Lesson in civic responsibility? (Well, yes!)

Like many people, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Tom Ferrick does not like guns. (That may be understatement.) But unlike most people who don't like guns, he went out and spent nearly $800.00 to buy two handguns which he clearly doesn't like:

When I departed, I had a plastic shopping bag that contained not only my new 9mm semi, but also a novelty item: a Taurus snub-nosed revolver.

Normally, revolvers are simply too passé for the urban gun fancier.

But this one was special. It was designed to handle high-powered ammo - .357 Magnum or .38-special cartridges. It doesn't have much of a range, but a lot of impact if it hits something that is close by - say, a target or a teenage kid or a cop.

Instead of shooting teenagers or police officers, or reselling the guns illegally (he doesn't seem to see any other options), he's going to turn in his new guns:
I do not intend to fence my guns and I don't want them. I plan to turn them in to the police.
While he is setting a poor example by turning in his guns, I'd have to concede that what he did was good for the economy, because even frivolous purchases stimulate economic growth. Depleted inventory has to be restocked. Perhaps the latter possibility makes him feel guilty, because he goes out of his way to malign the store that sold him the guns:
Anti-gun activists held a news conference to announce that the tiny pawnshop was among the top 100 shops in America that sold the most guns later linked to crimes. In Lou's case, it was 441 guns over a four-year period.

This is a sign that the shop is a favorite among straw buyers - legit purchasers (i.e. folks without criminal records) who later sell the handguns on the street to would-be perps or kids with a yen for a handgun and the cash to pay for it.

If I knew the right customers, I could have taken the two handguns I bought and sold them within 24 hours at close to double the price: $800 out, $1,600 in. Not a bad profit margin.

Yes, he "could have" resold them -- just as he "could have" broken them in by shooting a few police officers too. (Didn't it occur to him that he might just keep them for his own self defense? Why is such a thing unthinkable? Why do such journalists associate only immorality with guns?)

Lou's is located in Philadelphia, which has a huge crime rate. Any gun dealer located in Philadelphia could expect a higher percentage of its guns to later be involved in crime than could a dealer in a wealthy suburb. I suspect that Philadelphia car dealers might expect a higher percentage of their cars to be stolen or otherwise involved in crime too. And, considering that Lou's has been in business since 1921, there's a cumulative statistical factor at work which wouldn't be apparent in the case of a newer store.

While buying something you don't want might strike most people as a complete waste of money, Tom Ferrick believes he is making an anti-gun statement by buying a gun. He thinks there's a civics lesson which involves shocking people into the realization that they have too much freedom.

Yes, in Pennsylvania, law-abiding, non-mentally ill, non-drug-using people may buy guns, whether they want them or not. Is this really news? Did Mr. Ferrick really prove anything -- other than the fact that he's legally qualified to buy a gun? I doubt that was his purpose. Rather, his purpose seems to be to scold his fellow Pennsylvanians for allowing him the same right to buy a firearm as any other law abiding Pennsylvanian.

I'm wondering if this same technique would work with other things.

Suppose I was annoyed by the high rate of vehicular deaths, and decided to buy two cars -- better yet, two evil SUVs -- to demonstrate how easy it was. If I then announced I was going to have them crushed by an auto dismantler (I'm assuming the police do something like that with the guns), would people share my moral outrage? Would it make any difference if it was Sunday, and I had the front page of the Inquirer to complain about it with the first few paragraphs highlighted in black?

The Ferrick piece was intended to complement a companion piece by Monica Yant Kinney, who tried and failed to buy a gun in New Jersey.

Why this failure would make Ms. Kinney feel safer I do not know. (It would make me feel a lot less safe if I lived in a place where I "might" be able to buy a gun after six months of bureaucratic hassles.) But she's proud of her state:

. . . [M]y fair state has some of the toughest gun laws in the country.

Here, you must be 21 to buy a handgun. It's nearly impossible to get a carry permit or own an assault weapon.

Once "smart-gun" technology finally hits the market - limiting a weapon to be fired only by its owner - New Jersey will eventually sell such guns exclusively, thanks to a 2002 law that was the first of its kind in the nation.

If that's not enough, as I type, the state Assembly is considering 17 bills taking aim at gang violence and revolving around guns.

Good laws can be bad for business. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the dearth of dealers in the state.

Federal statistics show only 337 licensed gun dealers in New Jersey last year, compared with 2,765 in Pennsylvania, I'm told by Kristen Rand, at the Violence Policy Center in Washington.

Maybe that explains why only 11 percent of New Jersey households have a firearm in them. In Pennsylvania, 36 percent do.

That's something to be proud of?

What it means is that if you're thinking of robbing people or burglarizing their homes, you're more likely to encounter an armed citizen in Pennsylvania than in New Jersey. Yet the Inquirer wants Pennsylvania to be more like New Jersey.

Why is this desirable?

To give some background to the Inquirer's gun-buying "exposé," there has been a long-running argument about Philadelphia's high murder rate. People are killing each other because they have "stupid arguments over stupid things":

In Philadelphia, where 380 homicides made 2005 the deadliest year since 1997, 208 were disputes; drug-related killings, which accounted for about 40 percent of homicides during the high-crime period of the early 1990's, accounted for just 13 percent.

