Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Toll of Gun Violence

With rhetoric about guns at a vitriolic high, we hear more and more about the number of people every year who die in the United States from guns. The assumption is that with less guns, there would be less of these deaths. The truth is, deaths from guns have actually decreased in the last few years despite record sales of guns. And accidental deaths of children from guns, as I have previously pointed out, represent less deaths per year than drownings in kiddy pools. Nevertheless, lets examine some of the stats relating to gun deaths and violence in the US.

2009 is the most recent year for which the CDC provides complete data (CDC Report). As is often reported, there were 31,000 deaths by firearms that year. Of these, 18,700 were suicides. Only 11,500 were homicides or accidents. People kill themselves without guns, too. In fact, another 18,000 people committed suicide by some other means and another 5,300 were murdered by some other means.

In 2009, 36,000 people died in car accidents, 25,000 people in falls, and 31,000 were poisoned! All told, 118,000 people died accidental deaths in 2009, and only 554 of these were related to firearms. Some 2600 people died as a result of a complication of surgery, making Surgeons more deadly than guns.

Very often, the same folks who are in favor of stricter gun control (in spite of no evidence that it would prevent the suicides and murders that guns are used for) are often in favor of more lenient attitudes and laws regarding drugs. Yet, in 2009, there were 39,000 total deaths related to drugs and another 24,500 related to alcohol! Drugs and alcohol kill far more people than guns. And this doesn't begin to account for deaths related to cigarettes, which are far more deadly than guns. What's more, a majority of homicides with guns and other gun violence is related to drug-dealing and consumption.

Guns are not a public-health risk. In fact, many gun-control laws, like waiting periods, are actually public-health risks. Waiting periods harm law-abiding citizens, usually women, who want to buy a gun to protect themselves from abusive partners. The abusive partner and the criminal are not held up by the technicality of a waiting period, so the person who is beaten, raped, or murdered is the woman who was unable to protect herself. Liberals sometimes don't understand that it is a good thing if a person is killed with a gun who attempted to a rape a woman. Liberals are happy when gun-related death declines even if rapes go up, as in Europe.

So what about more civilized societies, like the United Kingdom, where guns are illegal? Don't the numbers show the success? No, in fact. While they have less murders related to guns (obviously since there are less guns), they are in fact a more violent society with less personal liberty and less ability to protect one's self from violence, which is the ultimate liberty. The United Kingdom is the most violent country, per capita, in Europe and more violent than the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa (Report). They have 2000 crimes per 100,000 people compared to 466 per 100,000 in the United States. The only country in Europe with more crimes? Sweden, the idealized homeland of all socialists. These violent crimes include murders, assaults, robberies and rapes. In the United States, we are guaranteed, by our Constitution, the right to protect ourselves from such offenses. No such protection exists in the dozen or so European countries that have a higher violent crime rate than we do.

Mexico has only one gun store (run by the military) and severe limitations on gun ownership. Many point to Mexico as an example of how we can reform our own gun laws. In spite of this, Mexico is far more violent than the US. There were over 12,000 drug-related murders in 2011 alone in a country that is 1/3 our size. Gun-related deaths per capita far exceed the US in a country with only about 5 million legally registered firearms. Only the military and police in Mexico are allowed to purchase any gun with a detachable magazine and any caliber larger than .38. And the waiting period for private citizens averages several months. Russia too has all but eradicated gun ownership but they have four times the murder rate of the US.

Guns are not the problem. Criminals are the problem. The recent Labour Party in the UK attributed the unparalleled violence in that country not to guns (since they have been all seized from private, law-abiding citizens), but to "social woes." Social woes, indeed.
One final note: the one European country not on the list of violent crime magnets is Switzerland. They have among the highest gun ownership of any nation in the world, yet in 2006 there were only 34 murders or attempted murders with a gun. Go figure.

The Other Side of the Debt/Deficit

The liberal pundits have done such a good job during the election cycle of blaming the Debt/Deficit situation on the previous administration that most people have no perspective at all about where our 16.4 trillion dollar debt has come from.

