by Massimo Pigliucci
I've wanted to write about the always highly contentious topic of guns for a long time (RS has covered the issue before: here and here, but I have never written about it). The aftermath of last week’s horrific events seems like a good time to do it (despite repeated calls from conservative quarters that it is “too soon” to do so, whatever that means). This essay cannot come even close to being comprehensive enough to cover all relevant aspects of the debate, and as it is often the case for my writings here, it is more a way for me to clarify my own thoughts than anything else. Still, I hope people will find these reflections useful for further (much needed) discussion.
First, the facts, broadly construed. I am perfectly aware that there is controversy about the studies that have been conducted on the effects of guns and gun control legislation, and I do know that when it comes to social science research it is far too easy to cherry pick whatever suits one’s preconceived notions. Still, some things need to be reckoned with, and a recent article in the Washington Post has provided a handy list to keep in mind.
Here are some interesting findings from that list:
* Shooting sprees are far from rare in the United States, and in most cases the perpetrator has obtained his weapons legally.
* “15 of the 25 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years took place in the United States.
... In second place is Finland, with two entries.”
* Contra apparently widespread mythology, Switzerland and Israel are not libertarian paradises when it comes to guns.
* The United States is by far the most violent society among member nations of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development).
* Within the United States, the South (where there are more guns and less stringent gun regulations) is by far the most violent, with the Northeast being the least so.
* There is a clear link between guns and homicides. (Duh.)
* Contra popular conservative and libertarian lore, gun control laws do have a measurable effect, even within the US.
* While it is true that Americans on the whole do not support blanket regulation of guns, they do support a number of specific provisions (just like they don’t support “big government” in the abstract — who would? — but they sure as hell want to keep their medicare and social security).
After digesting the above facts, let’s take a look at some of the basic arguments that are thrown around by gun supporters:
* “The Second Amendment says so.” It’s the main mantra of gun enthusiasts, who consider their right to bear arms a fundamental one, guaranteed by the US Constitution. The actual text of said Amendment, as ratified by the States says:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
There is no sane way of reading this to mean that people have a right to bear arms except as part of a regulated militia. Yes, I know that legal “luminaries” like Supreme Court Justice Scalia have defended an entirely different reading of it (i.e., the one pushed by the NRA). But Scalia doesn’t even know the difference between a reductio and a slippery slope argument (the first being a valid form of reasoning, the second being an informal logical fallacy), so if that’s your standard of “reasoning,” you have a long way to go.
* “But car accidents kill more people than guns, so why all the fuss?” Because cars are necessary to move around, while guns (especially semi-automatic weapons) are not a necessity, but a choice usually justified on the grounds of sportsmanship, hunting or self-defense — none of which require anything like the number and types of guns currently permitted by US law. By the way, if you don’t recognize this as a red herring (another fallacious argument) you really ought to take logic 101.
Incidentally, terrorist attacks in the United States too have killed far fewer people than cars, and yet we have spent billions (without counting two wars, of course) to make us more secure. While I don’t actually think that this was the best way of spending tax payers’ money if the goal really was to increase our security (better to spend it on police intelligence operations, for instance), it seems interesting to me that the same people who absolutely refuse to even consider mild gun regulations are often the same ones who are most vocal supporters of strong governmental action to protect us from very rare threats. Make up your mind, people, consistency is yet another logical virtue you may want to cultivate.
* “You are limiting my freedom!” Yeah, well, that’s what it means to live in a society, as opposed to a deserted island. And the thing that really irks me is — again — the inconsistency of strenuously clinging to the Second Amendment when it comes to guns, while at the same time foregoing much of the rest of the Constitution (and our civil liberties) in the name of a misguided “war on terror.” More on the relationship between guns and freedom in a moment.
* “It’s useless to pass laws on gun control because they don’t work.” Besides the fact that — as shown above — this is simply not true, at the least this argues for better laws and/or stricter enforcement. Otherwise, we may as well give up on any law at all, since they all suffer from loopholes and partial efficacy, and (some) people will always try to get around them anyway.
But I sense you’d rather look at additional facts on this one. Very well, then. This study examined the results of a ban on semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns and rifles in Australia, following a massacre where 35 people were killed. The results are striking: “In the 18 years before the gun law reforms, there were 13 mass shootings in Australia, and none in the 10.5 years afterwards.” The study also found a decrease in total firearm deaths, firearm suicides and firearm homicides. If the Aussies did it, why not good ‘ol US of A?
Finally, the philosophical argument. The New York Times’ Stone blog has just started a series on guns, the first entry being by Firmin DeBrabander (the second one so far is by Christy Wampole). One of the arguments put forth by DeBrander struck me as particularly apt. It actually goes back to philosopher Hannah Arendt (in her book, The Human Condition). As I mentioned above, gun advocates talk a lot about freedom, particularly their own. But the problem is that guns — especially when carried openly, as the NRA has been pushing and some States have already approved — are a huge deterrent against a much more fundamental freedom, that of speech (you know, First Amendment and all that).
As DeBrabander aptly puts it: “As ever more people are armed in public — even brandishing weapons on the street — this is no longer recognizable as a civil society. Freedom is vanished at that point. ... An armed society is polite, by [the NRA’s] thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening.”
