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Focusing on Only One Risk:

A comment on the smart guns thread captures an argument I'd also seen from others:

As the owner of a self-defense gun, I want just one thing: A 99.9999+ percent probability that, when I pull the trigger, I will hear a 'BANG' and not a 'click.'

The existing, 100-year old, low-tech technology comes pretty close to delivering that level of confidence, and any 'smart-gun' innovations are only going to lower the probability of firing; so why take the chance?

Even if the probability of a successful firing is 'only' reduced from, say, 99.9999 to 99.9998; that's logically equivalent to doubling the rate of mis-fires. Why risk it? If you're worried about your kids, keep your gun in a safe -- or, better yet, take your kids to the firing range and educate them on safe firearms handling at an early age.

This, it seems to me, illustrates well a common problem that also appears in arguments for restricting guns (and, I'm sure, in arguments on many topics): A focus on one risk to the exclusion of others.

Keeping my gun in a safe, after all, reduces my probability of a successful firing by much more than 0.0001%. I'd rather have a gun I can keep unlocked and loaded by my bedside at night that's 99.9% reliable than a gun in a safe that's 99.9999% reliable but that I'll have a 5% chance of not reaching in time.

In a sense, this is the same sort of error that people make when they say "if gun control can save only one life, it's worth it," or when they use "safe gun storage" to mean storage of a gun in a locked safe. Those who make these arguments ignore the possibility that gun controls may cost lives (for instance, by preventing many effective self-defense uses), or that a gun that can't be reached to protect yourself in time isn't "safe[ly] ... stor[ed]." Likewise, the argument I quote focuses exclusively on the costs to self-defense of "smart guns," and ignores the costs to self-defense of the alternatives that the argument itself puts forward.

Of course, the argument also understates the costs of another alternative that it puts forward, by overstating the effectiveness of "education." Of course I'll "educate [my boys] on safe firearms handling at an early age." But I'm educating them to do lots of things -- not cry, not eat too many sweets, not fight with each other, and so on. With luck, over time the education will teach them to behave well. But there will always be lapses, especially when the children are relatively young. I'm not going to rely on safe firearms handling education to keep a 10-year-old boy from playing with a gun; it may decrease the chances of his doing so, but it won't reduce them to zero or to anything close to zero.

If I lived in an extraordinarily dangerous part of town, I might think the risk avoided by having an unlocked gun by my bed will exceed the risk created by it to my boys. (As I said, it's always a mistake to focus solely on one kind of risk.) But fortunately I live in a pretty safe place, so I'm not going to keep the gun outside the safe for many years to come.

It's only safe gun technology -- if such a thing is feasible -- that would lead me to keep the gun immediately handy. And, as I mentioned before, for that the reliability need not be 99.9998%. It only needs to be higher than the effective reliability of a locked gun, factoring in to the effective reliability the delay that unlocking the gun would create.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Focusing on Only One Risk:
  2. "Smart Guns":
CDU (mail) (www):
Keeping my gun in a safe, after all, reduces my probability of a successful firing by much more than 0.0001%. I'd rather have a gun I can keep unlocked and loaded by my bedside at night that's 99.9% reliable than a gun in a safe that's 99.9999% reliable but that I'll have a 5% chance of not reaching in time.

If you lived in a state with shall-issue concealed carry permits, I think the best solution would be to carry the handgun on your person. This would allow faster access than either the nightstand or gunsafe options. I am also convinced that in a household with children, a firearm in my direct control is safer than either a gun safe or any likely smartgun technology. Children have far too much ingenuity and creativity when it comes to overcoming obstacles like this for me to completely trust any sort of technological method of access prevention.
2.26.2008 2:02pm
Brett Bellmore:
The problem isn't just the possiblity that the gun might spontaneously malfunction. There's also the not inconsiderable possiblity of induced malfunctions. "Gun jammers", if you will. An item which would be viewed by criminals as remarkably valuable.

To put on my tin foil hat, you can't even rule out a scenario where, a decade or so after the introduction of smart guns, a signal was sent out to turn them into inert junk.
2.26.2008 2:07pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I doubt any gun, or ammunition, is manufactured to six 9s reliability. It is ridiculous to talk about such certainty (one failure in a million uses).

As for keeping a gun for self defense in your home. Even the NRA admits that most home burglaries occur in unoccupied homes--so if you do keep a gun, especially a handgun, in the house, it is much more likely to be stolen and enter criminal commerce (from whom you are so desparate to keep guns out of the hands of) than it ever is to be used for self-defense.

If you want to protect your house from intruders, get a security system or a dog. You don't have to be home, and alert and sober, for those to be effective.
2.26.2008 2:19pm
glangston (mail):
If this smart gun technology had possibilities it would seem to be equally viable against auto theft or hi-jacking or your kid borrowing the car without your permission.

I would watch the progress there and see how it goes before I ever considered it viable for firearms. The smart gun market is not driven by owner demand but by demands from gun abolitionists.
2.26.2008 2:24pm
CDU (mail) (www):
I'm not going to rely on safe firearms handling education to keep a 10-year-old boy from playing with a gun; it may decrease the chances of his doing so, but it won't reduce them to zero or to anything close to zero.


Lets not get carried away here. I'm assuming you, like most parents, rely primarily on education to decrease the chance of injury or death from, say, motor vehicles or backyard swimming pools. The risk of a child being injured or killed by either of those is far greater than the risk of them being hurt by a firearm.

Life is filled with things that can be dangerous if used carelessly or improperly: knives, matches, household chemicals, electricity, natural gas, the aforementioned automobiles and swimming pools. A parent can't lock all of them away. Access prevention may be the first line of defense for small children (I certainly don't recommend leaving a pool, gun, or household chemicals available and unattended if you have a young child) but at some point education has to become your first line of defense for all of these.

The world is a shockingly dangerous place, if you think about it. But we don't, because we've learned from an early age to avoid these dangers. There's no sense paying a disproportionate amount of attention to one risk and claiming it cannot be mitigated through education, when so many other, greater, risks are out there.
2.26.2008 2:25pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
In a sense, this is the same sort of error that people make when they say "if gun control can save only one life, it's worth it," or when they use "safe gun storage" to mean storage of a gun in a locked safe. Those who make these arguments ignore the possibility that gun controls may cost lives (for instance, by preventing many effective self-defense uses)

When people say this, they are of course referring to the possibility that overall deaths from firearms would drop (i.e., if the death rate from guns dropped from 20,000 to 19,999, it would be worth it). Such a drop would of course be statistically insignificant, but of course the statement is not meant to be taken literally. Of course the Klecks, Lotts, and Kopels of the world would have us believe that having ready access to guns actually saves lives, so that if we did severely control guns, the general crime rate (and theoretically violent death rate) would actually increase (i.e. murders from all causes would rise from 30,000 to 30,001).
2.26.2008 2:28pm
Affe:
"As for keeping a gun for self defense in your home. Even the NRA admits that most home burglaries occur in unoccupied homes..."

Wonder why that may be...
2.26.2008 2:29pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
The part of keeping a gun by my bedside that scares me is the sleepy judgment factor. With my wife sleeping next to me, I don't trust myself to never wake up from a scary dream and mistake her for someone else. And honestly, anything you can do when you're awake, you can do in your sleep--how do I know I'll never grab it in my sleep?

