Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Gun Nut

Donald Trump’s appearance before the NRA last week was a perfectly predictable olio of bloviation, narcissism, incivility and misrepresentation. It also revealed, although you probably knew this already, that the guy is a little nuts.

Trump told the NRA faithful assembled in Louisville exactly what they wanted to hear: that he was in favor of more guns everywhere. In schools. In high crime neighborhoods. In Paris night clubs. Everywhere.  Gun-free zones would become a thing of the past.

The reason for this frenzy is, of course, “self defense.” For Trump, and for the NRA, we live in a dangerous world surrounded by people who are out to get us. And the only way we can stop them in their tracks is to have guns; either, one hopes, to deter attacks in the first place or, if worse comes to worst, to shoot back. And for Trump, Hilary Clinton becomes “Heartless Hilary” because she would take people’s guns away from them and deprive them of their one opportunity to defend themselves. This is Trump at his adolescent best, lying and name calling in one fell swoop.

Of course it doesn’t bother Trump in the slightest that there is no evidence that having lots of guns around will deter gun violence. On the contrary: anyone paying attention knows that gun ownership is much higher in the United States than it is in other high income countries. And so is the probability that somebody will shoot you to death. The extent to which the United States is an outlier in both these regards is truly stunning. Take a look at this chart.*

What you’re seeing here is that in 2007, there were about 15 guns present for every 100 members of the population in 21 high income countries other than the United States. For the US, the comparable number was 113. In 2010 in those same 21 countries, there were a little more than .1 gun homicides per 100,000 members of the population; in the US there were 3.6. The probability of being murdered with a gun in the United States was 25.2 times as high as in other high income countries. Is it really possible to look at that number and conclude that having lots and lots of guns around is making us safer?**

Here’s where the question of Trump’s sanity rears its ugly head. In the face of overwhelming evidence that the accumulation of guns has not made us a whit safer in the past, Trump believes that more guns will make us safer in the future. And that, as a wise man once told us, albeit in more polite terms, is nuts.

* To prepare this chart I used data from two sources: the Small Arms Survey 2007 and “Violent Death Rates: The US Compared with Other High-income OECD Countries, 2010,” in the American Journal of Medicine, 2015.

** Don't be thinking that "Well sure, as long as we've got these guns around, we''ll use them when we want to kill somebody. Folks in all those other countries are going to use knives, or poison, or cricket bats or something." It doesn't work that way. Regardless of method, people in other countries murder each other at much lower rates. It's harder to get the job done if you don't have a gun to do it with.