Another way to put this is in terms of virtue ethics. We need to think about what an openly armed society would do to our character as individual members of that society. I personally doubt even the quality of
character of someone who thinks that hunting is a sport worth engaging in, but I am okay with that and other limited use of lethal weapons (“sport” is another questionable application, and even self-defense is reasonable only under fairly unusual circumstances and as a last resort). But I am pretty sure that there is something fundamentally flawed in the character of a person who thinks it’s a good idea to arm teachers and students in school, to allow concealed guns in churches and bars, or to provide citizens with the sort of weapons that other countries reserve only for their military. The most profound damage the NRA and its supporters are doing to this country is not just in allowing the sort of carnage of young children we have seen this past week, as horrible as it is. It lies in a deep corruption of our very character as human beings and in the threat to the very idea of a free and open society.
Postscript: here is a good article
explaining why my commonsense interpretation of the Second Amendment was the historically accepted one, including by the NRA.
Re Australian gun control measures, very curious as to whether their effect on violence there could be used as a model for future action in the US next year. One would think there is a population over there in non-urban areas with the same disposition towards firearms as those in living outside of US metro areas. While their historic murder rates prior to the legislation may have been too low to serve as a useful comparison, note that it took them only a few massacres to act. Who knows if even Newtown will be enough to sway the Republican servants of the NRA.ReplyDelete
Raised, as I was, learning to use a shotgun to hunt my sense of those things had little to do with "sports". Honestly, I see "sport" as a piss poor excuse for owning those things. Early on, we were out hunting rabbits across the winter. Why? Yes dad and my little brother loved proving they were good shots while mom used the critters to feed us. Not just because we liked the taste, but more to cut the cost of buying food.ReplyDelete
Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight blog) has a post about how gun ownership correlates with political orientation. This makes some sense of the pro-gun rhetoric if you think in terms of "The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--and Reality" (by Chris Mooney).ReplyDelete
I wish there was more discussion of suicide and accidents involving firearms. There are risks pertaining to owning a gun that have little to do with violence from others.ReplyDelete
Also, escalation of violence. I remember that my mother, as a nurse, regularly took care of patients who were beaten or stabbed (some of whom died) *after* shooting someone. It turns out that shooting someone sometimes just makes them angrier with you!
Australia just doesn't have the gun culture that exists in the US (and much lower rates of firearm ownership when the 96 ban and buyback came into effect). In rural areas farmers and hunters (there is a Shooters and Fishers party in Australia with some seats in some state parliaments, but their platform is entirely targeted at hunting) do use guns and can legally own them for these purposes. But even for the majority of this group guns are just a tool. We obsess over our utes (see the Deniliquin Ute Muster for examples) not our guns.ReplyDelete
What about the National Academy of Sciences' consensus document, "Firearms and Violence"? http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309091241 It's a huge review of studies, and I'm inclined to give it much more evidential weight than the work of the Harvard Injury Control Research Group, which is after all just one research grop.ReplyDelete
In a cramped environment, handguns are about as deadly as rifles. The deadliest shooting at Virginia Tech was carried out with a handgun, as was the Fort Hood massacre. During the Aurora shooting, James Holmes' AR-15 jammed, and he switched to a handgun. Adam Lanza happened to use an AR-15, but he had handguns as well. The Portland mall shooter's AR-15 jammed, and a guy named Nick Meli claimed to have aimed his gun at the shooter, possibly scaring him into shooting himself.ReplyDelete
Pump-action shotguns are the most effective firearm to protect the home. They don't require accurate aim, they're not deadly at long range, and the distinctive sound deters attackers.
There's no standard definition of "assault weapons." It's a bunch of components like a pistol grip, folding stock, and flash suppressor, that don't make much difference. Soon it won't be hard to print some of these things with a 3D printer.
The Second Amendment enthusiasts say that the real reason to own guns is to defend against tyranny. And if you think they're no match for the military, see the Taliban.
Ah, the Taliban. Is that who our gun enthusiasts seek to emulate, these days?Delete
They're not the Taliban, though, who remain well supplied by such as Iran and Pakistan (not to mention the leavings of the Soviets and what we gave them), and this isn't Afghanistan. It seems a rather strained analogy. But there has always been an element of fantasy involved in the claim we need all kinds of guns to protect ourselves from our government and others.
The Taliban is able to defeat the invading military with small arms, IEDs, and green-on-blue attacks. And there, the invading military isn't even fighting its own people.Delete
Some of our gun enthusiasts seek to emulate the Confederacy.
Of course, here "small arms" includes not only handguns and (automatic)rifles but also light, medium and heavy machine guns, grenades, both thrown and rocket propelled, mortars, technical(machine gun-equipped) vehicles, etc. No matter how you spin it, you are talking about an organized military force.Delete
I fear the Taliban and our military (and any military, really) would justly hold our overweight, aging, out-of-shape and comfortable citizenry in low esteem as fighters, regardless of the guns we lovingly possess. I think there is a significant between those who dream of war and those who have lived it or trained for it.Delete
I think Justice Scalias' argument is far more interesting than you are giving him credit for. If we take his statement about moral feelings to mean morality by intuition/emotional response he does successfully have a 'reduction to the absurd'.ReplyDelete
Of course few moral philosophers are going to take morality by intuition seriously but public morality is another matter.