The standard excuse is that it is all due to the Bush Wars. According to costofwar.com, the total cost has been $1.4T since 2001. Our debt in 9/2001 was $5.8T. So the national debt has risen by $10.6T since then with only less than 10% of this money having been spent on the wars. The cost of the war has been roughly $111B dollars per year and this money largely goes to creating jobs (soldiers and millions of job in the US that support the war effort directly and indirectly). Now this is no statement on the morality of either of these wars, but the reality is that they have been a good investment by the US Government. Liberals claim to believe in the idea of stimulus and there really is no better stimulus than war. Entire industries and millions of tax-paying jobs have been sustained by the wars and this means many people who are not on government welfare or unemployment insurance, medicaid, etc. The same dollars likely would have been spent in another form anyway if there had been no wars.

So where has the other $9.2T of debt come from since 2001? The 91% of the debt? Why is the amount of the national debt accelerating as we are pulling out resources from the wars? Indeed, since Obama has become president, who ran on a platform of extricating us from the wars, our national debt has grown by by over $6T. In fact, Obama has borrowed more in 4 years than Bush did in 8 years. What do we spend our money on?

Federalbudget.com gives a breakdown of our yearly expenses. While we spend about $111B per year on the wars (over the last decade), in 2012 we spent $360B on the interest alone on our debt! In fact, we have spent more on interest payments alone during the Obama administration than Bush spent in total on the wars. We spend over $800B per year on health care and over $730B on social services per year. In other words, we are spending as much in one year on health care and social services as we have spent on the wars in the last 11 years!

The $360B we spent last year just on interest is enough to pay for 1.5 million teachers, health care benefits for 14 million veterans, and 2 million police officers. But instead we give this money to foreign countries who hold our debt.

Our deficit last year was $1.27T. Without the wars, our deficit would have been $1.16T, still one of the top four deficits in history. All four have occurred during the Obama administration.

Liberals love to the blame the wars and, by extension, Bush for our current debt crisis. And while we have wasted billions of dollars and thousands of American lives in this immoral effort, it is not the cause of our current problems. In fact, it is probably debt-neutral when the amount of economic stimulus from the wars is understood.

Our out-of-control social programs are the problem. And the Obama administration is furthering this social democratic agenda. Obama has spent $500B on unemployment insurance during his first term. According to usdebtclock.org, we have over $122T in unfunded entitlement programs, mainly social security and medicare. More than 48.7 million American receive food stamps. This number has tripled in the last ten years (chart). And with Obamacare, the amount of money the federal government must generate to pay for these social programs is only increasing.

This is the real fiscal cliff. Government social programs are the cause of our exploding national debt. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher,

The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Poll Driven Politics

One of the most frustrating things about the 24 hour news cycle are the plethora of opinion polls on every conceivable topic. These polls are often unscientific or even when conducted scientifically are full of bias because of the way the questions were asked. The opinion of the pollster is almost always born out in the results.

Few of us would disagree with questions like, "Do you want young children to have health care?" or "Do you believe that people who have worked their entire life and contributed to social security should have their benefits cut?" But obviously the best and most sustainable approaches to problems like these are open to debate.

The timing of polls is very important too. Its very unfair to conduct a poll immediately after the shooting in Connecticut and ask, "Knowing that an assault weapon was used in this massacre, would you be in favor of more restrictions limiting access to these military-style weapons?" This is an incredibly loaded and biased question and most people, without a more thoughtful consideration of the topic, would answer yes. The question could have been, "Would you be favor banning violent video games?" or "Would you be in favor of placing a police officer in every school?" or even "Would you be in favor of allowing teachers to have concealed weapons, provided the passed a training course?" and the answers would have been perhaps even more overwhelming.

