Guns in Virginia

I don’t know if anyone has been following the Virginian Pilot’s “State of the Gun” series. I first noticed it when my Wife and I stopped in to Hardies for a Mushroom Swiss thickburger on Sunday (I would have gotten a Jalapeno thickburger, but I had a coupon for the Mushroom Swiss). I noticed the Sunday paper with a big, front page, above the fold headline featuring a graphic of the “Stars and Stripes” in the shape of a Baretta 92. I almost bought a paper then just to see what it was about, but cooler heads prevailed and I waited until I got home so I could check the online version. Why line the pockets of that socialist, propaganda rag if I don’t need to?

Anyway, I must say that, after three installments, it is actually a much more balanced series than I ever would have expected. The author does regurgitate anti-gun talking points without much in the way of analysis, but she also gives the pro-gun side a say in the matter and the result, although still rife with misleading and/or false information, at least made some effort at balance…more than I can say for most journalists these days.

In any case, Part three came out today with the fourth and final article due tomorrow. If there’s anything noteworthy in tomorrow’s article, I’ll hit it then, but there were a few things in the first three that I wanted to specifically point out.

The most egregious so far is article 1: Tech Massacre only heated up the gun debate in Virginia

First, when speaking to the number of guns in the US, the author asserts:

It is also consistently at the top of the charts for gun deaths. In 2005, 30,694 people – or 10.4 per 100,000 – were killed by firearms in the United States, including homicides, suicides and accidents. That same year, guns killed 185 people in the United Kingdom – a rate of 0.3.

There are a couple of problems with this statement. First of all, it does not take into account suicide, justifiable homicide (such as self-defense), legal intervention etc. Suicide alone makes up almost half of the “gun deaths” in the US every year. As the suicide rates in Japan readily illustrate (and most psychologists agree), suicide is a function of mental health (depression and societal stresses), rather than the availability of any particular mechanism with which to carry it out.

Secondly, the statement doesn’t take into account the societal differences between “industrialized” nations. The non-firearm homicide rate in the UK is a fraction of that in the US. In fact, the TOTAL homicide rate in the UK is lower than the NON-firearm homicide rate in the US. Correlation does not equal causation. There is significant evidence that the rate of homicide in the US is a societal phenomenon and is not dependent upon gun ownership.

But, those weaknesses aside, the article then descends into the egregious by following the above misleading statement with this:

The toll is told in the news: a relentless drumbeat of random violence.

Two missionaries gunned down in Chesapeake. A Christmas shopper shot in a mall parking lot on the Peninsula. A 15-year-old boy killed during a restaurant robbery in Norfolk. A mother shot in her car in front of her children and left paralyzed.

And that’s just close to home. Add in the national stories – eight killed in a Nebraska mall in December, five killed on an Illinois college campus last month – and it’s enough to make people feel vulnerable.

In my mind, this was in intentional effort to leave the impression that the majority of those 30,000 “gun deaths” every year are the result of “random violence.” That is simply not true.

The fact is that “random violence” only accounts for a tiny fraction of the homicides in this country. The vast majority of homicides occur in inner cities and involve gang and/or drug activity.

This appears to me to be an intentional effort to mislead readers and is exemplary of the sensationalistic and propagandistic turn that journalism has taken.

The author further fails to mention that, in the rare instance that one is subjected to random violence, their best chance of escaping unharmed is if they are prepared and properly equipped to defend themselves. If the specter of random acts of violence makes people “feel vulnerable”, then the obvious answer is for them to avail themselves of the most effective tools of self defense and reduce their actual vulnerability.

Further in article 1:

Col. Gerald Massengill says that’s true. Massengill, the former head of Virginia’s State Police, led a panel appointed by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to look into the Tech shootings. If law-abiding students had been allowed to carry guns on campus, Massengill said, “the panel agreed that someone probably could have stopped Cho before he killed 32 people.”

But the panel said such a policy could have lethal consequences of its own.

In other words: we agree that the ability to protect themselves may have saved the lives of students, but because guns are bad, we oppose any action that would result in students having available such protection in the future.

Notably, the panel has not come out in support of professors or staff members being allowed to carry defensive arms either. Are university staff members also prone to drinking binges and immature behavior? If so, perhaps Virginia should review it’s hiring standards for university staff.

But I digress.

Later, in the same article:

The outcome is an arms race between the good guys and the bad.

Massengill has seen its evolution in Virginia.

“When I came to work here in 1966,” he said, “it was very rare for a police officer to find a concealed weapon or any weapon in an everyday citizen’s motor vehicle. Now, it’s almost a daily thing.”

