I’m back from a trip to DC, but the Philadelphia gun issue did not go away in my absence.
Here’s today’s Inquirer:


Obviously, there’s a lot in there. Too much to cover in a single blog post. (Someone could build an entire blog around the Inquirer’s coverage of the gun issue, though.) On the bright side, veteran reporter Larry Eichel has researched the effectiveness of “one gun a month” laws. Not surprisingly, they don’t seem to be effective in stopping “gun violence”:

One-gun-a-month laws sound attractive to gun-control activists and draw broad public support in polls. But it’s not clear that such statutes have had much impact on gun violence.
A study published last year in the journal Injury Prevention found that the laws restricting purchases had had no measurable impact. The study was done by a team of doctors from the University of Washington, using data from 1979 to 1998.
Another study, done in 2001 by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, found evidence of a slight decrease in gun violence associated with Maryland’s one-gun law.
With only California, Virginia and Maryland having such laws, there isn’t much evidence to be had. What is available raises questions about the effect of limiting individuals to one handgun purchase every 30 days.
Last year, all three one-gun states had homicide rates above the national average – slightly above in California and Virginia, well above in Maryland.
And Richmond, Va., and Baltimore had homicide rates among the highest in the country. Both cities reported well over 40 homicides per 100,000 residents, compared with about 25 for Philadelphia.

Yes, but Philadelphia is always in the midst of an “epidemic.”
It should not surprise anyone that limiting law abiding citizens to one gun a month has no effect on the criminal misuse of guns. It would make about as much sense to limit computer sales in order to deter criminal computer hackers.
Guns are one of the many tools used by criminals, but the focus on this tool — which can also be used for good — never ceases to amaze me.
As an example of gun violence, the Inquirer’s special section on the subject links Monica Yant Kinney’s account of a mysterious, professional hit-style slaying which has been unsolved for five years.
Well, the police might never solve it. They never solved the even higher-profile murder of Philadelphia mob boss Angelo Bruno. But I don’t recall anyone ever citing the Bruno killing as an argument for limiting the number of guns law-abiding citizens can buy.
Yet consider for a moment that Bruno’s murder is still unsolved. It’s not too late to bring it up at the State Capitol. Had it not been for the easy availability of guns, Angelo Bruno (who was born in 1910) might just still be alive today!
Hey, don’t laugh! This is supposed to be a serious argument.
While I’m baffled over how professional hit men would be deterred by any gun law at all (much less the one gun a month proposal), such examples are as good as any, because they highlight the nature of the problem. When criminals use guns to commit serious crimes, gun laws aren’t even a nuisance factor in their thinking. Can anyone sit there with a straight face and maintain that a hit man (precisely what most drug-related killers are) is going to be deterred by even the most stringent gun control measures? The idea is absurd on its face, but the argument’s persistence suggests to me two possibilities:

  • the goal really is disarming law abiding citizens; or
  • the criminals (even hit men) really aren’t all that bad, but the guns make them bad.
  • Disarming law abiding citizens violates the human right of self defense as well as the Second Amendment, and I don’t think it should be taken seriously as an idea. I’ll try to be fair, though, and stick with the possibility that disarming all criminals might in theory make it tougher for them to kill each other. This might be reflected in the prison murder rates, although I haven’t researched the matter. If the prison murder rate is lower than it is on the outside, that might be evidence that total gun confiscation “works.” The problem is, to do that you’d have to turn society into a prison, and the result would be that the strongest, toughest people would be able to rule over the rest of society, and the weaker individuals would be unable to protect themselves, which is tyranny. Unless the goal is to create a society like England’s, where home-invasion burglaries and strong-arm robberies are rampant because no one is armed and the criminals know it, I see no theoretical advantage to a totally disarmed society. It would be more dangerous.
    I don’t know anyone who seriously suggests that the “gun a month” proposals actually disarm criminals (who are already barred from possessing or purchasing guns), and I am not even sure it does that much to disarm the law abiding majority. That’s because right now, law abiding citizens are divided into two groups: existing gun owners, and citizens who own no guns. The former group will continue to own whatever guns they have, while the latter group would still be allowed to acquire them, at a slower rate. How criminals would even be slowed down by this escapes me. There’s a large market in stolen guns, and it is already illegal to transfer guns to felons. The people referred to as “straw purchasers” are simply illegal gun traffickers who haven’t yet been caught. The idea of “one gun a month” is to slow down their ability to buy guns from a particular source — licensed gun dealers. Street dealing and gun theft would not only be unaffected, but according to normal market rules, could only be expected to increase to fill the needs of the criminal demand. I think the reason the “gun a month” laws don’t work is that there’s an erroneous assumption that there aren’t more than enough illegal guns in circulation to supply demand.
    The bottom line is that criminals are already prohibited from having guns and that any purchase or transfer by them is illegal, so it would be unreasonable to expect limiting the law abiding to one a month to have any effect at all.
    It would be about as effective as a law making it an additional crime for criminals to commit more than one crime a month.
    So what’s with this law, and why is it considered so vital? I think it’s because the gun control people are fighting an ideological battle, and they just don’t like the idea of anyone buying more than one gun a month. In their mind, if guns are a moral evil, the more guns there are, the worse the moral evil.
    What kind of person would want more than one gun a month, anyway?
    (Only a psychopath, obviously.)
    Thus, built into the very discussion of the “gun a month” proposal is moralistic scolding. How could you be for such a thing? What’s wrong with you? Do you really need that many guns? And who even “needs” a gun a month? Shouldn’t it really be a gun a year?
    Yet no one would ask these “need” based questions about cars, telephones, computers (or numbers of blog posts). And I doubt they’d ask them about other things — even hot button moral issues like abortion or sex acts.
    What normal man needs more than 100 condoms a month?
    Seriously, shouldn’t there be a limit?
    I don’t mean to be facetious here. Maybe it’s better to find another logical analogy.
    Gun-a-month proponent Tom Ferrick brings up spinach:

