My primary motivation in writing this series of posts on the Second Amendment has been to reexamine my own opinions on the issue of private ownership of firearms, and reformulate them on the basis of the best available information. Accordingly, in researching these posts, I have waded through a lot of material put out by both gun enthusiasts and gun control advocates, and the single most valuable observation I have come across was Dr. Gary Klecks' invocation of Sturgeon's Law, namely that 90% of everything is crap. In the first installment, I remarked upon the "extensive amounts of 'fact sheets' [...] larded with statistics supposedly refuting the other side's 'myths' and presenting the reader with the ostensible 'truth.'" Where these are concerned, Sturgeon's estimate was, if anything, conservative.
Propaganda is information disseminated for the purpose of influencing opinion. Note that the information does not necessarily have to be false, and most propaganda isn't; at the same time, most propaganda doesn't give the full story either, but only the bits which will lead the reader to draw the desired conclusion. The only hesitation I have in labelling these "fact sheets" as propaganda is that it doesn't so much seem to be intended to influence opinion among those who do not yet subscribe to the disseminating party's position, as to reinforce it among those who do. Whether this is a cause or an effect of the polarization of the gun control debate is a question I cannot answer. I can say that, for someone possessed of some measure of critical thinking ability and fact-checking skills who is trying to find some decent information on which to build his opinion, it is highly frustrating to keep running into the half-truths, selective quoting, obfuscations and fallacious reasoning that makes up these "fact sheets." Thus, in this installment, I am going to take a short break from trying to be constructive, and indulge my urge to give some selected samples of these "fact sheets" a well deserved fisking.
Let me turn first to the topic of gun control in Australia. Following a series of spree killings from 1984 to 1996, culminating in the "Port Arthur [Tasmania] massacre" of 28-Apr-1996, Australian states (under pressure from the federal government) tightened their firearms laws considerably, banning the ownership of semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns in all but a few cases (and engaging in a massive "buy-back" program); requiring registration of all other legally held weapons; requiring gun owners to acquire a license to keep firearms; and imposing more stringent requirements on storage of firearms and ammunition. Because of broad similarities between Australian and American gun culture, activists on both sides of the gun control issue in the United States have looked to Australia as a test case, and both claim the results vindicate their position. They can't both be right, but is either?
First, for the pro-gun control side, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence:
Has anything changed in Australia since the new laws went into effect? Homicides committed with firearms have been declining – from 21 percent of all homicides in 1997 to 16 percent in 2002-2003.
Along with the declining use of firearms in homicide, Australia saw a 44% decline in the use of firearms in armed robberies from 1993 to 2003. From 1997 to 2003, the proportion of robberies committed with a firearm dropped from 10 to 6 percent.
Suicide rates using a firearm dropped 48% between 1991 and 2001 and firearm-related accidental injuries in Australia are also declining.
[Emphases in original.] First, note what the Brady campaign's "fact" sheet does not say: it does not say that the total number of homicides and robberies (armed or otherwise) decreased. That's because they didn't. According to one of the cited sources, Australian Crime: Facts and Figures 2004, in the four years following the imposition of the tighter gun laws, the number of homicides and armed robberies remained more or less stable, while assaults and unarmed robberies increased. Moreover, that same source notes (in fig. 11, p. 17) that "the percentage of homicides committed with a firearm continued a declining trend since 1969." Got that? The percentage of homicides committed with a firearms had been declining for almost thirty years before the firearm controls were enacted, and looking at the trend curve in the graph, it strongly appears that the tighter gun laws had no effect on this trend. When we take a closer look at the source cited for the decline in suicides by firearm, "Firearms related deaths in Australia, 1991-2001", a similar pattern emerges. Most of the 48% decline cited by the Brady Campaign occurred before the firearms controls were enacted; indeed, looking at fig. 1 and table 1 in that publication, it's clearly visible that, from 1998 onwards, the downward trend ceased and the number of suicides using guns stabilized. The Brady Campaign's "fact" sheet doesn't cite a source for the claim that firearms related accidental injuries declined, but the aforementioned "Firearm related deaths in Australia, 1991-2001" shows no decrease in the number of firearms related deaths, indeed, the highest number in the period covered occurred in 2000 (45 killed), and was half again as many as the second and third highest numbers (30 in 1996 and 29 in 1991, respectively).