To me, the best answer is a quick-access safe by the bed with a 4-digit combination or something that can be quick, but that I'm less afraid of doing in my sleep or half-sleep.
2.26.2008 2:31pm
Jason F:
I'd rather have a gun I can keep unlocked and loaded by my bedside at night that's 99.9% reliable than a gun in a safe that's 99.9999% reliable but that I'll have a 5% chance of not reaching in time.


True, but I'd rather have a gun in a safe that is 99.9999% * 95.0% = 94.999905% reliable in stopping an intruder with a 0% chance of accidentally killing a loved one than a gun by my bedside that is 99.9% reliable in stopping an intruder and has a 10% chance of accidentally killing a loved one -- depending, of course, on how much I value stopping intruders, how much I value the lives of my loved ones, and what is the probability that there will be an intruder in my home.

More to the point, there are a lot of variables in this decision (and pretty much every other decision we make), and most of us are guilty of selectively looking only at certain variables. That's true when we make broad policy arguments, and it's true when we make micro-level decisions regarding our own lives.
2.26.2008 2:32pm
CDU (mail) (www):
Even the NRA admits that most home burglaries occur in unoccupied homes
I don't think "admits" is quite the right word. The NRA is quite proud of the fact that 87% burglaries in the United States are committed when the owner is not at home. They consider it a success story. Contrast this to the United Kingdom where a majority of burglaries (59%) are committed when the owner is at home (this percentage has risen substantially since the UK gun ban went into effect).
2.26.2008 2:32pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Wonder why that may be...

Gee, I don't know--because it is easier to steal stuff if the homeowner isn't around to call the police.
2.26.2008 2:36pm
The American Dream:
OMG, people want different things! Too bad every gun has to be exactly the same.
2.26.2008 2:41pm
Mark Jones:
Or because the burglars know that an absent homeowner won't SHOOT them....
2.26.2008 2:41pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Contrast this to the United Kingdom where a majority of burglaries (59%) are committed when the owner is at home (this percentage has risen substantially since the UK gun ban went into effect).

Are you implying there is a causation? Because if you are you apparently know nothing about the state of gun ownership or the restrictions on keeping a gun in your home prior to the ban. Even before the ban, guns were allowed to be kept only for sporting purposes, not for self-defense. If kept at home, all guns, even long guns, were required to be locked up and unloaded with ammunition stored, and locked, separately. To ensure compliance, police did frequent (at least yearly) unannounced checks of gunowners homes to ensure the guns were stored properly.

Only 50,000 individual handgun owners were registered in the UK. To contend that private ownership of firearms was a serious deterrent to home invasion prior to the handgun ban is simply NRA myth.
2.26.2008 2:44pm
Bill R:
Although I agree with EV's sentiments as far as they go, there is an additional factor that makes the two relevant risks a bit different. The first risk is that you can't get the gun out of the safe quickly enough - in which case you are unarmed, and know that. The second risk is that you're holding a "smart" gun that is (presumably signficantly) more likely to fail than a "dumb" gun is.

If you can't get the gun out of the safe in time, you can react to this unfortunate situation early. For example, you may have to take decide to attempt a risky escape while that option still exists or prepare to engage in physical combat with whatever blunt object is handy. Notably, these decisions can be made early in the engagement when there are more viable options.

If the "smart" gun just goes "click" instead of "bang" (my guess is it wouldn't even "click" though), you're pretty late into your response to the situation and it's likely that altering tactics at that point is going to be substantially riskier than having done so earlier in the engagement. And it's not a great time to be pulling out your digital logic scope and encryption standards and debugging the problem.

J.F. Thomas: It's probably true that no gun/ammunition pair (at least in the traditional civilian market) is reliable to six 9's. However, part of any responsible training program is education and practice in effective response to most of the failures. I don't know how many nines this adds to the effective reliability rate, but certainly one nine and my sense is that it's closer to two nines for a carefully selected gun. My handgun of choice for home protection would be a revolver for this very reason. In many thousands of rounds through a revolver, I've never had a failure that was not successfully addressed by the very intuitive action of simply pulling the trigger again which successfully yielded "bang" not "click". I've had enough difficult (i.e., requiring more than one second) to clear failures on semi-auto revolvers (admittedly, some of these guns/ammo combinations I wouldn't have picked for a home defense piece) to be more skeptical of a semi-auto for a home defense handgun.
2.26.2008 2:48pm
Happyshooter:
I want my home defense and CCW guns ready to go at any time without any extra steps needed for the same reason I keep smoke alarms in my house. I need to be able to go from a dead sleep or distraction to being able to react in a handful of seconds.

Any steps, like locks or safes or some sort of ritual to gain access, will mean I can't get what I need when I need it.

I would never accept a defense gun that misfired 1 time out of a thousand, and I will not accept a defense gun with device that raises the odds against shooting AT ALL, much over the 1 in 1000.

No debate, no meeting the antis 'halfway', none of it. As soon as we even hint they may be some room for a smart gun system the liberals will impose it on us and call it a compromise.

If, and I mean if, the military and all the police find a system and they all love it for 30 years I may consider it. Maybe.
2.26.2008 2:56pm
Ben P (mail):

Or because the burglars know that an absent homeowner won't SHOOT them....


I'm sure that factors into the motivation, but I feel pretty safe saying it's a small consideration among many.

Have you ever seen the TV show "it takes a thief?"

Burglars, at least the smart ones arent' sneaky, they know they aren't sneaky, and they know that any attention they get is bad. The idea of a burglar quietly attempting to steal something from a house with the owner home, but asleep is almost entirely BS. Home invasion robberies are a different matter, but in the US are less common, and that criminal goes in with different expectations.

Their objective is to get into the house, strip everything of value from it as fast as possible, and get out before anyone notices that there's something strange going on. A true burglar (as opposed to someone planning a home invasion) is more likely to flee when someone's home rather than challenge the home owner.
2.26.2008 3:01pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I need to be able to go from a dead sleep or distraction to being able to react in a handful of seconds.

This of course demonstrates the level of self-delusion so many gun owners operate under. Of course it is physically impossible to go from a "dead sleep" to being able to react in a "handful of seconds". As you stumble out of bed and fumble for your gun, the burgler is more than likely going to have the jump on you.
2.26.2008 3:06pm
Vinnie (mail):
I'm not going to rely on safe firearms handling education to keep a 10-year-old boy from playing with a gun; it may decrease the chances of his doing so, but it won't reduce them to zero or to anything close to zero.

10 year olds should have their own guns. Kept under your control of course, but theirs non the less. They get to take it to the range(with you). Theirs maintain, clean, compete with, the whole works.
2.26.2008 3:11pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

To me, the best answer is a quick-access safe by the bed with a 4-digit combination or something that can be quick, but that I'm less afraid of doing in my sleep or half-sleep.


or, a "binary" solution: unloaded semi-auto pistol nearby &accessible, loaded magazine somehow cleverly hidden nearby and accessible.

same with a revolver, using a speed loader.

in either case, one has to do two things (three, with the semi-auto, the slide has to be drawn and released) to get an unloaded gun in battery.
2.26.2008 3:30pm
Laura S.:
I have to concur with CDU. The safest policy is to keep it on your person or immediately near-by.
2.26.2008 3:32pm
zippypinhead:
I think Professor Volokh's question and the comments in this thread simply illustrate the common fallacy that there is any one solution that can be mandated as *THE* most effective method of achieving some desired societal outcome. Individual situations are too different. Imposed governmental solutions sometimes are not a good fit for all personal situations. That's an issue that goes beyond whether one would find a "smart gun" to be a good thing.

