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Both sides are wrong in gun debate

Posted: December 26, 2012 - 12:01am

Comedian Ron White tells a story about his vocabulary difficulties as a child, and says if he’d known the difference between “antidote” and “anecdote,” his friend Timmy would still be alive.

“He’d been bitten by a snake, and I tried to cure him by reading jokes from Readers Digest,” White quips.

Unfortunately, much of the governance of this country is a joke – with snake-oil cures for our problems as politicians let emotions drive legislation.

Everyone but the heartless among us was horrified by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The near-universal grief, however, quickly began to devolve, as it always does, into warring camps of people trotting out anecdotes as the antidote to whatever they perceive to be the cause of the murders.

Front and center has been, as always, gun rights. Two competing themes are getting the most attention.

As the debate moves forward, both sides will promote their views based almost entirely on emotional tales rather than hard evidence – because hard evidence suggests their preferred solutions won’t work.

For the gun-banners, a pro-gun control writer last week shredded the notion that any legislation would prevent mass shootings like Columbine or Sandy Hook.

Megan McCardle, writing in The Daily Beast, sums up the knee-jerk push for more gun laws this way:

“The things that would work are impractical and unconstitutional. The things we can do won’t work.”

McCardle provides weighty statistical evidence to demonstrate that not only are there no laws on the books that could have prevented any of those shootings, but that there are no laws we could or would pass that would prevent them in the future.

“It would certainly be more comfortable for me to endorse doing something symbolic – bring back the ‘assault weapons ban’ – in order to signal that I care,” McCardle writes.

“A law would make us feel better, because it would make us feel as if we’d ‘done something,’ as if we’d made it less likely that more children would die,” she adds. “But I think that would be false security. And false security is more dangerous than none.”

Exactly. Despite the evidence-based conclusions such as those compiled by McCardle, lawmakers are apt to plow ahead with emotionally charged legislation. Their intention isn’t so much to actually do something effective, but to allow politicians to portray themselves as “doing something.”

But how about the other side of the equation – those who believe more guns, rather than more gun restrictions, would be the solution? That’s being called for around the country, including in this community, with the assertion that putting armed guards in schools would prevent another massacre, or at least limit the number of victims.

Set aside your anecdotes: Has the concept of guns as a deterrent to gun violence been studied to see if it is effective? Actually, yes – and it undermines the notion that more guns would solve the problem.

In 2009, the University of Pennsylvania and the National Institutes of Health studied the probability of an armed person being shot versus the likelihood of an unarmed person being shot – in other words, testing the hypothesis, advanced by the more-guns side, that armed citizens deter shootings.

Using the same kind of well-accepted measures that demonstrate, for example, the link between drunken driving and car crashes, the study concluded that armed people are more likely to be shot.

Writing in PopSci, the online version of Popular Science magazine, Colin Lecher notes: “In the study, someone in possession of a gun was about 4.5 times more likely to be shot. If the victim had a chance to resist, he or she was 5.5 times more likely to be shot.” (Yes, the study excluded suicides.)

What’s more interesting, Lecher writes, is what the research didn’t find.

Lead researcher Charles Branas of the University of Pennsylvania told Lecher: “There was an expectation that we should surely find a protective value” in having a gun – but that turned out not to be the case. As the study concludes: “Although successful defensive gun uses can and do occur, the findings of this study do not support the perception that such successes are likely.”

So: Want more gun restrictions? Provide evidence that it will have any effect on stopping or curbing mass shootings. Want more guns in more places? Don’t just flash your Glock and puff out your chest: Show the proof that it actually will help.

Until then? Knock off with the anecdotes. What we need are antidotes.

(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimesonline.com, or call 706-868-1222, ext. 106. Follow at www.twitter.com/barrypaschal.)

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Comments (17)



for poorly written, deceitful articles are needed, also. This study is flawed at it's very core, as it applies to the average gun owner. From the study, which included ONLY residents of Philadelphia, and apparently mostly actual criminals!

---However, compared with control participants, shooting case participants were significantly more often Hispanic, more frequently working in high-risk occupations, less educated, and had a greater frequency of prior arrest. At the time of shooting, case participants were also significantly more often involved with alcohol and drugs, outdoors, and closer to areas where more Blacks, Hispanics, and unemployed individuals resided. Case participants were also more likely to be located in areas with less income and more illicit drug trafficking---

Mr. Paschal should be ashamed for writing this totally misleading article. Did he even read the study?

Little Lamb


Augusta Chronicle commenter SeenItB4 commented today on an article she read saying that the prestigious Sidwell Friends private school in Washington, D.C., currently employs eleven (count ’em) armed guards and are looking for two more. Presumably those eleven don't include the Secret Service agents who are accompanying Sasha and Malia Obama.

Barry Paschal

Reply to ymnbde

Reply to ymnbde:

Assuming, from your reply, you support providing armed guards at schools, please feel free to provide evidence that demonstrates such an action will make the students safer. Otherwise, your comments merely attack some of the contrary evidence provided without refuting it.