"There is no sane way of reading this to mean that people have a right to bear arms except as part of a regulated militia."ReplyDelete
And yet entirely sane men who know more about law and the Constitution than you do make just that argument.
"gun control laws do have a measurable effect, even within the US."ReplyDelete
Vermont is less restrictive than Washington State, which is less restrictive than Texas and Arkansas, which are less restrictive than Washington DC and Illinois.
"As DeBrabander aptly puts it: “As ever more people are armed in public — even brandishing weapons on the street — this is no longer recognizable as a civil society.'"ReplyDelete
Brandishing is illegal.
> And yet entirely sane men who know more about law and the Constitution than you do make just that argument. <
Thanks for pointing out the obvious. Now, I've got a couple of ideas as to why sane people would opt for an insane (though the most appropriate word would be inane) interpretation of that phrase. Do you?
> Vermont is less restrictive than Washington State, which is less restrictive than Texas and Arkansas, which are less restrictive than Washington DC and Illinois. <
Subjective and anecdotal. When you look at actual studies the story is different.
I don't believe William Rawle and Joseph Story, for example, were insane or inane. I wonder what you know they didn't.Delete
I'm not sure if it's subjective to observe states with less restrictive gun control have less gun violence than states that do. Subjective or not, it's certainly interesting.
>I'm not sure if it's subjective to observe states with less restrictive gun control have less gun violence than states that do. Subjective or not, it's certainly interesting.Delete
Interesting. What is the source of this claim?
I have to warn you that it is currently not passing a sanity check for me. I can't find a map of stringency of gun control laws by state, but based on the political valence of guns, I would assume that blue states typically have stricter laws. Hence, based on my assumption, your statement predicts lower gun violence in red states.
Yet when I look at a map of gun violence levels by state, it bears an EERIE SIMILARITY with the electoral map for the 2012 election - and in the wrong direction for your stated hypothesis.
Is there something I'm missing here? Am I wrong to use politics as a proxy for strictness of gun control laws? Are there other good reasons for conservative states to have more gun violence?
Update: this maps carry concealed permits. It seems to show the same tendency, comes from a pro-gun source, and does seem to broadly falsify C. van Carter's hypothesis.Delete
Vermont allows concealed carry without a permit or open carry to anyone 16 and over. Washington State issues concealed pistol licences to anyone 21 and over who passes a background check, and open carry is legal. Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana require applicants for concealed handgun licenses to pass gun safety classes. Texas and Arkansas prohibit open carry.Delete
"Are there other good reasons for conservative states to have more gun violence?"
Those states have more blacks.
Well, Wikipedia actually breaks this out by race, so I took it into Excel and subtracted out the gun violence by blacks.Delete
That does make the picture a lot more complicated. However, you've still got Louisiana (red, concealed carry) in 1st place for gun violence per 100,000 people and New Hampshire (blue, no concealed carry) in last place. There is less of a strong pattern for all the other states, however.
New Hampshire issues concealed handgun licenses. No gun training or safety is required, though you do have to provide three references on your application, which I find weird.Delete
I sincerely hope that Americans manage to put reasonable controls on guns (i.e. only single-shot long guns for hunting, not handguns or automatic and semi-automatic rifles) not only for their own sake but also for mine. One of the main problems with respect to illegal or unlicensed guns in my country (Canada) is the smuggling of such guns across the border by criminals. Once such guns are removed from the US it will make our job much easier. This is not to say that we Canadians don’t also have work to do on this file but the problem is much smaller here.ReplyDelete
"There is no sane way of reading this to mean that people have a right to bear arms except as part of a regulated militia."ReplyDelete
Strange that nobody realized this for the better part of 200 years. Stranger still that Massimo doesn't even consider the alternative interpretations and instead does an ad hominem on Scalia.
you may have missed it, but plenty of legal scholars have taken the same commonsense view of the 2nd that I take.
As for Scalia, what ad hominem? I simply pointed out that the guy doesn't seem to be able to distinguish between two types of argument, one fallacious the other not. That's not an attack on his character. But if you'd like to go there, I've got plenty of (virtual) ammos to deploy...
Well yes many legal scholars take this view, but for some reason it took centuries for this "commonsense" view to come about. That seems to count against the notion that the other interpretations are not sane.Delete
And dismissing someone's argument based on their mistakes elsewhere is a fallacy of irrelevance, if not an ad hominem, even if going over the various view on what the prefatory and operative clauses mean would be mind-numbingly boring.
I don't think it has taken "centuries." At any rate, and contra the naiveté (or cynicism, depending on how you look at it) of Scalia and his friends, the Constitution is a living document, whose spirit needs to be interpreted as the times change. Jefferson and co. didn't have to deal with assault weapons.
And I insist that my comments above about Scalia were perfectly appropriate. I know the guy is not stupid, but he has demonstrably engaged in awfully bad public reasoning. The only remaining conclusion, then, is that he is acting cynically (well, I suppose he could also be deluded - either way, no pretty picture emerges).
