Tuesday, November 5, 2013

One Child Is Holding Something That’s Been Banned in America to Protect Them: Commenting on Another Comment

Back in April 2013, I posted One Child Is Holding Something That’s Been Banned in America to Protect Them: Powerful Gun Control PSAs from Moms Demand Action, one of my numerous recent posts on guns and gun control. That post has been one of the most widely viewed posts that I’ve ever written (and it continues to receive a large number of views from readers outside of the United States). You may remember the post because of the three remarkable images:

gun control psas moms demand action

gun control psas moms demand action








gun control psas moms demand action

A week or so after that post was published, I took some time to look at one of the comments written in response: One Child Is Holding Something That’s Been Banned in America to Protect Them: Commenting on a Comment. Well, today I want to spend a little time looking at another comment thread to the post. I think that the comments are illustrative of several problems, hence my decision to share and discuss them. Please remember, that I do not edit or moderate comments (except that I delete comments that are obviously spam).

About a month after the post was published, a user identified as “leon” (clicking on the link takes you to a page about “opaque” [i.e., anonymous] users) posted the following comment (misspellings in original):

this is a terrible awful and moronic excuse. if he kids where to put the gun down and tell it to shoot, the guns wouldnt do ANYTHGIN! statistics show that of all the ways people are getting killed, its people with basball bats that are doing most of the killing. that is proven by reports from the FBI and the CIA why not ban THOSE?! “baseball bats” this whole crappy thing about guns killing people is just all bull-crap! guns dont kill people PEOPLE kill people WITH guns!

Did you note the obvious fallacy in the comment? Just days before the comment was posted, I’d heard a similar argument, recognized the fallacy, and looked it up. Thus, when leon left his post, I was ready and responded just about an hour later:


Thanks so much for taking the time to regurgitate bogus right-wing, pro-gun talking points. Before repeating your statistic, did you even, you know, stop a think? Baseball bats “are doing most of the killing”? Does that even sound plausible? Of course not. Because it’s simply not true.

Here’s what Snopes has to say about this meme that has been in use by pro-gun advocates:

In any debate about gun control in the U.S., someone will inevitably make the argument that “[X] kills more people than guns do” (where [X] is anything from automobiles to scissors to sharks), with the implication that gun control advocates are too narrowly focused on one issue while ignoring other, greater threats to public safety.

One common form of this argument which is often invoked after a prominent incident brings the subject of gun control to the forefront of public discussion (such as the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut) is the claim that more people are killed by baseball bats than by firearms, an assertion typically cited as a truism which is borne out by FBI statistics.

However, information gathered by the FBI does not support this claim. The Uniform Crime Reports made available on the Crime in the U.S. section of the FBI's web site includes homicide data that breaks down killings by the types of weapons used. In 2011, the percentages for weapon types used in homicides throughout the U.S. were as follows:

Firearms: 67.8%
Knives or other cutting instruments: 13.4%
Personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.): 5.7%
Blunt objects (clubs, hammers, etc.): 3.9%
Other dangerous weapons: 9.2%

The FBI doesn’t offer data showing the latter categories broken down into more detail, so it isn't possible to determine from this source exactly what percentage of homicides in 2011 involved the use of baseball bats. But even if one were to assume that every single homicide in the “blunt objects” category was committed with a baseball bat (almost certainly a very large overestimate), firearm-related homicides would still outnumber bat-related homicides by a ratio of more than sixteen to one.

Next time, Leon, try doing a little reseach [sic] first.

Not surprisingly, neither leon nor any other gun rights advocate responded … until last week, when a comment was left by staplehead3 (an apparently anonymous user on Google+ who uses a cross for an avatar); I don’t know if leon and staplehead3 are one and the same (though I have my suspicions…):

Lol “Next time, Leon, try doing a little reseach first.” you may want to take your own advice. I looked at the website you linked and I cannot figure out from which orifice in your body that you pulled those stats from. You are trying to skew statistics in your favor just because you know you can’t win without doing so.