Hypothetical: Societal interest = maximize every citizen's safety from physical harm. Person 1 lives by themselves in a very dangerous part of town. Optimal solution is a reliable, instantly accessible firearm on the nightstand. Person 2 lives in a slightly safer neighborhood with children at home. Optimal solution is a trigger lock to keep a functional firearm out of the clutches of the kids, albeit with some chance of accessibility in the event of an emergency (assuming the delay to to remove a trigger lock isn't so great as to outweigh the risk to the kiddies). Person 3 lives in a gated community with a private security force, but also with a spouse on antidepressants and a history of suicide attempts. Optimal solution is a firearm safely disassembled and secured in a safe.

The town in Georgia that passed an ordinance in essence mandating that every household have a working firearm may have hit the optimal solution for Person 1. But may have also imposed a significant risk on Person 3. And the District of Columbia, which mandates the optimal solution for Person 3 (disassembled/inaccessible), has just imposed a significant risk on Person 1 [I'll try to resist speculating on the percentage of D.C. residents whose situations are more like Person 1 than Person 3, but I can guess how that comes out in most neighborhoods east of Rock Creek at least]. Where a so-called "smart gun" fits into the decisional matrix for each situation isn't entirely clear.

The fact we're dealing with firearms for personal protection adds an additional complication not present in many other contexts -- you have the overlay of a Second Amendment right. If we assume the post-Heller right includes a non-militia individual right to effective self-defense, then by imposing a solution appropriate for Person 3, you've arguably imposed an undue burden on Person 1.

So Professor Volokh decides to keep his gun in a safe. OK. His right. But imposing that same requirement on hypothetical Person 1 arguably amounts to a significant infringement of the right of self-defense.
2.26.2008 3:37pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
The safest policy is to keep it on your person or immediately near-by.

Even if you have a couple drinks with dinner, take Ambien, or are running a very high fever? If the most lax CCW laws generally prohibit carrying firearms in places where alcohol is served
2.26.2008 3:45pm
WHOI Jacket:
Being as I'm not a lawyer and don't have access to case databases, I'd be really interested to know if there has EVER been a case where a person argued successfully or unsuccessfully "Your Honor, I woke up from a nightmare and shot my wife sleeping next to me." Mistaken identities happen, of course, but the provided example seems far fetched.

That's like saying "I don't want to allow that because I might sleepwalk". Has a sleepwalker (a "real" sleepwalker) ever killed anybody?
2.26.2008 3:45pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
Another example of the gun risk tradeoffs is whether a gun should have a safety, ie, a latch that stops the gun from firing. To a non-gun-user, a gun with a safety is obviously safer than a gun without a safety. And yet if you talk to cops and gun nuts, you will find divergent views. Some people like safeties, but others have good reasons for thinking that they are safer without them.
2.26.2008 4:00pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
A few comments:

An alarm system can be useful, if it is a good one (proof against being disabled by burglars) and if it calls the police (preferably via cell phone, since the burglars may cut the phone lines). In outer suburbia, with relatively large lots, a horn or siren may not alert your neighbors fast enough to avert a successful burglary. Of course, if you are home, it'll wake you up.

Dogs are generally not considered a reliable defense against burglars, who can neutralize them in a number of ways. This is particularly true if you are not at home. Again, if you are home, the dog may bark and wake you up. Or may not....

Britain may have had strict gun laws before the ban, but they were not so strict that a homeowner couldn't get to his locked-up gun, unlock it, load it and confront the burglar. Burglars may not be geniuses, but successful ones have a modicum of street smarts, enough to teach them to stay away from occupied dwellings if they want to retire at a ripe old age and stay out of prison. This was as true in pre-ban Britain as it is in America today. And yes, the crime rate in Britain - all crime, including gun crime - has been increasing since the ban.

There are relatively easy-to-open bedside gun boxes/safes which work off a fingerprint or keypad; some of the fingerprint models may be programmable for more than one person. These are rather quick to open, unlike a regular gun safe. The cost is typically $2-300, plus or minus. If your house is not easy to break into quietly (an alarm system can make sure of that, although I would not want to live that way, where I have to set the alarm every night...) you should have sufficient time (10 seconds or less) to get the gun out. In addition, if you are handy, it should be easy enough to make a locking system for a bedside table drawer that would keep children out while not needing any fancy electronics (another level of potential loss of reliability).

Definitely, your kids should be trained not only in gun safety, but in safe handling and marksmanship. Girls as well as boys. When they're grown up, they may decide to own a gun, for defense or sport (most sporting guns are defense guns, somewhere in the back of their owner's mind). Women particularly should be made familiar with guns; women are typically weaker than men; in a rape or assault scenario - particularly if the perpetrator has a weapon - to rely on a few karate lessons or pepper spray is better than nothing, but the statistics show that self defense with a gun is least likely to end in injury or death for the victim; all other defenses, including doing nothing, have worse outcomes for the victim.
2.26.2008 4:04pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I doubt any gun, or ammunition, is manufactured to six 9s reliability. It is ridiculous to talk about such certainty (one failure in a million uses).
Agreed. But it is certainly the case that each additional complexity that you add to an existing system is likely to reduce the system's reliability. I can say that for the defensive firearms that I have, if I had even one misfire in 1000, I would solve the problem. I have a Browning Hi-Power pistol that I used as my primary home defense weapon when I lived in California. I think that I have had perhaps two failures to fire, feed, or eject in several thousand rounds. Those two failures to feed were when I first started using Winchester Silvertips, and I fixed that problem with some crocus cloth on the feed ramp.


As for keeping a gun for self defense in your home. Even the NRA admits that most home burglaries occur in unoccupied homes--so if you do keep a gun, especially a handgun, in the house, it is much more likely to be stolen and enter criminal commerce (from whom you are so desparate to keep guns out of the hands of) than it ever is to be used for self-defense.
You mean, if you leave the gun unsecured. And indeed, there are, depending on whose figures you believe, between 82,000 and 2.45 million defensive gun uses a year. That's at least comparable to the number of gun thefts.


If you want to protect your house from intruders, get a security system or a dog. You don't have to be home, and alert and sober, for those to be effective.
The dog and the security system give you enough warning to get out of bed and open the gun safe. What do they do beyond that? Precious little. The police will, under the best of conditions, arrive in 15 to 30 minutes. The dog may delay an intruder for a few seconds. That's all.
2.26.2008 4:08pm
La Rana (mail) (www):
Forget easy access, the only way to be 100% safe is to shoot everyone on sight.
2.26.2008 4:10pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):


The safest policy is to keep it on your person or immediately near-by.



Even if you have a couple drinks with dinner, take Ambien, or are running a very high fever? If the most lax CCW laws generally prohibit carrying firearms in places where alcohol is served
I don't drink. Lots of my fellow Americans don't drink, or take Ambien, or smoke pot, or use cocaine. At least where I live, carrying firearms where is alcohol is served is completely legal. Even states that have rules on this often only apply to bars.
2.26.2008 4:11pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Britain may have had strict gun laws before the ban, but they were not so strict that a homeowner couldn't get to his locked-up gun, unlock it, load it and confront the burglar.