The Constitution isn't a "living document", whatever that means. Calling it such is merely a pretense for judges to depart from superior law in order to impose their personal preferences.Delete
C. Van Carter,Delete
The Constitution has the capacity to be amended and changed. We have done so many times and will possibly do so again. It isn't set in stone. It isn't an eternal document incapable of revision. It grows. It changes. It evolves.
I wonder about the 'holy and unchangeable' vision of the Constitution because it seems to deny changing situations and times. Freedom from slavery wasn't incorporated into its foundation. Women's suffrage wasn't incorporated into its foundation. A total of 15 different issues weren't incorporated into its foundation. However, as our understanding grew we changed the constitution so that it grew with us.
All of this would seem to indicate that it IS a living document.
The Constitution can be amended. It is not "alive", it does not "evolve".Delete
According to the textbook definition of a living document versus an evergreen document the constitution is a living document. The words you brought attention to are applicable to the Constitution.Delete
It sounds like your trying to do a semantic dance.
How exactly would you define the Constitution? It isn't set in stone never to be changed and capable of applying completely in the way it was originally constructed. It is modified as understanding evolves which means it evolves, too.
Amending the Constitution and applying constitutional principles to new situations are quite different from assertions the Constitution itself is "alive" and has "evolved".Delete
George, you're doing a nice job of towing the gun lobby's line. Problematically, there's more to constitutional history than reading nra pamphlets. What Massimo calls the commonsense view was precisely what was held up for over 200 years of U.SDelete
Jurisprudence, until Scali decided to indulge in his standard radical judicial activism. If you plan on invoking history, please do your audience the favor of, you know, reading.
C. Van Carter,Delete
Simply repeating your assertions isn't providing any reason why you deny the classification of the Constitution as a living document. Do we treat the Constitution like biblical literalist want to treat the bible?
I deny the Constitution is a living document because it's obviously not alive. We should treat the Constitution the way we treat other legal documents.Delete
This biggest problem as I see it against an Aussie style ban and buyback of automatic weapons, apart from the political will and mischief making of the NRA (which is not to be dismissed), is that you have gagillions of these deadly weapons floating about the place. If the cash-strapped, cliff facing Govt was to buy back enough weapons to make a difference in the US, you'd be bankrupt if fair price was paid for each weapon. In Australia, we had some guns, but not oodles of them, and the political will to do it. It was feasible. I'm not sure a buyback is feasible in the US. The right would stymie a buyback as being both anti-liberty and fiscally big government in any case.ReplyDelete
Re: "Contra popular conservative and libertarian lore, gun control laws do have a measurable effect, even within the US."
The research to which you link does not comport with a larger 2004 critical review of the evidence conducted by the National Academy of Sciences that found gun laws have no measurable effect in the U.S. The study may be read here: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309091241
I could add this:Delete
"An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003"
I should add that since there is no good evidence that suggests further and more stringent gun laws will reduce gun related crimes, and given the costs (monies, resources, time, etc.) associated with enacting and enforcing such legislative activity, it is not rational to pursue this course. This is especially so given the improbability of a randomly selected American being a victim of gun violence.ReplyDelete
AFAIR, the 2004 study did not find "no effect" but rather "not enough data to conclude either way", and not a lot of research has been done due to little funding. (Whatever that means.)Delete
On the costs, we had this discussion before, Eamon. What costs? You did not accept my napkin math last time, but I still stipulate that countries with stricter gun control do not have higher law enforcement costs than the US. Even if gun control does have extra cost, you can't say you are arguing from rationality here: you have to compare a >0 cost to the benefit, which still has a non-zero probability of being positive. Given the large disparity in intentional homicide rates (not only gun-related crimes) from the US to other countries, I'd put that probability a lot higher that you would, but even using 10% or 20% would still achieve a sizable benefit in saved lives. (From a consequentialist standpoint, the fact that it is improbable that you are killed is irrelevant - if it has net positive consequence, do it. As Massimo pointed out, the probability of being hit be terrorists is even smaller, yet you are happily spending billions with doubtful benefit.)
Or do you really believe gun control has zero probability of an effect in the benefit column?
>This is especially so given the improbability of a randomly selected American being a victim of gun violence.Delete
I don't know about this. According to the CDC, homicide was ranked 15th as a cause of death in the USA in 2009, accounting for 0.7% of all deaths. And according to the UNODC, 68% of those homicides were carried out with firearms.
So that's 0.5% of all deaths; i.e., of all the people who died in the USA in 2009, 1 in 200 died of gun violence. That's small, but hardly negligible!
No comment on the effectiveness of gun laws, I am not knowledgeable about this.
Ian, it is still unlikely, since your probablity of dying wasn't high in the first place. If we accept the UN number, you have a 1 in 20,000 chance of dying violently. I don't know the actuarial tables for the US, but given your number that sounds about right. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate)Delete
>If we accept the UN number, you have a 1 in 20,000 chance of dying violently.Delete
Per year! Again, this is not huge, but not negligible (it's 1 in 65,000 here in Canada, which is definitely getting into diminishing returns territory).
