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home : letters : letters May 26, 2016

1/4/2013 5:56:00 AM
Guns as a public health issue

To the Editor:

In the aftermath of last month’s murder of innocent schoolchildren in Connecticut, much has been written about how such appalling violence can exist in a supposedly civilized society. 

It has been suggested that a national spiritual failing is to blame. Some have suggested that the problem rests within a rejection of traditional morality. Others express the view that a violence-prone entertainment industry must bear responsibility. Still others insist that the answer to gun violence is more guns: after all, they say, it is people, not guns, that kill people. Gun ownership is “freedom.”

But what about guns themselves? All the concerns mentioned above may have merit, but relatively little space, in my opinion, has been given to guns as a public health issue. Forget, for a moment, about bad guys and good guys, or the right-to-bear-arms. Let’s concentrate instead on some facts about guns and society and ask ourselves whether a nation which has nearly as many guns as people is a healthy and safe place in which to live. 

A great deal of evidence suggest that this is not the case – especially when the topics are suicide, domestic violence, and fatalities among children.

Suicides, most of which occur at home, account for well over half of all gun-related fatalities. Of all manner of suicide methods, death by gunshot is by far the most effective. And, according to the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, “Access to lethal means, especially firearms, greatly increases the likelihood that someone will commit suicide. A gun in the home is 11 times more likely to be used to attempt a suicide than to be used in self-defense.”

In a paper about firearms and domestic violence, the Violence Policy Center points out that: “An analysis of female domestic homicides (a woman murdered by a spouse, intimate acquaintance, or close relative) showed that ... having one or more guns in the home made a woman 7.2 times more likely to be the victim of such a homicide.

How about guns and children? An analysis by the Children’s Defense Fund in 2012 found that of 23 industrial nations “87 percent of the children under 15 killed by guns in these nations lived in the United States. The gun homicide rate in the U.S. for teens and young adults ages 15 to 24 was 42.7 times higher than the combined rate for the other nations.” And the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that “the safest home for children and teens is one without guns.”

These findings are not outliers. Nor are they the rantings of left-wing liberal bloggers intent on banning and confiscating all our hunting rifles. What they reflect is a vast amount of research concerning the prevalence of firearms in America. And that research clearly indicates that guns in society – at the levels that we apparently take for granted – represent a serious threat to the health and safety of many American citizens. No one can legislate morality or adequately define what an absolute freedom is. Levels of gun violence in this country are extreme. Guns do kill. A responsible society would want to do something about it – and an armed citizenry is not the answer.

Jeff Laadt
Eagle River

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, January 11, 2013
Article comment by: c martenson

Our polarized society wants everything to be all or nothing, either or. We can implement ideas from both sides to good effect.

The NRA has suggested armed guards in every school. Joe Biden seems to agree. Let's put an armed, community police officer in every school. However, let's not stop there. We need to preserve the tradition of hunting, so let's ensure that deer rifles and shotguns, for bird hunting, can never be banned this is already the case with the Wisconsin Constitution, and an amendment ensuring the right to bare arms for hunting. We're good!

Let's find the middle ground. Folks could hunt without any sort of automatic, or semi-automatic guns in fact, I would be embarassed to admit I needed a semi-automatic weapon to kill a deer, bear, or wolf. We don't need automatic, semi-automatic, or guns that can be converted to such weapons let's ban them.

Let us, as a State, do that much, and evaluate the results. Let us see if this reduces gun deaths. I think it might, empirically, based on data from societies without such an excess of every manner of gun.

Again, Wisconsinites have codified their right to bear arms for the legitimate purpose of hunting. However, polemic organizations, such as the NRA, counter any effort to reduce the numbers of assault weapons, which aren't part of our hunting heritage let us be pragmatic, and allow only legitimate rifles and shotguns for hunting purposes empirically, fewer numbers of guns in societies, lowers the incidences of gun violence/attrocities.

Posted: Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Article comment by: Joyce Brown

Lost amid all the gun rhetoric, is a simple question, if gun control laws such as registration, an assault weapon ban and limits on large magazines might save the life of only one innocent six year old child, it would all be worth it. What kind of person could disagree?

While I don't hunt, I do own guns, I l enjoy target shooting, and I have a gun for self defense purposes, but there is no reason that I need an assault rifle or a high capacity magazine. I would have no problem with registration of my guns, I've never done anything wrong.

