A Modest Proposal: Guns for the Poor

I have a terrific idea that might solve a lot of our problems. I know this may sound crazy, but if the conservatives are right, this will work. My program would be called “Guns for the Poor.” We should provide every poor person in America a gun. Preferably a big gun. And plenty of bullets. And, if the conservatives and the pro-gun lobby are right, this plan should turn out pretty darn well.

As gun-loving Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby recently explained in a column titled “A Safer Society with Guns,” conservatives believe people feel safer with a gun. And Jacoby thinks people should have more guns in more places than they do now.

Conservatives have pretty much had their way with their gun theory up to now, even under the Obama administration. The only two gun-related pieces of legislation Obama has signed allowed loaded guns in federal parks and permitted guns to be transported on Amtrak. We are, far and away, the most heavily armed country in the world. We have 90 guns for every 100 citizens. Want to know which country is in second place, behind us? Yemen.

It’s just too bad that people in general have not been fully cooperating with the conservative’s theory of “guns equal safety.” Because of the failure to cooperate by staying alive on the part of some, we have the highest rate of murder by firearms in the world. We have a higher rate than Mexico, awash as it is in drug-related bloodbaths. According to the CDC, 31,347 Americans died from firearms in 2009. That is like having 10 September 11ths. Every year.

Number of Deaths Due to Injury by Firearms per 100,000 Population, 2008, accessed April 2, 2012. (Source: The Kaiser Family Foundation)

Now, to make people feel even safer than having a gun in the house, gun-loving Massachusetts State Senator Stephen Brewer wants to bring the blessings of a Florida-style “Stand Your Ground’’ law to Massachusetts. He says he is doing so on behalf of the Gun Owner’s Action League.

And boy, that’s a great club name for them, because gun owners do like action. After the “Stand Your Ground Law” went into effect in Florida, gun owners went into action and shot a lot of people. The number of “justifiable homicides” tripled. There was a lot of extra shooting going on. And some stabbing, too.

Some of the “perps” who were killed under the protective umbrella of the “Stand Your Ground” law were doing things even worse than being caught red-handed carrying a bag of Skittles and looking suspicious. One guy in Florida was killed and is now dead because he stole a car radio.

Under the Stand Your Ground law, you can’t just shoot somebody like Bernie Madoff, even if he stands there and admits he stole billions of dollars from hundreds of people. We all know that would be wrong. We don’t execute people for stealing stuff. But you can apparently, legally kill some poor kid on the street who boosts a car stereo. Kind of funny how that works out.

And it’s not just in Florida that gun owners got busy shooting people. In Texas and Georgia, the justifiable homicide rate also doubled. This happened even though the overall U.S. homicide rate has been declining — even in states that don’t have Stand Your Ground laws. Go figure.

But here’s the thing. Studies have shown that poor households are 60 percent more likely to be burglarized than the rich households. This doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, being that rich people have all the money, and would seem to be the ideal people to rob, but hey, nobody ever said thieves were a particularly bright bunch or had well-thought business plans. Studies have also shown that at any given point in time, the poor and people of color were more likely to suffer violent victimizations.

So, it would seem that the people who really need guns are not the nice neighbors in my cushy, safe neighborhood. According to the logic of people like Jeff Jacoby, it’s the poor people and all the people of color who need guns the most. It’s people like the late Trayvon Martin who should be packing heat. Martin might be alive today if he had been armed with a pistol instead of Skittles when he was stalked in the fading light of a Florida evening by a strange man with a gun. Or we could have had a big gun fight right there in the middle of an apartment complex with bullets flying everywhere.

So, let’s also listen to the advice of Jeff Jacoby, Massachusetts State Senator Stephen Brewer, and the Gun Owners Action League and make sure that there are no more victims like Trayvon Martin. And let’s give the poor what they need to feel safe and secure from those armed strangers who mean them harm. Let’s give all the poor guns.

  • http://Ironyandsatire,loveit.Giveeverybodyagun,andeverymanarectalprobewhowantsviagra. Elaine Casavant

    Irony and satire, love it.