    [New York Mayor] Bloomberg reminded everyone (including, later, in a private meeting, State Sen. Vincent Fumo) that his city has effective gun-control measures but is being bedeviled by imports. Eighty percent of the guns used in crimes in his city come from out of state, Bloomberg said.
    Making a point
    Lining up the mayors was showmanship, but it was effective showmanship. So was the line by the Rev. William J. Shaw of Philly’s White Rock Baptist Church, who pointed out that when a handful of people died because of tainted spinach, all of America’s spinach was pulled off the shelves. So, he asked, why doesn’t anyone do anything about guns when 3,000-plus people in America are victims of homicide?
    On the other hand, as the pro-gun folks would put it: Spinach doesn’t kill people, people kill people.

    Good point! I never thought about it before, but spinach is at least as similar to guns as condoms. And there are similarities between condoms and spinach:

  • Both are sold in stores;
  • Both can be good for you;
  • The FDA regulates condoms as well as spinach;
  • Sailors like Popeye need both, so they can be “strong to the finish.”
  • The FDA, however, does not regulate guns.
    I think the gun a month law is silly, but I do think that considering the danger involved, maybe some serious thought should be given to transferring regulation of condoms and spinach to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
    After all, spinach grows in the ground, just like tobacco! And condoms are often used for smuggling by drug kingpins, who also buy illegal guns, so there’s considerable bureaucratic overlap. Furthermore, if eating spinach does make people “strong to the finish,” do we really want criminals emboldened by eating it? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to make it harder for criminals to get?
    “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives, Spinach, and Condoms” has a more effusive-sounding ring to it, and I think many criminals would be deterred just by the name.
    Can anyone say they wouldn’t? How do we know if we haven’t tried?
    MORE: I have to say that I was surprised to see it, but much to its credit, the Inquirer did quote some gun owners quoted yesterday:

    These folks, mostly from rural areas in central and western Pennsylvania, see gun rights as a bedrock constitutional issue.
    And they came armed with reasons not to change things.
    “The highest rate of crime occurs in cities with the toughest gun laws,” said John Brinson, chairman of the Lehigh Valley Firearms Coalition. When you allow people to carry concealed weapons, crime goes down, because criminals don’t know who’s carrying a gun,” said Mike Cancel of Washington, Pa.
    He and others blamed Philadelphia for its problems and resented efforts to abate them by forcing stricter laws on the state. “It’s their children that they didn’t raise right, who don’t know who their father is,” said Cancel. “The children are out of control. We have tons of laws already. The laws are not being enforced.”
    The gun owners also said they don’t accept the argument that gun restrictions would make the streets safer. Criminals, they said, would still have guns, and citizens wouldn’t.
    Cancel, 53, an engineer, contended that the Second Amendment is essential, that America is spiraling out of control, and that it is vital that citizens possess firearms to fight tyranny, foreign and domestic:
    “The population has to have parity against the standing military, man for man.”
    Another gun owner wore a T-shirt: “The Second Amendment: the original homeland security.”
    Gun supporters, visiting legislative offices, found support for their arguments.

    There’s more, but I wish they’d spoken to a few more of the 32,000 legally armed Philadelphians instead of making this appear to be an urban versus rural issue. A mention of heroic Philadelphians who have used guns to stop criminals might be nice too.
    But I guess I can’t ask for everything.