The Corner

David Frum on Guns

He would like the surgeon general to release a “scientific study” warning against private gun ownership. The column is maddening, echoing the president’s ridiculous belief that a federal report — from a “public health” perspective, of course — will somehow end the debate about guns.

Frum throws around accusations of “bad social science” when it comes to defensive-gun-use statistics, and indeed surveys come up with a wide range of numbers — but he provides no estimate of his own, instead offering a series of anecdotes about gun accidents as though that will help people rationally decide whether to own a gun. The fact is that gun accidents are statistically very rare — and even this information isn’t all that helpful without an estimate of armed self-defense to compare it with. Having the surgeon general pick her favorite estimate won’t change the fact that other credible estimates exist.

He cites research finding that “guns are used far more often in the home to intimidate and frighten intimates than to protect against intruders.” Left unsaid is who, exactly, is doing the intimidating: Do they have a history of domestic violence? Research that lumps together all “gun owners,” including those who own guns illegally, is not particularly helpful to a law-abiding citizen trying to decide whether to arm himself. (Interestingly, the tiny phone survey the claim comes from, conducted in 1996, found 13 instances of gun intimidation, two defensive gun uses — and 24 incidents in which people defended themselves with weapons besides guns. Perhaps these folks might have benefited from having a gun around?)

He also offers a long string of gun-safety recommendations:

So many gun accidents occur because guns almost never indicate whether a bullet is present in the chamber. A gun owner might remove the gun’s magazine and believe the gun unloaded, when in fact it still contains one potentially deadly shot. Why not require guns to be equipped with indicator lights?

#more#I find it rather hard to believe that very many “gun owner[s]” themselves don’t understand how guns work, but fair enough: Some accidents might be caused by confusion about whether there’s a bullet in the chamber. But if you’re worried, buy a gun with an indicator. There’s no reason to make everyone else pay for this feature when accidents are so rare to begin with.

Why not require that guns be designed so that they will not fire if dropped?

He’s seen too many movies. Dropping a gun is never a good idea, but most modern handguns — especially those designed to be carried — are drop-safe.

We have safety standards for every consumer product, from children’s cribs to lawnmowers, except for the most dangerous consumer product of them all. Not only that, Congress has actually immunized makers of that product against harms inflicted by unsafe design.

The law he dislikes does not forbid lawsuits pertaining to poor design or manufacturing defects; in fact, it explicitly exempts such lawsuits. It is meant to stop lawsuits against gun manufacturers whose legally sold guns are eventually used in crimes.

Gun makers often design their weapons in ways that present no benefit for lawful users but that greatly assist criminals. They don’t coordinate the issuance of serial numbers so that each gun can be identified with certainty. They stamp serial numbers in places where they can be effaced.

I have no idea what his point is about serial-number coordination. If a recovered crime gun is a Ruger, law enforcement checks with Ruger and then with the gun store that sold it; it’s irrelevant if there’s also a Smith & Wesson with that number. And serial-number filing isn’t very effective; there are forensic techniques that can be used to recover lost numbers.

They reject police requests to etch barrels to uniquely mark each cartridge fired by a particular gun.

There are a lot of tradeoffs here.

They sell bullets that can pierce police armor.

Of course they do: They sell ammo for deer rifles, and deer rifles can pierce police body armor. I know this because I have personally shot through police body armor with a deer rifle — my father was a police officer for many years, and we used to test his old vests when he got new ones. Police vests protect against basic handgun rounds, up to .40-caliber or so. Anything bigger will go through, whether it’s been called “armor-piercing” in the New York Times or not.

And as I noted in my review of Adam Winkler’s Gunfight, even the NRA didn’t oppose the ban on handgun rounds made of unusually hard metals that went into effect in the 1980s.

They will not include trigger locks and other child-proofing devices as standard equipment.

Why should people who don’t want trigger locks or already own them need to buy a new one with every gun purchase?

They ignore new technology that would render guns inoperable by anyone except their approved purchaser.

How many gun buyers want a product they can’t let anyone else use for any reason?

By all means, the surgeon general could cobble together a bunch of research that reaches the conclusions Frum prefers. But this would not be a “scientific study.”


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