Guns and Natural Selection

Recent school shootings have brought into public debate the wisdom of widespread gun ownership and the failure of American gun laws to prevent such tragedies. Let me make clear that I consider such shootings of innocent children terrible tragedies that could have been prevented if America had stronger gun laws. The experiences of other industrialized countries like England, Sweden, Australia, etc. have proven that beyond doubt. I am angered and saddened by such events. However, the movement to ban assault weapons or impose other restrictive gun laws is doomed to failure, in my opinion. Even so, not all is bad news in that arena. People advocating for stronger gun laws or who hate the National Rifle Association (NRA) can take solace in some seldom-considered facts.

First, as to why I think reform (if that’s the right word) of gun laws is doomed to failure, it can be summed up in three words: The Second Amendment. I happen to think the Second Amendment is bad policy and I would vote to repeal it if I had the chance, but I see no chance of that happening. It is worthwhile to consider why we have the right to bear arms embedded in our most fundamental legal document. It is because the British banned the American colonists from having guns. They did this so that they could dominate “us” Americans (our forefathers at least). They housed their armed soldiers in our houses and took our food. They taxed us without representation. They were an oppressive national government. The colonists wanted to make sure that never happened again, that they could take up arms – military quality arms – to rebel against an oppressive national government. Banning assault weapons goes directly against the very purpose the Second Amendment was created. The gun rights people have prevailed in the courts too often for me to believe meaningful change can happen. I think Britain has failed to recognize its part in creating this mass shooting problem. British tyranny was largely responsible by motivating the Second Amendment.

So what is the good news for those opposed to gun violence? Like it or not, widespread gun ownership is an instrument of natural selection.  Of course tragedies like Parkland and Columbine catch the headlines, but the fact is that personally owned guns are three times more likely to kill their owners or close family members than they are burglars or other criminals threatening the owner of his family. I believe the large majority of gun owners are responsible people. I carried a gun for 25 years while I was in the FBI because it was a tool of my trade. I have no problem with hunters or recreational shooters, although I never saw the appeal in either. Let’s face it, though – some gun owners, a minority, are irresponsible, or even outright criminals. What research has proven is that this segment is relatively efficient at removing their contribution to the gene pool by killing themselves, their family, or others like themselves, i.e. idiots and thugs.

Take a look at the statistics. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) did a study in 2010 of cause of death from guns in the U.S. and published the results. The NRA promptly got Congress to pass a law prohibiting them from doing it again. But what it showed was very informative. It was also consistent with another study from Time magazine. I remember reading a special issue many years ago (1990s or 2000s) where Time described every single gun death in the U.S. for one week. Per the CDC, 62% of gun deaths were suicide. Yes, suicide, and by a large majority. Most in the Time case study were elderly people who were either suffering from a painful and fatal disease or who had just lost a beloved spouse. This says a lot about our health care system and its lack of a humane, painless way for us to exit the world when our time has come. Gun law reformers would be advised to change the laws about euthanasia and doctor’s obligations so that we all know for certain that we have an easy way out. Opposition to gun law reform would diminish significantly, in my opinion. Teens going through the normal hormonal rages and depressions were also numerous. Those are more tragic, but the natural selection aspect is undeniable.

The next largest category of gun deaths is accidents. The most common type according to the CDC was juveniles playing with their parents’ weapons, especially older brothers killing younger siblings. Of course that’s tragic, too, but the grim reality is that the idiot parent, by failing to secure the weapon, has reduced his or her contribution to the gene pool. I’m not trying to be funny. Most of us can see the dark humor, or at least some justice, in the Darwin Awards where some fool kills himself through his own stupidity or criminal behavior. The death of an innocent child like in these cases is no laughing matter, but from an evolutionary standpoint, the effect is almost the same: fewer idiot genes in the next generation. The same is true where an intruder steals the owner’s gun and shoots him with it, something that is more common than the other way around, I believe, although I couldn’t find hard stats on that.  Most homicides were also within the family, usually between spouses or lovers. Other homicides are often criminals (e.g. gang bangers) or drunken low-lifes shooting others of their ilk, or police shooting criminals. Sure there are racist cops and some of the Black Lives Matter shootings were not justified, but the vast majority of police shootings, regardless of the color of the person shot (not necessarily a “victim”), are justified. I know this from personal experience investigating civil rights cases. Even when unarmed, the decedent was often engaged in unlawful behavior such as fleeing in a vehicle at high speed while drunk or on drugs, thus putting the general public at significant risk of death or serious bodily injury. Whether the shooting is legally or morally justified or not, the gene pool is better off without these members in all these cases.

The remaining cases – those where someone with a gun intentionally kills totally innocent unrelated others – are actually very rare, at least in comparison to the types of gun deaths just described. The randomness of those killings and the sense of unfairness add to the feeling of tragedy and to our malaise, so my words may not provide much solace but it is something to consider. I put most gun deaths (not the Parklands and Columbines) in the same category as smokers, drivers who don’t wear seat belts, or motorcyclists who don’t wear helmets. You made your choice and now you and your passenger, or your child who breathes the second-hand smoke, die by that choice. So be it. It’s natural selection. Go ahead, buy a gun. Make my day.

2 thoughts on “Guns and Natural Selection

  1. David Dorsey

    Thanks for the very lucid and accessible writeup on this. As a bit of a statistics geek, I’ve been wanting to see exactly this concept written up. I thought of doing it myself, but goving the right search terms to Google is easier.
    As a thought experiment: suppose the government required every home to own a device that was more likely to kill a member of the household the lower your average mental health, education, intelligence, or just income? Can you imagine the outrage? Yet that is exactly what the second amendment and the firearms industry has accomplished. As for high-profile mass shootings: yes, they are incredibly tragic, but they get lots of publicity precisely because they are so rare.
    Thanks again


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.