a myriad of misconceptions and skewed data

Back in August, after the El Paso and Dayton mass murders, I wrote that the primary reason we’re seeing more of these sorts of crimes is because of easy access to guns.

It’s the guns. Guns, high capacity magazines, and lax firearm laws. You get yourself a semi-automatic rifle and a few 30-round magazines, and you can rack up a high body count in a very short time. Doesn’t even have to be an assault-style rifle, though the military design of those weapons makes them more attractive to would-be mass killers. Any semi-auto rifle would do the job, so long as you’ve stocked up on hi-cap magazines. Gear up, take a walk, and until you open fire, you’re probably acting within the law.

Some folks, of course, disagreed with me (which isn’t all that uncommon; people disagree with me all the damned time). One of those who disagreed recently left a comment on that blog post. Not a comment exactly — a link to a post on his (I’m assuming it’s a guy) website. The post is titled ‘The Colt AR-15- Is It Rightfully Demonized?‘ It’s a question worth discussing (SPOILER: the answer is yes, it is properly demonized).

AR-15

Since I don’t have this person’s name, and since his blog is called Inverted Logic, I’m going to refer to him as IL.

IL states, “a pervasive fallacy among the anti-gun crowd is to conflate the motives of the murder with the murder weapon.” This certainly would be a fallacy if it was accurate. But it’s not. As IL himself correctly points out a sentence or two later, “an inanimate object does not possess motives.” Bingo. I don’t know anybody who believes firearms have motivations. What some of us actually believe is this: there are certain weapons commonly used by people who are motivated to kill a lot of other people in a short amount of time.

It’s like this: a lawn mower and a pair of garden shears are both tools that can cut grass. Neither tool has any motivation. It’s not that lawn mowers want to cut grass faster and more efficiently; it’s just that it’s designed to do that. People who are motivated to cut grass are much more likely to opt for the lawn mower than the garden shears. That’s the same motivational process of people who want to kill other people faster and more efficiently.

IL then examines FBI crime data. He states, “four times more people were murdered by a knife than were by a rifle.” That’s correct, but misleading. We’re not talking about murder rates here; we’re talking about mass murder — a totally different beast. Mass murders are relatively rare in comparison to ordinary murders. Most murders occur between people who know each other, usually during an argument and often fueled by alcohol. That or some fuss over drugs. Most murders are crimes of — I hate to use the term ‘passion’; let’s call it high emotion. In general, they tend to be spontaneous, unplanned, spur-of-the-moment crimes.

In fact, most mass murders also follow that pattern. The problem is in how mass murder is defined. Here’s the most common definition:

Shootings at a public place in which the shooter murdered four or more people, excluding domestic, gang, and drug violence, in a single episode.

If a drug deal between gang members goes bad and a few of them get killed by gunfire, it’s not technically considered a mass murder. Similarly, if a man gets drunk, argues with his wife or girlfriend, grabs his gun, shoots her and her kids, and maybe her parents, it’s not technically counted as a mass murder. Seriously. I’m not making this up. So most mass murders aren’t even considered mass murders. The victims, though, are just as dead.

Henckels chef’s knife.

Back to IL and his knives. There have, of course, been mass killings committed with knives. China, for example, suffered a spate of school attacks between 2010 and 2012. In ten separate incidents, 25 people were killed and around 115 were wounded. Those attacks were made with knives, box cutters, machetes, and meat cleavers.

That’s 25 dead and 115 wounded in ten attacks over three years. Twenty-five dead is maybe ten minutes work with a semi-auto firearm, including re-loading time. The thing is, killing groups of people with a knife requires a lot of work. To begin with, a knife attack is more likely to wound than to kill. And there’s a lot more chasing involved in a knife attack; you literally have to get close enough to the victim to touch them — and most folks aren’t going to stand around to give you the chance.

AR-15 with modifications

So let’s just dismiss the knife argument. Given a choice between an edged weapon (a knife or a machete or a meat cleaver or a damned box cutter) and an AR-15, I’m confident most would-be mass killers would opt for the rifle.

IL also points out that rifles aren’t a common murder weapon. Which is true. He writes:

Only a minuscule 3.2 percent of all reported murders in the same decade were committed with rifles. Even per the New York Times, 173 people have been killed in a mass shooting where an AR-15 was used from 2007-2017 (total number of homicides 13,657). If you do the math (173 divided by 13,657=0.012667 X 100= 1.266 %) that is a number that is slightly above 1 percent of all homicides. All this uproar and outrage is being focused upon a weapon that is only responsible for approximately 1 percent of all murders.