I am well aware, by the way, of the limits of this study - but it's the best one available, to date, on the topic. If you have a better one, please feel free to share it.


you assume wrong

I do not support armed guards at schools. I support responsible, mature, competent journalism and opinion. The study you cited is absolutely ridiculous. It doesn't matter if it is the "best one available" if it is a lie. YOU wrote it to seem like it was a cross-section of regular people. You misled the readers of this newspaper, and they deserve an apology. Did you actually just call that study "contrary evidence?" Perhaps you should consult a dictionary for the definition of both words.
The best way our government can prevent shootings such as the latest is to have competent schools that actually help students. The "special needs" programs are a joke. This kid was tortured every day he went to a public school. He should not have been in a public school setting. He was not referred to any extra help. His mother was not given extra help. If the public school is going to force kids such as this to go to public schools all day, they are responsible for getting them effective help, not just pretend help.
The costs of our sad, sorry public schools are wasted tax dollars and 20 tiny coffins.


Gun Control

Barry, I posted a new article on FB that shows the 8 armed guards who work at the school President Obama's girls attend. These aren't Secret Service folks. They are the armed guards the school uses every day of every school year. Only "rich kids" need apply. Seems to work pretty well for them. Why not for my kids?

Austin Rhodes

One of my worst fears...

...is that one day I will need a gun...and because of silly, arbitrary rules, I will not have access to it. Whether I am sitting in a school lunchroom...a governmental meeting...or on vacation.

Oh...and yes...if you have a gun there is a greater chance you are going to be hurt. If you are carrying it openly (like a police officer), you are often hit with the first shot. All THREE of our local officers recently killed in the line of duty were targeted because they were law enforcement w/guns.

Also...if bullets start flying, a trained and motivated CC permit holder will not retreat or hide, they will take aggressive action putting them more directly in harm's way.

One final note...in all of our recent shooting tragedies (and the overwhelming majority of them to date) no one except law enforcement RESPONDING SPECIFICALLY to the chaos, ever takes a shot at these gunmen. Statistically, it is pretty amazing. 300 people in a theater in Colorado and NO CC holders? What are the odds?

Austin Rhodes

...and we already have armed guards...

...at many schools in Richmond and Columbia Counties.

Sweet son

When Carrying a Weapon Worked!

If you haven't seen this it is worth a look. Austin, get a gun and learn to shoot it!


Barry Paschal

Response to ymndbe

Response to ymndbe:

I'm unmoved by condescending lectures from people who hide behind pseudonyms. You've yet to offer evidence contrary to this study amid your attacks, so in effect you've stipulated to its conclusions.

I absolutely agree with your characterization of special needs programs, which are a perfect example of the damage from federal government intrusion in the education system.



no, actually no. I simply pointed out that you cited a study to make a point about gun control, and you hadn't read the study. The study you cited used people from a crime infested Philadelphia area. It simply wasn't applicable to trained armed guards protecting schools. I don't have to find a study to back up your assertion. I think your assertion, if a similar study was made that used people who did not use or sell drugs, or know people who used or sold drugs, or engaged in criminal activity, or knew people who engaged in criminal activity, would be proven false.
And by the way, i didn't set up this anonymous posting system, you did. I simply abide by its structure. I represent many "anonymous" people hiding behind pseudonyms who are offended by insufficiently researched articles.


No Coincidence, Austin

The gunman in the theater in Colorado picked the only theater in Aurora that had a policy of not allowing CC holders to carry in the theater. It was his plan not to have anyone shooting back.

Barry Paschal

No, ymdbde

No, ymdbde, you represent only yourself. Citing imaginary friends doesn't strengthen your argument. Thanks for the admission that you have no information to back your claim.


you win

my goodness, the cognitive powers evident from your last post are so overwhelming i acknowledge your omniscient dominion over the intellectual terrain of human discourse. Your nannanannabooboo should be on every page in a thousand volume quotation book. Bravo.


No definitive study because you do not have a "control case"

For any scientific conclusion you must have a "control case". As with, how many people have not been killed while guarded as opposed to how many people have been killed while guarded. Staged cause and effect is meaningless in this situation. You don't know all of the evil, crazed individuals. Maybe we should identify all of those with antisocial behavior as per the USSR.

And just as we have discussed Jesus Christ. Those that believe need no convincing, while those that do not believe cannot be convinced.

We do not know how many drunk drivers have not killed someone, because all drunk drivers were not detained. Hence, you cannot say that 50% of legally drunk drivers are never involved in a deadly collision. We do know that 100% of those legally drunk and the cause a deadly collision are all guilty of Vehicular Homicide.


You could do a study on the percentage of legal gunowners

who have murdered other humans. You could do a study on how many armed men have been killed defending unarmed people. Be sure to include all American wars and military actions.


when all is said and done, it is his newspaper

like it or lump it. Unfortunately we live in an evil world filled with evil people. Once you defended yourself with a stone. Then a stick. Then a knife. Then a spear and shield. Then a bow and arrow. Then a gun. Then a bigger gun. And a bigger gun.

Do we just throw up our hands, surrender whatever means of defense we have, accept evil and get on the government train to a "work camp".