"When we ask, 'Why did you shoot this guy?' it's, 'He bumped into me,' 'He looked at my girl the wrong way,' " said Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson of Philadelphia. "It's not like they're riding around doing drive-by shootings. It's arguments — stupid arguments over stupid things."

The police say the suspects and the victims tend to be black, young — midteens to mid-20's — and have previous criminal records. They tend to know each other. Several cities said that domestic violence had also risen. And the murders tend to be limited to particular neighborhoods. Downtown Milwaukee has not had a homicide in about five years, but in largely black neighborhoods on the north side, murders rose from 57 in 2004 to 94 last year.

"We're not talking about a city, we're talking about this subpopulation, that's what drives everything," said David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "When they calm down, all the numbers go down. When they heat up, all the numbers go up. They hurt each other over personal stuff. It's respect and disrespect, and it's girls."

While arguments have always made up a large number of homicides, the police say the trigger point now comes faster.

Commissioner Johnson argues that guns plus arguments mean murder, and that armed law abiding citizens with concealed carry permits are like enemies who outnumber the police. Yet recently a wanted murder suspect was captured when he was shot by an armed citizen who had a concealed carry permit. (A very unlikely scenario in New Jersey.)

As the primary purpose of these twin pieces was to contrast Pennsylvania and New Jersey, I think it's worth asking which state is actually safer.

In which state would a law abiding person prefer to live?

It might help to look at the two states' crime statistics side by side. Here's Pennsylvania:

In the year 2000 Pennsylvania had an estimated population of 12,281,054 which ranked the state as having the 6th in population. For that year the State of Pennsylvania had a total Crime Index of 2,995.3 reported incidents per 100,000 people. This ranked the state as having the 43rd highest total Crime Index. For Violent Crime Pennsylvania had a reported incident rate of 420.0 per 100,000 people. This ranked the state as having the 23rd highest occurrence for Violent Crime among the states. For crimes against Property, the state had a reported incident rate of 2,575.3 per 100,000 people, which ranked as the state 43rd highest. Also in the year 2000 Pennsylvania had 4.9 Murders per 100,000 people, ranking the state as having the 24th highest rate for Murder. Pennsylvania’s 26.4 reported Forced Rapes per 100,000 people, ranked the state 37th highest. For Robbery, per 100,000 people, Pennsylvania’s rate was 147.8 which ranked the state as having the 13th highest for Robbery. The state also had 240.9 Aggravated Assaults for every 100,000 people, which indexed the state as having the 26th highest position for this crime among the states. For every 100,000 people there were 440.4 Burglaries, which ranks Pennsylvania as having the 44th highest standing among the states.

And New Jersey:

In the year 2000 New Jersey had an estimated population of 8,414,350 which ranked the state 9th in population. For that year the State of New Jersey had a total Crime Index of 3,160.5 reported incidents per 100,000 people. This ranked the state as having the 39th highest total Crime Index. For Violent Crime New Jersey had a reported incident rate of 383.8 per 100,000 people. This ranked the state as having the 25th highest occurrence for Violent Crime among the states. For crimes against Property, the state had a reported incident rate of 2,776.6 per 100,000 people, which ranked as the state 40th highest. Also in the year 2000 New Jersey had 3.4 Murders per 100,000 people, ranking the state as having the 30th highest rate for Murder. New Jersey’s 16.1 reported Forced Rapes per 100,000 people, ranked the state 50th highest. For Robbery, per 100,000 people, New Jersey’s rate was 161.1 which ranked the state as having the 11th highest for Robbery. The state also had 203.2 Aggravated Assaults for every 100,000 people, which indexed the state as having the 35th highest position for this crime among the states. For every 100,000 people there were 522.0 Burglaries, which ranks New Jersey as having the 39th highest standing among the states.
In which state would you feel safer, and why?

While I don't decide where to live based upon crime statistics, if I did I'd probably choose Pennsylvania, and I'll explain why.

Let's look at the nature of the crimes. Measured as a whole, crime statistics mix apples and oranges, and the overall crime index does not give the law abiding person an accurate idea of what most people worry about.

I think it's fair to say that the crimes most law abiding people are worried about are crimes committed against the law abiding.

The burglary and robbery statistics are more reliable indicators than the murder stats, and that is because the murder stats include all murders -- not just those committed by criminals against law abiding citizens. When criminals rob or burglarize each other, these crimes tend not to go reported -- for obvious reasons. But the murder of a criminal by another criminal (no matter how "stupid" the reason) is almost always reported. I'm not suggesting that such murders are not serious or that they should not be prosecuted just as vigorously as any other murder; only that they shouldn't be lumped in with statistics based upon reports of crimes committed against law abiding citizens.

As the New York Times highlights, most murders are not likely to be committed either by strangers or by criminals against the law abiding:

in more than half the cases, the killer and the victim knew each other.