Compare road fatalities: approximately 1 in 8000 chance per year. A smart US citizen should be concerned about road fatalities; it follows that a smart US citizen should be about half as concerned about guns as they are about that.
>it follows that a smart US citizen should be about half as concerned about guns as they are about that.Delete
Excuse me, I should have said "about violent death." As discussed, gun deaths are about 70% of that, so the correct per-year number for gun death is more like 1 in 29,000.
I wasn't arguing that is was negligible, although I did interpret Eamon's comment in that way. I might be wrong on that, of course.Delete
Ian and Chris,Delete
Hey. Yes, I interpret the probability of dying from a gun-related crime (excluding, I should add, suicide) to be negligible.
Re: "On the costs, we had this discussion before, Eamon. What costs?"
The costs of enforcing the legislative activity, calculated in terms of tax revenue, opportunity costs of requisite resource and manpower time. I do not accept your napkin calculations because they are largely uninformed (of course, my suspicions about how much enforcement would cost are uniformed, too) but a meta-induction on government law enforcement activities (cf. the [so-called] war on drugs, terrorism, and Prohibition) seems to support my suspicions.
Re: "AFAIR, the 2004 study did not find "no effect" but rather "not enough data to conclude either way", and not a lot of research has been done due to little funding. (Whatever that means.)"
Yes, right. So, I did not say that we should not gather more data. I said that the 2004 National Academy study found no measurable effect, or, in other words, the data did not reveal a measurable effect. In this statistical instance, finding that the data reveal no measurable effect is the same as finding no measurable effect.
>Hey. Yes, I interpret the probability of dying from a gun-related crime (excluding, I should add, suicide) to be negligible.Delete
Just curious, are you talking about the prob of a person in your reference class dying from a gun related crime, or the prob of a randomly chosen US citizen doing same?
I ask because it seems odd to call 1 in 200 negligible.
BTW, the numbers I was quoting earlier exclude suicide by gun.
Let us take the .005 figure. This represents the probability of dying due to a gun violence measured against the population of registered deaths. Therefore, this is the likelihood of a randomly selected person's death being due to gun violence. This is not the probability to which I am referring.
This can get real tricky real quick, but if we exclude infant mortality and adjust for age, the odds that a randomly selected American under the age of 60 will die today is extremely low (something like 1:100,000 which amounts to a probability of .00001). Now this figure represents the chances of randomly selected under-60 person dying and *if* he dies, there is a probability of .005 that it was due to gun violence. So, then, let us take (.005)(2,437,163) [total U.S. resident deaths reported -- note that this includes deaths of individuals over 60, but whatever]. We get 12,185.815 deaths due to gun violence. Take this number and divide it by the total population: (12,185.815) / (approx. 300,000,000) = .00004062). That figure more accurately represents the probability of a randomly selected American being killed by gun violence. And I take it that that is negligible.
Eamon, wonder where you got that percentage. Using the US actuarial tables (CDC 2003) and also excluding infant mortality, I get a 0,18 % chance p.a. of a random average male dying in any given year. (Of 100,000 born, 88,000 live to the age of 60, i.e. 12k die. Exclude infant mortality, divide by 60 to get per annum. I ignored growing life expectancy, but that doesn't chance the result by much, especially in the US.)Delete
Also, why did you cut off at 60 and not at retirement age?Delete
Let's take the figure you came up with, my point stands: the probability of a randomly selected American dying due to gun-related violence is negligibly low.
Eamon, for a supposedly rational argument, you sure are using "neglible risk" vs. "significant cost" a lot. Yet the only numbers you have put to it so far have been demonstrably wrong... (see above) ;-)Delete
Might your decision not be rational after all?
Hoping to have had restful Winter Solstice.
"negligibly low" according to whom? Likely not the victims at Newtown. And in the name of what are we ignoring such risk? So that a bunch of assholes can go around playing Rambo with assault weapons?
Your obvious wit is intoxicating! But you seem to have missed much of the exchange. You cite the figure that a randomly selected male has a 0.18% chance of dying in a given year. Whether this figure is entirely accurate or not is really besides the point; but let's go with it. If, as Ian notes, gun related deaths account for one half of one percent of all deaths, then the probability that a randomly selected male will die in a gun-related incidence of violence is *incredibly low*. Ian's initially cited figure represents the probability that an individual was shot *given* that they died. This does *not* represent the real risk of gun-related violence. We must look at the probability that a randomly selected individual will die due to gun-related violence. And this probability (even using your probably-overestimated figure) is extremely low.
Who is playing 'Rambo with assault weapons' (whatever that means)? The risk of gun-related violence differs per reference class. For elementary school students in predominantly white neighborhoods, the risk is absurdly low and therefore does not warrant much worry. For young black males in the Watts area of Los Angeles, the risk is very much higher. But when I used the general term, I am talking about the risk of a randomly selected American, which is, of course, negligibly low.
the guy who shot the kids at Newtown was playing with assault weapons, that's who. Others have pointed out that you play fast and loose with numbers and with concepts like "negligible," "extremely low" and so forth. But I do wonder two things:
a) Do you realize that the empathic quotient of your comments on this thread is surprisingly low? Do you really want to tell the parents of the Newtown kinds that their loss was "negligible" and due to an "extremely low" risk? I have noticed that in a lot of libertarians I know, and I'm beginning to wander if there are quantitative data out there.
b) Do you have any reason for why people should be allowed to go out with assault weapons, which clearly have no place in sports, hunting or personal defense? Is it just a "because we can" attitude? Then why not bazooka, or nuclear weapons? This is a serious question, I'm curious abut your rationale.