So was increased gun control in Australia a success? That depends how you look at it. Note that the Brady Campaign's goal, according to its name, is "to Prevent Gun Violence," not necessarily to prevent violence in general. Now, if your objective is limited to preventing people being killed specifically by use of guns, then the Australian firearms controls were mostly ineffective; any reduction in the "death by gun rate" (i.e. the percentage of violent deaths inflicted using a firearm) was part of pre-existing trends anyway, and those trends were not accelerated by the tighter gun laws. But most people (or so I would like to think) aren't amenable to the idea of gun control for the sake of limiting gun violence per se, but because it will—hopefully—curb violent crime overall. From the perspective of these people, the Australian gun control measures were an abject failure; homicide and armed robbery were not reduced as a result, while assaults and unarmed robbery increased. This makes the conclusion of the Brady Campaign's "fact" sheet all the more galling:
The next time a credulous friend tells you that Australia actually experienced more crime when it got tougher on crime, offer your friend a Fosters and a helping of truth.
This is where the Brady Campaign goes from lying by omission to lying by commission: the truth is that Australia did experience more crime following the tightening of its firearms laws, at least according to the sources cited in the Brady Campaign's "fact" sheet. Words fail me to describe the degree of smug, self-satisfied arrogance that must have gone into writing that, especially since the author was relying on his readers to be the credulous ones, lest they actually check his cited references to see what they really said.
Nevertheless, there is a distinction to be made between "failing to do good" on the one hand, and "doing harm" on the other. Guy Smith's Gun Facts is the most cited "fact sheet" on the gun enthusiasts' side, and even though it's nowhere near as arrogant as the Brady Campaign's, it's still pretty mendacious. On the issue of Australia, see p. 53:
Crime has been rising since a sweeping ban on private gun ownership. In the first two years after gun-owners were forced to surrender 640,381 personal firearms, government statistics show a dramatic increase in criminal activity. In 2001-2002, homicides were up another 20%.
Remember how I mentioned the trends in "death by gun rate" predated the enactment of the firearms controls? Similarly, the increases in crime which followed the imposition of those controls were part of another trend which also predated those controls. Violent crime in Australia was on the rise prior to 1997, and while increased gun control didn't slow it down, it didn't accelerate it either. The language here is deliberately deceptive. Yes, in 2001-2002, homicides were up 20%... compared to the previous year only; the cited reference qualifies that figure by noting that:
the overall number of homicides in Australia each year tends to be low, and this recent increase is not statistically significant. [...] [A]lthough 2001–2002 had the highest ever number of deaths in the NHMP database (381 victims), in the previous year (2000–2001) the lowest number of homicides was recorded (317 victims).
Emphasis mine. Homicides weren't up another 20%; they were up 20% from the lowest ever recorded number of homicides, which occurred three years after the tighter gun laws were introduced (not that this proves the tigher laws were effective, given that the following year saw the highest ever recorded number of homicides). The NHMP report goes on to state:
Between 1 July 1989 and 30 June 2002, despite yearly fluctuations, the rate of homicide in Australia has remained relatively stable.
So Gun Facts cites the two data points which support its claims, while concealing the fact this was an exceptional instance, which was, moreover, not statistically significant, according to the cited source. Gun Facts also states:
Fact: Gun crimes are rising throughout Australia after guns were banned. In Sydney alone, robbery rates with guns rose 160% in 2001, more in the previous year.
The cited reference is an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, which does not support the "160% increase" assertion; instead, it says that "robberies with a firearm rose by 34.1 per cent across the state," which is markedly less. The article also states the reason for the increase in robberies:
Four areas of Sydney have borne the brunt of the rise, which has been blamed largely on a heroin drought driving up prices and pushing addicts into more desperate robberies.
