Firearms / My Experience

A Final Reflection from Gunsite on Being Pro-Gun vs. Pro-Truth

With Gunsite in my rear view mirror, I have alot of observations to process. And I was reminded today that I still have to process observations of Tom and Lynn Givens’s Rangemaster Instructor Development Course from Memorial Day weekend.

And I have made or am trying to make arrangements to observe Rob Pincus, Gabe Suarez, Mike Seeklander, Massad Ayoob, John Farnham, the USCCA, and NRA Carry Guard this year (not to mention the many others that have been suggested to me beyond these).

Given this busy-ness, what quick takeaway can I offer from my week observing Gunsite Academy’s 250 Defensive Pistol course?

I think it is this: There are truths about guns in America that get too little attention from the media, and even less from academics. And I found some of those truths at Gunsite this week.

At the outset of any observation of gun owners, including at Gunsite this week, I always introduce myself by saying, “I am a professor, but please don’t hold that against me.” It is a good ice breaker and always gets a good laugh, but I also know those gun owners have good reason to hold being a professor against me.

Sociologists, for example, have rarely sought to understand gun owners on their own terms, a fact I point out in a recently published article on “The Sociology of U.S. Gun Culture.”

When I announced the publication of my article, and when I talked to Gunsite attendees about my work, so many people said something along the lines of: “It is nice to have some work being done from the pro-gun side.”

But here’s the thing: I don’t see my work as “pro-gun.” As a social scientist, I am PRO-TRUTH. What I write about guns is based on my search for truth, not a political position on guns.

And so maybe, just maybe, what people mean when they say “work being done from the pro-gun side” is work that takes them seriously, that treats them with respect, that tries to understand their behavior, rather than laughing at, lamenting, or detesting it. In other words, work that tells the truths of their realities.

These truths should include understanding the realities of people who own or shoot guns for fun or work or competition or personal protection — perfectly lawful and perfectly respectable endeavors. These are the people I met at Gunsite. These 29 people who shot more than 30,000 rounds over five days and didn’t kill anyone. Didn’t even injure anyone. And the 7 instructors who helped make that possible.

These truths should include understanding a place where marksmanship, gunhandling, and mindset are prized. And why shouldn’t they be?

Challenge coin purchased in support of the Jeff Cooper Legacy Foundation, http://jeffcooperfoundation.org. Photo by David Yamane

These truths should include understanding a 97 year old woman who welcomes you into her home for iced tea, lemonade, and brownies, and talks about the history of the land, the home, and the pistol school she and her husband built on it.

Photo of Janelle Cooper on the patio of the Sconce at Gunsite Ranch. Photo by David Yamane

If trying to understand these kinds of truths makes me pro-gun, so be it. But in my mind and motivation I will always think of myself as pro-truth, first and foremost.

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47 thoughts on “A Final Reflection from Gunsite on Being Pro-Gun vs. Pro-Truth

  1. Well-said. We on the pro gun rights side talk a lot about “reality-based community” versus “emotionalists” and such. We need to be careful to live up to that rhetoric and be about truth first, not just “us vs. them.” After all, the truth is pretty much on our side.

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  2. We who enjoy guns have nothing to fear from someone honestly interested in finding out about them. I am confident that anyone who does not start with an anti-gun position will find that we are, as a group, a truly excellent bunch of people.
    Every anti-gun position that I have ever heard is an emotional feeling that is backed by half truths, misunderstandings, and outright lies. We have nothing to hide.

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  3. Guys I don’t know if we should be so certain. At least for me, until I can figure how to dismantle the arguments of Armed with Reason, I will be far from certain the data are on my side. Matthew, what was it you said about researchers DEMONSTABLY undertaking in gun studies with less than honest intentions?

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  4. I was outa touch with the Internet for a long weekend. It was nice.