  • Elaine Casavant

    Irony and satire, my favorite. Give everyone a gun, and rectal probes for men who want viagra.

  • Doug Dyer

    1) The Kaiser Family Foundation data, originally from the CDC, includes suicides as well (see http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr59/nvsr59_10.pdf). There are twice as many suicides as homicides. Do you think suicide is a problem, or just suicide by firearm? Do you think, by limiting access to firearms, we could reduce suicide rates? Or, would people bent on suicide simply choose another method? In any event, the state-by-state figures change a lot when you consider only homicides.

    2) In the car radio case, “Roteta, carrying a four-pound bag of car radios, swung the bag at Garcia’s head; Garcia blocked the bag with one hand and stabbed Roteta in the chest.” The judge in the case said Garcia “was well within his rights.” So, do you think justifiable homicide is a problem? The alternative to justifiable homicide is murder or severe bodily injury to the victim. That seems worse to me.

    3) If “poor households are 60 percent more likely to be burglarized than the rich households” and “poor and people of color were more likely to suffer violent victimizations,” then you do not think the poor should have weapons enabling self-defense? If self-defense is not an option, how should the poor protect themselves and their belongings? I can’t think of a good answer.

  • Barry

    Dear Doug,

    1). Please figure out just how dead the dead people are that committed suicide with guns and get back to me. If they are still dead – that seems to me like it is a bad thing and that guns played a big role in their being dead. And then there’s all those dead kids from accidents – strikes me as a minus for guns. And then there’s the people who shot themselves by accident – like those guys you can laugh at on YouTube – big minus for guns.

    2) You will note that the late Mr. Roteta swung a 4 pound bag which the killer nicely blocked with one hand. One hand. Seems to me that it is hard to call something that you can block with one hand – a death dealing attack that needs deadly force as a result. But I tell you what – just to be fair – let’s do an experiment. I will give you a four pound bag of radios – and I will have a very large knife – and we cab have a fight – best two out of three wins and their view point prevails. Also – you forgot to mention that the Killer – after killing – didn’t tell the police – took the bag of stolen radios and sold two of them. This is your hero?

    3). So you want to arm the poor – good – so that means people like the late Trayvon Martin – which would have mean that we could now be talking about the late George Zimmerman – and we would be hearing how come they didn’t arrest that killer Trayvon Martin. Either way – because guns are involved – people get dead over Hoodies and paranoia. Boy – you people are hard to please.

    Barry Nolan

    • Jeff


      Nice article, I love the satire. It’s good to see that you are in favor of banning firearms altogether. Because as you said, dead is dead.

      But if we want to protect people from being dead, we really can’t exclude motor vehicles (~35,900 deaths in 2009) can we? We should also ban smoking and alcohol since way more people die due to health issues related to those two things every year. Actually if we are going to stop death we should ban most foods! Heart disease being the number one killer in the United States.

      Imagine all the lives we would save just by banning everything that could potentially be dangerous. If we are going to stick to weapons (or tools for suicide) though we should ban: cars, firearms, knives, bats, golf clubs, bricks, rocks, sticks, hazardous chemicals, pens, pencils, scissors, rope, shoe laces, pillows, medications, water (we can’t forget drowning victims), anything anybody could choke on, etc.

      Barry, I can see it now, you and I are going to make the world a better place (one saved life at a time).

      The fact of the matter is, firearms are not the single largest cause of death (or even the worst) in the United States. They are just an easy target because their sole purpose is to murder people… Well that is if you don’t count hunting (for food or sport), shooting competitions, self-defense, or collecting. ~70-80 million adults in the U.S. own a firearm… That is a surprisingly large number of ravenous murderers, don’t you think?

  • Nanjing03

    Sorry Barry, but you are the one who is hard to please — and failed to look at the total dynamic. Consider the following:

    According to the U.S. Department of Justice studies through their own National Institute of Justice /Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the FBI Uniform Crime Report, every year for the last two decades, there are fewer and declining violent crimes and fewer and declining gun accidents where law abiding citizens are allowed to keep and bear arms, both at home and while away from home. Essentially, according to NIJ/BJS and the FBI, more guns = less crime. That means that violent crime and gun accidents were higher in America during the post-World War II period of highest gun control and finally improving during the concealed carry reforms that first replaced gun control in the late 80s with a trend that continues to improve to the present day.