Emphasis mine. The Gun Facts claim is a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. The fact is that both the pro-gun and anti-gun publications are misleading; the imposition of tighter gun control in Australia failed to have any obvious effect on violent crime or fatal accidental shootings either way. The matter of suicides is a bit more complex; as I noted, from 1998 onwards, the percentage of those suicides that were committed with a firearm remained more or less stable (contrary to the Brady Campaign's implication). However, since during the same period the suicide rate showed a downward trend, it is highly likely that the absolute number of firearm suicides also dropped. But while I think trying to reduce the number of suicides is commendable, I believe the legitimate way to do this is by addressing the desire (i.e. by trying to prevent or stop people from wanting to kill themselves), rather than by restricting access to the means. When a gun control advocate argues (in so many words) that the state should prevent its citizens from owning firearms in order to stop them from intentionally killing themselves, that person is essentially arguing against the individual right to self-determination; in this instance, the right of people to with their own bodies as they see fit. That's a "pro-life" argument, and I'm pro-choice (and not just when it comes to abortion). Besides, the most common method of suicide in Australia is by hanging, strangulation or suffocation; thus, anyone genuinely concerned with limiting suicides should place a higher priority on restricting access to rope, scarves, neckties, belts, plastic bags and pillows than on restricting access to firearms.
Moving on, now, to the Brady Campaign's "fact sheet" on Women and Guns.
For years, the gun industry and gun lobby have perpetrated the myth that owning guns will protect women from violent crime. [...] Separating out facts from myth makes clear that women are endangered rather protected [sic] by the proliferation of handguns.
Sounds promising, if you don't read too closely...
Myth: Guns protect women from gun violence.
Fact: Rates of female homicide, suicide and unintentional firearm death are disproportionately higher in states where guns are more prevalent.
Notice the "bait and switch" here: the supposed "myth" is that gun ownership will protect women from violent crime. Suddenly we're talking about "gun violence," a term which handily excludes threatened or actual assaults with blades, blunt objects or unarmed personal force, all of which qualify as "violent crime", while including self-inflicted harm, which (intentional or otherwise) is not normally considered to be a criminal act. Note also that the excerpt speaks of "states where guns are more prevalent," not "states where gun ownership among women is more prevalent." From the abstract of the cited reference, it is not apparent that this distinction was a factor in the study in question, and may thus reasonably be assumed to not have been. Hold on to this thought, as I'll return to it later (when the question of how many women own firearms comes up).
Fact: In the US, regions with higher levels of handgun ownership have higher suicide rates.
Although women have higher rates of depression than men, it is the handgun-suicide connection, rather than depression, that accounts for higher suicide rates.
Again, what this has to do with violent crime is beyond me. When we speak of violent crime, we think of assaults, robberies and homicide; harm intentionally inflicted on others, not on oneself. This alone renders this "fact" a red herring, but it bears examination anyway, just to illustrate some of the pseudoscientific methodology that produces studies which support gun control positions.
Let's take a look at the cited reference, the article "Association of Rates of Household Handgun Ownership, Lifetime Major Depression, and Serious Suicidal Thoughts with Rates of Suicide across US Census Regions," which appeared in Injury Prevention 8 (2002). Note that the authors, Matthew Miller and David Hemenway, also conducted the study on women and gun violence cited earlier. I'm sure that's just a coincidence. Miller and Hemenway state they began:
[...] with three explanatory variables, which are included in all analyses: rates of household handgun ownership, lifetime prevalence of major depression, and lifetime prevalence of serious suicidal thoughts. We also add a fourth explanatory variable—which is (1) the percent of the population living in metropolitan areas, or (2) the percent with at least some college, or (3) the percent unemployed, or (4) the per capita alcohol consumption. These four control variables are added, one at a time, to regressions that include (as independent variables) the prevalence of household handgun ownership, lifetime suicidal thoughts, and lifetime major depression (that is, these regressions have four rather than three independent variables).
Ultimately, they conclude that:
After controlling for major depression and suicidal thoughts (and any of the four additional control variables), handgun ownership rates remain significantly associated with the overall suicide rate.
Note that there are two factors Miller and Hemenway did not control for: first, how long the handgun had been in the household prior to the suicide taking place; and, second, the number of failed suicide attempts. As attentive readers of the works of Michael Shermer will acknowledge, "correlation does not imply causation." Still, one cannot readily dismiss the causal relationship between handgun ownership and suicide, but one can query which way the relationship runs. The implication of Miller and Hemenway's conclusion, as worded, is that handgun ownership makes one more inclined to commit suicide. Another post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, if you ask me. It strikes me that a more plausible interpretation of the data is that individuals contemplating suicide who live in areas with higher prevalence of handgun ownership (and thus increased availability of handguns) are more likely to resort to these weapons as their chosen method of committing suicide; if they don't have one, they go out and buy one. And since handguns are an easier, more reliable and more fast-acting means of inflicting self-harm than most alternatives, such individuals are more likely to be successful than those who resort to hanging, slitting their wrists, overdosing on sleeping pills, and what have you.