Simply not true. Even before the ban, self defense was not considered a legitimate use for a gun. The number of gun owners (somewhere around 50,000 registered handgun ownners) was such a small percentage of the population (60 million) that the chances of a criminal encountering a legally owned gun wielded by a law abiding citizen (or even the police for that matter) was almost non-existent.
2.26.2008 4:15pm
Ben P (mail):

Your Honor, I woke up from a nightmare and shot my wife sleeping next to me." Mistaken identities happen, of course, but the provided example seems far fetched.


It took slightly longer than I anticipated, but I found one pretty close to those facts. Albiet in an unreported decision. It's Kuchnicki v State Alaska App. 1985.

The case dealt with 3 men living in a hut on a mining claim in Alaska. One evening, after the defendants had been drinking, Kuchnicki was asleep on his cot and the two other individuals were awake and talking, without warning the defendant sat up grabbed a .25 Calibre pistol from near the cot and shot one of the other men 4 times then ran out the door. He returned after a moment and was arrested by the police when they arrived at the scene. K later pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The appeal simply dealt with whether the judge appropriately considered certain issues in sentancing.
2.26.2008 4:16pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I want my home defense and CCW guns ready to go at any time without any extra steps needed for the same reason I keep smoke alarms in my house. I need to be able to go from a dead sleep or distraction to being able to react in a handful of seconds.
Some people go from deep sleep to fully awake in seconds; others do not. I discourage anyone from keeping a gun right next to the bed unless they are in a VERY dangerous situation (a liberal-controlled government is usually the cause).

The only time that I have slept with a gun next to the bed was the weekend that the Richard Ramirez was breaking into homes, mutilating people, and sometimes murdering them, five miles from where my wife and I lived. For a few days, we slept with a loaded AR-15 and a .45 automatic next to the bed. It was an extraordinarily dangerous time.

J.F. Thomas' screeching on the subject is very simple: he's terrified that the monsters that break into homes to commit rape and murder might get hurt.
2.26.2008 4:16pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I think Professor Volokh's question and the comments in this thread simply illustrate the common fallacy that there is any one solution that can be mandated as *THE* most effective method of achieving some desired societal outcome. Individual situations are too different. Imposed governmental solutions sometimes are not a good fit for all personal situations.
Unfortunately for people like J.F. Thomas, they simply can't imagine the possibility that there could be more than one right way to do anything. Hence, his liberalism.
2.26.2008 4:18pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I don't drink. Lots of my fellow Americans don't drink, or take Ambien, or smoke pot, or use cocaine.

I'm glad you didn't claim you never got the flu or slept either. I was merely pointing out that certain perfectly legal activities that many, if not most, people undertake in their homes can seriously hamper both their judgment and coordination.

As for dogs and security systems--as for the vaunted defensive gun use, their true value is as a deterrent. Most burglaries are crimes of opportunity, and unless the burglars have targeted your house specifically because you have something they want (e.g., a large gun collection), a barking dog or a security system will cause them to skip over your house and pick another. I once read somewhere that another good deterrent was to scatter your yard with toys (I don't know if the deterrent effect was it was more likely someone would be home or you didn't have anything worth stealing).
2.26.2008 4:25pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Simply not true. Even before the ban, self defense was not considered a legitimate use for a gun.
As usual, J.F. Thomas speaks about which he knows nothing. The Offences Against the Person Act (1862) did significantly limit the use of deadly weapons for self-defense, but did not prohibit the use of guns for self-defense. You might want to consult some of the standard works on the subject of English firearms law, such as J.B. Hill, Weapons Law (London: Waterlow Publishers, 1989).

The number of gun owners (somewhere around 50,000 registered handgun ownners) was such a small percentage of the population (60 million) that the chances of a criminal encountering a legally owned gun wielded by a law abiding citizen (or even the police for that matter) was almost non-existent.
That you refer to handgun owners--while ignoring rifle and shotgun owners--really shows that you are dishonest, not ignorant. Handguns and centerfire rifles were certainly greatly restricted from 1920 onward, but shotguns were pretty much unregulated until 1967, and shotgun certificates, while not trivial to get, were available. A friend of mine who lived in England in the mid-1970s was quite surprised at how casually he would see teenagers walking out of the small town he lived in carrying .22 rifles.
2.26.2008 4:25pm
Adam J:
Happyshooter- wow, has anyone ever tell you that you're a just a little too "gung ho"? Do you honestly think that theres a significant possibility that putting ones gun under lock and key will substantially increase your risk of being caught unarmed? And don't you think its wise to weigh that risk against the possibility that someone else will be able to gain access to your firearm because you don't lock it?

CDU- I don't get your point. Obviously, education is helpful in preventing gun accidents, but any gun-owner who relies solely on educating his children is putting his family, himself and others at a greater risk then someone who relies on both education and access prevention. Education is far from failsafe, to say the least. Also, your comparisons are irrelevant, who cares if pools are more dangerous. If car accidents cause more fatalities than terrorism, should we than not focus on preventing terrorism? Obviously not. Plus, I suspect that the main reason that firearms cause less injuries then pools is access prevention is much more manageable for firearms then pools.
2.26.2008 4:27pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I'm glad you didn't claim you never got the flu or slept either. I was merely pointing out that certain perfectly legal activities that many, if not most, people undertake in their homes can seriously hamper both their judgment and coordination.
Fortunately, I don't spend months on end sick with the flu or otherwise impaired. When I lived in places that liberals controlled, and which therefore had high violent crime rates, I had a dog AND an alarm system, to make sure that I had enough warning to wake up, get the pistol out of the gun safe, and pick up the cordless phone. (I normally unlocked the gun safe when I went to bed, and locked it in the morning.)


As for dogs and security systems--as for the vaunted defensive gun use, their true value is as a deterrent. Most burglaries are crimes of opportunity, and unless the burglars have targeted your house specifically because you have something they want (e.g., a large gun collection), a barking dog or a security system will cause them to skip over your house and pick another.
For the average burglar, sure, this works. For a home invader, it doesn't work. And why does a barking dog or security system deter a burglar? Because he doesn't want to get shot--and the barking dog or alarm system is going to give the person inside enough warning to pull out a gun.

Not every house has a gun in it, of course--but enough do that the odds nationally are about 40% that breaking into a home might get you shot. (The police might show up in time to arrest the burglar, too, but that's a much rarer situation.)

I once read somewhere that another good deterrent was to scatter your yard with toys (I don't know if the deterrent effect was it was more likely someone would be home or you didn't have anything worth stealing).
This really shows how poorly you think, that you find a claim like this plausible.

Burglaries in the U.S. (unlike Canada and Britain) are usually of unoccupied dwellings--or residences that the burglar THINKS are unocupied. In places where the law strongly discourages use of deadly force (like Canada and Britain), they have much higher rates of "hot" burglaries. Why do you suppose that is?

I know, it bothers you to think that the poor, oppressed victims of capitalism might get shot from breaking into someone's home. They have an alternative: work.
2.26.2008 4:33pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
That you refer to handgun owners--while ignoring rifle and shotgun owners--really shows that you are dishonest, not ignorant.

Since the argument is that since handguns have been banned in the UK, the crime rate has shot through the roof, it would be dishonest to claim that the availabilty of long guns would enter into the original discussion.

As to my claim about the legitimacy of using guns for self defense, you are distorting my point. Guns are and were licensed for sporting use only, never (or almost never, maybe you can find an exception) for self-defense. While there may be a residual legal self defense justification for the use of firearm in self defense, it would be an extraordinary circumstance indeed.