    We now know that the old and worthless gun control laws were a chronic and tragic failure — and the concealed carry reforms that have replaced them are a stunning success in deterring violent crime. Why would you want to return to what does not work?

    Current Educator, 2011-Present
    Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2006-2007
    State Law Enforcement, 1988-2004

  • Barry

    Dear Nanjing 03,
    That is a very nice argument – except for all the stuff you left out that shows you argument is not true. Outside of that – I appreciate your effort and your civil approach.

    Yes – it is true that in states they love to wear their pistols crime has gone down. Crime has also gone down in the places that have strict gun laws – like in Massachusetts. Where the violent crime rate decreased by 22 percent over the 11-year period 1995 to 2005. Source: http://www.mass.gov/eopss/docs/eops/publications/ma-violent-crime-1980-to-2005.pdf

    Lots of people have offered explanations for why the crime rate has gone down so much – one of the most interesting was offered. The authors of the book Freakonomics suggest that it was the availability of legalized abortions starting in 1973 that are responsible for the big decrease in crime – source: http://www.freakonomics.com/2005/05/15/abortion-and-crime-who-should-you-believe/
    I have noticed that ever since the TV show Housewives of New Jersey has been on the air – crime has been declining. There is no more reason to believe that is the cause than to believe concealed carry permits have anything to do with it.

    On the other hand we do know this – a lot of people are dead as the result of people carrying guns – people who shouldn’t be dead now – people like Trayvon Martin. There are other people as well – see this interesting research by the Violence Policy Center: http://www.vpc.org/ccwkillers.htm that shows 402 people killed by people with permits for concealed carry.

    Or read the study published by the University of Miami Law Review – that showed that right after the passage of the Stand Your Ground law – “justifiable homicide” tripled even as the overall crime rate was going down. There are people who are dead because of theft.

    We are now using capital punishment on the street – for the equivalent of stealing a loaf of bread. Because out there in the world there are NRA loving Javiers (the merciless pursuer from Les Misserable) who – thanks to the guns – are lethal and deal out death without a second thought – a trial – or a jury. Some – myself included – find this troubling.

    Barry Nolan

  • Barry

    Dear Jeff,
    Nice try – but you are missing a very significant difference –

    When cars are used according to directions – they get you some place you want to go – they make commerce – and visiting your grandmother possible.

    When food is used as the providers intended – people grow up and thrive.

    When alcohol is used the way the manufacturer tells us we should on those big billboards – people merely relax and socialize –

    But when guns are used for why they are designed to do – they put holes in people – and all their future comes pouring out – and the light goes out of their eyes – and people put chalk lines around their bodies.

    Ever been to a murder scene – where people who know the victims are wailing in grief behind the yellow tape? And the pools of blood have begun to coagulate? I have – not pretty. Stays with you.

    Barry Nolan

    • Jeff

      Your rebuttal proved my point. All of these things can be good so long as they are used as directed by their producers, and yet all of them cause a lot of deaths.

      If you ever read a manual for a firearm from a manufacturer, it will say something to the affect of always pointing it in a safe direction. So handling a firearm the way the manufacturers tell you to, you should never be in a situation of accidentally killing or harming someone.

      But there are bad people in this world. That’s a fact of life, and bad people do bad things, whether that be with a firearm or some other item used as a weapon. If we destroy every firearm we came in contact with, there would still be bad people on the earth (and most likely they would be the only ones left with firearms). All of the upstanding citizens, the good people, would be left with no way to defend themselves against these bad people.

      By the way, nice touch on a description of a murder scene to prove your point (emotional arguments ftw!), but I’ve seen the same thing or worse when a car flipped up side down and the persons’ brains were smeared for about 100 feet across asphalt. Not a pretty site, once again proving that when you don’t use something as intended, horrible ugly things happen.