Back to the "fact sheet."
Myth: Handgun ownership increases women’s ability to defend themselves.
Fact: In 1998, women were 101 times more likely to be murdered with a handgun than to use a handgun to kill in self-defense. Women were 302 times more likely to be murdered with a handgun than to use a handgun to kill a stranger in self-defense. Women were 83 times more likely to be murdered by an intimate acquaintance with a handgun than to kill an intimate acquaintance in self-defense.
Another "bait and switch," as the statistics fail to even address the "myth," let alone refute it. The only effective counterargument possible would consist of demonstrating that women who keep handguns for self-defense are equally likely to be victimized as women who do not. In fact, given the claim in the cited reference (a VPC "study") that "handguns don't offer protection for women, but instead guarantee peril" (emphasis mine), one may reasonably demand evidence that keeping a handgun results in a greater likelihood of being victimized. The numbers presented do not support any such assertion.
First, the murder victims are not broken down into those who had ready access to a handgun at the time of the attack and those who did not. In fact, the source document does not explicitly define "woman" for the purposes of this comparison, leaving open the distinct possibility that the murder victims include females too young to legally own a handgun. Now, someone without ready access to a handgun at the moment she is attacked has practically zero chance of using one to defend herself against her assailant. Handgun murders of women do occur, so the chance of such an event is greater than zero. Where x is any finite number, x / 0 = ∞ (infinity); i.e. someone without a handgun is infinitely "more likely to be murdered with a handgun than to use a handgun to kill in self-defense." That the factor by which a woman is more likely to be murdered is a finite number, rather than infinity, can be attributed only to the fact that some women do have ready access to a handgun; ergo, the presented "fact" only serves to demonstrate that the notion that "handgun ownership increases women's ability to defend themselves" is anything but a myth.
That the ratio remains so disproportionate may be explained, to some extent, by a number of factors. As the VPC "study" observes, "handgun ownership among women was, and remains, uncommon." The number of adult women in the United States who own a handgun has been fairly stable since 1980, generally fluctuating between 6% and 8%. So for every woman who has some (i.e. more than zero) chance of shooting an assailant, you've got another 11 to 15 who do not. Moreover, that's only adult women, i.e. those eligible to legally own a handgun. The statistics on criminal victimization maintained by the Bureau of Justice Statistics start at age 12, so the pool of potential murder victims includes 12-20 year-olds, who are prohibited by federal law from purchasing handguns and handgun ammunition, making it unlikely that these women will have a handgun available. Note that I've been talking of "ready access to," rather than "ownership of" handguns. This is because a woman who owns a handgun will not necessarily have it available all the time; for example, if she lives in a "may-issue" state where concealed carry permits are rarely issued, like California or Massachusetts, or a state which prohibits carrying a firearm in public altogether, like Illinois, she may have to leave the weapon at home when she leaves the house. But most importantly, for a homicide to be justifiable, one has to be reacting to a threat, which means that the threat has to manifest itself first. That means a criminal assailant, by definition, has the initiative. As Massad Ayoob writes in his book The Truth About Self-Protection,
Criminals come in tight and poised and hyper, already prepared to kill to get what they want. The citizen reacts from "a state of peace," and even under the worst circumstances is reluctant to take the life of fellow human being.
But at least a prospective victim who is packing has a chance of reacting effectively, even against an assailant with a firearm, whereas an unarmed victim does not.
Now, it might be asserted that the flood of statistics proffered in the VPC "study" support other arguments in favor of gun control. For example, one might argue that handguns are used in the commission of crimes far more than they are lawfully used to prevent or halt crimes, and that therefore there would be a net benefit to public safety to be derived from eradicating handguns. And perhaps that's true, but it is not the claim the Brady Campaign and the VPC make in this context, and one can only assume that the reason they don't make it is because they really have no evidence to support it. The motion under discussion here is that, all other things being equal, women are at greater risk if they own a handgun than if they do not; that is the motion put forward by the Brady Campaign and the VPC, and they can't even provide evidence to support that claim.
Next item on the Brady Campaign "fact sheet":
Myth: Guns protect women from rape.
Fact: Guns are rarely used by rapists - less than 2 percent of rapes are committed with guns, while almost 70 percent are committed with personal weapons (physical violence).
