A Must-Read Novel by Joyce Carol Oates

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              Joyce Carol Oates isn’t a gun nut, that’s for sure. But the way a gun briefly appears in her latest novel, Babysitter, makes this work something which every gun nut should read.

              I’m not going to discuss the novel’s plot because I don’t want to rob anyone of the pleasure of reading every word without knowing what the next word is going to be. But when Joyce Carol Oates describes how people feel and think about anything that happens in their lives, you won’t get it better or richer from anyone else.

              The scene involving a gun takes place with a man and a wife. He has bought a self-defense gun and pulls it out, shows her how to hold it, load it, pull the trigger and now she’s ready to defend herself and the kids in case someone tries to get into the house and do them harm.

              The wife, of course, knows from nothing about guns. And despite being reassured by her husband that a gun is the best way to prevent any trouble, she basically tells herself that she doesn’t feel ready or able to use a gun in self-defense.

              That’s it. The whole scene is one page in a novel which runs 432 printed pages front to back. But in this one, very brief episode, we are given an extraordinary insight into the whole, contemporary problem known as gun violence which the author of this brilliant novel, knowingly or not, seems to understand.

              I’ll return to Babysitter shortly, but first let me create a proper context for the appearance of a gun in this book.

              In 1986, the U.S. gun market absorbed 3,741,934 new guns, of which 1,655,387 or 44%, were handguns. In 2019, the market absorbed 10,998,608 new guns, of which 6,221,322, or 57% were handguns. Ever since the 1980’s, the gun market has increasingly been driven by a demand for handguns, because the only gun owners out there buying rifles and shotguns for hunting are old farts like me. Kids don’t hunt.

              Pistols are designed and carried only for armed, self-defense. Many revolvers are also purchased and carried for self-protection, including the revolver owned by the husband in the book written by Joyce Carol Oates.

              The husband seems to think that all he needs to do is show the wife how the gun works, and she’ll be able to use it to protect herself and the kids when they are home.

              The wife knows better. In just a couple of paragraphs, Joyce Carol Oates conveys the woman’s combination of fear, doubt, and anxiety which she feels just by looking at a gun.

              These emotions were exactly what I observed in the behavior of more than a thousand women who took the safety course that my state mandated in order to get licensed to buy, own or carry a gun. The women who took my course were either wives or girlfriends of men who owned guns, and they were getting licensed because my state (Massachusetts) has the toughest gun access law of all 50 states.

              The law basically says that every adult in the household must be licensed to access guns if any member of the household wants to keep guns in the home. Of these thousand women or so who took the safety course, the number who were going to buy their own guns was less than ten.

The women who took the course showed up when their husbands or partners also took the course. Most of the seven thousand enrollees in the course were men, and most of the men showed up for the course with other men.

I required every student in the course to shoot some rounds with a 22-caliber Ruger pistol, just to get the feeling for what happens when a gun is shot off. The male students couldn’t wait to get down to the range and fire away. The women were reluctant at best to shoot a live gun, at worst they were so frightened that they either started crying when the gun kicked back after firing or dropped the gun.

I don’t know how many of the men who got licensed as gun owners ever took the time and the trouble to go to a range on a frequent basis in order to develop and then maintain the proficiency needed to use a gun in self-defense. But if they thought that just by dint of owning a gun they could use a gun properly for self-defense, they were wrong.

In Babysitter, the husband simply assumes that his wife will be able to use a gun for self-defense because he tells her how to use the gun if someone tries to break into their home. And this totally delusional attitude on the part of the husband is described perfectly by Joyce Carol Oates.

It goes without saying that I loved this book, and you’ll love it too.

Does Right-to-Carry Increase Crime?


            If I have one problem with my friends in Gun-control Nation who do research on gun violence, it’s that they know next to nothing about guns. Virtually all of their research is based either on medical data from various branches of the CDC which yields a lot of information about who gets shot with guns, but very little about who does the shooting or why the shooting occurs.

            Alongside medical data, the other sources used by gun-control researchers are first-person surveys of gun owners which attempt to explain how gun owners change or don’t change their behavior in response to changes in gun laws.

            In that regard, I’m looking at a paper just published by NBER, which is a study of the effects of right-to-carry laws on crime and policing in various cities. The lead author, John Donohue, has been looking at the intersection of laws and behavior in the gun world for s number of years, and is considered an important scholar in this respect.

His scholarship in the area covered by this paper has become more important in the wake of the recent SCOTUS decision – NYSRPA v. Bruen – which extended the 2008 Heller decision granting 2nd-Amendment protection to handguns in the home to similar Constitutional protection for carrying a concealed handgun outside of the home.

I’m going to leave alone the whole issue of whether regression analyses, particularly synthetic controls, can really explain causal relationships between such dynamically variable factors as robbery and homicide, except to say that using such methodologies demands a very clear understanding of the social contours and circumstances in which events like violent crimes actually occur. Unfortunately, when the violent crimes involve the use of a gun, Donohue and his colleagues demonstrate major gaps in what they know about guns which makes it impossible to accept the validity or relevance of this research for developing effective gun-control policies.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in this paper is the assumption that laws covering the carrying of guns has anything to do with the way in which people who use guns for criminal purposes think about using guns. The fact that certain crimes increased coincident with the passage of RTC laws, doesn’t necessarily mean that the behavior of one trend has anything to do with the behavior of the other, unless you set out to prove this to be the case.

