A Short Talk About Gun Control


“Necessity is that in virtue of which it is impossible to be otherwise.” –Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

Here is a very partial listing of the insane gun violence that took place in America in the forty-eight hours after the Connecticut school shootings. Obviously, it is not a listing of all the gun violence, as that would be too long to list. This list comes courtesy of our friends at The Awl:

Now. Anyway. Where were we? Guns. Guns guns guns guns guns.


[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIpLd0WQKCY&w=584&h=390]The Simpsons has basically covered every philosophical-type topic that needs covering, and so here is what The Simpsons has to say about guns, and I quote: “Guns aren’t toys! They’re for family protection, hunting dangerous or delicious animals, and keeping the King of England out of your face!” So true; so wise. Or maybe not wise. The Simpsons tends towards irony, after all.

Here, for the record, is what the Second Amendment of the Constitution has to say:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Which really seems pretty short and sweet. Bearing arms should not be infringed. That’s what the Constitution says, so deal with it, and it doesn’t matter if you’re an elitist East Coast latte-swilling dork like myself who happens not to care for guns. (Full disclosure: I have held a gun once in my entire life. Holding a gun made me feel like shooting something, because the gun was big and shiny and metal and bad-ass. So. There you go.)

However, things are more complicated than they appear. It’s not necessarily clear how we’re supposed to interpret the Second Amendment, even though interpreting it seems like a no-brainer. In fact, The New York Times published a really excellent essay a while back about how confusing the Second Amendment is. Here’s the problem. See that comma? That single stupid comma in the Second Amendment? Scholars aren’t clear on what style of comma it is. Basically, some scholars think that the sentence is done in an “ablative absolute” construction, which is a sentence construction from Latin.

Here’s an example of an old-fashioned ablative absolute construction, as used in the Times’ article:

“Caesar, being in command of the earth, I fear neither civil war nor death by violence”

Translate that into modern usage and what this means is:

“Because the emperor Julius Caesar commands the earth, I fear neither civil war nor death by violence.”

Stay with me here. What this means is that the secondary part of the sentence is actually the controlling part of the sentence. So let’s take the Second Amendment:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

If this is an ablative absolute sentence, then what this means in modern usage is:

Because a well-regulated militia is necessary, the right of the people to bear arms (for the purpose of using them in that militia) shall not be infringed.

Got that? The Amendment is saying we need a well-regulated militia and so people should have guns which they can use in that militia. Anyway, again, you can check out the whole article here, but this is a totally viable interpretation of the Amendment. Which would mean…

…Which would mean that if we felt like it, we could ban all guns, except for their use in a militia where their use would be strictly overseen and regulated. We could have an organized militia, and also, say, organized hunting clubs, and then ban the private use of guns in homes. Which would mean…

…In order to understand what that would mean, let’s look at some statistics. This’ll be easy, I promise.


First of all, by banning guns from private use, we wouldn’t have school shooting deaths like we did in Connecticut (and Virginia, and Colorado, and so on and on and on…). That’s obvious. But let’s look at the bigger picture.

A couple of years ago, I interviewed that guy who brought a loaded gun to an Obama town-hall meeting in New Hampshire. You have probably forgotten about that guy, and about the mild kerfuffle which took place over that incident, but nonetheless, it happened, and I interviewed him, and then got in a predictably dumb argument with readers over the Second Amendment. So I looked up some stats. I’m reusing the same stats from the year 2009, but that’s okay, because:

  1. I hate doing math, and this involves math.
  2. 2009 is the last year that we have really solid data for anyway.
  3. No laws have changed since 2009.
  4. These statistics remain almost exactly the same every single year.

So. Here are some statistics from the United States, where guns — including assault rifles — are legal. And then some statistics from the United Kingdom, where guns are banned. Go ahead and check them out.


MURDERS WITH FIREARMS (for the year 2009):

U.S. – 9,369

England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales – 14


U.S. population – 300 million

U.K. population – 60 million


So the United States has five times as many people, and 670 times as many murders from gun violence.