Ergo, a handgun gives a woman an advantage over a would-be rapist using only personal force or a hand-to-hand weapon.
Women would be safer knowing self-defense to fight off an attacker than using a gun which can easily be turned against them.
You what? At worst, this assertion is plainly sexist: "oh, the little ladies, God bless 'em, they couldn't possibly learn how to wield a handgun effectively; the big, nasty man would just take it away from them." At best, it displays a (wilful) failure to understand the factors involved in deciding to attempt to wrest a firearm from one's opponent when one does not have a firearm oneself. It is tempting to think that it is an easy thing to do, given that American law enforcement officers take seriously the risk that they might be shot with their own weapons, as indicated by the fact that LEOs are advised to wear body armor capable at minimum of resisting a bullet from their own service weapons. And this despite the fact that "weapon retention" training is increasingly a standard part of police training curricula nationwide. But cops are commonly known to be armed, and the uniformed ones carry their weapons openly on their duty belts; I would surmise that the majority of cases in which LEOs are shot with their own weapons involve the weapon being taken from the holster, rather than taken from the officer's hand. This surmise would appear to be borne out by the fact that holsters marketed by American holster manufacturers as "duty" models feature one, two or even three "retention devices" which have to be disengaged before the weapon can be removed.
These considerations hardly apply to a private citizen carrying a concealed handgun. Because only a small percentage of Americans adult are actually licensed to carry a concealed handgun, and because these weapons are—by definition—concealed, any assailant is unlikely to expect his prospective victim to be carrying (if he did, would he not be likely to seek out another, "softer," target?), and even if he did, the location of the firearm would not be readily apparent. Concealed carriers take great pains to keep their handguns well hidden, as "being made" by a fellow citizen can result in lengthy and uncomfortable conversations with law enforcement responding to a 911 call about "a man (or woman) with a gun." In Washington state, for example, it is a gross misdemeanor to "to carry, exhibit, display, or draw any firearm [...] in a manner, under circumstances, and at a time and place that either manifests an intent to intimidate another or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons (RCW 9.41.270)" and being convicted will result in the revocation of the offender's concealed pistol license (if he or she has one). It is unlikely that one would be convicted for this offense when one was making a demonstrable effort to not let the weapon be noticed, but deliberately drawing it is another matter. As a result, a concealed carrier who has familiarized herself with the law (and a large majority do, especially the women) knows that she is only legally justified in drawing her weapon when she reasonably perceives an imminent threat of unlawful force. What this boils down to is that is extremely unlikely that an assailant will ever have the opportunity to snatch his victim's firearm while it is still holstered (as he might with a police officer), since in almost all cases, the assailant will not discover his prospective victim is armed until she has identified him as a threat, has drawn the gun and is in the process of bringing it to bear on him. It is highly implausible that, at this stage, she is not anticipating the possibility that the assailant may try to gain control of her firearm, and is prepared to react accordingly. Admittedly, there is still a possibility that the victim may be unable to cope with the psychological stress of finding herself attacked ("paralyzed by fear"), or lack sufficient aggressiveness to inflict harm on her assailant, allowing him to overpower her anyway. But if that is the case, "knowing self-defense" isn't going to do any good either. Insofar as "knowing self-defense" is of any use at all; it takes extensive training to become effective in hand-to-hand fighting, especially against a larger, more aggressive attacker, and this requires a substantial investment of time and effort. A single four-hour (or less!) "self-defense workshop" just isn't going to cut it, and if anything, will do more harm than good by inspiring false confidence. Like it or not, guns are "equalizers"; with a modicum of training, a firearm allows even a person of the most diminutive stature to take down an opponent three times as big.
But what of the consequences of an assailant gaining control of the gun? What of the risk that he will turn the gun against its owner, and use it to threaten or kill her? Frankly, I fail to see how this scenario is any worse than what he would do otherwise. If the assailant is capable of overpowering his victim when she has a gun, he is certainly capable of overpowering her if she did not. If he is prepared to kill her with her own gun, he was already prepared to kill her by some other means, such as stabbing or strangulation. I honestly fail to see how the presence of a gun could make any such situation worse than it already would be.
Myth: Women need guns to protect against stranger rape.
Fact: Stranger rape is not the greatest danger for women as most women (75 percent) are raped by offenders known to the victim.