Perhaps you can list all the self-defense uses of firearms by law abiding citizens in the UK over the last 50 years on your website. I would be really interested to see the staggering number.
2.26.2008 4:39pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
When I lived in places that liberals controlled, and which therefore had high violent crime rates, I had a dog AND an alarm system, to make sure that I had enough warning to wake up, get the pistol out of the gun safe, and pick up the cordless phone.

This statement is completely bogus. Crime rates are just as bad in conservative cities as they are in liberal ones. And in fact the most liberal part of the country (the Northeast) has some of the lowest crime rates. As for statewide crime rates, they tend to be higher in red states than blue.
2.26.2008 4:44pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Fortunately, I don't spend months on end sick with the flu or otherwise impaired. When I lived in places that liberals controlled, and which therefore had high violent crime rates, I had a dog AND an alarm system, to make sure that I had enough warning to wake up, get the pistol out of the gun safe, and pick up the cordless phone. (I normally unlocked the gun safe when I went to bed, and locked it in the morning.)

So for all your vigilance and deterrent efforts, how many home invasions have you thwarted?
2.26.2008 4:46pm
Waldensian (mail):

As you stumble out of bed and fumble for your gun, the burgler is more than likely going to have the jump on you.

Indeed. I suspect burglars actually PREFER to break into gun-owners's homes, since the burglars are so confident that they'll be able to "have the jump" on the occupant and use his or her weapon against them.

I'm referring to an alternative universe of pure idiocy, of course.

I live alone, in a crappy neighborhood, in which two of my neighbors have been robbed within a few feet of my front door (one with a gun shoved in her face). I keep a 12-gauge under the bed. One thing I know: when I awake in (an apparently unavoidable) Ambien- or fever-induced homicidal rage, things are going to get awfully loud.
2.26.2008 4:52pm
Waldensian (mail):

gun-owners's

I don't even know how to pronounce that. Sorry.
2.26.2008 4:54pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Indeed. I suspect burglars actually PREFER to break into gun-owners's homes, since the burglars are so confident that they'll be able to "have the jump" on the occupant and use his or her weapon against them.

Actually, I suspect they do, especially when the gun owner is not home. Handguns are the perfect item to steal; easy to carry and conceal with a thriving illegal trade where the value probably is pretty close (if not even greater) than retail--something that can't be said about a television or jewelry.

And thanks to the efforts of people like Clayton, once a handgun is stolen and enters into illegal commerce, it is almost impossible to trace.
2.26.2008 5:08pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
Actually JF, I would say that the chances of encountering one of 50,000 registered handgun owners in a population of 60,000,000 isn't that small at all, at least over a burglar's career.

Say there are and average of three people per household, and no households have multiple registered handgun owners that gives a .25% (50,000/60,000,000) chance of burglarizing a random household that has a registered handgun owner. Committ 100 burlaries, and your chances of encountering a registered handgun owner at least once in your career are around 22%. In order to have a 50-50 chance of burglarizing at least one household that includes a registered handgun owner one need commit 277 burglaries.

I don't know if that's a lot or a little for a career burglar. I know I've made some assumptions below, but I'm guessing that a 50% or greater chance of entering a house where a handgun owner lives may entice some to look for another line of work. Just like a small chance of death each day for a lumberjack or fisherman may dissuade some from pursuing those careers.
2.26.2008 5:10pm
MXE (mail):
As for keeping a gun for self defense in your home. Even the NRA admits that most home burglaries occur in unoccupied homes—so if you do keep a gun, especially a handgun, in the house, it is much more likely to be stolen and enter criminal commerce (from whom you are so desparate to keep guns out of the hands of) than it ever is to be used for self-defense.

Two things:

1) It's not far more likely to be stolen than to be used for self-defense. USA Today reported 138,035 stolen firearms in 2001. Estimates of yearly defensive handgun uses vary, but about 150,000 would be toward the conservative side. (Much lower than the admittedly quite unrealistic 2.5 million figures you see thrown around.) These are very imprecise numbers, but your confidence in saying it's "much more likely" to get stolen is, as far as I can tell, based on not a shred of empirical data.

2) Aren't you desperate to keep firearms out of criminal hands? You make it sound like minimizing criminal possession is some kind of dirty NRA trick. I thought that was one thing that almost everyone agreed upon.

If you want to protect your house from intruders, get a security system or a dog. You don't have to be home, and alert and sober, for those to be effective.

J. F., how dare you suggest that people expose their children to such danger. I assume you're aware that over 350,000 people per year are hospitalized after being mauled by a dog. less than 1000 children 14 or under per year are hospitalized for firearm accidents. And that's not just because dogs are more common than guns. About 40% of American households have dogs, which is pretty much identical to the percentage having guns.

Clearly only a maniac would expose his children to a dog.
2.26.2008 5:12pm
MXE (mail):
So for all your vigilance and deterrent efforts, how many home invasions have you thwarted?

So for all your fear-mongering about how dangerous guns are to society, how many times have you been shot?

Or, for all your concern about having fire extinguishers in your home, how many times has your house been in serious danger of burning down?

Come on, J.F. Let's talk aggregate statistics, not personal anecdotes.
2.26.2008 5:15pm
zippypinhead:

Obviously, education is helpful in preventing gun accidents, but any gun-owner who relies solely on educating his children is putting his family, himself and others at a greater risk then someone who relies on both education and access prevention. Education is far from failsafe, to say the least.

True! I really hope no one is seriously suggesting that training your children can substitute for a good trigger lock. Yes, kids need firearms education if they live in a home with guns (and, IMHO, if they live in a home without guns, too). And frankly, it's a lot of fun to go shooting with your kids. But "education" isn't a substitute for maturity. Juvenile cognitive and emotional development are what they are, even without Ambien or a few beers:

A 6-year old says to his friend "let me show you daddy's neat gun.... Oops, didn't mean for THAT to happen..."

An 11-year old decides to "teach a lesson" to the neighorhood bully by brandishing daddy's gun.... "Oops, didn't mean for THAT to happen..."

A 16-year old, distraught and knowing his life is a failure because that cute girl in homeroom dumped him, thinks daddy's gun provides a solution that will make everyone appreciate him when he's gone. And he meant for exactly THAT to happen...

I'm not trying to be a nanny-state ninny. I've worked with a lot of boys on the rifle range over the years. I posted something more specific to those experiences on Professor Volokh's related thread.

You don't need s "smart gun" to be smart about gun safety. And I hope we don't need laws otherwise restricting our Second Amendment rights to be smart about gun safety, either. Right?
2.26.2008 5:19pm
TRex (mail):
CDR"...at some point education has to become your first line of defense." even with education, there are pretty good reasons we don't turn kids lose with car keys til they are 16 or with a bottle of booze til they are 21.
Happy shooter: If you will go to the police night firing range with rapidly turning targets and a drill sargeant screaming at you (to simulate stress) and you don't get a jam or misfire in more than one in a hundred, you're probably tops in the force. Most people aren't.
That said, even if the user recognition safety were 100% reliable, it would not be acceptable. A cop, soldier, or anyone in a gunfight should be able to shoot the weapon with either hand in case the favored arm, shoulder, etc. is shot or disabled. A cop, soldier (or wife who's husband has been stealthly taken out) needs to be able to use his colleague's weapon in case his own is dropped and lost in the dark or damaged.
And whoi jacket, regarding accidentally capping one's wife, they didn't do anything to Dick Cheney and he was wide awake.
2.26.2008 5:29pm
Malvolio:
The nearly-always-mistaken JF writes:
The number of [British] gun owners (somewhere around 50,000 registered handgun ownners) was such a small percentage of the population (60 million) that the chances of a criminal encountering a legally owned gun wielded by a law abiding citizen (or even the police for that matter) was almost non-existent.
I was about to correct his math when DeezRightWingNutz wrote:
Say there are and average of three people per household, and no households have multiple registered handgun owners that gives a .25% (50,000/60,000,000) chance of burglarizing a random household that has a registered handgun owner. Committ 100 burlaries, and your chances of encountering a registered handgun owner at least once in your career are around 22%. In order to have a 50-50 chance of burglarizing at least one household that includes a registered handgun owner one need commit 277 burglaries.
As they say on other sites: this.