    The problem with most research publications on gun activity is that it is not research into guns or gun culture but into the misuse of guns, i.e., crime, unintended injury, and guns used illicitly. The weather analogy is that you usually don’t see stuff written about nice, sunny days. You see stuff written about days when the wind blew 60 mph and five homes were knocked off their foundations or when the temperature hit 119 degrees and people are in the hospital. I suspect none of you read articles on the front pages when all our nuclear power reactors are running smoothly and powering our cities with carbon-lite energy. You read stories about reactor accidents or bad planning leading to disaster (i.e., Fukushima) and of course, the idea is that nuclear reactors are intrinsically bad and should be banned.

    Also, if anyone has been over to Mike the Gun Guy’s web site, he linked to the new Pew survey of gun ownership and that is interesting. The elevator pitch version (since I have only read through the first third of its roughly seventy pages) is that fewer people are hunting and doing rural gunsport stuff and more folks live in cities. So the exposure many people, who are urban and non-gun owners, get of guns is gun crime–either guns used in crime or guns owned to be safe against criminals. Interestingly, the percentage of people who claim to own guns for self defense is almost identical whether one lives in a dangerous or safe place.

    Some way to bridge that divide of two groups of people, those who see guns as part of a culture vs. those who see guns as a hazard to society, is in order. It matters little to those who only read about guns when a bank is being robbed for there to be nice gun clubs where we gun owners enjoy our weapons. As long as some small number of guns fall into the wrong hands we will have these criminal acts that poison the well. What we can do about the public that 1), we will help reduce misuse and 2) that gun violence is not just about guns, it is what needs to be discussed.

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    • The thing that worries me are all of the studies from academic journals that AWR cites when they are railing on guns, such as in there article about the “myth of defensive gun use.” Perhaps I should follow matthewcarberry’s advice and just look at the studies from their bibliography and quit looking at their articles.

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      • The thing I do, assuming I can make the time,is any time I read an article about a study, I read the study, look where it was published and who funded it, look who the authors are, look who and what they cite to, then actively look for critiques of that study and the citations.

        Most of what I look for directly are the premises assumed by the hypothesis and what is elided or ignored. Who are the sample groups in terms of what is being studied, not just are they in stat sig numbers, that sort of thing. I’m reasonably well-informed but I am not a statistician so I rely on others who have proven accurate to check the math.

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      • Why would I be? I’ve read most of it and uniformly it is just rehashed research using the same old bad methodology from the usual public health suspects (Hemenway, Kellerman), and researchers like Ayers and Donohoe who have an almost pathological disdain for Lott and seem to think his research is all that exists supporting pro-rights positions.

        They consistently ignore the mountains of extant data and research from other actual subject-matter experts, economists, criminologists, and social scientists specializing in behavior, rather than integrating it, and thus having to account for the discrepancies which arise, into their own studies.

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      • In any event, public policy involving fundamental rights cannot be driven strictly, nor even substantially, by utilitarian concerns or else they aren’t really rights at all.

        I agree with Khal for the most part, in that if we can identify ways to mitigate harms by the few without impacting the rights of the many, that is the moral thing to do. But we can’t do that in a way respectful of rights without good information, not politicized tripe from the ideological, focused on a particular means rather than looking for the actual cultural and individual causes of negative behaviors.

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      • That’s a relief. Thanks Matthew. This has been a burden on my chest for a while now. I really like guns, and the thought of me being totally wrong about guns has been haunting me. What’s your stance on gun-free zones and mass shootings, and would you mind giving a critique of AWR?

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      • Which position? Their banal attack on Lott’s claim shooters select gun-free zones based on a Mother Jones article and a puerile comparison to Australia?

        I’m not sure what their point is, other than attempting to counter a claim (which I don’t typically make, but don’t have a problem with) which is functionally irrelevant to any particular gun-rights issue.