Posted: Saturday, January 5, 2013
Article comment by: James Baird

When you own a gun you are taking all the necessary steps to kill another human being with one finger. I am sure you don't think of yourself as a potential murderer. Most people serving jail time for murder didn't either. No one does, and yet each year thousands of Americans are killed by jilted lovers or drunken strangers, by stray gunfire or depressed teenagers killed with guns whose owners were responsible and capable right up to the moment they decided to kill someone.

Posted: Saturday, January 5, 2013
Article comment by: Jeff Laadt


First, I'm glad you accept my assumptions. I must tell you that it was not my intention to offer some comprehensive gun control policy -- my letter was written more out of frustration and sorrow. It is obvious that I do not believe that more guns in society is the answer to anything, for the reasons outlined in my letter. However, since (as you rightly point out) the prevalence of gun ownership is already so overwhelming, it may be too late, and certainly politically unfeasible, to do much about it. It would be practically impossible to remove such an overabundance of guns even if one desired so.

I do not pretend to know much about gun issues in the Bahamas. And I would not assume that "draconian" gun control offers any protection against violence generally. But there does exist a substatial body of evidence that leads to the conclusion that in places where gun ownership is not a personal constitutionally protected right (via the Second Amendment) and where there are national restrictions and requirements, the incidence of firearm injury and death is lower than in the United States.

It is not the case that Americans are any more a violent people than elsewhere, it just seems we are more likely to express that violence with guns. What has been establish is that, compared to nations of similar development (Europe, Canada Australia, Japan, etc.) gun ownership and ensuing gun violence are much higher in the United States. Much higher.

Short of a repeal of the Second Amendment, mandatory confiscation, and a nationalized (as opposed to state-by-state) system of licensing and regulation, there is probably not much hopoe for different outcomes. Too bad. But I would be the first to acknowledg that such a policy direction is unlikely in the extreme.

Jeff Laadt

Posted: Saturday, January 5, 2013
Article comment by: Jeff Laadt

Bob, thanks for your input.

I cannot offer many of the assurances you seek. And I am completely aware of the unpopularity of my position.

There will always be "bad guys", just as there will always be crime and violence. It was not my intention to ignore the issue, but simply to point out that much of the discussion has centered on crime, type of weaponry, and reasons why accept gun violence in society. I felt there was not enough attention given to the overall prevalence of guns in America and how that, in itself, posed a public health threat.

I am not so naive as to suppose criminal behavior can ever be removed from society. Such a position is quite unrealistic. Frankly, I do not have a solution for you. But I do take issue with a couple of things you raised in you comment. Do you really feel that foreign invasion is such a major concern or that, even in such an unlikely event, that armed (but untrained) citizens could ever be an effective deterrent? Surely you can agree that neither Canada nor Mexico are threats to the national sovereignty -- or that there is a threat anywhere to the very existence of this country.

What also seems to concern you, and others, is this notion that the U.S. government is somehow poised to turn against its own citizens. The ensuing logic being that Americans need to be armed to prevent sucy a thing from happening. Honestly, I think such reasoning is absurd, and one would hope that political battle might be waged according to First Amendment (not Second Amendment) rules of engagement. Political discussion is one thing. Armed insurrection another. I just do not happen to believe such a position has any merit.

By the way, since you always struck me as a reasonable type, here is my e-mail address:

Jeff Laadt

Posted: Friday, January 4, 2013
Article comment by: James Baird

Nothing like copy and paste. Two long and error filled rants lifted from the internet. Both are low level blogers.

As for Dr. Gary Kleck, his work has been shown to be seriously flawed. If he were a medical doctor, he'd be considered a quack.

No matter how it is argued, guns are meant to kill. Just as swords and arrows and lances are meant to be used to kill. They can be used to kill for food or for fun. They can kill the young and the old, the just and the unjust alike.

Posted: Friday, January 4, 2013
Article comment by: Bruce Van Hoozen

Who is Dr. Gary Kleck?
The Criminologist Whose Self-Defense Research Destroyed Gun Control Arguments
From Ben Garrett

When gun rights supporters make their case against gun control in term papers, op-ed newspaper columns, Internet message board postings and emails to friends and colleagues, as often as not they’ll include numbers to support their argument that are the result of studies conducted by Dr. Gary Kleck. How did a man who was not a supporter of gun rights or gun owners’ causes come to be one of their biggest advocates?

