Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Does Gun Training Cause People to be less Violent?

In the debate over the right to keep and bear arms and the secondary question of the utility of being armed, some social scientists have attempted to show that the presence of guns makes people more aggressive.  This claimed "weapons effect" has been discredited.  The best summation of the failure to show such an effect, in my opinion, was this article published in The Volokh Conspiracy in 2011.  Here is a small excerpt:
Thus, EMA v. Brown rejects the “violent video game effect” studies for failing to demonstrate a compelling state interest. Indeed, EMA suggests that the studies do not even rise to the level of a trivial state interest. Quite significantly, for Second Amendment purposes, the very similar “weapons effect” hypothesis likewise is presented as something which is equally non-compelling, and no more than trivial. 

The studies on video games have led, at worst, to some minors being unconstitutionally deprived of video games. In contrast, the “weapons effect” has become an article of faith among many anti-gun advocates, who are convinced that guns turn peaceable people into dangerous aggressors. Many anti-gun laws have been enacted in part because of this wrongful idea, and some of those laws have deprived the victims of violent crimes from having the means of effective self-defense. Indeed, continuing belief in the non-existent weapons effect is a major reason why nine states still deny law-abiding trained adults the constitutional right to carry licensed firearms for lawful protection in public places.
While it is clear that a "weapons effect" that makes people *more* aggressive has not been found, no one seems to be looking at the fairly obvious alternative hypothesis, that making a decision to legally carry a deadly weapon is highly correlated with being *less* aggressive.

While I am a mild mannered person, I know that being armed has made me acutely aware of the potential for conflict, and has lead me to avoid unnecessary potential conflicts.   All concealed carry instructors that I know, or have even read, advise students that the best way to win a fight is to avoid the conflict in the first place.  Far from precipitating conflict, those who legally carry weapons go to considerable lengths to avoid conflict.

The evidence shows that people who obtain concealed carry permits are far more law abiding than the general population.   They are much less likely to be arrested than the general population, and far less likely to commit felonies, including murders.   We are not talking about small differences; people with concealed carry permits are many times more law abiding than the general population.

In my experience, over the 15 years that I taught concealed carry courses, the students were exceptionally polite, self controlled, helpful, and responsible individuals, far above the norm of the community.

This could either be the result of self selection, where only self controlled, polite individuals tend to apply for concealed carry permits; it could be that the presence of firearms tends to bring out the best behavior in most people; or it could be a combination of the above.   I suspect a combination of the above is the correct answer.   I have noticed the same for people who openly carry firearms, but the sample is smaller, and no one collects this statistical information.

It is worthwhile to note that in all the open carry demonstrations around the country, I have not read of a single negligent discharge of an openly carried firearm.

It has been an article of faith in the gun culture that training in firearms teaches responsibility.   Centuries of tradition hold that when children are trained in the use of arms, they become more responsible, not less.   Thomas Jefferson recommended that a young relative, Peter Carr, take up the gun for exercise, rather than ball games:
A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks."
Peter Carr was about 15 at the time.   It is worth noting that Jefferson assumes that Carr has a gun.   Carr lived with Jefferson at Monticello before the letter was written.

Jefferson's letter is hardly definitive, but it shows an example of giving responsibility to young people to promote responsibility.

My own daughter was encouraged to carry a holstered Glock about Yuma when she was 16.   She later said that she felt it was a turning point in her life;  she was now being treated, and had to act, as an adult.

Responsibility is learned, much like other habits.  I am not surprised when people who are taught responsibility act responsibly.

©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Link to Gun Watch


Texas TopCat said...

Good article. One of the things that bothers me is that many people talk about how bad "gun violence" is but that really is a wrong statement. We know that "threat of gun usage/violence" or "gun usage/violence" prevents millions of violent crimes every year, so gun violence is not bad in general.
Now, reduction of criminal violence resulting from use of weapons or not is a goal we all can support.

KevinC said...

GREAT article! Sharing this!

Dean Weingarten said...

Violence is neutral, like gravity. It can be used for good or evil.