DeezRightWingNutz continues with
I don't know if that's a lot or a little for a career burglar.
Well, assuming that the average burglary nets the burglar $1000 (since he gets maybe 1/10th of the value of a bunch of used electronics and jewelry), it seems like he would have to do at least a burglary a week -- more if he has a drug habit to support. A burglar who broke into one occupied home a week would face an armed homeowner about every five years or so.

Almost non-existent, my butt.
2.26.2008 5:30pm
LM (mail):

If I lived in an extraordinarily dangerous part of town, I might think the risk avoided by having an unlocked gun by my bed will exceed the risk created by it to my boys.

Don't forget your criminal and civil liability from various outcomes of the boys getting ahold of the gun, even if no physical harm comes to them personally.
2.26.2008 5:30pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):


That you refer to handgun owners--while ignoring rifle and shotgun owners--really shows that you are dishonest, not ignorant.

Since the argument is that since handguns have been banned in the UK, the crime rate has shot through the roof, it would be dishonest to claim that the availabilty of long guns would enter into the original discussion.
The banning of handguns has been associated with the general effort to completely disarm all Britons. Some of this has also been an increasing effort on the part of the British government to discourage self-defense by prosecuting people for doing so.


As to my claim about the legitimacy of using guns for self defense, you are distorting my point. Guns are and were licensed for sporting use only, never (or almost never, maybe you can find an exception) for self-defense. While there may be a residual legal self defense justification for the use of firearm in self defense, it would be an extraordinary circumstance indeed.
Considering that there was almost no sporting use of handguns until quite recently, are you claiming that the handgun licensing in effect from 1920 onward was never for self-defense?


Perhaps you can list all the self-defense uses of firearms by law abiding citizens in the UK over the last 50 years on your website. I would be really interested to see the staggering number.
I can't say that I have a list of those. Until the 1970s, Britain didn't have any significant violent crime problem. I won't claim that restrictive gun control played a major part in that (although Greenwood's studies suggest that the licensing of shotguns did increase it), but the problem has certainly become worse as the efforts to disarm the victims has accelerated. In short: your efforts to justify gun control based on Britain fail--or at the very least, suggest that gun control's positive benefits are so tiny that they are completely washed over by the other problems driving violent crime there.
2.26.2008 5:32pm
Waldensian (mail):

Actually, I suspect they do, especially when the gun owner is not home.

Since you use the word "especially" here, am I correct that you believe that, all else being equal, a burglar who finds himself in an occupied home prefers the occupant to be a gun owner?
2.26.2008 5:33pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Crime rates are just as bad in conservative cities as they are in liberal ones. And in fact the most liberal part of the country (the Northeast) has some of the lowest crime rates. As for statewide crime rates, they tend to be higher in red states than blue.
I'm almost afraid to see what you consider "conservative cities." Los Angeles? Or Dallas?
2.26.2008 5:34pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

So for all your vigilance and deterrent efforts, how many home invasions have you thwarted?
You seem to be missing the point (what a surprise): there is a deterrent effect from having the potential victims armed. If you don't think there is a deterrent effect, you should be completely comfortable putting a sign on your front lawn that says, "I firmly oppose gun ownership. There are no guns here." Right?
2.26.2008 5:37pm
MXE (mail):
As for statewide crime rates, they tend to be higher in red states than blue.

Wow, red states and blue states. That whole dichotomy is so 2004. Lighten up. We're a nation of purple states, for the most part.
2.26.2008 5:39pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Actually, I suspect they do, especially when the gun owner is not home. Handguns are the perfect item to steal; easy to carry and conceal with a thriving illegal trade where the value probably is pretty close (if not even greater) than retail--something that can't be said about a television or jewelry.

And thanks to the efforts of people like Clayton, once a handgun is stolen and enters into illegal commerce, it is almost impossible to trace.
Huh? There are three major problems with your claim:

1. It is your side that has made gun registration politically infeasible, by arguing that gun registration is a first step towards complete disarmament--and then using it for that purpose in places like California and New York City.

2. Once someone steals a gun, what value is registration? If Mr. Smith's gun is stolen by Mr. Jones, and is then subsequently used in a crime, how does knowing who it was stolen from last help? Unless, of course, you intend to punish Mr. Smith for Mr. Jones's misuse of a stolen gun. Under the current system, Mr. Smith goes ahead and reports that his gun was stolen; the police now know that Mr. Jones stole it. How does mandatory gun registration help?

3. Your side (the idiots on the Warren Court, although, oddly enough, not Justice Warren) decided that convicted felons couldn't be punished for failing to register a gun; only people that may lawfully own a gun can be punished for failing to register it. Thus, the people that are the greatest risk of misusing a gun are those who are specifically exempted from the requirement to register.
2.26.2008 5:42pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

True! I really hope no one is seriously suggesting that training your children can substitute for a good trigger lock. Yes, kids need firearms education if they live in a home with guns (and, IMHO, if they live in a home without guns, too). And frankly, it's a lot of fun to go shooting with your kids. But "education" isn't a substitute for maturity. Juvenile cognitive and emotional development are what they are, even without Ambien or a few beers:

A 6-year old says to his friend "let me show you daddy's neat gun.... Oops, didn't mean for THAT to happen..."

An 11-year old decides to "teach a lesson" to the neighorhood bully by brandishing daddy's gun.... "Oops, didn't mean for THAT to happen..."

A 16-year old, distraught and knowing his life is a failure because that cute girl in homeroom dumped him, thinks daddy's gun provides a solution that will make everyone appreciate him when he's gone. And he meant for exactly THAT to happen...
While the first example is actually far less common than most people assume, the second two examples happen with enough regularity that they are worth worrying about. That's part of why education isn't enough. I strongly encourage all gun owners to have their guns secured by a locking case, a gun safe, or, as a last resort, a trigger lock. Some kids don't fully understand the difference between reality and fantasy; some teenagers let today's pain overwhelm all long-term thinking.

In addition, you don't want a burglar to break into your house and find a gun that is easy to carry away. There's both the social cost of a stolen gun being used by someone that shouldn't have it, and the individual risk that you will walk in on the freelance socialist who now has a gun.

There are people who can legally own a gun, but who I discourage from owning a gun. If you are prone to severe depression; if you have a short temper; if you find yourself waking up wondering, "How did I get here? And what was I drinking last night?" or you live with an adult in those categories, you are probably better off not having a gun.