Well, you know me. I couldn’t help responding to staplehead3 (in my comment, a link didn’t display properly; I’ve corrected that below):

I’m not sure how hard it is to do a little research. The table that I included in my comment was copied verbatim from the Snopes article that I linked to. But if that isn’t good enough, you can look at that link for homicide data from the FBI (http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-8). If you look in the top row of the far right column (I’m trying to make this easy for you…), you will see that there were 12,664 homicides in 2011. In the row just below that, you’ll see that of those homicides, 8,583 were committed with a firearm (the rows below that break down the type of firearm). If you divide 8,583 by 12,664, you’ll get 67.8% which just happens to be the number that Snopes used. If you then look down a few rows, you’ll see a row labeled “Blunt objects (clubs, hammers, etc.)”. I presume that baseball bats are included in this row as “clubs”. Anyway, if you once again look across that row to the last column, you'll see that in 2011, there were 496 homicides committed with blunt objects. Dividing 496 by 12,664 gives us 3.9%, once again the same number quoted by Snopes.

Now, I recognize that you probably don’t want to accept the FBI crime data as authoritative. So let’s try this: Provide me with concrete empirical evidence from a legitimate data source that shows “of all the ways people are getting killed, its people with basball bats that are doing most of the killing” (those were your words on May 17). You also alleged that your claim “is proven by reports from the FBI and the CIA”. So please provide me the links to those reports proving that “people with baseball bats … are doing most of the killing”. Take your time. I’ll wait.

I wanted to include the following graphic in my response comment, but apparently Blogger doesn’t allow images in comments:

FBI Crime Stats

That is a screenshot that I took of the FBI crime statistics page — the very same page linked to in the Snopes article that I quoted in my first response. I added the red circles to make it that much easier for the statistics to be understood. Also, if you’re interested in the 2012 data (the table above and the data quoted in the Snopes article is from 2011), that information is also available on the FBI’s crime statistics pages. And to nobody’s surprise, the 2012 data shows that, similar to 2011, 69% of homicides were committed with firearms while only 4% were committed with blunt objects (like baseball bats). In fact, since 2007, the highest percentage of homicides by blunt instrument was just over 4½% in 2009.

So, no, “people with basball [sic] bats” are absolutely not “doing most of the killing”. One final point on the statistics themselves: It occurred to me when I was writing this post that the FBI crime statistics deal only with crime; that is, the statistics do not include accidents that were not ruled to be homicides. And I think it’s safe to say (though I’m sure leon and staplehead3 would object) that far, far more people are the victims of accidental shootings than accidental bludgeoning by baseball bats.

With those facts in mind, query a few things:

  • How is it that the meme that leon repeated, that baseball bats rather than guns are responsible for most homicides, is so easily accepted as true and then regurgitated without even applying any common sense thought to the idiocy of the claim?
  • How is that staplehead3 could look at any of those links that I provided and not find the relevant data, concluding instead that I had pulled the statistics from a bodily orifice and skewed them (and did I make up the stats or skew them … I’m not clear on that accusation)?
  • Why are those on the right (and I’m going to presume that both leon and staplehead3 are on the right given the positions that they’ve expressed) are so, seemingly, allergic to statistics and can only comprehend statistics that demonstrate a truth with which they disagree if they tell themselves that they numbers have been “skewed” (recall the claims from the right before the 2012 election that polling data showing President Obama ahead of Mitt Romney must have been skewed)?
  • Why can’t people use comment threads like these to engage in civil discussion and dialogue without name calling?

I don’t have answers to these questions. I do suspect that cognitive dissonance plays some role; that is to say that some people are so tied to and invested with their particular worldview and understanding of how things should be, that data and evidence to the contrary must be wrong. After all, it’s much easier to say “the data is wrong” than to admit that you were wrong or, even worse, re-think your positions. Similarly, I think that may also explain the easy spread of the baseball bat meme. Those who harbor strong pro-gun views may be shocked by mass killings like that at Sandy Hook, and so need an outlet or a scapegoat for their own concerns. Thus, if there is someone or something that can be blamed instead of easy access to guns or the ease by which guns can kill multiple people, then misplacing that blame allows the true “villains” of the story (i.e., guns and the easy access to guns) to be left off of the proverbial hook.