I am not playing 'fast' and 'loose' with any terms. I fully explained (and adequately defended) what I mean to express with my terminology. Whether my comments lack empathy or not is immaterial to the issue here, which is that in terms of real risk, school shootings are much too improbable events to warrant fear and costly legislative activity.
That said, to second point, other than those I have mentioned, I have no qualms with an assault rifle ban. I don't think assault rifles are necessary for personal protection and any place they may have in sport or hunting is much too restricted to warrant ownership. Also, I don't think assault rifles are covered under the 2nd Amend.
> I fully explained (and adequately defended) what I mean <
Fully explained yes, adequately defended is an opinion that I don't share. At any rate:
> Whether my comments lack empathy or not is immaterial to the issue here <
No it isn't, because whether a risk is "negligible" or not, or whether a cost is too high or not is a value judgment, not an objective fact. The stats are objective (if inaccurate, in your case), but the value we attach to those stats, what they tell us and how we are going to react to it have very much to do with our emotions as human beings and our sympathy (or lack thereof) for others.
> Also, I don't think assault rifles are covered under the 2nd Amend. <
Splendid, so what are we disagreeing with, exactly? My position isn't that guns should be banned, only that they should be regulated much more strongly than they are. We have (enforceable, and enforced!) regulations for all sorts of other things, from automobiles to sudafed, why the hell not guns?
Oh, and speaking of risks, we require people to insure all sorts of things (again, automobiles come to mind) because they carry risks to themselves and others. Why not guns?
Finally, we require training for handling certain things (automobiles...), why not guns?
> Fully explained yes, adequately defended is an opinion that I don't share.
That's what I meant above
> Also, I don't think assault rifles are covered under the 2nd Amend
To quote yourself: Who cares about the 2nd Amendment? It does not provide a rational meta-ethical basis for morality
I agree with the above poster. Nearly every one of M's "findings" has been thoroughly and meticulously debunked. M's treatment of the issue here and elsewhere on Rationally Speaking amounts to an ill-conceived apology for the homicidal prerogatives of the capitalist class.ReplyDelete
Come now, Attlee, let us not contaminate a good point with boring 'class' verbiage.ReplyDelete
Come now Eamon, don't punctuate my immaculate verbiage with sheer claptrap.Delete
If one of your accounts is cracked, is it too soon to talk about changing your passwords to something more secure?
If your house is broken into, is it too soon to talk about better security?
If you are diagnosed with cancer, is it too soon to talk about treatment?
I don't know about these people...
The overwhelming conclusion of the 2004 NAS study was that more evidence was needed to prove or disprove a general link between restrictive gun laws and homicide. Surely a simple case study approach rather clearly demonstrates the link between the availability of guns and the specific events of mass killings such as the ones we see regularly in the USA. It would not have been possible to kill so many people without access to sophisticated weapons.ReplyDelete
In the end doesn't the government have to do something about these awful events? Or is just a case of waiting for the next one? They are far too complicated to wait for a nailed down statistically proven analysis. Governments have to act on partial and uncertain data. One strategy that has worked in other countries is to limit the availability of certain types of weapon. I am not aware of any other strategies that have worked. Unless someone has an alternative the people of the USA owe it to those kids to give a try. It is not such a great hardship surely?
> The research to which you link does not comport with a larger 2004 critical review of the evidence conducted by the National Academy of Sciences <
But updates to that research did, and my study is more recent. Should you update your priors? Moreover, as you well know, there is plenty of evidence that bans work in other countries (e.g., Australia and the UK), so clearly the issue in the US is one of enforcements and loopholes, not of some type of (magical?) intrinsic failure of bans per se, no?
> especially so given the improbability of a randomly selected American being a victim of gun violence. <
We are randomly unlikely of dying of all sorts of things for which we spend time and money protecting ourselves against. And what exactly is the overwhelming reason to ignore deaths and injuries inflicted by guns, so that gun owners can live out their cowboy fantasies?
> amounts to an ill-conceived apology for the homicidal prerogatives of the capitalist class. <
I wasn’t going to respond to this one, but I feel generous with my time today: utter bullshit, my friend.
thanks for the link, the summary reads in part:
“Following implementation of the ban, the share of gun crimes involving AWs declined by 17% to 72% across the localities examined for this study ... This is consistent with patterns found in national data on guns recovered by police and reported to ATF.”
I.e., bans do work, contra Eamon above.
“The decline in the use of AWs has been due primarily to a reduction in the use of assault pistols (APs), which are used in crime more commonly than assault rifles (ARs). There has not been a clear decline in the use of ARs, though assessments are complicated by the rarity of crimes with these weapons and by substitution of post-ban rifles that are very similar to the banned AR models.”
I.e., we need to close loopholes, see my comment to Eamon above.
