Atheists are a small minority in the U.S.  Advocates of gun control might be a minority in America as well. In light of the recent shootings in Aurora I am curious as to how atheists in this network view the lack of gun restrictions.  There are probably divergent views.

I have trouble believing that both presidential candidates are steering away from any call for reform after the horrific mass shooting. In my opinion it is insane to allow citizens access to assault weapons that can kill scores of people in a few minutes.  It was even more shocking to hear on a news show that a family had to raise money to pay for the immense hospital bills for one of the victims while they were already crippled with medical bills from the mothers fight with breast cancer.

As a Canadian I came to stand with my U.S brothers for the reason rally and freedom from religion.  I would be willing to come down to the capitol and march for two other important causes.  Gun control and universal health care.

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In general I would agree with you, but I am trying to be as reasonable and fair as possible with my limited knowledge.

I know that a hippo is bullet proof for many guns. I do not know how tough other animals might be so am currently willing to accept that military weaponry could be reasonable to gun down 3 alligators that simultaneously decide to chase me.

While many do take the Second Amendment as seriously as you have stated, there are many who don't but would still fight to keep it.

I would definitely agree that the ease of gun ownership has contributed to the frequency of school shootings and the type of guns available have contributed to the amount of damage caused.

It is my understanding that the intention of the Second Amendment was to aid people with self defence and law enforcement as the country was more lawless than in modern times. It also meant people would be better prepared if required to act as a military force in an emergency. Whatever the intention was is probably irrelevant now as the situation is more than 200 years removed from the original circumstances.

James, first three minor points then a major point.

1. Few if any Second Amendment acolytes are on the courts that determine the Amendment's meaning now.

2. Do you have evidence on mass murders in schools since 1765?

3. Of course the Amendment doesn't say "guns are to keep the government in fear". Nor does it say "guns are to keep the people who act for government in fear".

A major point. After the 1787 Federal Convention drafted the Constitution (without a bill of rights), they referred it to their Committee on Style to write the final draft. At least one history of that time said the Committee was chaired by a man who liked language to have some ambiguity ... for people living then.

I don't know if the people who drafted the Bill of Rights, in particular Amendment Two, intended ambiguity, but an increase of ambiguity in two centuries would not surprise me.

The terms 'bear arms", "well-ordered" and "necessary to the security of the state" had ambiguity then. They certainly have  ambiguity now.

The experience of other countries is relevant. The UK has some of the toughest gun control laws in the world. As a result their rate of firearm-related deaths is about 1/37 th the rate of the United States. They seem able to live with the restrictions and carry on normal lives without guns. If we had the same rate as the UK, there would be about 27,000 fewer gun-related deaths a year in the US. That is a significant and worthwhile goal.

The goal of gun laws and license restrictions is to reduce the number of incidents as far as possible and the statistics show that they in fact do that. Your argument is one that gun enthusiasts always make, but it is merely argues that absent perfection, there is nothing worth doing.

Look at the numbers of annual firearm-related deaths per 100,000 population:

United States: 9.20

France: 3.00

Norway: 1.84

Sweden: 1.47


United Kingdom: 0.25

Japan: 0.07

You might argue that violence is a greater feature of the American character than it is of other countries—and perhaps that is the case—but it does seem more likely the ready availability of firearms accounts for much of the difference between the US and other countries.

Dr. Clark, in college long ago I heard professors say extrapolating beyond the data has risks.

Is that kind of extrapolating being done differently now?

Let's consider American cities/states. Do cities/states here with strict gun laws have less gun crime and violence?

One news report said Connecticut laws are strict. Was that reporter mistaken?

I heard professors say extrapolating beyond the data has risks.

Extrapolation always goes beyond data—that's what the word extrapolation means.

For sociological data clear and definite comparisons are often difficult to draw, and in the case of gun violence, research has been impeded by gun advocates in Congress, but the United States is exceptional among high income nations in the number of firearms-related deaths. Here are some conclusions from studies:

• Children age 5 to 14 living in states with high rates of gun ownership and weak gun laws were more likely to die in homicides, suicides or accidental shootings in their home, according to a 2002 study. In the five states with the highest rates of gun ownership, kids were 3.3 times more likely to die in a gun homicide, 6.7 times more likely to die in a gun suicide and 16 times more likely to die of an unintended gunshot, compared with kids in the five states with the lowest rates of gun ownership.

• Firearm homicide rates in the U.S. in 2003 were 20 times greater than in 22 other high-income countries, according to a study published last year. Among 15-to-24-year-olds, the homicide-by-gun rate was 43 times greater. While the other countries had a total population of 564 million compared with 291 million in the U.S., 80 percent of gun deaths occurred here.

