. In 2007, Assam stopped what could easily have been the largest mass shooting in U.S. history at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. A severely deranged man, who had already killed two people at a youth mission in northern Denver the night before, entered the church with the same armament as Newtown killer Adam Lanza and began shooting. At the time, approximately 7,000 people were in the church. Assam stopped him after he had killed two and wounded three.

Sheriffs Talk Tough on Second Amendment (Unnecessarily)

A number of sheriffs around the country (Oregon, Kentucky, Missouri, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah) have said they will refuse to enforce federal restrictions on private gun ownership that they find to be in conflict with the Constitution.

It seems like a bold threat, but it really isn’t. State and local law enforcement officials simply don’t have to enforce federal laws that they don’t want to enforce. That fact is not controversial. It is, however, a persistent issue in the federal versus state struggle over the marijuana legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington. Those states have simply chosen to stop assisting the federal government. It may complicate the feds’ ability to enforce those laws, but it’s just not as confrontational an approach as media reports have suggested.

Robert Mikos discussed this in his new paper with respect to marijuana laws, but the principles related to how states and federal powers interact is one that holds significant implications for the right to keep arms and the President’s health care law.

Mikos and I discussed the marijuana initiatives for a Cato Daily Podcast. You can also watch the forum.

Tim Lynch and I also discussed gun restrictions and federalism in a Cato E-Briefing last week.

Guns in the Capital City

During his news conference yesterday, President Obama said he was interested in more firearms research and warned that those who opposed his legislative agenda might try to “gin up fear.”  Those are interesting claims.  Let’s take a brief look at some recent history here in the District of Columbia.

In 2007, when a federal appellate court ruled that DC’s strict gun control laws were unconstitutional, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty told reporters he was “outraged.”  The idea that DC residents could keep a gun in their home for self-defense, he feared, would bring more crime and violence.  Mayor Fenty and the city’s lawyers appealed the Heller case to the Supreme Court, but lost.

It’s been several years since that landmark legal battle – so what happened?  

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, a former DC prosecutor wrote:

Since the gun ban was struck down, murders in the District have steadily gone down, from 186 in 2008 to 88 in 2012, the lowest number since the law was enacted in 1976. The decline resulted from a variety of factors, but losing the gun ban certainly did not produce the rise in murders that many might have expected. The urge to drastically restrict firearms after mass murders like those at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month and in Aurora, Colo., in July, is understandable. In effect, many people would like to apply the District’s legal philosophy on firearms to the entire nation. Based on what happened in Washington, I think that would be a mistake. Any sense of safety and security would be a false one.

Alleged Criminal Brings Suit Against Injured Victim

Homeowner shoots criminal in self-defense—so the criminal turns around and sues the shooter?

From Marinij.com:

A 90-year-old Greenbrae man who was shot in the head during an alleged burglary has been sued by the alleged burglar.

Samuel Cutrufelli, who was also shot during the incident, claims Jay Leone “negligently shot” him during the confrontation inside Leone’s home.

For more information on citizens using guns in self-defense, go to the Cato map.  And check out my podcast interview with firearms expert Massad Ayoob.

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