Gary Kleck, Criminologist

Born in Lombard, Ill., in 1951, Kleck received his B.A. from the University of Illinois in 1973. By 1979, he had received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Illinois in Urbana. He has spent his entire career at Florida State University’s School of Criminology, beginning as an instructor and eventually becoming a professor at the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice in 1991.

It was also in 1991 that Kleck authored his first book, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America. He would win the American Society of Criminology’s Michael J. Hindelang award in 1993 for the book. In 1997, he authored Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control. The same year, he joined Don B. Kates to publish The Great American Gun Debate: Essays on Firearms and Violence. In 2001, Kleck and Kates teamed up again for Armed: New Perspectives on Gun Control.

Kleck’s first submission to a peer-reviewed journal on the subject of gun control was in 1979, when he penned an article on capital punishment, gun ownership and homicide for the American Journal of Sociology. Since then, he has written more than 24 articles for various journals of sociology, criminology and others on the subject of guns and gun control. He has also published countless newspaper articles and position papers over the course of his career.

An Argument For Gun Ownership From an Unlikely Source

Ask the average gun owner which of America’s major political parties is most likely to support gun control and gun bans, and the overwhelming answer will be Democrats. Therefore, if a person who was unfamiliar with Kleck’s research reviewed only the titles of his books and articles and compared them with Kleck’s political ideology, they might expect him to be making the case for gun control.

In his 1997 book, Targeting Guns, Kleck revealed that he is a member of several liberal organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and Democrats 2000. He is registered as an active Democrat and has contributed financially to the campaigns of Democrat political candidates. He is not a member of the National Rifle Association, or any other pro-gun organization.

Yet Kleck’s 1993 study on guns and their use in self-defense proved to be one of the most damaging arguments against restricted gun rights as the gun control movement reached its peak in American politics.

Kleck’s Survey Findings

Kleck surveyed 2,000 households across the nation, then extrapolated the data to reach his findings. In the process, he managed to shatter many previous survey claims and found that guns are used far more often for self-defense than they are used to commit crimes.

Among Kleck’s findings:

•For every use of a gun to commit a crime, there are three-to-four cases of guns being used in self-defense of a crime.
•Assault and robbery rates are lower when victims are armed with a gun.
•A gun is used in self-defense to protect its owner from crime 2.5 million times per year, an average of once every 13 seconds.
•Fifteen percent of the gun defenders interviewed believed someone would have died if they had not been armed. If true, that’s an average of one life saved due to firearm self-defense every 1.3 minutes.
•In nearly 75% of the cases, the victim did not know his attackers. In nearly 50% of the cases, he faced at least two attackers and in nearly 25% of the cases, there were three or more attackers. A quarter of the incidents of self-defense occurred away from the home.
Results of Kleck’s Findings

Kleck’s National Self-Defense Survey findings provided a strong argument for concealed carry laws and keeping guns in the home for self-defense purposes. It also provided a counter argument to other surveys at the time which claimed that keeping guns for the purpose of self-defense was inadvisable due to their overall danger to the gun owner and his family members.

Marvin Wolfgang, a noted criminologist who was on record favoring a ban on all firearms, even those carried by law enforcement officers, was quoted as saying that the Kleck survey was nearly foolproof, saying: “What troubles me is the article by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz. The reason I am troubled is that they have provided an almost clear-cut case of methodologically sound research in support of something I have theoretically opposed for years, namely, the use of a gun in defense against a criminal perpetrator…I do not like their conclusions that having a gun can be useful, but I cannot fault their methodology.”

Posted: Friday, January 4, 2013
Article comment by: Bruce Van Hoozen

December 18, 2012 12:00 A.M.

Gun-Control Ignorance
How many times do the same arguments need to be refuted?
By Thomas Sowell

Must every tragic mass shooting bring out the shrill ignorance of “gun control” advocates?

The key fallacy of so-called gun-control laws is that such laws do not in fact control guns. They simply disarm law-abiding citizens, while people bent on violence find firearms readily available.

If gun-control zealots had any respect for facts, they would have discovered this long ago, because there have been too many factual studies over the years to leave any serious doubt about gun-control laws being not merely futile but counterproductive.

Places and times with the strongest gun-control laws have often been places and times with high murder rates. Washington, D.C., is a classic example, but just one among many.

The rate of gun ownership is higher in rural areas than in urban areas, but the murder rate is higher in urban areas. The rate of gun ownership is higher among whites than among blacks, but the murder rate is higher among blacks. For the country as a whole, hand-gun ownership doubled in the late 20th century, while the murder rate went down.