The discussion of whether “guns kill people” is an interesting discussion. It’s a discussion worth having. Dialogue about whether additional gun control laws are needed is worth having. Dialogue about crime in America and keeping our children safe is worth having. But, as I say in reference to so many other things, we can’t have that dialogue if we can’t first agree on basic facts. When people are willing (with a degree of vitriol, no less) to spew obviously bogus “factual” talking points or are able to look at hard statistics compiled by what should be unimpeachable authorities and not comprehend what they’re looking at (or conclude that the statistics are “skewed”), then we’ve reached a point where common sense, meaningful dialogue is, essentially, impossible.

Some of us live in a reality-based world where logic and empirical evidence have value. But too many people have left reality behind, no longer trust empirical evidence, cannot fathom simple logic or rationale arguments, and seek, instead, to try to warp reality to fit into the fantasy that they’ve created for themselves. The question is whether we are going to let them drag us, our country, and our world down that rabbit hole with them … or whether thinking people will say “enough is enough” and try to reclaim the importance of truth as a basis upon which reality exists.

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At Friday, January 10, 2014 3:07:00 AM , Anonymous Dimoco said...

very nice article. thank you

At Wednesday, September 24, 2014 8:44:00 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

The correct statistic (and it is correct) is that blunt force type weapons (baseball bats, pipes, clubs, 2 x 4s, crow bars, tire irons, BUT not claw hammers, the claw would cause a penetrating injury) cause more deaths per annum than "assault rifles". "Assault rifle" is a vague identifier at best, AR15 or "Bushmaster" is probably an identifier that you can relate to better. So, the statistic is blunt force type weapons cause more deaths per annum than "Bushmasters". This statistic was identified and originally used to combat the ridiculous idea that pistol grips, folding stocks, and combat optics, somehow make this style of weapon inherently more dangerous than weapons that APPEAR less menacing. The statistic is accurate too, by the chart above, blunt force type weapons cause more deaths per annum than rifles (rifles as a category is going to include bolt, pump, lever, action rifles and low capacity semi automatic hunting rifles, as well as "assault rifles"). Leon and Staplehead3 are wrong and possibly brain damaged, that doesn't make gun control appropriate or even effective. BTW, common household falls, that result in death, are approximately 1.5 times more common than homicides attributed to firearms, per annum. You are literally more likely to die from falling down than you are from being killed with a firearm. That statistic comes from the CDC, hardly an NRA supporter, or a conservative organization.

At Monday, September 29, 2014 3:15:00 PM , Blogger MSWallack said...

Thanks for your comments, Al. I'm relatively short on time, so I'll keep my response brief. First, the point that I was responding to was not a comparison of assault rifles to blunt force objects but the repeated claims that baseball bats are "doing most of the killing" (as leon put it). Next, you claim that "assault rifle" is included in the definition of rifle. I looked for the FBI's definition to check that, but I couldn't find it. Can you provide a link? In any event, yes, the category "rifles" are linked to fewer homicides than blunt instruments; however, it may be worth adding in "other guns" and "firearms, type not stated" to get the full picture.

But those are all just technicalities. From my perspective, guns kill far, far too many people. They wound far, far too many people. And many of those killed or wounded a children. If we compare these sorts of statistics to similar industrialized nations, we should be expect to see similar results, but we all know that the number of gun deaths in the US would be way, way higher per capita than in any of those other countries. Why?

And yes, I'm sure that household accidents cause many, many deaths and injuries. And because of that we've taken all sorts of precautions over the years to try to limit accidental deaths in the home. From requiring GFI outlets near sinks to running safety tests on consumer products to adding non-skid tape to the bottom of bathtubs, we've done many, many things to try to make our homes safer. We can't eliminate every risk, but we do try. But then homes aren't designed to kill people; guns are. And far too many people are reluctant to agree to efforts to make guns (and the homes in which they are kept) safer. Do you support universal background checks? Why or why not? What about trigger locks? Insurance? Strict liability? Would you agree to ban armor piercing rounds or high capacity magazines?

Assault rifles are just one part of the issue. I'm also concerned with the proliferation of guns and of violence on our streets and in our homes. The prevalence of guns, and the ease of obtaining them together with mass amounts of ammunition, simply makes our society far more dangerous.

At Saturday, November 29, 2014 5:52:00 AM , Anonymous handgun manufacturers said...

What is probably most confusing to someone new to this field is the fact that there are admirers and critics for every make and model of handgun.


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