A couple weeks ago, I wrote a response to Mike Stanfill’s anti gun article entitled “Dum-Dum Nation.” A longtime LearnAboutGuns.com reader (and contributor of gun-related news stories) named Anders emailed Mike Stanfill to express his polite disagreement with those inaccurate anti gun statements. Anders and Mr. Stanfill exchanged a few emails; however the discussion soon degraded into little more than Mr. Stanfill launching personal attacks against Anders, and culminated with Mr. Stanfill producing a second (and equally flawed) anti gun article. My response to that new anti gun article and some of Mr. Stanfill’s statements to Anders are below:
My responses to Mike Stanfill’s second anti gun article (the comic)
[In his latest anti gun article, Mike Stanfill provides a web comic depicting the inside of what appears to be a corporate board room. A person who appears to be the CEO of a toaster oven company states that the company is in trouble because their toaster ovens are killing 80 people per day, and solicits suggestions from the other employees present. One employee states that they should simply change the toaster’s name to “firearms” to solve the problem. The caption below that comic states “And thus, in an instant, the Acme Toaster Oven Company was saved.”]
The first problem with this comic is that it equates a situation where a toaster oven malfunctions and causes deaths, with the situation where a firearm functions exactly as designed, allowing one human to intentionally shoot another. Toasters and firearms are worlds apart, and comparing the two just doesn’t make sense. When a person uses their toaster, they are expecting only to heat and/or brown food. They are not expecting anyone to die, and when someone dies while using a toaster, chances are that toaster was grossly defective (or the person using it was grossly reckless). That is why the law imposes strict liability upon manufacturers of products that pose and unreasonable danger to their users during ordinary intended use of the product.
However firearms are a different story altogether, as (some) firearms are intended for the purpose of allowing one person to shoot another, and there are many lawful situations where a person uses a firearm to kill or at least incapacitate another person. As an example, consider the situation when a cop shoots a violent criminal, saving a crime victim from imminent death or grievous bodily harm. The criminal certainly died or suffered great bodily harm due to the cop’s use of a gun, but that was the intended outcome – and indeed the best outcome from a legal and moral standpoint. Similarly, when a woman shoots the violent stalker who broke in to her home and attacked her, the gun again allowed the woman to inflict death or great harm upon the stalker. But again, that is not the result of the gun being defective, but rather the result of the gun working exactly as intended – leading to the legally and morally preferable result that the criminal be prevented from harming their victim. Were a gun to fail to fire, that gun would be dangerously defective, and could lead to cops or law abiding citizens suffering at the hands of violent criminals.
Turning to “accidental” shootings, I would note that there is no such thing. Guns are mechanically simple tools that virtually never fire on their own, and instead only fired when their operators pull the trigger. For a person to be unintentionally shot, at least one person (and often multiple people) must violate multiple basic gun safety and/or safe gun storage rules. These rules are incredibly easy to follow, and it is only when these rules are violated that an unintentional shooting occurs. A departure from these rules can only be considered negligence or worse – not an “accident.” Why this myth about “accidental” shooting persists is something that I can’t comprehend. When a drunk driver causes a fatal car collision, we recognize that it wasn’t car or the alcohol that was at fault, but rather the criminally negligent driver who made the choice to drink and drive. The situation with guns is no different – and in fact, negligent driving costs about 50,000 lives in the US each year, which far exceeds the total number of gun related deaths, even counting suicides and lawful self defense shootings.
Regarding suicides, the same statements made above also ring true. A suicidal person who choses a gun as the method of ending their life does so because they know guns are an effective tool for the job at hand. While it is sad that the suicidal person may end up taking their life, it is not the gun’s fault, as the gun functioned exactly as it should. That bullet could have been used for wholesome activity such as target practice, or to save the life of a crime victim. Since this article looks like it will be rather long, I won’t go in to a full guns and suicide discussion here, but will instead provide links to this article, this article, and this article which address my thoughts on the matter.
Turning to gun-related crime, the inaptness of analogizing criminal action to product liability, as Mr. Stanfill did, is readily apparent. Violent criminals, by definition, intentionally choose to commit a crime. Such crimes are wholly attributable to the criminals who choose to commit them, rather than to the tools they use. Indeed, this is no different than when criminals use cars, fire, knives, or other tools to harm their victims. As far as the idea that banning guns will keep them out of the hands of criminals, that idea has been thoroughly disproved in this country and others. For example, Chicago has had a handgun ban since before I was born, yet its gun toting criminals make that city the US murder capital year after year. The District of Columbia, which until last year had a gun ban, and which still has incredibly strict gun law and virtually no lawful gun ownership, also sees no shortage of armed criminals. Turing to Britain, which has a nation wide gun ban, we can see that gun related crime doubled in the decade after the ban was enacted. Looking at Mexico, which also has an incredibly strict gun ban, there is no shortage of gun related crime, perpetrated by criminals who don’t care about the gun ban anymore than they care about the laws banning illegal drug trafficking. One final point I would make is that illegal gun ownership often results in unintentional shootings, because those individuals who buy guns illegally don’t receive the safety training that is stressed at gun stores and gun ranges where law abiding gun owners spend their time.