But, again, we’re not talking about murder rates. We’re not talking about individual murders. We’re talking about mass murders. Using IL’s dates (2007-2017) there were at least 480 fatalities that met the traditional definition of mass murder. If 173 were committed with AR-15 variants, we’re talking about a quarter of all mass murders. Add in all the mass murders committed with AK47 variants and…hell, add in ALL semi-auto firearms, rifles and pistols, and you’ve just about covered it all. (I say ‘just about’ because technically multiple deaths in arson attacks and explosions also fit the common mass murder definition.)

The important question IL doesn’t address is this: why do so many mass murderers select AR-15 and AK47s as their weapons of choice? I mean, a Ruger mini-14 would be just as effective at killing large numbers of innocent people. Like the AR variants, it’s a semi-automatic rifle that uses .223 caliber rounds, and hey, it can utilize high capacity magazines. It’s also a lot less finicky than the AR. So what is the appeal of the AR variants?

Ruger Mini-14

I’d argue it has to do with two things. First, they look dangerous. There’s a reason so many mass killers dress in black (or camo or trenchcoats). It’s not because they want to blend into their environment. Camouflage isn’t going to help you in the aisles of Walmart. It’s because there’s a mass killer aesthetic; there’s a popular culture notion of how mass killers are supposed to look. Militaristic-looking weapons are a part of that aesthetic. A mini-14 may be as efficient a killing machine as an AR, but it doesn’t have that brutal militaristic aura. It just looks like a plain old rifle. No self-respecting mass killer would walk into a Walmart with a Ruger mini-14.

Exploded view of AR-15 modifiable parts

Second, AR variants are exceedingly customizable. They’re like Legos for gun nuts. You can interchange or upgrade just about every part of the AR — switch barrels, change the stock, add a sound suppressor, modify the grip, get a new trigger. A LOT of gun owners like AR variants because they can play with them more than other rifles. If you want a semi-auto rifle that will operate under almost any condition, you opt for the AK variants. If you want one that looks brutal to begin with and want to make it look even more brutal, you go for the AR.

IL does, though, say one thing I mostly agree with. “The take away here is that we need to be critical consumers of media. There are a myriad of misconceptions and skewed data represented as being conveying the whole picture. When, only a sliver of factual truth is being presented and is reframed to support a specific ideology or agenda.

Ignore the grammar and creative punctuation; IL is right. We DO need to be critical consumers of media. We need to be able to recognize and dismiss arguments that are misleading. We need to be aware of arguments that have a hidden agenda.

Because I want my agenda to be completely open, let me say this (I’ve already said it dozens of times on this blog): I don’t hate guns. I like guns. Guns are fun to shoot. I just don’t think they should be easy to obtain and keep. I don’t think all firearms are equal. I’m okay with certain firearms being banned. I don’t believe anybody needs a magazine holding more than ten rounds. I don’t think anybody needs a sound suppressor. I’m okay with the government putting limits on the Second Amendment just as they’ve put limits on the First.

Will banning or confiscating AR and AK variants put an end to mass murders? No, of course not. It might reduce the butcher’s bill, which is still a worthy goal. Probably a more immediately effective way to do that, though, would be to ban and confiscate magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds. Or what the hell, 7 rounds.

Just my opinion.

7 thoughts on “a myriad of misconceptions and skewed data

  1. You’re right zeroing in on the fetishism. Even as a mass killer, if your object is _solely_ to eliminate as many people as possible, there are plenty of ways to do that. Vehicular murder, say, or bombs, or poisoning a water fountain. People choose guns. And all the arguments that IL gives above are rendered nonsensical if you examine a place like Australia, where I live. We don’t have many guns (certainly not automatic weapons) and mass killings via firearms here are so rare that we count them in decades rather than in days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s always astonishing to me to hear 2nd Amendment fanatics claim that easy access to weaponry is NOT a critical element in the level of gun violence. I mean it’s right there in the name, for fuck’s sake.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like guns, too. I used to own guns; I used to hunt. I miss hunting & I miss shooting my guns. But I sold all my guns a few years ago. I just didn’t want to be part of that culture anymore. And it IS a culture. I don’t want to have anything to do with those people.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I completely understand. The gun culture in the US is largely unhealthy. It didn’t used to be. But then the NRA shifted from being an organization that supported hunting and firearm safety into an angry and fearful conservative political lobby.

      Like

  3. Greg – I’d like to get your view on the extent to which 2nd Amendment fanatics view gun ownership as an a essential part of their identity. Perhaps you’ve discussed that before, in which case just point me to the post. (I have discussed this on my own blog, if you’re interested.)

    Like

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