Visualization

I love the post Looking at the “gun violence” problem by Carl Bussjaeger. But I think some of the comparison could be made a little more relatable. I’m attempting to do that in this post.

Let’s set aside for the moment that a government has no business criminalizing behavior based on the statistics of a particular group. For example, just because Democrats in prison outnumber all other political affiliations combined by a factor of more than two to one does not justify sending all Democrats to prison to prevent the majority of crimes. Hence, even if the numbers on gun ownership showed a very high percentage of criminal activity, it would still be morally and philosophically wrong to put people in prison for owning or using a gun when they had not hurt anyone or their property.

With this set aside for the moment we can show that prevention of crimes committed with guns is crazy talk as well as grossly immoral.

From Carl:

We know that we have a theoretical maximum of 10,228 firearms-wielding murderers. In fact, since we also know of serial and and mass shootings, the number of gun murderers must be lower, but is not quantifiable with available data. For purposes of discussion I will use the high 10,228 figure for murderers.

Estimates of American gun owners vary by significantly large amounts. The lowest I have seen is 55 million, or roughly 17% of the general population. The highest is 120 million, or approximately 37%.

Therefore, murderers are 0.0085 to 0.0186% of all gun owners. 85 ten-thousandths of 1 percent to 186 ten-thousandths of 1 percent.

The first paragraph misses the case where two or more people contributed to the same murder, but I can’t imagine it changes the conclusion presented in the last paragraph much. Carl does a pie chart with these numbers. In this situation I think a different graphical image would better. Taking the midpoint of these two numbers, 0.01355% of all gun owners are a murderer each year, lets visualize this as one murderer facing a line of life protecting gun owners. Let’s assume the life protecting gun owners are shoulder-to-shoulder with enough space to easily draw and fire their guns without bumping into each other. This would mean they are are spaced about four feet apart. This line of life protecting gun owners, facing a single murderer, would be over five and a half miles long.

Even if the air were very clear, there were no visual obstructions, and the murder had 20/20 vision the murderer would still not be able to see the people on either end of the line facing him because the width of the gun owners bodies at that distance would be narrower than human visual perception.

Moving on, Carl tells us:

We have no idea, given the lack of data, of the average number of guns used by murderers. We know it ranges from 1 to 24, but those 10,228 individual shooters could have used any number in that range. For this discussion, I’ll make the probably outrageous assumption that the average is as high as 12, midway in the range (my gut feel is that average is closer to 1.1 per shooter).

So… 10,228 shooters time 12 guns, gives a hypothetical number of “murder guns” of 122,736 (gut feel would be 11,250).

I guesstimated gun owner numbers. Firearms estimates are just as vague. Recent lowball estimates are around 265 million. Others put it well over 300 million. Or over 400 million. The highest estimate I’ve encountered is 750 million.

Again, Carl makes a minor mistake. Some, perhaps a significant number, of guns are used in multiple murders. For example one murderer uses a gun to kill two people in one incident. Or he uses it to murder one person in each of three incidents. Or after using it in one crime sells it to someone else who uses it on the other side of town in a different murder. I would guess the total number of guns used in murders is less than the total number of murders each year. Hence, I’m going to assume that, on average, for each murder there was one gun, or 10,228 guns involved in a murder each year.

Using the approximate midpoint of Carl’s estimate of the number of guns in the hands of private citizens, 500 million, that means that about 0.002046% of all guns were used in a murder in any given year.

Let’s visualize one of those murder guns against corresponding guns not used a murder that year. Lets put those guns lying on their sides, in a line pointing all in the same direction, with an average spacing of one foot (many of them are long guns with normal capacity magazines). That line would be over nine and a quarter miles long.

Extending Carl’s comparison to ammunition, let’s assume that each murder consumed two rounds. That would mean that about 20,500 rounds were used for murder each year. Yet, private consumption of ammunition is 10 to 12 billion rounds per year. That means about 0.00019% of all ammunition is used in murders. Assuming a typical 9×19mm Parabellum cartridge and spacing them side to side with the bases not quite touching we get a line of cartridges over three and a quarter miles long.

Now visual trying to prevent one of the gun owners, guns, or cartridges from being used in a murder. What sort of police state would be required to have a reasonable chance of keeping an unknown gun owner from using one of those guns and two of those cartridges to prevent him from committing a murder? It is no more possible than it would be to prevent the average high school dropout from finding someone willing to sell him a recreational drug. It is crazy talk for anti-gun organizations to imagine they can prevent gun crimes in any significant numbers by placing restrictions on gun owners, guns, or ammunition.

The only practical prevention is by punishing gun owners who hurt others or their property. The scarce law enforcement resource we have must be focused on finding and punishing people who maliciously hurt others and not on creating victimless “crimes” and punishing people who have hurt no one.