There are exceptions. If you live in a really, really rough neighborhood, it may be the case that the risk of having a gun is less than the risk of being unarmed. If you live somewhere like Idaho, where we have very little violent crime, and you are in one of these high risk categories, a gun is probably more hazard than help.
2.26.2008 6:00pm
Rich Rostrom (mail):
Anyone who thinks about a home defense weapon in terms of how fast it it can be fired and how deadly the round is should take a step back. The function of a home defense weapon is not to enable the owner to win a gunfight: it is to protect against intruders. That can be done by pointing the gun at the intruder and taking him prisoner, or merely inducing him to leave with the sound of a pump-action shotgun racking a shell. In a very large proportion of defensive firearm uses, the gun is never fired.

At the same time, firearms are dangerous to their owners and those around their owners. Not very dangerous, not more dangerous, overall, than motor vehicles. But dangerous enough that minimizing that hazard is useful. I would certainly accept a safety technology that added 0.01% chance of a misfire, if it eliminated any chance of the firearm being set off by a child. As one poster noted, if such a control removed the need to store the firearm in a safe, it would greatly decrease the risk of not being able to access it in time - which IMHO would be much higher than 0.01%.

A home defense weapon is a precaution against a hazard, like airbags in a car. Should the sensors that activate airbags be set to blow at the slightest hint of a crash? If not, they might miss a crash. But if they were so set, they would false-trigger many times, and the resulting costs would far outweigh the rare occasions when the high sensitivity did protect.
2.26.2008 6:01pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

J. F., how dare you suggest that people expose their children to such danger. I assume you're aware that over 350,000 people per year are hospitalized after being mauled by a dog. less than 1000 children 14 or under per year are hospitalized for firearm accidents. And that's not just because dogs are more common than guns. About 40% of American households have dogs, which is pretty much identical to the percentage having guns.

Clearly only a maniac would expose his children to a dog.
J.F.'s ideological ancestors at least recognized that dogs were weapons, and in a number of Southern states, prohibited blacks from owning either dogs or guns.
2.26.2008 6:02pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I don't know if that's a lot or a little for a career burglar.
Career burglars are pretty scarce. The average burglary is done by a teenager or young adult. This is why so many of the burglaries are so incompetently done.

There are "career burglars" out there, but my impression is that they tend to be a pretty tiny fraction of those that commit burglary. I'm going to guess that most of them don't break into occupied houses.
2.26.2008 6:04pm
MXE (mail):
As one poster noted, if such a control removed the need to store the firearm in a safe, it would greatly decrease the risk of not being able to access it in time - which IMHO would be much higher than 0.01%.

I believe that poster was Prof. Volokh in the original article. :-)
2.26.2008 6:13pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Anyone who thinks about a home defense weapon in terms of how fast it it can be fired and how deadly the round is should take a step back. The function of a home defense weapon is not to enable the owner to win a gunfight: it is to protect against intruders. That can be done by pointing the gun at the intruder and taking him prisoner, or merely inducing him to leave with the sound of a pump-action shotgun racking a shell. In a very large proportion of defensive firearm uses, the gun is never fired.
Yup. A shotgun or rifle will very likely cause immediate incapacitation of a burglar. A handgun, unless it hits a vital spot, will not. It is, therefore, a threat: "Go away, or sometime in the next few hours, there is a real chance that you will either bleed to death, or have to explain to someone in an emergency room why you have a bullet hole."

And yes, that threat is often quite sufficient to make some criminals decide that dying isn't worth it. The Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog has entries every day, often more than one entry, of guns being used defensively in the U.S. Many of those cases involved a bad guy was too stupid to understand the danger, and was either fired at, or wounded, or killed. Not surprisingly, those cases get a lot of media attention and appear to be overrepresented on Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog for that reason.

I'm sure that J.F. Thomas will start ranting and raving about how unfair it was that a 17 year old who forcing his way into someone's home got shot, and how cruel it was that a registered sex offender who bound two women up in their home in preparation for rape was shot to death and killed.
2.26.2008 6:18pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
At least where I live, carrying firearms where is alcohol is served is completely legal.

This is apparently true where Dick Cheney hunts as well.
2.26.2008 6:31pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
How would the following scenario be classifies when counting defensive uses of firearms:

I wake from my sleep to hear a ruckus in another room, grab my gun, go to my bedroom door, and yell, "Get the hell out!" before even seeing the burglar.

The burglar promptly flees.

Is that a defensive gun use? What if I yell "I have a gun. Get the hell out."? What if I yell that but don't have a gun?

Just curious.
2.26.2008 6:42pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
One non-trivial difference I've seen ignored here is that while the safe [i]might[/i] have a greater chance of significant failure than some theoretical and perfect smart gun technology, the safe is by its very nature possible to 'turn off' -- remove the gun from the safe beforehand, and the safe's failure rate drops to 0.00000000000000%

The same is not true for this theoretical smart gun. Every proposed mechanism tends to involve altering some inherent part of how the firearm works; that means that even those places that make a clear and apparent 'disable' feature will still have a non-zero chance of increased failure.
2.26.2008 6:51pm
Fub:
Eugene Volokh wrote on February 26, 2008 at 1:45pm:
I'm not going to rely on safe firearms handling education to keep a 10-year-old boy from playing with a gun; it may decrease the chances of his doing so, but it won't reduce them to zero or to anything close to zero.
I can address that scenario from experience as the 10-year-old, and younger, boy.

I was raised, in the 1940s and 1950s, in what would now be considered an arsenal by gun phobics -- at least 3 rifles, 3 shotguns, and a couple of pistols. Inventory became larger over time, as some deceased relatives' guns were added.

The guns were stored in an entirely unlocked rack cabinet. Ammunition was stored in the same cabinet. Never, ever, in my life, did I or my brother, or any of our friends, "play" with a gun in my house or elsewhere.

The first gun I fired was around age 5 or 6, a 12-gauge shotgun, under close supervision (and considerable bracing) by my father. I missed the flight of ducks. My father later bagged his limit, so even though I missed, that experience taught me an indelible lesson: guns kill; guns are tools, not toys.

That primary lesson was delivered many ways, many times before and after that raw winter dawn duck hunt knee deep in frigid Mississippi gumbo. Neither I, nor my brother, ever even thought of "playing" with guns. Both of us became reasonably proficient marksmen (markschildren?) both at the range and in the field. Both of us learned gun safety at an early age, and adhered to it throughout childhood and adulthood.

I'm retired now. I never owned a gun in my adult life. I made that choice not from any anethema or fear, but for the same reasons I never played baseball as an adult. I've simply had greater interest in other things. My brother still hunts fairly regularly.

I recognize the differences between raising a child in an urban or rural environment. I think that instilling gun safety and what I will call "gun respect" at an early age is likely more difficult in an urban environment where guns are the exception rather than the rule. But from personal experience, I can say that early instruction in firearm safety was very effective in my family's case.
2.26.2008 6:54pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Maybe my brother and sister and I were unusual kids, but we never played with my dad's rifle or shotgun (kept in the attic), his .45 Colt revolver (Marshall Dillon size, kept in his underwear drawer) or his .25 pistol (kept in a cigar box, with loose cartridges, on his dresser). Nor did we drink our parents' whiskey (kept in a kitchen cabinet, nor did we take their cars or pickup for a joyride (keys on their dressers).
2.26.2008 9:56pm
BladeDoc (mail):
Anybody who wants to play with real data -- I invite you to the WISQARS CDC database where I did a little inquiring. Age <18 accidental deaths by firearm -- 127. Age <18 drownings -- 1057.