Since more violent crimes are committed without guns than with guns, you would think that researchers would want to know what factors go into a decision that someone makes to use a gun to commit a violent crime. In fact, there has not been one, single study which has ever asked criminals who commit gun violence to explain the process which led them to: acquire a gun, acquire ammunition for the gun, load the gun, carry the gun, pull out the gun, point the gun at a potential crime victim, and in the case of an assault or homicide, pull the trigger of the gun.

Whether this sequence occurs over a brief period of time or over many years, if someone does not engage in all seven steps, a gun violence event will not occur. Should we assume that the passage of an RTC law in any way influences the decision-making process that results in someone using a gun against someone else? Sorry, but I’m not impressed with the idea that a regression analysis can give us a definitive answer to that question.

And Donohue isn’t sure either. So, what he does is to assume that RTC leads to more gun violence because of secondary results of RTC laws, namely, that more guns are stolen from individuals who are now walking around with a gun.

For the issue of gun theft, Donohue relies on research published by the Harvard Injury Control group, which estimates that 250,000 guns are stolen every year, and that the rate of theft is higher among gun owners who report carrying a gun as compared to those who leave the gun at home: “We find that owning many guns, owning guns for protection, carrying guns, and storing guns un[1]safely are associated with having guns stolen.”

How did Hemenway’s research team determine which respondents to their survey were carrying guns? They asked the following question: “In the past 30 days, have you carried a loaded handgun on your person?” If a respondent answer with a ‘yes,’ Donohue then assumes in his study that this type of individual was probably more frequently found in jurisdictions where RTC was in effect.

To their credit, Hemenway’s team makes it very clear that their research has significant limitations, up to and including the fact that they have absolutely no idea when guns were stolen, what kinds of guns were stolen, and a number of other limiting factors which gave the team a publishing credit but certainly doesn’t inform us about how guns move from legal to illegal gun-owners at all.

Does Donohue even suggest that perhaps the work on which he relies for his estimates about gun thefts has as many self-admitted holes as the piece of Dorman’s Swiss cheese that I’m going to eat when I finish this piece? Not one bit.

If the team which sent the new Webb telescope into orbit knew as little about outer space as Donohue knows about guns, we would have wasted nearly 10 billion dollars putting the Webb package into orbit last year.

In this respect, unfortunately, scholars like Donohue continue to publish research that are clever exercises in statistics but tell us next to nothing about the individuals who use guns to commit crimes.

That being the case, how can you use this research to design or implement effective laws to prevent people from committing crimes with guns?

Self-Defense Rifles: Just What The Neighborhood Needs.

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One of the ways I stay current with the gun industry is my subscription to The Outdoor Wire (http://www.theoutdoorwire.com) which is a daily newsletter that contains content about products and people in the gun industry. And if you happen to be interested in reducing gun violence, you might want to start looking at this resource because, after all, it might be helpful to know something about the industry which you believe needs to be better regulated and controlled.

speer              Of course I understand and appreciate the degree to which most of my gun-control friends would much rather base their concerns about gun violence on opinions rather than facts. After all, facts are boring and just get in the way of how we usually develop ideas – just ask Sleazy Don Trump about how and why facts are not relevant to any comment he ever makes. Be that as it may, I still recommend a daily dose of the Outdoor Wire digital newsletter because as Don Corleone says, ‘keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer.’

One of last week’s newsletters starts off with an advertisement for personal-protection ammunition from Speer, an ammo company whose Gold Dot handgun ammunition is a product often found in the duty weapons carried by the men and women in blue. The reason that cops carry Gold Dot or other, similar brands is because the manufacturing process creates a hollow-point which expands to about twice the diameter of the actual round, meaning that this kind of bullet creates a much larger wound and is lethal even if it hits someone in a non-critical part of their body.

In the Stone Age, bullets like this were called ‘dum-dum’ rounds, and they were banned in warfare by an 1899 international treaty. But the United States didn’t sign the treaty, and even if we had signed, this lethal ammunition was only proscribed in warfare, not for just walking around the urban ‘warfare zones’ of Baltimore, Chicago or Washington, D.C.  In the gun industry, we refer to this ammunition as ‘premium ammo,’ because a box containing 20 rounds can set the armed citizen back $30 bucks. But why skimp when it’s a question of protecting yourself and/or your ‘loved ones,’ right?

In this case, the ammunition being offered by Speer is actually the bullets themselves which can be handloaded into brass cases filled with powder, a process which results in “superb accuracy and immediate, threat-stopping performance.” Shooters who reload their own ammunition are usually doing it to save some bucks. But in this case Speer is promoting these new products because they are the non plus ultra in self-defense loads.

Now you would think that this ammunition would be produced in the standard handgun calibers like 9mm, 40 S & W or the venerable 45acp. But what caught my eye is the fact that these new ammo loads are being made available in rifle calibers which have never been considered to be self-defense calibers at all. Speer calls this ammunition ‘personal protection rifle bullets,’ and they are at the local gun shop in .264, .277 and .308 loads.  I happen to own rifles in all three calibers; they are bolt-action rifles made by Remington and Ruger, and I would never imagine ever using these guns for anything other than sporting weapons to take out into the woods whenever I go on a hunt.

What’s happening is that gun makers are now beginning to deliver assault rifles, like the AR-15, not just chambered for the usual .223 military round, but also capable of handling what used to be considered hunting cartridges. Both Ruger and Bushmaster are now shipping assault rifles in other calibers besides .223, Smith & Wesson has a model in .243, all of these products now being sold for use in self-defense guns.

The good news is that if I run out of bad guys who force me to carry a gun in self-defense, I can always keep my trusty self-defense rifle on the ready when Bambi comes charging out of the woods.



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