Friday, January 25, 2013

Reason #273: ...Or Give Me Death

I like for this blog to be equal parts philosophy and pragmatism, but today I'm not going to talk about the philosophy of gun violence; I just want to talk about What Is Actually Happening. While my selection of facts is undoubtedly biased, not everything you will read below is uniformly anti-gun; this is nothing if not a complicated issue.

  • Per the chart above, guns are the leading cause of violent death for everyone over the age of 14, and horrifyingly, ages 5 to 9 as well. For people ages 15 to 34, gun homicides are followed in succession by gun suicides--those in that age group are more likely to shoot themselves than be murdered in any other fashion, and those that do shoot themselves outnumber all other forms of suicide with the exception of children between 10 and 14.
  • While the actual rate of gun deaths in the United States has roughly leveled off for the last decade or so, it is expected to exceed the traffic accident fatality rate by 2015, for the first time ever. This is due to motor vehicle fatalities falling rapidly over the last several years. Whether the extensive licensing and regulatory policies involved in driving a car--far more extensive than those for gun owners--are wholly responsible for that decline is open to interpretation.
  • By a significant margin, most American murderers are roughly college age - 18-24. For a brief period in the 90s, you were far more likely to be murdered by a 14-17-year-old than anyone over 25. Combined with the fact that you are far more likely to be murdered by a gun than any other weapon, it could be said that guns don't kill people, 20-year-olds with guns kill people.
  • In 2006, the four highest gun death rates were in Louisiana, Alabama, Alaska, and Mississippi. All four are states with little to no gun regulations, though it should be noted that the highest gun ownership rates are generally in the sparsely-populated "ranch" states like Montana and Wyoming--places where you're far more likely to have to fend off coyotes than muggers. Guns don't kill people, Southerners with guns kill people.
  • The gun homicide rate does not appear to have been affected at all by the ten years of the previous Assault Weapons Ban. The rate did decrease overall during that period, but the homicides related to both assault weapons and other firearms tracked more or less evenly--and had been declining since before the ban went into effect. Add in the fact that Columbine happened smack in the middle of the ban period, and it doesn't look like there's much of a correlation between what we regard as "assault weapons" and mass shootings like Newtown. Assault weapons don't kill people, weapons kill people.
  • Another thing that tracks very evenly is the handgun homicide rate and the number of handguns being produced. Whether increased gun murders lead to increased gun sales or vice versa is debatable, but neither option paints a very nice picture of gun manufacturers. Gun manufacturers don't kill people, but they do profit from it.
  • While one highly suspicious small-scale study infamously found that guns were 43 times as likely to kill family members as criminals, the vast majority of the "family member deaths" counted in the study were suicides. This particular factoid I found in a pro-gun research paper, whose author apparently feels that that made it better somehow.
  • Last, but not least--despite Mike Huckabee's claims to the contrary, there is essentially no correlation between the regular church attendance of a population and said population's gun homicide rate; and statistically speaking, what little correlation does exist is in the opposite direction: more-religious states have more gun deaths, not less.
...which brings me to the only absolute conclusion one can possibly draw from all this: guns don't kill people, God kills people. Everything else just helps.

Further Reading

Guns kill people, in one chilling graph

American Gun Deaths to Exceed Traffic Fatalities by 2015

Walls of the City - Graphics Matter

Wikipedia - Homicide Offenders By Age

Separating Emotion From Facts in the Gun Control Debate

Alabama No. 2 in gun deaths

Guardian interactive map: State gun laws in US

The Geography of Gun Ownership

Assault Weapons Ban Not Correlated With Decrease In Homicides

More handguns means more homicide from handguns

Is My Own Gun More Likely to be Used Against Me or My Family?

God and Guns

Friday, January 18, 2013

Reason #272: Give Me Liberty

I wanted to talk a bit about some of the freedoms we enjoy in this country as compared to the rest of the world, but rather than do the whole "wacky international laws" shtick, I decided to just focus on one thing: Chinese families.

As most people know by now, in China, certain couples are subject to a law that restricts them to only one child. According to the official Chinese figures (which, y'know, is kind of like saying "according to a dream I had"), the policy affects about 36% of the population--couples who live in rural areas are exempted, as are couples who have twins, couples who are both only children themselves, and certain ethnic minorities. In the thirty-odd years since it was enacted, the policy has prevented--again, depending on whose numbers you believe--anywhere from 100 to 250 million births.

