Apr 6, 2010

Road Ragin'

About two weeks ago, an article from InsideNoVA.com quoted a AAA spokesman who apparently has a bit of a hoplophobic streak.

"More than 1,500 people are killed or injured in road rage incidents each year in this country and when you add a gun to the mix the situation is more likely to spiral out of control," said AAA John B. Townsend II. "Gun-toting drivers are more likely to become involved in road rage incidents, study after study has confirmed."

I (and several other bloggers) emailed AAA pretty quickly, inquiring if this was the corporate line or an employee using a press interview as a personal grandstand. My email was this:

I just finished reading an article regarding a road rage incident that occurred in Virginia (http://www2.insidenova.com/isn/news/crime/article/95_incident_states_second_involving_guns_this_month/54515/). The article includes some rather disturbing statements from a AAA spokesman regarding the alleged irresponsibility of gun owners and involvement in "road rage" incidents. I would like to know what "study after study" Mr. Townsend is referring to, and how many of those 1,500 fatal incidents actually involved the use of a firearm.

As I'm sure you've guessed, I'm a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment and the carriage of firearms for self defense. What I'm seeing is a broad-brush painting of firearm owners as reckless and irresponsible drivers, when countless studies have shown that licensed firearm owners are LESS likely to be involved in any type of violent confrontation or charged with any type of crime. Does AAA have a company stand on gun ownership, or was this a spokesman using AAA as a personal soapbox?

I've been a AAA member for nearly ten years, but I am strongly reconsidering whether I will continue to support your company. Your response is eagerly awaited.

The regional AAA office kicked my email up to a higher authority, who replied to me yesterday.

Thank you for your email and for bringing this article to our attention. To answer your question directly, AAA has no formal stance on gun ownership or control.

As an association with a deep history routed in traffic safety, AAA has extensively studied topics such as distracted driving, impaired and drunk driving, and aggressive driving, including road rage. The statistics cited in the article you’ve provided were taken from previous studies sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and not intended to portray those who own guns as reckless drivers. One study revealed that At least1,500 men, women, and children are seriously injured or killed each year in the United States as a result of senseless traffic disputes and altercations. The incidents reported in the study are only those caught by a reporting network. AAA’s most recent study on aggressive driving found as many as 56 percent of deadly vehicle crashes involve one or more unsafe driving behaviors typically associated with aggressive driving.

The AAA spokesperson, providing unbiased comment on one specific incident, also cited a 2006 study by HarvardUniversitythat suggested a correlation between aggressive driver behavior and firearms being present in avehicle. I’ve included a link to the information for your convenience (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/2006-releases/press02072006.html).

These studies provide some information on aggressive driving behavior. AAA, or any of its affiliates, does not discriminate against motorists who choose to carry a licensed firearm. I hope this information is helpful to you. Again, thank you for bringing this article to our attention. We look forward to the next opportunity to serve you.

I read the link they provided. It's a slug for an article in a magazine, four years ago. Like many surveys, it looks like the questions were a bit ... guided. Perhaps more telling is this sentence: The research was supported in part by the non-profit Joyce Foundation. I won't link to them; suffice to say they are friendly with the Brady Bunch. A simple reminder: "not for profit" does NOT mean "apolitical" or "unbiased".

Aside from the link to the single study they used (which is, strikingly, not "study after study"), I'm seeing a re-hash of the original idea presented: that guns are somehow a totemic object that warp the morals of the people around them and make them prone to fits of rage and sudden violence.

Folks, let's be crystal-fucking-clear on this. A gun - any gun - is an inanimate object. It has no morals, no conscience, no ideals, and is not bound by the rule of law. It is only as good or bad as the person wielding it. I own several guns. In fact, more than several. Not one of them has killed anything I have not intended to kill with it. I have not beaten my wife, robbed a liquor store, mugged an old lady, or participated in a driveby shooting.

The idiots who are pulling out their "glock" (and I use it in the lower-case non-brand-specific way, much like kleenex or xerox) while driving are the idiots who would break a window (or jaw, or nose) with a tire iron or golf club or baseball bat, or slash into a tire or convertible top (or chest, or arm) with a knife.

I've driven I95 during rush hour. It sucks. I don't know what led to the initial road rage, but the easy option ("just drive away") probably wasn't available... especially since one party was in a Jag and the other in a tow truck or dump truck of some type - not a vehicle known for acceleration in the straights. When a vehicle that is an order of magnitude heavier plays bumper cars and then pins you into the K-rail, "I was in fear for my life and that of my daughter," is a pretty reasonable answer.

However. Getting out of your car, gat in hand, and dumping a mag at the other idiot is not the right way to defend yourself. Roll up your windows, lock the doors, and call 911. Tell the dispatcher your name and where you are, what's going on, and the best description you can. "Hi, this is Joe Smith, I'm on I95 north near exit 3. I'm in a green Jaguar sedan that's been pinned into the wall by a red dump truck that already hit me three times. The driver is approaching my vehicle. I can't drive away and I have locked my doors. I am armed." ... then just leave the damn line open so there is a recording of whatever happens. Answer any questions you can for the dispatcher, and don't be afraid to ask them to stay on the line with you if they make noises like they're going to hang up.

If the other guy starts swinging a baseball bat at your car ... let him swing. It's a car. It can be fixed. The instant that bat comes through a window, though, you have clearly reached "reasonable fear of grave bodily injury or death". Drawing down is now OK. Maybe you'll be lucky like Caleb and the guy will learn some fast manners at the business end of a .40. Maybe not. If he doesn't, you need to know - well before this happens - whether or not you can squeeze that trigger.

(And it should go without saying: know a lawyer.)

I'm still trying to decide whether or not AAA will continue to receive my support, and I think some additional contact with this customer rep will be in order. If I learn more, I'll share it.

1 comment:

Arthur said...

I agree with your comments- especially your reasonable, sensible suggestion at the end of the post- and I think too many people, both providers and consumers of statistics, confuse correlation with causation. I'll point to the old example of ice cream sales and murder rates, which are positively correlated only because ice cream consumption and murders both increase during the warm summer months, when days are longer, temperatures (and tempers) are higher, and people spend more time outside. Obviously, eating ice cream does not incite one to kill, but it would appear that some people are in this case attempting to at least tacitly imply that the same false causation applies to firearms and road rage.