That leaves 25% of rape cases which are "stranger rape"; over 25,000 victimizations in 2004, down from almost double that in 1998 (source: BJS). "Not the greatest danger" does not equate to "no danger." Besides, according to the statistics presented by this same fact sheet, the ratio of women murdered by "intimate acquaintances" (with handguns) to women who kill an intimate acquaintance (with a handgun) in self-defense (83:1) is better than the ratio of women murdered to justifiable homicides (101:1). This indicates that, overall, women are more prepared to use lethal force against a would-be assailant who is known to them than against a stranger. The obvious explanation is that women are more prepared to shoot an abusive (former or current) boyfriend or husband, whom they know to be a scumbag, and are more reluctant to shoot someone they don't know and might be misjudging. In short, the "fact sheet" fails to demonstrate that guns are ineffective in protecting against "stranger rape," and shows that, if anything, they are even more effective against assaults by a person known to the women in question.
60 percent of rapes are committed against victims under the age of 18 who are forbidden by law to own a gun.
So the majority of rapes are committed against individuals who, in the estimation of the perpetrators, would almost certainly not be armed. Evidently, the possibility of a prospective victim being armed does have a deterrent effect, which is precisely what the Brady Campaign claims to be a "myth." I can only conclude that honesty demands the Brady Campaign's "fact sheets" be renamed "truthiness sheets."
That is still not to say that ownership of firearms is free of risk. By handling firearms negligently, one places oneself and (more importantly) others at risk, and a prime factor in fostering negligence is complacency. This is why I take issue with a great deal of the material produced by photographer Oleg Volk. A gun enthusiast, Volk has a talent for creating eye-catching propaganda, and his posters are popular with other gun rights supporters. Unfortunately, he is just as prone to operating from a sense of truthiness as gun control advocates, and this is expressed in the (possibly unwitting) use of logical fallacies, a tendency to gainsay, rather than address, the opposition's arguments, and a reprehensible disregard for historical fact. I want to make it clear that I have nothing against Mr. Volk specifically; I'm referring to his work because it is both representative of the more tendentiously misguided rhetoric of the gun rights movement, and because it is frequently encountered on pro-gun websites and printed matter.
The first example can be found on the front page of the website a-human-right.com, which he runs; this shows two identical images of a hand holding a Heckler & Koch USP, one labelled "A Liability," the other "A Useful Tool," while the title bar instructs the visitor to "Make a choice." The fact is, of course, that whether a gun is useful or forms a liability depends on the circumstances in which it is kept and handled; thus the "choice" is a false dichotomy, as the correct answer is "potentially either or both." It comes as no surprise, perhaps, that in Volk's opinion, choosing the answer "A Liability" is always incorrect. I feel that, by discounting legitimate concerns in this area, Volk assists in fostering complacency about the potential risks of improperly handled firearms. With regard to the issue of whether handguns increase women's safety, another contribution of his is no better: a poster titled "Asthma," found on his companion site. The poster depicts a woman sleeping in bed, while on her nightstand we see an asthma inhaler, right next to a Glock 9mm handgun. The text declares:
A woman living with asthma can't use pepper spray for protection.
She can't run away, either.
This gun keeps her safe.
People familiar with the name Vicki Childress would not necessarily agree with that last statement. Ms. Childress, of Key West, Florida, suffered from asthma, and kept her inhaler under her pillow, along with a loaded .38-caliber revolver. During a nocturnal asthma attack in October 1991, she reached under her pillow for her inhaler, and managed to pull the trigger on the weapon, shooting herself through the jaw. A gun does not provide safety if it is not handled with due care.
Another example of overstating safety benefits without giving due attention to the care and effort required to create that safety is this poster, which declares: "FUN! Shooting sports: clean, safe fun." And of course, it is perfectly possible to practice shooting sports safely, but any activity which involves pieces of lead being projected at supersonic speeds will always be potentially lethal, and only by applying
due care can it be made safe.
