The Mathematics of Human Loss

This post is about: Kyriarchy, Sex and Gender
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30 distorted images of a fairy, arranged randomly

Trigger Warning: This post sums up some of my thinking in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary murder-suicide. As such, it discusses the murder of women and children. In order to explain how stricter gun regulation can lessen tragedies like this, I go into detail about the number and kind of wounds inflicted while comparing the weapons the shooter used to weapons intended only for hunting, because it is a necessary discussion. Please understand it was as disturbing for me to research and write as it is for you to read about.

Playing in one tab of my browser, two women talk about the sex they just had in front of a live camera for What was fun, what was challenging, why they “do porn.” Lots of laughter, giggling, smiles. Two healthy, happy human beings that enjoy what they do.

In another tab, I’m reading with increasing horror about a tragedy that is beyond comprehension. Someone has opened fire on an elementary school, and the number dead is expected to be in the dozens, with the majority painfully young children.

The video continues to play – I don’t think to stop it and, in hindsight, I believe their afterglow is keeping me together. One of the two women says “A lot of you know more sex workers than you probably think you do, because we aren’t always out — it’s a scary world out there for sex workers.”

And the juxtaposition hits like a drug. America is a nation that vilifies sex and glorifies guns. These two people are shamed for who they are and what they do despite hurting no-one, while others become millionaires selling increasingly deadly munitions. We invest tax dollars and legislation into prosecuting and imprisoning sex workers, while mental health care remains a stigmatized privilege few want to discuss and fewer can afford.

I continue to avoid telling my family I develop and manage websites for queer and feminist porn producers, despite it being the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. Meanwhile, a close relative’s fierce love of guns and paranoia about legislation restricting them is inescapable in any conversation.

2012 is ending, and everything is broken and backwards.

In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, I avoided saying too much about guns on Facebook or Twitter. The truth is, at first I wasn’t certain tightening gun restrictions could have prevented Adam Lanza’s actions; not unless they banned all firearms of any type.

I own a gun. It’s a .22 caliber lever-action rifle – the rounds are so small it’s considered a “varmint” or target-shooting gun (growing up, I had friends who were given twenty-twos as toys). I have it because there is a severe rabies epidemic in my area, and experience has taught me the county government is so tax-starved it barely exists and cannot be counted on in an emergency.

Once, I had to use it. A rabid skunk came into our yard and began chasing our cats, then chasing me. Rabies is one of the worst things our planet has produced, and I was glad to have a gun that day — it allowed me to protect myself and my pets while ending the skunk’s suffering as quickly and cleanly as possible. While I continue to live here, I would hate to give the rifle up. Still, I worried that even a gun like mine could hurt a lot of people, and questioned whether a federal ban that left it and other hunting guns on the market would end events like Sandy Hook.

Then details continued to emerge about what Adam Lanza fired, and how. And the devil really does reside within them.

This is going to be unpleasant. I’m going to go into detail about the shooting of 20 children and 7 adults. I’m going to ask some “what ifs” that are going to be distasteful. I’m sorry. But I believe it must be done if America is going to learn from this horror.

The AR-15 used in the shooting fired large-caliber rounds as fast as 6 per-second. By comparison, my rifle requires you lower and return a lever on the bottom of the gun between shots. This takes about two seconds and disrupts your aim. I think a practiced person could accurately fire about a round every 3 or 4 seconds, but I’ve never timed myself as I’m more concerned about accuracy. Bolt-action repeaters may be worse – you have to reach up and slide a bolt between shots, taking your hand off the gun and completely disrupting your hold on it. A pump-action might be a bit faster, but most will jam if you get in a hurry. And of course, there are single-shot guns that hold one bullet at a time – they must be opened and a single round inserted between each shot.

The principal and psychologist of the school, Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, died in an effort to tackle Adam Lanza after he broke through the school’s locked doors. Would Lanza have been able to shoot both women with a gun like mine? Or would the delay between rounds have given one of them a chance of getting the weapon away from him first? A chance they never had facing a gun that could hit them each multiple times in the blink of an eye?