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      • I think they did, and I would agree for most cases. But it’s kind of a simplistic claim, as most homicides and assaults (not primarily resulting from criminals interacting via crime) are between people with emotional connections. That’s Crim 101 level insight, not particularly useful. People who kill perfect strangers with zero emotional connection (real or via sublimated psychological issues) are psychopaths and thankfully rare.

        That said, that you have an emotional connection to one place which is target-rich but less well-defended and go there doesn’t mean you don’t have equally valid emotional connections to other places which might rationally be harder targets. Absent the attacker stating their reason for choosing one over another, it’s all just spit-balling.

        But I still don’t see what relevance they think it has to any particular policy question, other than knocking Lott. The philosophical argument for expanded carry isn’t (shouldn’t be anyway) that it confers “herd immunity,” (if it does that’s a happy by-product) but rather that individual human beings have the right to the most effective means of personal defense they are comfortable using. Policy-wise, in my opinion, “gun free zones” only enter into the equation insofar as they deny individuals that choice yet also, often, provide no alternative means of defense.

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      • Don’t take my critiques as gospel, I tend to be more bitter at some of their major players based on decades of frustration than I should and it influences my presentation. There is some solid work being done, the problem is the signal to noise, and what I take as an arrogant disregard for the extant scholarship even when they do find a pearl.

        As Prof Yamane emphasizes, this is a subject that is (should be) multi-disciplinary in nature but some of those that have potentially good angles of approach at the “human behavioral” side of the problem insist on mis-applying them on the “gun as object” and criminal behavior side.

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      • Solid work that reveals information that could be useful in understanding how guns are used. Good research doesn’t really “push” one way or another. It may directly support or counter various affirmative claims and premises, but the information developed from sound research mostly just helps fill in holes in understanding. It still needs to be interpreted and put into context.

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      • So not someone like David Hemenway that has his own policy ideas in the conclusions of his stuff?

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      • That’s a large part of my problem with Hemenway. Given his background and failure to integrate current legal standards and extant medical, sociological and criminological research with his own findings; he, like many public health researchers, is dramatically and demonstrably unqualified to be making policy recommendations.

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      • Did one of the authors of AWR have some issue with Kleck’s 14.2% number in regards to the number of homicides where a gun in the home was used Kellerman study about risk of owning a gun? I’ve been looking for it on their site but it’s not very easy to navigate.

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      • I’d have to look, but IIRC Kellerman didn’t control for whether the gun used was the gun kept in the house, nor did he control for lawful ownership. Nor, IIRC, did he try to control for homes with guns which did not have murders. Same issue with a lot of suicide studies, they are only looking at the groups with the outcome they are studying. Anyway (again from memory) after these and a few other methodological flaws were brought to his attention he sorta addressed one, but poorly.

        A larger problem comes again from not looking at context. He looked at having the gun in the home as the primary risk element, while even per his own study it was not the highest risk factor present even in those homes with homicides.

        Bigger picture, a certain percentage of people with guns in the home get it due to specific threats, as opposed to generalized risk mitigation. The former group is by definition more likely to suffer a negative outcome. If you don’t control for that from the outset, you are making your results not applicable to the public at large. Again, same problem in studies of suicide and mental health issues and firearms. Absent other, larger impact risk factors involved with those being present, most people are at essentially zero risk.

        Yet Kellerman, Hemenway, and others often present their findings as if they do apply generally and call for policy (legal) and behavioral changes which are simply irrelevant for most gun owners in terms of their or public safety.

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      • How would you counter the following potential objection to the philosophical argument you presented for self defense. What if someone said,”What if I’m most comfortable using a nuclear bomb for self defense?”

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      • I typically tell people who bring up the “what about nukes/gas/bugs” BS to grow up and be intellectually serious. It’s an asinine, and logically invalid, attempt at reducio ad absurdum.

        Set aside the logistics (and morality) of acquiring, storing, and maintaining an object that is, due to radioactivity, inherently dangerous; unlike a firearm and ammunition which, if left unmaintained, can only harmlessly degrade and rust away.