My responses to Mike Stanfill’s second anti gun article (the text below the comic)
In text below his comic, Mr. Stanfill provided some anti gun statements which I quote and respond to below:
(women rarely shoot themselves, BTW, unless you’re a Washington madam or a war protester ) but I doubt every suicide was accomplished in a state of total sobriety. I don’t say that with any statistical data to back me up but I’ve read enough stories about Darwin Award nominees to satisfy any nagging, personal doubts. [emphasis added]
I’ll start by saying I find it rather irresponsible for Mr. Stanfill to make such an assumption while admitting that he didn’t even bother to check the statistics. This is especially true in light of the last comment of his that I discuss at the bottom of this page. To set the record straight, the various statistics and studies indicate that about 40% of women who commit suicide use a firearm. The mandatory office-wide suicide prevention training I recently received at work stated that the number was about 57% for men, and 47% for women.
One observation I’d like to make about the data offered is that of those 80 deaths only five are the result of, as the Times puts it, “accident or police action”.
This vividly illustrates the lie that more guns keep us safer. By far the vast majority of gun deaths, as you’ll see from the story, come from suicide or murder or accident. There isn’t even a category for “self-defense”.
Here, Mr. Stanfill refers to the anti gun statistics citied in a newspaper. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just note that such statistics are often flawed, and represent the work of anti gun individuals who conducted their studies with bias. However even working from the assumption that the statistics Mr. Stanfill cites are accurate, the statistics don’t support the argument that he is making.
Firstly, his statistics only count situations where a gun is fired. The vast majority of the 2.5 million self defense gun uses each year don’t result in a single shot being fired. That means that the cases where an armed citizen merely displays their gun and sends the criminals running, hold the criminal at gunpoint until the police arrive, or makes the criminal call the police on themselves are ignored by his statistics. Just looking at the self defense cases that I write about, which represent only a minuscule fraction of the 2.5 million self defense cases each year, it is clear that the statistics cited to by Mr. Stanfill are inaccurate. Indeed, this exclusion of the majority of self defense gun uses highlights the sort bias I mentioned above.
Secondly, his statistics ignore the difficult to quantify but plainly apparent deterrence value of gun ownership. Regarding general deterrence, studies show that criminals fear armed citizens more than they fear the police or anything else. Burglars, rapists, robbers, and all other manner of violent criminals know that a victim may pull out a gun and fatally shoot them, making the next crime their last. Turing to specific prevention, when a criminal is fatally shot in self defense, that criminal will never again go on to harm another victim. Even when the criminal survives being shot by their victim, there is generally little doubt as to the fact that the injured criminal was the perpetrator, allowing that criminal to be efficiently prosecuted and jailed for their crime. Either way, one victim’s self defense actions can save many future victims.
Thirdly, Mr. Stanfill’s statement assumes that banning guns will put a stop to criminals’ use of guns. As I discussed above in greater detail, gun bans don’t disarm criminals. Instead, those criminals willing to break the laws against murder and robber are just as willing to break the law banning gun possession. Anyone who thinks that a gun ban would work to disarm criminals need only look at the failure of prohibition (and our current war on drugs) to keep those items out of criminals’ hands.
Fourthly, Mr. Stanfill’s statement assumes that if criminals didn’t have guns, they wouldn’t be able to commit their crimes. As I’ve mentioned before, violent criminals tend to be young males who are near the peak of their physical strength, and/or they tend to prey upon people who are physically weaker. The result is that victims of criminals who don’t have guns aren’t necessarily any better off, since the criminal can chase down and overpower their victim. This young woman, who was very athletic and into martial arts, was attacked in a US national park by a criminal who didn’t have a gun. Despite her physical strength and unarmed self defense training, she was subdued, beaten, kidnapped, and murdered by criminal. This elderly man was tortured to death in his own home by criminals who didn’t have a gun, as they tried to force him to give up money that he didn’t have. This elderly woman was attacked in her own home by a young criminal who didn’t have a gun. She couldn’t escape from him, and the result was that she was brutally beaten and left for dead. This young woman was also attacked in her own home by a criminal who didn’t have a gun, and she apparently tried her best to fight him off. Yet he managed to sexually assault and then kill her, after breaking every bone in her face. As a final example, this disabled woman was attacked by a group of young criminals who didn’t have a gun. The criminals first stabbed her dog to death, then slashed her with a knife.