Oh really? Are we talking about finding legally concealed weapons, or illegally concealed ones? Are we talking about finding people who are concealing weapons with criminal intent, or just otherwise law abiding citizens who violated the letter of the law with no criminal intent? Was it even illegal to carry a handgun concealed in a car in 1966? I don’t know the history of the laws. Perhaps in 1966, officers didn’t automatically assume that an armed citizen was a criminal and report such a find? Or perhaps in 1966, Officers didn’t routinely search citizen’s personal property for the egregious offense of speeding? Not to mention the already established fact that Mr. Massengill’s “observations” are agenda driven and, therefore, suspect. Notably, he didn’t specify “concealed firearms”, he said “weapons”, which could include the steak knife that slid under the seat after last weekend’s picnic.

Moving on to Article 2: In Virginia, Firearms aren’t a tough sell.

This was a relatively balanced article. The one thing that really stood out to me was this statement:

Virginia State Police estimate that unlicensed sellers supply up to 35 percent of the firearms sold at [gun] shows.

As a gun show regular, I can say unilaterally that the author either misquoted the Virginia State Police, or the Virginia State Police are liars.

My guess would be the former and that the author was referring to the widely touted “fact” that up to 35% of VENDORS at gun shows are unlicensed…of course that includes vendors who sell beef jerky, ammunition, accessories, t-shirts and probably includes our humble informational VCDL booth as well as the NRA booth and the several informational booths set up by political parties or area gun clubs.

There generally are a handful of booths run by unlicensed private citizens who generally are selling antique or collectible firearms and generally have relatively few firearms.

Considering the sheer volume of firearms available at the tables of the licensed dealers…literally hundreds at each of them at each table…and the continuous and brisk business that they realize, the “35% of firearms” number is clearly HUGELY overstated.

Article three, As street value increases, theives get bolder, was, in my opinion, the most balanced of the three so far and actually countered some of the misleading information presented in the first two.

Most notably was this quote from a gun runner that was fairly recently convicted in Hampton Roads:

They all knew that in Virginia, they could avoid the background checks if they purchased secondhand guns from private sellers – either at gun shows or through the classifieds.

But, Headlam said: “We never bought from any of them. That one-on-one stuff gets too complicated. People want to have a conversation. They get all skeptical. For real, it was less hassle at a gun shop. Show your two forms of ID, fill out the forms and that’s it. No questions asked. Besides, new guns were my thing. They were more in demand on the other end.”

The bottom line is that the vast majority of gun owners are conscientious and law abiding and don’t want guns to fall into the hands of criminals any more than anyone else…they will ask questions, they will ask to see ID and they will require signed receipts for the purchases. Criminals know that and they find it easier to buy from high volume dealers who are less likely to scrutinize them so closely.

The idea that criminals obtain firearms from purchases from “unlicensed sellers” in any volume is simply specious and false.

Also pointed out (and, actually, the focus of the article’s title) was the fact that illegal gun sales are driven by areas that strictly regulate their ownership…thereby driving prices up and increasing profitability for those who never let a little thing like the law get in the way of turning a quick buck.

It is a simple concept that anti-gunners have trouble comprehending: Where there is a market, there will be a supply. Period. If it wasn’t coming from states with “lax” gun laws, it would be coming from enterprising people with some basic machine skills and a lathe and mill in their basement. Do the drugs in New York come from states with more relaxed drug laws? But there seems to be no shortage of them, now does there? Where there is a demand, there WILL be a supply.

Toward the end of the article, they interviewed Dr. Leonard Weireter of Norfolk Sentara’s shock-trauma unit. I was surprised to read

The steady procession of wounded has changed Weireter’s views on gun control. He’s no longer convinced that more laws are the answer. Most of the gunshots he tends aren’t caused by the kind of people who follow the rules:

“I think it would be naive to say gun control would solve the problem.”

And so, reason and common sense wins out in the mind of at least one doctor.

Finally, one glaring shortcoming that immediately sprung into my mind as soon as I read the following:

Gunfire is common enough in Newport News that state-of-the-art listening devices have been installed in trouble spots to automatically call police and pinpoint the location of shots.

But…are those devices effective? How many arrests have resulted from them? Has police response times to those areas improved? Are they effective tools to combat urban violence, or just more ineffective, feel good wastes of taxpayer money?

Inquiring minds and all that…it seems to me that if these questions occur to an obscure, untrained blogger like me, they would occur to an “authorized journalist” as well.

In summary, although typical of today’s “journalism”…heavy on unsupported sound bites and innuendo and light on verifiable facts and research; and although I feel the bias of the authors did show through in many ways: overall, I feel that these articles have been about as balanced as one can expect from the MSM and are worth a look.

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