        In a practical sense, under what scenario are they claiming (as they are making the affirmative claim that a nuke *could* be used for SD, the burden is on them to justify that claim) an individual could actually use a nuke for effective individual self-defense while remaining both within the law of justified self-defense (proportionality in particular), and morality (foreseeable and unavoidable harm to innocents)?

        I like to use the word “puerile” when dealing with folks like that, it is more precise than merely “idiotic.”

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      • Reductio ad absurdum! I forgot about that! /sarc But your 2.7 times more likely to die if you have a gun in the house! Also Hemenway showed that you’re better off with a baseball bat or running away, using a gun to defend yourself is a myth /end sarc (I’m sure you’re aware that’s what the authors of AWR say, that guns INCREASE injury in self defense)

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      • LIke Matthew, one of my beefs with a lot of these studies is they assert a population-wide risk factor. We know that is not the case with either intentional or accidental shootings. Its a little like saying the average annual rainfall for the contiguous United States is 30 inches, so we should successfully grow corn and soybeans in Death Valley.

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      • +matthewcarberry Would you pay any attention to anything John Hopkins School of Public Health has to say?

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      • John’s Hopkins? Sure. It’s the content that matters. Though, again, the public health model is not particularly useful for studying criminal behavior. Too often they start with the premise that negative behavior is is merely a symptom of “gun ownership.” If the abstract uses the phrase “epidemic of gun violence” to describe incredibly localized criminal behavior that’s usually a pretty good sign they have no clue what they are talking about.

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      • What about suicide? Is the public health a better model for suicide? To me it seems absurd that guns could somehow cause suicide.

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      • I’m not an expert, but I think the literature does support that, within some sub-populations, suicides can cluster. Like among teens in some socially-depressed communities. Also that reports of high-profile suicides may stimulate people -already in a suicidal frame of mind- to act.

        That can be tracked I suppose, but suicide itself is personal and psychological. I’m not sure epidemiology brings much more to the table than sociology in terms of figuring out associations in clustering.

        A problem I have with suicide research itself is, by definition, you can only study the “successes” post-mortem. The ones who survive were either merely making “cries for help,” which may be more attention-seeking behavior than true desire for self-harm, or were not determined/competent enough to choose high-percentage methods.

        The latter may not have a lot to tell us about the former. And the means chosen by the former are likely to be no more “significant” than merely being the best method that competent person felt was available to them. Certainly the lack of “easy access to guns” has not impacted overall suicide rates in other countries.

        The numbers I have seen show firearms decreasing as a percentage of means of suicide. Which seems to imply a change in who is committing suicide (based on what method successful suicides from different groups tend to use). It certainly seems to contradict “easy access to guns” as a factor given essentially anyone over 18 can purchase a firearm legally essentially nationwide (and we’re told they are just lying in the streets for kids to access).

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      • The “fewer guns explanation” studies have some issues. First, of course, is in absolute numbers there are “more guns” extant now than ever, so any broad-based claim based on “more guns, more anything negative” are patently false or at least so oversimplified as to be meaningless. David’s post on under-reporting of ownership notes another issue that can’t be avoided, whatever we think the legal ownership rates are, the “best” numbers we have are almost certainly uncertain enough to render most studies using them more guesses than analysis. Hemenway’s numbers for “state gun ownership” are often used in studies on suicide (including his own), but they are based on a metric he himself created, using gun suicides as one major proxy for ownership. That in his studies he typically will only mention “the best studies on gun ownership” and then cite that metric, without noting or acknowledging the self-referential nature of his data, does not impress me.