But Media use unfair polling like this to influence the masses according to their agenda. They use them to set the debate and agenda and lead people to share the purported conclusion of the masses. One fundamental question is, Does it matter what polls say, even if they were accurate? Should politicians listen to polls? Most forget that the United States is not a democracy, it is a representative democracy. This is a huge difference. There is simply too much complex information that must be assessed to even have an opinion about most of the decisions our legislators are supposed to make. It is supposed to be their jobs to learn this information and make a decision that is best for the future of the country. But instead, they respond to polls and practice populist politics in effort to get re-elected.

This attitude drives the election cycle pandering that keeps kicking the bucket down the road. Politicians promise an unsustainable promise today to people to buy their votes and that wins in the polls. But because it is unsustainable in the long term, then someone else will have to figure out how to pay for it in future generations. We see this happening now with the debates over the fiscal cliff. No one really wants to talk about the unsustainable entitlement programs that are bankrupting our country, either now or in a few years.

The polls make politicians not care about principle but only about reelection. We need leaders who speak about principle, not public opinion. Many forget that the majority of people living in the Colonies prior to the Revolutionary War were against opposing the British. But a few patriots thought that our civil rights were more important than the comfort to which they had become accustomed.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gun Control: The Other Other Side

Do guns make good people bad? Does merely possessing a gun take a rational, sane person and turn them into a monster?

Do bad people become good because they do not have a gun in their hands?

These are rhetorical questions, of course. But when people oppose, for example, a school teacher carrying a gun in her class, they do so because they assume that that teacher with a gun will somehow endanger their children, even though objectively she will make the children safer. So those who oppose such gun possession believe that a gun will make the same teacher whom they entrust their children to into a dangerous villain, rather than someone prepared to protect their children in the event of an attack.

The recent attention-getting attacks have all happened at gun free zones. This may be coincidental or it may not be. There is evidence that the Aurora shooter deliberately selected a theater where guns were prohibited. What is known, though, is that where such attacks happen, they end with fewer casualties when the law-abiding citizens are armed. The internet is rife with examples (such as Rampage Stats), that show this reality. Far more lives are saved by guns each year through crimes prevented or aborted than are lost. Estimated are a minimum of 150,000 lives a year. What you won't find are examples of where law-abiding, concealed-permit toting, gun owners suddenly became violent murderers because they were angry at someone and happened to be in possession of a gun. So why shouldn't school teachers be allowed to have guns? What if some of the teachers in Sandy Hook had been armed? How might have things been different?

What about children dying from guns? Don't guns in the home endanger children's lives? That's what the liberal memes claim, certainly. Yes, indeed, between 350-500 children under the age of 14 die accidentally due to guns every year, in a country of over 300 million with nearly as many guns. And each case is an unfortunate tragedy that must by juxtaposed against the as many as 150,000 lives per year saved by guns. There are few things with such an advantageous risk/benefit ratio in our society today.

But what's the other perspective about accidental deaths of children? Well two children under the age of 14 die everyday in the US in drowning accidents, mostly in kiddie pools or bathtubs. In other words, bathtubs and kiddie pools kill more children in the US each year than guns, nearly twice as many in fact. Should we become enraged and outlaw such water containing devices? And what good does a kiddie pool serve? Does it ever save a life? Of course not. Instead we should recognize the tragedy of these accidents and do our best to educate parents about the risks involved. We should encourage supervision of children when they are in the bath or the kiddie pool. And similarly we should encourage safe storage and education about guns in the home, not outlaw guns.

Aside from this are the simples issues of our rights as US citizens. The founders wanted us to be able to have guns for hunting and sport, certainly. But hunting and sport is not the issue. They wanted us to have guns to be able to protect ourselves against others. This is the most fundamental right from which all our other rights extend. But even this is not the issue. The founders wanted us to be an armed citizenry to keep the government at bay. They fought a revolution against a country that felt that they knew better what was good for people than the people themselves. They did not want this revolution to be repeated unnecessarily. But the chance that it could be repeated if necessary was ultimately the only check against loss of freedoms and rights by the people through usurpation of those rights by the government.

At times like this we must remember the words of Benjamin Franklin:
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.