Lanza’s carried several 30-round magazines. This meant he could shoot thirty rounds without stopping to reload, and reloading was just a matter of inserting a new magazine, with 30 more bullets already loaded into it. According to the chief medical examiner, all of the victims had been shot multiple times. Some had as many as 11 wounds. Most hunting weapons don’t even hold 11 rounds. Because .22 rounds are so small, mine holds 15 – once they’ve all been spent, a foot-long rod must be partially removed and new rounds must be dropped in one at a time. 

The bullets fired by Lanza were specifically designed to kill human beings. The chief medical examiner said they were designed to do as much damage as possible by sticking in flesh rather than passing through. These types of rounds are designed to tumble and shatter – I’ve seen what they do to ballistics gel. I pity that medical examiner.

My gun fires rounds so small that, when Ronald Reagan was shot with one, he didn’t notice at first. They are deadly, don’t misunderstand, but this is the important part: They are less deadly. You want clean wounds in meat you plan to cook and eat, and the trade-off is rounds that require accuracy and skill. If Lanza only had normal long-rifle rounds, would more of the wounded have survived? As is, only one person did – almost all of the wounded were declared dead at the scene.

With the fast gun, large clips, and kind of bullet, Adam Lanza killed 26 people in 10 minutes. The question we have to ask ourselves, gun owners or not, is this: Could he have killed that many people, that fast, with a simple hunting rifle? Does this have to be an all-or-nothing issue?

It is unlikely, and perhaps even unwise, to ban every type of firearm – there are still subsistence hunters in the rural corners of this country, and areas like mine where dangerous animals still roam. It is also true that the U.S.’s failings on health care, especially for the mentally ill, is a disgrace to any civilization. Our society’s love affair with violence, the way the U.S. solves problems with warfare… these are pieces of the puzzle too.

But admitting that doesn’t let the availability of military-grade weapons off the hook. All of these things need to be addressed, but sane gun regulation can be enacted quickly and easily.

We can ban weapons like those Lanza carried without infringing on any right, nor depriving anyone of safety or a means to put meat on the table.  Doing so will not result in an end to gun violence, but empirical evidence from other nations and plain logic tells us it will make that violence less deadly. Less people can be killed by some guns than by others. While many are loath to quantify tragedy by the death toll, I’m willing to be crass: Less death is always better.

There is a mathematics of human loss, and we have to be willing to crunch those numbers no matter how distasteful we find it. That is how policy is made.

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  • Rebecca George

    Well it’s very difficult, people whine when you give them the possibility of a bystander with an permit, stopping someone thats prepared to do mass murder. Yet when people do that actually stop the murderer, rarely make the news. Because people are afraid it would encourage “gun use” and vigilantism is frowned upon in today’s world for some reason. Vigilantism is kind of illegal yet encouraged by police officers in special cases, because it helps and saves from a worst case scenario like mass murder.

    • ChrisLowrance

      Everything I’ve read on the history of armed citizens stopping mass shootings is inconclusive about how effective it really is. Here’s a good piece from Slate about this very topic.
      But for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s possible more concealed-carry permit holders and no gun-free zones would lead to more shooters being gunned down before they kill too many people.I would still find stricter gun restrictions preferable, because it would reduce the threat to begin with, and also? I just don’t want to live in a society where everyone lives in fear and carries a gun “just in case.”

      • Rebecca George

         Well I’ve noticed, the most common public shooting is in a “Gun Free Zone” most of the time.

  • JoeBlow1899

    Wow! You have no
    business commenting on something you obviously have no real knowledge of…
    Specifically guns and how they work. Please stick to writing web pages and
    leave the editorial commenting to someone who actually knows how they work.

    Just because you drive
    a car doesn’t make you an expert on vehicle design and function. The fact that
    someone linked to this from a discussion on gun control is absolutely mind boggling.


    • ChrisLowrance

      Thanks for being as vague as possible. I’m afraid it isn’t obvious to me how I have no “real knowledge” of guns. Regardless, I never claimed expertise. Everything in this article can be easily researched, even if I’d never once fired a weapon myself.

      Please either reply with actual criticism that can be discussed, or don’t bother replying at all.