        On a practical level, suicides are up among the people, adults over 18 (I think 45-60 in particular), primarily men, primarily white, by population percentages almost certainly primarily non-prohibited, who own the majority of firearms, and can access firearms in the majority of states essentially at will, in this country. I doubt all that increase is located in the (What, two? Any?) states which have made it more difficult to obtain a firearm by that group in the past 18 years.

        https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/suicide/rates_1999_2014.pdf

        The data, and experience, tell us when men commit suicide they choose more violent methods, guns and hanging. If use of firearms is truly decreasing as a percentage of total suicides, but the increase is among those adult men, and access to firearms is apparently not more difficult than in the past, that raises a question worth exploring.

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      • Perhaps guns as a means to suicide is decreasing because fewer americans own guns. I think that was the main correlation in one study. Fewer guns, fewer guns used in crimes.

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    • I’ve read some of those papers. Some are pretty good. This Susan Baker quote is telling: “People without guns injure people; guns kill them.”

      There was a killing in Santa Fe last week (link below paragraph) that was the outcome of an argument over a song, of all things. Christopher Owen had a gun (he was a felon in possession) and to him, a good way to end the argument was to kill his rhetorical opponent. So this shit happens and indeed, if you have unglued or violent people and they have a gun, the hazards of being in proximity to these people go up. I suppose if both of the rhetoricians in that situation either neither or both might be dead. Who knows?

      http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/pojoaque-man-faces-murder-charge-in-fatal-santa-fe-shooting/article_6c6ee000-1b66-5fb2-bf97-c04c33a570f9.html

      Guns are very good at putting high velocity holes and shock cavities in people. When misused, there is carnage. So the question to me comes to whether as a society, we consider guns to be a positive or negative cost/benefit. As I said above, in areas with very low violence, guns are not a problem. In places like New Mexico where culturally, a lot of people want to elevate disagreement to violence and where there is a thriving and violent drug and crime culture, guns are likely a liability. I see both sides of this argument and it pains me.

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      • Not to get into the weeds, but the “lot of people” is actually not that many in practice, even in high violence areas. That’s what makes solutions tough, we are looking at tiny sub-populations surrounded by people who are essentially not a problem at all. Trying to impact those few without negatively impacting the many is a problem of justice and practicality.

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  5. Ok, time to roll the cherrybomb under the tent flap. Here is my question and my call for the next research paper. Does Gun Culture 2.0, which is the concept of owning guns for self defense, actively contribute to social polarization? After all, if you are arming for self defense, you have to have a “threat”. Plus, if others see you as strapping on in defense against domestic threats, is that offputting to otherwise neutral parties?

    Looking at the NRA’s latest PR videos about leftists in the streets and animal rights threats to hunting (somewhat overstated, shall I put it mildly) and some of the anti-gun messages too, we seem to be seeing a call not to arms, but to detest each other.

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    • “the” next paper? 😉

      Finishing up an interesting book on Modernism, “The Rite of Spring” (review that is pretty solid IMO below). Without having thought it through too much, if a society’s values start to be challenged and diverge (which the book is loosely in part about) and at the same time language is gradually denied collectively-accepted fixed meaning (post-modernism), then it becomes difficult to discuss anything.

      Worst case, individuals are both starting from different base principles and premises about what it means to be human, much less to be a human in society, and no longer have a common vocabulary to define their own terms to the other (In many cases even to themselves, if they aren’t taught the reasoning methods and the language of doing so.)

      People of goodwill might be able to overcome that, but if their fundamental values seem to diverge so greatly, why would they bother to try? Each has “othered” *itself* simply by defining its own nature. Trying to understand the other-other at that point could be more like an anthropological study of another species than honest discussion.

      Anyway, I second the call for Prof. Yamane to get to work on another paper.

      http://www.nytimes.com/1989/03/13/books/books-of-the-times-modernism-rites-of-spring-rites-of-destruction.html

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maybe we all ought to subscribe to intersectionality. Then we will be so confused about who to criticize, and about what, without being micro-aggressors, that we will all learn to live and let live.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Gun Culture 2.0 Posts About Col. Jeff Cooper and Gunsite | Gun Culture 2.0

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