But think about it… would you really want an anonymous vigilante meting out justice in your neighborhood? You may be thinking Charles Bronson but what you get is John Allen Muhammad.
This statement confuses vigilantism with self defense, when the two are truly words apart. Vigilantism refers to seeking out criminals to punish them for a crime they have already committed, out of a belief that the legal system won’t properly punish the criminal. Vigilantism is illegal and immoral, since it results in disproportionate punishments, a lack of due process, etc. Self defense, on the other hand, is the lawful and morally acceptable use of force by a crime victim to stop an imminent threat to their life. These two concepts should not be confused, and more information on the profound difference between vigilantism and self defense can be seen here.
Americans are, so the myth goes, rugged individualists.
We are, in reality, little children who love things that go boom.
Suggesting that gun owners only like guns due to a childish fascination is intellectually lazy. Rather than attempting to understand why between 1/3 and 1/2 of American households have a gun, Mr. Stanfill just calls those millions of gun owners “little children.” This constitutes little more than an ad hominem attack.
My responses to Mike Stanfill’s personal attacks against Anders (and gun owners in general)
I’m a firm believer that polite and reasoned debate, rather than personal attacks, are the proper way to handle contentious issues such as gun rights. I therefore generally ignore personal attacks, since responding to them detracts from the substantive issue. However I find some of the statements made by Mr. Stanfill to be worth mentioning and responding to, as they shed light into the anti gun mentality.
I’m not saying ban all guns. If you hunt for food just store your rifle at the local armory until it’s hunting season again. Simple solution to a complex problem.
But let’s ban all handguns. Their only use is as a discrete devvice[sic] to kill other people. We don’t need devices made strictly to kill people. How barbaric is that? How dumb do you have to be to not understand that?
I’ve already addressed the point that gun ownership for self defense is a legally and morally acceptable reason for gun ownership. Indeed don’t hunt at all, but own plenty of guns (although I have nothing against hunting). Also note that this is not just my opinion – last year, the Supreme Court made it abundantly clear that the Second Amendment protects the right to handgun ownership for self defense purposes. Here, Mr. Stanfill calls Anders (and by extension other gun owners) “barbaric,” and refers to everyone who disagrees with his position as “dumb.” Leaving aside the insulting nature of his comments, I must say I find it humorous that he has effectively called the Supreme Court, many constitutional scholars, all handgun owners, and likely the majority of the United States population dumb.
As an aside, I would also note the similarities between Mr. Stanfill’s statements about handguns and the flawed anti gun arguments discussed in this article.
[In response to Anders’ statement that banning guns wouldn’t prevent carjackings, Mr. Stanfill stated the following:] Uh, no guns no car-jacking? I mean, if a guy walsk[sic] up to you and says get out of the car you just drive off. End of drama.
The first problem with this statement, as I’ve discussed already, is the faulty assumption that banning guns will take them out of the hands of criminals. It won’t, for the reasons set forth in detail above.
Moreover, even if all guns did magically disappear, carjackings would still occur, as they can be and are accomplished by unarmed criminals all the time. Just using an example from last week, a 68 year old woman was attacked by a younger criminal, beaten about the head, and relieved of her car. I’ve also previously discussed a case where a 53 year old woman was carjacked by an unarmed criminal, who got away with her car after seriously beating her. Nor are these isolated examples. In fact, a cursory search on Google News shows many cases of unarmed criminals carjacking unarmed victims.
While we’re on the topic of vehicles, I would note that crime victims in their cars seem to have the best chance of saving themselves when they are armed for self defense. Just to give a few examples, this armed man used his lawfully carried handgun to defend himself against a carjacker. This armed elderly man used his lawfully carried firearm to fend off an attacker who cut him off in traffic, jumped out of his car, and tried to rob him at gunpoint. Similarly, this armed citizen used his lawfully carried handgun – without having to fire a shot – to fend off another driver who had a serious problem with road rage.
So what was that about not checking one’s information, Einstein?
As I discussed above, Mr. Stanfill made inaccurate assumptions about some of the underlying facts at issue in this debate, and freely admitted that he didn’t even bother to look up the statistics. However this didn’t stop him from launching into a personal attack where he (incorrectly, I might add) accuses Anders of not checking his own information. Since I’m an attorney, rather than a psychiatrist, I’ll freely admit that I’m not qualified to determine whether Mr. Stanfill is suffering from hoplophobia; however his emotional reactions and refusal to hear calmly stated facts regarding guns does appear to be consistent with that disorder as described in Dr. Sarah Thompson’s article.