      The real issue with firearms is not whether or not to allow people to have them, or even carry them everywhere they go. The real issue is with making sure everyone has the proper education and instruction in how to use them. If every upstanding citizen, that felt the need to protect themselves against the bad people that would do them harm, had the proper training, I don’t think firearms would be an issue at all.

      Just to clarify, I don’t think the world would be a better place. But I do think the world would be a safer place for good people who just want to live without fear of being harmed or killed for whatever reason.

      Firearms are a tool, both for getting food (yup people still use them for that), and for defending yourself against people that would harm you. As with most of the tools we create in this world, if you don’t use it as intended, bad things can happen.

  • Barry

    Dear Jeff,
    Nice story – but the problem is that it is made up. When there are more guns – and the Stand Your Ground law is in effect – you can see what really happens when the “tool” of a gun is handy – in almost any situation. Read either the University of Miami Law Review study on the effects of the Stand Your Ground law in Florida – where the gun laws are loose. Or read some of the available stories based on the study. What happens is that people settle what would otherwise be inconsequential disputes – with deadly force. You can read example after example of how people behave in the real world – When people have concealed weapons in high density areas – they aren’t “hunting” or target shooting – or collecting – they have guns with them to shoot other people. And that is just what they do. Death rates go up. And when you compare the death from guns in the US – where we are swimming in guns already – with other countries where that is not the case – our rate is astronomical. Guns kill people. More people with more guns kill more people – including innocent bystanders.

    I am not suggesting that no one should have guns. Idaho and Manhattan are pretty different places. If I lived in Idaho – I might want a gun myself. There are lots of crazy people in Idaho. And all those scary potatoes.

    • Jeff


      I’m not the kind of guy who only reads/listens to opinions that support my views. I can concede that more people with firearms in densely populated areas kill more people.

      But if I were to modify that statement and say more people in densely populated areas kill more people, then it would still hold true statement.

      With that said I can admit I don’t agree with the stand your ground law. I believe you should do everything you can to get out of a situation without using deadly force. But in a situation where there is no escape, where I have done everything I can to diffuse (or remove myself from) the situation to no avail. Then I would use whatever I had to stop the situation.

      Notice I said stop the situation. Self-defense isn’t about justifiable murder. It’s about using whatever means necessary to stop the attack. If you do your due diligence, and stay aware of whats around you, you might just live your whole life without being killed by a bad guy.

      I would just like to continue having the option to carry a firearm. I hope to god I never have to use it, but if it ever came to it, I would use it to stop someone from harming me or my loved ones.

      And so long as I have the right to defend myself, I will continue to practice and train with my firearm to ensure my safety and that of the people I care about.

  • Barry

    Dear Jeff,

    You certainly seem like a reasonable, thoughtful and caring person. And I suspect that if everyone in the world was like you – having lots of people carrying concealed weapons might not be a big problem.

    But the problem with libertarian-ish views – as well as with Maoist and far left views – is that they are theories of governance that are based on a model of human behavior that is in no way related to the way real people behave in the real world in large groups.

    Communism doesn’t work because dull and slothful people don’t do their fair share of the work. Libertarianism doesn’t work because not every one is as thoughtful and rational as you are. But the odd amalgam of left and right theory and practice that has characterized American political reality for the past 70 years – actually works pretty well because is based on the way people really behave. Too many people will use a gun a bit too readily if a gun is handy – nearby. And so it is a good idea – one that keeps more good people alive – if we keep large concentrations of guns out of densely packed urban environments. It may offend theories – but it is good for actual humans – and is based on the way people really behave. It keeps lots of people alive – who would otherwise be shot to death by the dim witted and the impetuous.

    I hope you continue to stay rational – and kind. That is a good thing – even if we don’t agree about the role of guns in society.

    Barry Nolan

    • Sam Cat

      I’m betty Barry would have piss running down his leg when faced with danger …

  • http://klort.wordpress.com Richie

    Water is far more lethal. More Americans drowned.

    • Barry

      Dear Richie,
      Without any water – we would die.
      Without any guns – we would live.
      Barry Nolan