“However, the decline in AW use was offset throughout at least the late 1990s by steady or rising use of other guns equipped with LCMs in jurisdictions studied (Baltimore, Milwaukee, Louisville, and Anchorage). The failure to reduce LCM use has likely been due to the immense stock of exempted pre-ban magazines, which has been enhanced by recent imports.”
I.e., we need to close loopholes. Oh, I already said that...
"I wasn’t going to respond to this one, but I feel generous with my time today: utter bullshit, my friend"Delete
We should petition the capitalists for tighter gun laws and cede to them an even greater stranglehold on the exploited, and an even fiercer monopoly on violence? What a sane idea!
>I personally doubt even the quality of character of someone who thinks that hunting is a sport worth engaging in...ReplyDelete
This seems like a peculiar position, although it depends what kind of hunting you have in mind.
Insofar as hunting animals for food is concerned, you would be hard pressed to find a more ethically acceptable form of carnivory: the animals are not raised in nasty conditions (or at least, to the extent they are, it's nature's fault), and they typically receive a quicker death than they would have in the wild.
I also think hunting for meat is very morally salutary for an omnivore; you come to understand that meat-eating has a real moral cost, which you cannot sweep under the rug by letting someone else do the killing and shrink-wrapping. I suspect I am not the only "utilitarian vegan" whose distaste for frivolous killing of animals comes from hunting experience. (Imagine if the clowns inhaling buckets of chicken wings had to kill each and every chicken themselves.)
On the other hand, I share your dislike of hunters who are only out to get themselves a head to mount on the wall. As long as they consume the meat, it isn't obviously any worse from a utilitarian point of view (as it displaces less acceptable meat sources), but I sure don't like the virtue ethics of killing things merely for fun.
yes, you are correct, I should have made precisely the distinctions you make, and precisely for those reasons.
An interesting idea was posted on Leiter Reports, apparently sent in by a commenter:ReplyDelete
>I am a daily reader of your blog, and I very much appreciate your recent posts on the Newtown killings specifically, and gun control generally. I am a high school teacher in a small, rural upstate NY community where guns are a very important part of the culture. I frequently hear those who are anti-control say silly things such as, "guns don't kill, people kill. You would not ban cars because people are killed in accidents?", or some such related thing. Given that these people like to push that analogy, I propose that gun owners are required to insure their guns against any future violence, intended or accidental, that those guns might be responsible for either by the owner or some other individual who was able to obtain them. We would have different rates for different guns. A small gun such as a one shot derringer would have a relatively low premium. A semi-automatic would have a much higher premium. Following the car analogy, in the same way that you have to present proof of insurance to the DMV to get a car registered, you must present proof of insurance before a gun can be sold to you. Think of all the fun actuaries would have calculating the premiums on the various guns. If you pay a premium on each gun you own, that may go a long way toward reducing the number of fire arms people own without having to put in place any ban.
Splendid idea! too bad it has no chance in Hell to pass the US Congress, but one can still dream...Delete
Second that. I was thinking of commenting in general as thinking of gun control per se as analogous to whether to buy insurance (my professional area of research - insurance, not guns) but mandatory gun insurance is really a great idea. It would be a quasi-market solution in that it gets rid of externalities...Delete
Well, it still couldn't be an entirely market driven solution though. There are certain kinds of vehicles we simply don't allow people to "drive" (tanks, for instance, even with disabled weaponry). Similarly, semi-automatic, assault-style weapons have no place at all in a civilized society, I think.Delete
Yes, but in the US you are discussing second best solutions anyway ;-)Delete
Civilized society, eh? Remember the L.A. riots?Delete
despite my sympathies for the point you’re trying to make, I can’t help but noticing that "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state" is a supplement to the clause "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed" and that it simply establishes a vague connection between the importance of a regulated militia and the right to bear arms. We could informally paraphrase the whole thing as follows: ‘Since a regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the people have the right to keep and bear arms’. In other words, the need for a regulated militia is the reason why people have the right to bear arms; but nowhere is it said that the existence of a regulated militia is a necessary condition for bearing arms. Nor is it said that only members of such a militia are allowed to bear arms.
In order not to be ambiguous the Second Amendment should read something like ‘A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the members of such a militia to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed’. The only reading would then be that only members of a regulated militia can bear arms – and the obvious inference would be that in order for someone to be a member of something, said something must exist; hence, no existing militia -> no members of the militia -> nobody is allowed to bear arms.
My point is that the actual amendment doesn’t say that, and interpretations can rely on perfectly rational arguments based on different premises. For instance, there is nothing insane/inane in saying that ‘since one day it might be necessary to form regulated militia, there would better always be armed people who already know how to use a gun and can very quickly form a militia’.
Most importantly, unless one thinks that the Constitution is the word of God and that a correct interpretation is needed in order to show others the right path (I know you don’t think that, but that’s the point), it seems to be more rational to recognize that interpretations are part of exquisitely political struggles - and should be treated as such. Claiming that some interpretations are insane/inane is a very weak strategy (that can be used by anyone, no matter which side one picks). Opposite conclusions can be reached by following logic and thinking rationally. It all depends on the premises.