There is at least one study where they asked prisoners in the US why they burgled empty homes instead of performing home invasions. The vast majority of the respondents replied that they were afraid of getting shot. And yes, I'm too lazy to google it up right now.
2.26.2008 10:22pm
BladeDoc (mail):
Oh well I couldn't help myself. Here's a reference.

Compared to foreign burglars, a higher percentage of American burglars are apt to avoid occupied residences, for fear of getting shot, and this is why American home invasion burglaries are rarer than in other countries (Kopel, 2001; Kleck, 1997)

Full disclosure -- this is referenced in a paper by Cook that reports that TOTAL burglary rates are higher in gun-owning areas (but "hot" burglaries i.e. home invasion) are still lower.
2.26.2008 10:27pm
Toby:

Contrast this to the United Kingdom where a majority of burglaries (59%) are committed when the owner is at home (this percentage has risen substantially since the UK gun ban went into effect).

Are you implying there is a causation? Because if you are you apparently know nothing about the state of gun ownership or the restrictions on keeping a gun in your home prior to the ban. Even before the ban, guns were allowed to be kept only for sporting purposes, not for self-defense. If kept at home, all guns, even long guns, were required to be locked up and unloaded with ammunition stored, and locked, separately. To ensure compliance, police did frequent (at least yearly) unannounced checks of gunowners homes to ensure the guns were stored properly.

Only 50,000 individual handgun owners were registered in the UK. To contend that private ownership of firearms was a serious deterrent to home invasion prior to the handgun ban is simply NRA myth

It does not matter evein of these analyses are exactly true. What matters is if the [potential] criminals analise them the same way. I remembered of the old saw about two men encountering a bear in the woods..."I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you"
2.26.2008 10:32pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"The function of a home defense weapon is not to enable the owner to win a gunfight: it is to protect against intruders. That can be done by pointing the gun at the intruder and taking him prisoner, or merely inducing him to leave with the sound of a pump-action shotgun racking a shell. In a very large proportion of defensive firearm uses, the gun is never fired."

I suppose the chosen function depends on the individual. Some will use the gun to gain an advantage in negotiating with an intruder at 3am in an effort to bring him back into the fold of civil society. No doubt discussion of individual liberty, property rights, rule of law, the sanctity of the home, and deconstruction of the contextual meta-narrative of race in America would be enhanced by pointing a gun rather than a finger. Studies have demonstrated that when the average illiterate high school dropout home invader is exposed to these ideas he is soon seen wandering about Barnes &Noble with an unlit briar pipe and an Inca-dyed llama wool sweater draped over his shoulders.

Those lacking a liberal education just shoot the guy.
2.26.2008 11:35pm
glangston (mail):
For J ThomasThe low down on weapons

Firearms are not the only game in town.
2.26.2008 11:59pm
LM (mail):
Tony Tutins,

I don't know which is more usual, but while neither my brothers nor I ever stole the car or the whiskey, we all (individually -- never in the presence of the others) took the loaded .38 down from the top of the credenza where it was supposed to be beyond our reach, for careful scrutiny on numerous occasions, starting at five or six years old. And since nobody ever found out, it was a success (non)-story.

On the other hand, among my dad's friends, most of whom were cops or FBI, I remember at least two harrowing tales of wives walking in on toddlers playing cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers with a loaded backup revolver, also believed stashed out of sight and reach. One of these women walked into the kid's room to find herself staring right down the barrel. She was not amused.
2.27.2008 3:49am
John M. Perkins (mail):
Let the market decide. If there are enough EV's willing to pay, safer unlocked guns will happen.
2.27.2008 10:17am
Adam J:
gattsuru - Are you serious? You're really trying to make the argument that a gun safe is superior to smart guns because if you don't use the safe then it has a 0% failure rate. Of course, if you're not going to use the gunsafe, why buy it in the first place. That's a superior strategy to your unused gunsafe, since it's cheaper and equally effective at preventing gun misuse... which is to say its not at all effective.
2.27.2008 11:07am
zippypinhead:

Tony Tutins wrote:
Maybe my brother and sister and I were unusual kids, but we never played with my dad's rifle or shotgun (kept in the attic), his .45 Colt revolver (Marshall Dillon size, kept in his underwear drawer) or his .25 pistol (kept in a cigar box, with loose cartridges, on his dresser)...

LOTS of little kids don't play with daddy's guns. I never played "army" with my dad's surplus Springfield or his Walther WWII bring-back, even tho they would have been much more cool for that purpose than the plastic toy M-14s most of us neighborhood kids had. Tho I think the decision was helped along by a simple cost/benefit analysis of "cool" versus "spanked" and "grounded."

But then there's the boy my oldest son once visited for a kindergarten play date, who snuck my son into his parents' bedroom to show off his daddy's [unloaded] .38 and Playboy Magazine collection -- both apparently kept in the same drawer. Then swore my son to secrecy. Fortunately, my son was a blabbermouth. Unfortunately, he told his mom -- who, having grown up around guns, was actually more upset about the Playboys, but caused a spectacular ruckus over the whole incident nonetheless.

Such anecdotes are fun (in hindsight), but not necessarily enlightening. And as pointed out above, the problem of unsecured firearms that are accessible to juveniles doesn't end with little kid show & tell or fantasy play sessions. Adolescent anger management issues, teen depression, etc., are also compelling reasons to make sure household guns are inaccessible to minors without adult supervision. And youth firearms education by itself can't solve those issues.

Besides, even one unsupervised firearms accident involving a child makes TREMENDOUS headlines for the Brady Campaign/VPC crowd. They jump on such tragedies as fodder for their silly "smart gun" proposals, and worse.
2.27.2008 12:10pm
MXE (mail):
Hmmm, that's funny. J.F. never came back to comment on this. I wonder why.
2.27.2008 12:47pm
zippypinhead:
Oh, nuts. I came back and read what I just posted. There's a reason I don't run for public office -- bad real-time autoedit function. For the record before I'm rightly flamed: Anecdotes about little kids playing or not playing with firearms are never "fun," period. Just unenlightening as to the general scope of the problem.

Although I have to confess I was chuckling about the incident involving my son as I typed -- at the time he was more interested in why there was a missing anatomical part on the "naked ladies" than he was in the gun. But it was sad that the next day the other dad's mortified wife violated both his First and Second Amendment rights when she sent his revolver to the landfill along with his Playboy collection (which may be another reason to keep your guns locked up). A dozen years later, at least it's no longer a gossip topic at the local PTA.
2.27.2008 12:54pm
markm (mail):
A smart gun that worked well would be useful in certain circumstances - but the highest payoff for carrying a smart gun is for prison guards. Until prisons re-equip their staff with smart guns, these weapons aren't reliable enough to be considered by the rest of us.
2.28.2008 6:59am
Big Bill (mail):
EV: "I'm not going to rely on safe firearms handling education to keep a 10-year-old boy from playing with a gun; it may decrease the chances of his doing so, but it won't reduce them to zero or to anything close to zero."

Oddly enough youth gun education does reduce the chances close to zero for tens of millions of traditional American gun-toting people. The odds that children of decent, reasonably well educated Americans will be killed or seriously injured by playing with guns are microscopic.

Of course, risks must be balanced by benefits. If guns are about as useful or beneficial to you as a bag of ricin, then of course you shouldn't have them in your house.
3.1.2008 11:01am