Uncountable? . . . guns vs cars

Guns vs people. The question of how many has been in the air recently. PolitiFact recently noted that it is not true, as some have claimed, that there are more guns than people in the U.S., as has been claimed. Oh, goody.

Turns out there are an estimated 327,236,921 people in the United States – according to the U.S. Census Population Clock at the moment I’m writing this. How many guns? A 2012 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service estimated 310,000,000 guns as the “total number of firearms available to civilians” as of 2009, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice. A more recent study,  (October 2017, Harvard Injury Control Research Center), based on 2015 survey data, gives a lower number, about 265,000,000. What’s a few million among friends?

The difficulty is that it is impossible to do more than estimate the number of guns. Registration is required in some states, but it’s spotty and inconsistent at best. There’s no way of knowing for sure the numbers of different kinds of guns out there, from rapid-fire assault weapons to hunting rifles to handguns. Nor can we know for sure how gun ownership/possession is distributed. Estimates based on surveys, sure.

More estimates from the Harvard study: 113,000,000 of the 265,000,000 total (about 43%) are handguns; 8% of the population own 39% of all the guns; the typical gun (median) owner has two guns, and 8% of all gun owners have ten or more guns. These are estimates from a sample of 3,949 adults. Statisticians may say that’s a valid representational sample. Maybe for some purposes, but can one infer global facts from survey questions willingly responded to by .0012% of the population.

Meanwhile, we know for sure how many automobiles are in the United States: 268,800,000 motor vehicles were registered in 2016.

Automobiles are registered because both common good and common sense require it. In order to provide for public safety, it’s important that safety standards be maintained. While the primary purpose of motor vehicles is to transport people and goods from point A to point B, they can be – and too often are – lethal. It’s important that those who operate them meet certain standards, and that misuse of motor vehicles be prevented by regulations and sanctions.

Cars have a good and positive purpose, but incidentally can be deadly. Guns have as their primary purpose to kill humans or animals, but only incidentally have other uses. We register and regulate cars, why not guns?

Both facts and rhetoric point to one obvious conclusion. The unregulated proliferation of firearms is immensely lucrative to the gun industry, and consequently is lucrative to the NRA, and consequently is lucrative to a whole bunch of legislators.

How lucrative? Well, for openers, two years ago Mother Jones gathered a lot of interesting – well . . . frightening really – information. (To those who object, “Well, Mother Jones is just a liberal purveyor of fake news,” I challenge you to actually read the article and comment on the basis of facts, not slogans.)


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