The few counter-examples offered by gun-control zealots do not stand up under scrutiny. Perhaps their strongest talking point is that Britain has stronger gun-control laws than the United States and lower murder rates.

But, if you look back through history, you will find that Britain has had a lower murder rate than the United States for more than two centuries — and, for most of that time, the British had no more stringent gun-control laws than the United States. Indeed, neither country had stringent gun control for most of that time.

In the middle of the 20th century, you could buy a shotgun in London with no questions asked. New York, which at that time had had the stringent Sullivan Law restricting gun ownership since 1911, still had several times the gun-murder rate of London, as well as several times the London murder rate with other weapons.

Neither guns nor gun control were the reason for the difference in murder rates. People were the difference.

Yet many of the most zealous advocates of gun-control laws on both sides of the Atlantic have also been advocates of leniency toward criminals.

In Britain, such people have been so successful that legal gun ownership has been reduced almost to the vanishing point, while even most convicted felons are not put behind bars. The crime rate, including the rate of crimes committed with guns, is far higher in Britain now than it was back in the days when there were few restrictions on Britons buying firearms.

In 1954, there were only a dozen armed robberies in London but, by the 1990s — after decades of ever tightening gun-ownership restrictions — there were more than a hundred times as many armed robberies.

Gun-control zealots’ choice of Britain for comparison with the United States has been wholly tendentious, not only because it ignored the history of the two countries, but also because it ignored other countries with stronger gun-control laws than the United States, such as Russia, Brazil, and Mexico. All of these countries have higher murder rates than the United States.

You could compare other sets of countries and get similar results. Gun ownership has been three times as high in Switzerland as in Germany, but the Swiss have had lower murder rates. Other countries with high rates of gun ownership and low murder rates include Israel, New Zealand, and Finland.

Guns are not the problem. People are the problem — including people who are determined to push gun-control laws, either in ignorance of the facts or in defiance of the facts.

There is innocent ignorance and there is invincible, dogmatic, and self-righteous ignorance. Every tragic mass shooting seems to bring out examples of both among gun-control advocates.

Some years back, there was a professor whose advocacy of gun control led him to produce a “study” that became so discredited that he resigned from his university. This column predicted at the time that this discredited study would continue to be cited by gun-control advocates. But I had no idea that this would happen the very next week in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Posted: Friday, January 4, 2013
Article comment by: Bob Lepper

Jeff, you know you are going to get a lot of opinions that disagree with you. However, if you can assure me that I can REALLY forget about bad guys (foreign or domestic), I will agree with most everything you said. Why have a dangerous implement laying around the home when there is no need for it.
Problem solved. So I ask you Jeff to find a way to completely remove guns from the hands of hundreds of thousands of bad guys who really do exist. These bad guys are willing to kill, rape, rob and torture to get what they want and are heavily armed. You will also need to assure me that our country will never be invaded and that our own government will never become corrupt to the point of turning against it's citizens. It is the real world that we live in and not one where we can simply forget about bad guys as you suggest Jeff. I wish that there would be no need for me to own firearms to protect my home and family but sadly that is not the case.
Bob Lepper
Springstead, WI

Posted: Friday, January 4, 2013
Article comment by: William Hunter

Let’s assume that all the allegations in Mr. Laadt’s well constructed letter are accurate. Let’s assume that guns are a health hazard and that society would be better off without the dissemination of guns.

What does Mr. Laadt propose we do about effecting his proposed public policy? There are more guns in America than people. Guns are everywhere. Do those who propose gun control feel that drug control has proved to be an effective remedy for the health hazard associated with illegal drugs? Does anyone suggest that making guns illegal will remove guns from the hands of the criminal element in our society?

If draconian gun laws were enacted, will it prove any more difficult to obtain illegal guns, than it is right now to obtain any of the hundreds of Federally proscribed, illegal drugs that are readily available quite literally everywhere in our society.

These “feel good” nostrums about “gun control” are pathetically shallow. Gun control won’t work any more effectively than does drug control, and every thoughtful person knows it but it makes some of us “feel good” to think that passing a law, even a law we know we cannot enforce, somehow suggests a higher social order.

I live in a country (Bahamas) that has strict gun control laws. Even owning gun ammunition here is a felony, punishable by many years in prison. The murder rate by guns here is higher than that in the State of Wisconsin.

One does not need to resort to arguments about personal freedom or Constitutional guarantees. Gun control laws are demonstrably, not a solution to gun violence.

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