And that statistic doesn’t even include accidental deaths, suicide, non-fatal injuries…


U.S. accidental gun deaths – 824

U.K. – 0

(Again, these are stats for the year 2009.)


And by the way, we have way more police on the streets than they do in England, so technically speaking, we should be much safer. But we’re not.


So — hypothetical — we adopt a Constitutional amendment and put English gun laws into effect, starting tomorrow. Or: different hypothetical — we interpret the Second Amendment to mean that guns may only be used in well-regulated militias and well-regulated hunting clubs. And we confiscate privately owned guns.


In that case, here is what happens. The United States has a population that is five times as large as the United Kingdom. And the United Kingdom had 14 gun-related murders.

So if we ban guns and adopt U.K.-style laws, then…

Next year, 5 x 14 = approximately 70 gun-related murders in the U.S.

That’s 9,299 less murders than we currently have a year.

I kind of like those odds.


Last statistic, I promise. So, assuming we adopt U.K.-style laws, we then have about 70 gun-related murders a year. For a population of three hundred million.

70 gun-murders out of 300,000,000 people would put your chances of being murdered by a criminal at:

2.33333333 × 10-7

2.3 times ten to the negative seventh.

That means you would have a 0.00000023% chance of being killed by a criminal with a gun, per year.

Sounds pretty safe to me.

..And to add on to that, your chances of being struck by lightning are 1.76 x 10-6.

That’s 0.00000176%

So under my plan, you’d have a higher chance of being struck by lightning than of being shot by a criminal. Ahem. …I like those odds.


So, there’s that. If you are not so excited by my plan, consider this additional fact. OWNING A GUN DOESN’T MAKE YOU ANY SAFER. In fact, owning a gun puts your life at risk — owning a gun increases the risk that… you’ll use it to commit suicide, that a family member or loved one will take it and kill you with it, that you’ll accidentally shoot yourself with it, that your child will grab it and accidentally kill him or herself.

Got that? Every time you buy a gun, you’re making yourself less safe. The risk you’re creating is far greater than the tiny, tiny chance that you’ll use your gun to defend yourself from a criminal or a home invader, which almost never happens. (Which makes sense; the world does not actually resemble the plot of a bad Liam Neeson movie.)

Guns make you less safe, not more safe. Don’t believe me? Too fucking bad. It’s science:

Those persons with guns in the home were at greater risk than those without guns in the home of dying from a homicide in the home

Results show that regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home.

And if someone does enter your house and tries to attack you, having a gun just makes it more likely that you’ll die:

Individuals in possession of a gun were 4.46 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession…

And if none of this clear enough for you, how about this?

[S]cientific studies indicate that the health risk of a gun in the home is greater than the benefit. The evidence is overwhelming for the fact that a gun in the home is a risk factor for completed suicide and that gun accidents are most likely to occur in homes with guns. There is compelling evidence that a gun in the home is a risk factor for intimidation and for killing women in their homes.

…There is no credible evidence of a deterrent effect of firearms or that a gun in the home reduces the likelihood or severity of injury during an altercation or break-in. Thus, groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics urge parents not to have guns in the home.

Okay? Got it yet? …Okay.


Guns aren’t making us safer. They’re killing us in huge, ridiculous numbers. Get rid of guns, which can be done without even amending the Constitution, just by interpreting the Second Amendment in a way that the founders probably intended. Okay? Okay.

And in case you’re waiting for some outrage over the shootings in Connecticut, here’s some outrage: I am fucking outraged. I am sick of this happening over and over again. I am sick of turning on CNN and seeing this shit over and over again. And I’m sick of the fake surprise. I’m sick of watching Anderson Cooper and the other nitwits acting all shocked: “How could this have happened?” they say. …How could this have happened? What are you, a fucking idiot?

It happens because our laws are idiotic. Change the laws. Ban guns. Life will be better if we do. And that is fucking all. That’s the end. Finis.

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image – Anupam Kamalmain image – U.S. National Archive