The police said they were more interested in disrupting crime patterns. "We're looking for things with operational implications — time of day, day of the week — to see that we deploy officers at the right times and in sufficient numbers," said Michael J. Farrell, deputy commissioner for strategic initiatives.

The offender and victim were of the same race in more than three-quarters of the killings. And according to Mr. Farrell, they often had something else in common: More than 90 percent of the killers had criminal records; and of those who wound up killed, more than half had them.

"If the average New Yorker is concerned about being murdered in a random crime, the odds of that happening are really remote," Mr. Farrell said. "If you are living apart from a life of crime, your risk is negligible."

I realize that crime statistics are not designed to separate crimes committed against the law abiding from intra-criminal class crimes, but I would submit that burglary and robbery statistics are better quality of life indicators for law abiding people who might want to decide which state is statistically safer.

It is true that Pennsylvania's murder rate is higher than New Jersey's. But as the above shows, the burglary rate is 522.0 in New Jersey versus 440 in PA. The robbery rate is 147.8 in Pennsylvania and New Jersey's is 161.1.

If we move to states with more draconian gun laws (the type the Inquirer is promoting) we see that New York's burglary rate is 463.4 and its robbery rate is 213.6.

In Washington D.C., which has the most draconian firearm laws of all, the burglary rate is 829.5, while the robbery rate is 621.3.

None of these statistics proves that draconian gun laws cause higher burglary or robbery rates, of course. But they do show that Pennsylvania is safer than New Jersey, New York, or DC.

I don't think an Inquirer columnist's lunchtime gun-buying spree is an argument for changing the law or disarming anyone. Quite the reverse.

Mr. Ferrick thinks he has taught Pennsylvanians a lesson in civic responsibility. He assumes, of course, that others will share his outrage over the freedom he has just exercised.

We are supposed to be shocked that law abiding citizens in Pennsylvania can actually go out and buy guns.

Shocked by a simple lesson in civics?

Shocked by a reminder that we are free?

I think there's an irony which may have escaped Mr. Ferrick's attention. There are a lot of people who don't find it shocking that law abiding Pennsylvanians can buy guns. They might even think that if more Tom Ferricks bought guns during their lunch breaks, Philadelphia would be a safer place. That instead of "turning in" the guns he just purchased, he should keep them -- as part of his civic responsibility.

Still, I wouldn't require him to keep his guns. How a particular journalist exercises his Second Amendment rights really isn't any of my business. At least those rights are still his to exercise.

(Being reminded of that is probably a good thing.)

UPDATE: I thought Sunday's blackened front page was noteworthy in itself:


(As you can see, a lot of ink went into that article.)

posted by Eric on 05.22.06 at 10:02 AM


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What boneheaded sanctimony. Next time Ferrick feels like throwing away $800, he should contact me. I could use $800. And I'll spend it without the penny ante moralizing.

Rachel   ·  May 22, 2006 12:22 PM

Hell, if anybody has too much money left at the end of the month, and they're tempted to do something silly with it (buy a gas grill in order to have a steam roller crush it for example), they are quite free to send me the money instead.

Just go to my blog, Mythusmage Opines (click on my name), and use either the PayPal or the Amazon Honor System donation buttons as you prefer.

I promise I will use the money for the following items:

A new Macintosh. likely an iMac.

Mac accessories such as a scanner and printer.

A new futon. (I have a studio apartment, and sofabeds are just bloody uncomfortable)

New clothing.

New cooking gear.

New dishes.

A new bike. (Would help me get much needed exercise and lose weight.)

Pay off my store front at ENWorld.

Keep in mind that by sending me your excess cash you will be helping out a man on SSI (because of clinical depression), and helping yourself by making it harder for you to pay for silly, nonsensical crap.

Remember, only you can prevent garage sales.

Alan Kellogg   ·  May 22, 2006 2:48 PM

Though I agree that the story is ridiculous, and I'd prefer to live where you can buy a gun, I should note one thing.

Rape: 26 per 100,000 in Penn, 16 per 100,000 in NJ. I can't think of how this can be skewed by intra-criminal crime, so it is a bit depressing.

Still, my answer would be, if the government has to get involved, subsidize gun purchases for women (sorry to sound sexist, but I think most rapes are done against women).

Jon Thompson   ·  May 22, 2006 4:56 PM

Jon Thompson said:
"but I think most rapes are done against women)."

Not if you include prison rape.

anonymous   ·  May 22, 2006 6:04 PM



Darleen   ·  May 22, 2006 9:39 PM

Darleen that's hilarious! Thanks.

The reason I am not including rapes in my quality of life analysis is because they are even more rarely committed by strangers than burglaries or robberies. In 7 out of 10 cases the victim knows the attacker. Plus, only 31% of rapes are reported, which skews the statistics so much that I don't believe they are helpful in this analysis.

And frankly, while it may be sexist to say this, I just don't fear rape. (Not at my age....)

Eric Scheie   ·  May 22, 2006 11:01 PM

Wow, I just assumed that rape statistics were much more, well, accurate than that. I saw the word rape and I pictured a person being shoved into a back alley by a stranger. Thanks for the added info.

Jon Thompson   ·  May 23, 2006 1:58 AM

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