Another particular bee Volk has in his bonnet is the notion that there is no good reason to restrict sound suppressors ("silencers," to use the more common, though technically incorrect, term) for firearms. True, suppressors do serve to cut down on noise pollution, and protect shooters' hearing, but when he asks "Why restrict this basic safety accessory?" as if it were merely a rhetorical question, he is displaying a lack of realism. The primary deterrent to criminal activity is a perceived risk of capture. The sound of gunfire tends to advertise the commission of a gun crime in progress, which will bring law enforcement to investigate, which increases the chance of the perpetrator(s) being captured. Here's a scenario which may sound familiar: one or more robbers hold up a restaurant, generally near closing time; the robbers herd the employees, and any customers who may be present, into a freezer, and proceed to shoot them "execution-style." It should sound familiar: it's what happened at Brown's Chicken & Pasta restaurant in Palatine, Illinois in January 1993 (7 dead); at a Wendy's in Flushing, Queens, New York in May 2000 (5 dead); at a Jack in the Box in Mesa, Arizona in May 2002 (3 dead). Why this fixation with freezers? Because the insulation muffles sound, making it less likely that the shots will be heard and thus increasing the amount of time that the crime will remain unnoticed. To murderers like these, ready access to suppressors would be most welcome. And imagine the possible consequences of Cho Seung-Hui* having had suppressors on his weapons (a Glock 19 and a Walther P22). The fact that there are legitimate uses for suppressors is good reason not to ban them outright, but the fact that there are also plausible criminal uses for them is a legitimate reason to restrict them; one may consider that reason to not be sufficiently compelling, but don't pretend it doesn't exist at all. Besides, the AAC Evolution suppressor shown on that Glock 19 retails for $795 dollars; for that kind of money, you can buy several sets of top-of-the-line electronic earmuffs.
Volk subscribes to another meme propagated by gun enthusiasts, namely that "gun control is racist," based on the fact that the earliest gun control laws in the United States were part of Jim Crow legislation. This is a bit of a red herring, as the laws in question were transparently not intended to actually restrict private gun ownership in general, but to prevent blacks specifically from owning guns. In addition, this argument is akin to that subset of argumenta ad hominem now colloquially referred to as argumenta ad Nazium; these take the form of "you support X; Hitler (/some other Nazi/Stalin/Mao/Mussolini/Pol Pot/Idi Amin) supported X; therefore, you are morally equivalent to Hitler (/whoever) and your opinion is therefore not to be taken seriously." Problem is, because of the variety of murderous totalitarian SOBs in the 20th century alone, it's hard to take a position on anything and not be in the company of at least one dead dictator. For example, Hitler hated cigarettes, whereas Stalin and Mao were heavy smokers; either way, you're tainted. Unless, of course, we recognize this tactic of "guilt by association" for the fallacy it is.
My last peeve for this post concerns the use by many gun enthusiasts of the term "goblin" to refer in particular to home invaders, though it sometimes gets used to refer to other types of criminal assailant as well. I can only regard this as an attempt to dehumanize criminals, an impression which is supported by Volk's page on home defense. The text on this page talks of "predators" and "perpetrators," two images use the term "goblin" and another uses the term "trash," as if you have to be a different species, one less than human, to break into somebody's house. Now, I'm no "bleeding heart liberal" peddling a "criminals are humans too and it's society that is to blame" viewpoint; I spent more than three years working at the UN Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, dealing with man's inhumanity to man, and as a result of that experience, I actually shifted from being opposed to the death penalty in principle ("the state should not lower itself to murder on our behalf") to opposing the death penalty for practical reasons alone ("we can't guarantee we won't execute the wrong guy sometimes"). But I do believe there is a difference between someone who breaks into your house intent upon visiting assaulting, raping, even murdering members of your family on the one hand, and some dumb teenager who's only after your jewelery and electronics (and hasn't realized that the fact there's no car in the driveway doesn't mean everybody's out of the house) on the other; the problem is, they don't have obvious visible distinguishing features which obligingly permit you to tell the two apart. This is because (I'll let you in on a little secret known to D&D players here) there's no such thing as goblins. People who break into your house are still human, and if you condition yourself to think they're not, you're setting yourself up for homicide charges after you shoot someone whom you really didn't have sufficient justification to shoot.
I believe one the most effective ways to lose an argument is to overstate your case; after all, if you feel the need to exaggerate, you yourself evidently don't think your case will stand on its own merits, so why should anyone else? In the matter of guns, however, activists on both sides are guilty of overstatement, so we're still no closer to resolving the issue. Still, if there's one benefit to the gun control debate, it's that it gives you the opportunity to give your critical thinking ability a really thorough workout.
* - While I can't avoid being forced to comment on the Virginia Tech murders, what with their having taken place while I was in the middle of writing this series, I shall address the matter more fully in a later post.