• A 1997 study looking at the largely employed members of a health maintenance organization around Seattle found that if anyone in a family had purchased a gun, the odds of a homicide occurring in their home were twice as high as in the homes of health-plan members of the same age, sex and neighborhood who hadn’t bought guns.

• In homes where a gun was kept, there was a 2.7 times greater risk of a homicide taking place compared to homes without guns, according to a 1993 study conducted in the counties including Memphis, Seattle and Cleveland.

If you are interested in following the links, these points are quoted from a Forbes magazine article available here:

Dr. Clark:

This discussion would have been better-named "Atheist Views on Gun Control in the U.S." Emotion accounts for too many energetically stated conclusions here.

You identified only firearms-related deaths per 100,000 population in seven nations and drew conclusions.

If I had accepted that as the only relevant statistic, I would not have said you extrapolated beyond the data. In America alone, other variables influence gun ownership and use. One such variable is the political corruption that leads many to distrust both political parties. Another is the militarization of state and local police.

In America, the people are sovereign, not the government.

One unacknowledged consequence of the faulty reasoning behind laws that too strictly limit gun ownership is that only outlaws (with varying amounts of sanity) will have guns. That some people who demand these laws deny a right of self-defense warrants questions about their sanity.

If I had accepted that as the only relevant statistic, I would not have said you extrapolated beyond the data.

You have not cited any other statistics at all and once again, extrapolation is

a mathematical technique for going beyond the data you have.

In America alone, many other variables influence gun ownership and use. One such variable is the political corruption that leads many to distrust both political parties. Another is the militarization of state and local police.

How does gun ownership reduce or offset the effect of political corruption? Do you think that heavily armed citizens are a match for heavily armed state and local police?

One unacknowledged consequence of the faulty reasoning behind laws that too strictly limit gun ownership is that only outlaws (with varying amounts of sanity) will have guns.

This argument has been a constant litany of the NRA and gun enthusiasts. It used to be stated more succinctly as "If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns."

Dr. Clark,

You have a right to take yourself and your views from the discussion.

A man (a former state highway patrolman) I know takes himself and his views from the discussion by insisting that ONLY the officers of National Guard units have guns. Those officers can issue the guns when necessary to the members of their units.

I'd be interested in the other aspects of crime in those countries..Such as, robberies, etc. Seems like gun violence may go down when people have no guns, but does robbery go up because people do not fear an armed home? What about simple assault? Or street muggings?..I don't think the effects of a gun ban can be determined simply by researching gun related deaths. Some here seem to think those items are of no consequence..there was a statement earlier about letting a criminal steal a microwave rather than killing him..that a person's life is not worth taking simply for a microwave. Well, to me it is. You come in my home for any reason, you get shot. to me it is prevention. I cannot possible know that you are only there for drug money, etc. To me, it is worse case are there to hurt me, my wife, AND my kids. I will not allow it. If I don't get to you before you get in the door and I see you carrying out my TV..well, it is a crappy TV, but you still die. Bet your bretheren will not make that mistake after you. We must take responsibilities for our bad drunk-go to jail..Break in a house-possible death. Weigh the consequences before making a decision. Just as I have. There are those that say that is a terrible burden to live with...killing another. Well, I have weighed those consequences and decided that I will live with that if ever confronted with the situation.

I'd tweek that, if the thief is still in the house, TV in hand or not, sure, shoot to kill, because I agree, it's an impossible risk-to-self to assess.

However if the solo thief is halfway down the driveway with his back turned, no, the TV is not worth a life, the risk-to-self at that point has been clarified.

Across Canada, there is a very distinct trend in crime types, in Quebec, and in much of eastern Canada, material crimes are very high, in some locales ridiculously high, but people's personal integrity (disregarding 'stuff') is extremely safe. As you travel westward, the stats change gradually, until in Western Canada there is a complete reversal of stats, there is much more crimes against persons than against stuff. In Canada this trend is easier to see because our provinces are all lined up in a neat little row. Stats get messed up when you look at the northern territories whose demography is entirely different, but they're (we're) only a drop in the Canadian population, so not very relevant.

The experience of other countries is relevant

This is only partly true, as the impact of culture and resistance to change should not be underestimated. If you changed the US laws to match the UK I suspect you could wait decades and not see gun related deaths drop to the same levels (although you would see a drop in the long term).

What I think you would see in the short term in a spike in gun related deaths as people shoot the police who are trying to take their guns away and crime increases as people disarm themselves and criminals don't.

In Germany, gun ownership is 30.3 per 100 population and gun related deaths are 1.10 per 100k.

In Austria the numbers are 30.4 ownership per 100 and 2.94 deaths per 100k.

In Switzerland it is 45.7 ownership per 100 and 3.5 deaths per 100k.

There is certainly a trend, but changing cultural attitudes is also important.


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