One Unwanted Gun Gone is a Good Thing

The back and forth on gun safety regulation is going strong and I expect it to continue earnestly through January if not longer. I hope something come’s of it.

Today in an NBC article there was a 2008 quote from a representative of the New Speak named Independent Institute. NBC News describes them as “conservative”, which seem reasonable given the quote.  The Institute itself claims to be non-partisan and says it “sponsors in-depth studies of critical social and economic issues”.

So, if the studies are in-depth, the quotes coming from their Research Director are a bit hyperbolic if not all out lies.

“It’s like trying to drain the Pacific with a bucket,” Alex Tabarrock of the conservative Independent Institute told USA Today in 2008There are an estimated 310 million guns in the U.S. – about one for every U.S. resident.

I would certainly not accuse Mr. Tabarrock of being a scientist.

There are legitimate questions as to whether gun buy-backs are useful or successful.  It depends greatly on how you would measure the success.  It seems the same people that would say “if we get one criminal off the streets, we’re doing good” aren’t willing to extend that tenuous logic to “if we get one weapon of possible death off the street, we’re doing good.”

If we even accept the sisyphian challenge false dichotomy Mr. Tabarrock presents us with, one intimating that unless we remove every gun from circulation that gun crimes will not be diminished, we should look at the numbers he is trying to scare us with.

In the last week I’ve read newspaper articles that totaled over 5,000 guns purchased back from citizens. With 310M guns at large, we would have to have 61,000 such weeks, or less than 1200 years.  Those are all rough numbers, but 1200 years is still a long time, and if that’s the point you’re trying to make, make it on that merit.

Now, the Pacific Ocean has 6.6 x 10^20 liters of water (1.7 x 10^20 gallons).  If we’re equating buckets with the guns, and not one buy-back event, and we stipulate that a bucket is about a gallon. That would leave us with 3.4 x 10^16 weeks or 653,846,153,846,153 years to empty the Pacific Ocean. That’s 544,871,794,871 times longer than slowly, in an unorganized manner, buying back guns.

That’s a ridiculous comparison.

But the implied point is equally ridiculous.  Buy back plans are not about appreciably reducing crime numbers.  The point is, if there is any unwanted gun, we should get it out of circulation.  All guns should be owned by responsible adults that handle and store them properly.  In the same way that if you have used motor oil, we need to provide a safe place for you to dump it, if you no longer want to be responsible for maintaining your gun, we should make it easy for you to get rid of it.  Responsibly.

Addendum: If we return to the borrowed quote, it was shortened.

“It’s like trying to drain the Pacific with a bucket,” says Alex Tabarrok, research director at the Independent Institute, a think tank in Oakland. “More guns are going to flow in.”

His implication was less that emptying was feasible, but that the number of guns, i.e. the ocean level, would be maintained.

The growth in the number of guns in America itself is a counter-argument for that statement.

I still contend that his metaphor is out of balance, and there is always a good reason to provide for taking a gun out of circulation.  Just because we need to do more doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do this (especially while we’re waiting for Congress to get off its ass).