I could go on at length about the human rights criticisms related to the manner in which this law has been carried out, and its effect upon the country's demography, but the most relevant thing here is that the Chinese population likes the law. Not just according to the state media, either--Pew conducted a survey in 2008 that measured the law's support at 76%.

So it's popular, it's well-established, and it's effective; or at least, it does what it sets out to do. But, of course, it's also one of the biggest federal interjections into the private lives of citizens in the modern world. Not only is it amusingly antithetical to our own national debate over abortion, but the notion of the government telling Americans they can or can't breed, for any reason whatsoever, is completely abhorrent to us and the way we live. I can't think of a more literal depiction of a "nanny state".

And the intervention doesn't stop there. As the generations have played out, China is now being faced with large numbers of destitute senior citizens whose lone children are unable or unwilling to support or care for them. But rather than change the law that created this problem, China just recently passed another law mandating that adult children visit their parents. If you have a fully-grown child in China whom you don't feel you see often enough (and what old person doesn't think that?), you are now able to take them to court over it. Imagine how the Tea Party would feel about that one.

In closing, my point is that we have it pretty damn good over here where personal liberties are concerned. I think our ongoing conversation over what the government should and should not control could benefit from a little more awareness of the existing alternatives, and real dialogue about exactly how much freedom is really necessary. I'll have another thought or two on that next week.

Further Reading

Wikipedia - One-child policy

Pressure Rises on China to Scrap One-Child Policy

China: Parent visits a must

Friday, January 11, 2013

Reason #271: I Meant It

"Generally speaking, I would be in favor of any tax increases that might magically get through Congress at this point being significantly (or totally) weighted toward the wealthy. (...) That said, I am 29 years old, and out of my entire working life thus far, 2011 was the first year that I made more than 20 thousand dollars - and most of that time I made less than 15. So unless that amount of income sounds heavenly to you, chances are you can spare at least as much money for taxes as I can."

And here we are--for the first time since I started this blog a year and a half ago, taxes have actually gone up. And not just any taxes, but my taxes. Despite the largest new chunk of revenue in the new Fiscal Cliff deal coming from households making over 450 thousand dollars per year, Congress chose to let 2011's payroll tax cut expire without a patch, which means that we're all paying 2% more into Social Security than we were a month ago.

And part of that bears repeating, because it's easy to lump this whole situation in with the Bush Tax Cuts, the end of which are now bringing about higher taxes on the aforementioned upper incomes. But the social security tax, the one that's now cutting an average of $32.75 out of all Americans' paychecks, was passed in the Obama administration, by a Democratic Senate and a Democratic House.

It was only intended to last for one year in the first place, but was extended an additional year as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation, oh, and Puppies and Rainbows and Ice Cream Act of 2012. So it's important to keep in mind that those of us who are feeling some degree of hurt over this are only doing so because Democrats chose to give us a bit of a break, not because of some insane and antiquated Republican tax plan.

Per the quote above, it's fair to assume I'd be defending the tax increase in this space no matter where it was going, but it's especially reassuring to know that it's Social Security--if any part of the federal budget needs a boost from the full length and breadth of American taxpayers, it's that. I for one would like it to still be there in forty years or so. And speaking of the quote above, I should note that my own paycheck has gone down exactly $23.36, so that should tell you roughly where I am within said length and breadth.

I can spare it. Can't you?

Further Reading

Ouch! No, you’re not imagining it. Your paycheck just shrank.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Reason #270: Demography

You may recall that I discussed population density in my post on the Newtown shooting a couple weeks ago. Generally, my point was that I believe urban areas cultivate more rational, balanced people, while the relative seclusion of the suburbs allows for people like Adam Lanza to grow up unchecked.

I came across an excellent article wherein Dave Troy analyzed the 2012 electorate according to population density, both nationally (as seen in the graph above) and by red and blue states separately. Sure enough, the real key factor in determining whether a voter is liberal or conservative isn't what state he lives in, but how dense his neighborhood is. While he found that there simply weren't that many dense urban areas in red states to start with, the few that do exist (Dallas, for example) vote almost as heavily Democratic as equivalent cities in blue states.

There's more to unpack in his data (and he promises to revisit the topic in the future, as do I) but rather than summarize the whole thing here, I'll simply point you to the link below and let Dave explain for himself.

You may be thinking, well, maybe population density can be linked to voting patterns, but what does that have to do with mass shootings? I'll just let you mull that one over yourselves.

Further Reading

The Real Republican Adversary? Population Density