6 thoughts on “Visualization

  1. “What sort of police state would be required to have a reasonable chance of keeping an unknown gun owner from…committing a murder?

    The very sort of police state that all power-hungry coercives have wanted since the beginning of time. The police state is the feature, not the bug. Who are you trying to convince?

    “It is no more possible than it would be to prevent the average high school dropout from finding someone willing to sell him a recreational drug. It is crazy talk for anti-gun organizations to imagine they can prevent gun crimes in any significant numbers by placing restrictions on gun owners, guns, or ammunition.”

    Crime prevention is not the point. Coercive power is the point, and falsely claiming to care about crime and safety is the age-old argument for coercive power. It works. Don’t knock it.

    “The only practical prevention is by punishing gun owners who hurt others or their property.”

    Don’t single out gun owners. That’s how we end up with special punishments for “gun crimes”. It’s how the scumbag who killed my sister, in her own home, with a knife, and then strangled her daughter with a shoestring to prevent her being a witness, ends up with a lesser sentence than someone who uses a gun in a crime.

    “The scarce law enforcement resource we have must be focused on finding and punishing people who maliciously hurt others and not on creating victimless “crimes” and punishing people who have hurt no one.”

    Two points there. The “scarcity” argument is one of the favorites of the left. Uttering the term “scarce resources” is their call for more funding, more “tools and resources” (and, in the leftist higher echelon, a call for the culling of the human herd).
    “Yes! Police resources are scarce, so you’re admitting that we need more! If it can save just one life…”

    So you’re either preaching to the choir there on your side, or you’re preaching to the choir on the opposite side, depending on current company.

    As to the matter of punishing those who have hurt no one. Make that argument to any leftist, and you’ll get some version of the pre-programmed response;
    “So, we have to sit and WAIT for you to commit a mass shooting before we can do anything to stop you??? That’s tantamount to suicide!!! What about OUR right to protect OURselves from you gun owners??? WE have to sit down and shut up, waiting to die at your hands any second, just so you can play tough guy with your sick gun fetish and so the gun industry and the NRA can make a profit??? Pure insanity!!!”

    In the interest of being able to understand either side well enough to argue either way, I’ll give the rights deniers another one;
    “Not all gun owners are mass shooters (yet), but all mass shooters are gun owners.”

    • All resources are scarce. It’s a fundamental assumption of economics. You allocate those resources to optimize outcomes.

      Allocating more resources to law enforcement means someone, somewhere, has fewer resources for other activities such as food, shelter, education, expanding their businesses, etc.

      Government is an extremely poor allocator of resources. They are using someone else’s money to the benefit of a third party. Government does not have “skin in the game” on either end. The people in government end up using that money (resources) to further their own ends as much or more than the supposed beneficiaries of the government program.

      My response to someone that claims it is insanity to wait for someone to engage in a mass shooting before doing something is the following:

      Democrats compose more than twice the political affiliation of all other prison inmates combined. What you are therefore saying is that we should put all admitted Democrats in prison now before they have a chance to hurt someone. Furthermore, almost all genocides in the 20th century were committed by socialists and communists. Shouldn’t we prevent them from killing 10s of millions of people by executing all admitted socialists and communists and destroying the all writings, and derivatives of, Marx and Engels?

      Are you an admitted Democrat, Socialist, or Communist? Shall we start here and now?

  2. Heh. Didn’t think of extending the discussion to ammunition. Nice

    – “The first paragraph misses the case where two or more people contributed to the same murder…”

    I considered it, but 1) it isn’t derivable from the data I had available, and 2) I was trying to be “generous” in estimating the number of murderers just to show that a worst case scenario is still a minute fraction of gun owners.

    – “Again, Carl makes a minor mistake. Some, perhaps a significant number, of guns are used in multiple murders.”

    Again, it isn’t derivable from the data. I used the high number for the reason given above. In fact, I recall a firearm recovered relatively recently that was tied by ballistics testing to something like four otherwise unrelated murders.

    – “What sort of police state would be required to have a reasonable chance of keeping an unknown gun owner from using one of those guns and two of those cartridges to prevent him from committing a murder?”

    For that, see my piece, “Belling the Cat.”
    http://zelmanpartisans.com/?p=4503

    Lyle: “Not all gun owners are mass shooters (yet), but all mass shooters are gun owners.”

    Gun possessors, not necessarily lawful gun owners. In firearms murders overall, something like 88% of the guns used were stolen.

  3. And notice that al those gun-banners N.E.V.E.R. get into the demographics of exactly who is shooting who. {Hint – it’s a small sub-set (~13%) of the population doing most[~60-70%] of the damage.}

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