This is not to say that "rationally speaking" one cannot tear to pieces someone else’s arguments, especially if those arguments are not supported by sound empirical evidence. But in spite of all the evidence, and even if one is willing to accept the fact that the evidence shows that all sorts of nasty stuff is likely to get nastier when a huge amount of weapons are readily available, many people might still think that being armed is far more important. However brutal, the rationale behind such a belief might not be considered insane/inane per se. In other words, claiming that one’s opponents are crazy/stupid is a dead end – definitely not because there are no irrational opponents, but simply because rationality is available to them too.
I see no point (I’m being consciously naïve) in turning a political struggle into a struggle between rationality and irrationality.
Re: "But updates to that research did, and my study is more recent. Should you update your priors? Moreover, as you well know, there is plenty of evidence that bans work in other countries (e.g., Australia and the UK), so clearly the issue in the US is one of enforcements and loopholes, not of some type of (magical?) intrinsic failure of bans per se, no?"
A few things here. First, the data used in The Martin Prosperity Institute research are not new data. The number of deaths due to injury by firearms per 100,000 reported in 2007 are the same rates from the years analyzed in National Academy's critical review. Moreover, we both can cite individual studies that purport to evidence a correlation between gun laws and murder rates and/or gun-related homicides. So, for example, I could cite a 2008 study, published in The Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy that purports to show that European nations with more guns had lower murder rates. According to the summary, the seven nations with the most guns per capita had 1.2 murders annually for every 100,000 people. The rate in the nine nations with the fewest guns was 4.4. *BUT* any one study can only be evidence for so much, and we thus must look at the data as a whole, and that is precisely what the National Academy of Sciences did. Until and unless there is a comparable critical review that shows gun laws have measurable effects in reducing homicides and / or gun-related crimes, we are not justified in believing gun laws reduce crime.
Re: "We are randomly unlikely of dying of all sorts of things for which we spend time and money protecting ourselves against. And what exactly is the overwhelming reason to ignore deaths and injuries inflicted by guns, so that gun owners can live out their cowboy fantasies?"
Your first sentence is a non sequitur. The claim is not *because* certain events are unlikely (brain tumors, notably) we should not take actions necessary for reducing the likelihood of those events further; if we have good reason to believe that our steps would reduce the likelihood and be cost effective, we should do it. The claim is rather that *since* there is no good reason to believe that our actions would decrease the probability of an event, and *since* such actions would have significant costs, then we should not take those actions, but that in any case the likelihood that one should experience a gun-related crime is so low that it does not constitute a legitimate worry.
In addition, if one wants to enact further gun laws to reduce gun-related crime but insists on riding a bike to and from work, or (god forbid) decides to walk around a city at night, one is being irrational through and through since the latter activities are far more likely to lead to deaths and injuries. I suspect that *if* we want to reduce deaths, we should instead ban or severely restrict riding bikes for distances greater than 1 mile or prohibit walking in a city at night than pass further gun laws.
Regarding the bit about virtue ethics. The most immediate response is: Who cares about virtue ethics? It does not provide a rational meta-ethical basis for morality.
>> The claim is rather that *since* there is no good reason to believe that our actions would decrease the probability of an event, and *since* such actions would have significant costs,... <<ReplyDelete
The former ist debatable (there is good reason to believe probability is above zero), and you certainly haven't shown the latter to be true, especially not the "significant" part...
You for reason place much credence in your offhand calculations. However, as I note above, the history of law enforcement costs does not support your intuition / hope / desire / prior prejudice (?). Alas! we have no reason to believe that further gun laws would not have zero probability of reducing gun-related crimes. But even if it did have a measurable chance of reduction, we must weigh the costs against the benefits. And until we have good data on both the costs and the benefits, we should not counsel legislative activity either way.
I was simply comparing the (slightly higher) costs of law enforcement in Germany to that in the US vs. the (much lower) mortality rate due to gun-related incidents. Not all of the difference in violence will be due to gun control and/or law enforcement, but some will. Whether the benefit outweighs the cost depends on how at what price you value a human life.
>>Alas! we have no reason to believe that further gun laws would not have zero probability of reducing gun-related crimes.<<
If the probability actually is zero that would mean that the US as a society is inherently 5-10 times as violent as Western Europe. (Taking the intentional homicides statistic again.) Possible, but I find that unlikely...
You are right that my language was a bit too strong. I should have said 'and *since* such actions would *likely* have significant costs...'
> We could informally paraphrase the whole thing as follows: ‘Since a regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the people have the right to keep and bear arms’. <
Yes, we could. But that would be a point in favor of my interpretation, because it would make the right to bear arms conditional on the necessity for a well regulated militia. No matter how someone twists it, the Second simply does not give people a blanket right to bear arms, and certainly not semi-automatic / assault weapons.
> there is nothing insane/inane in saying that ‘since one day it might be necessary to form regulated militia, there would better always be armed people who already know how to use a gun and can very quickly form a militia’. <
I beg to disagree. If and when we need a militia then we arm (and train) people. Or are we permitting military-style weapons in the hypothetical case we might some day need a militia? That seems a bit far fetched.
> I see no point (I’m being consciously naïve) in turning a political struggle into a struggle between rationality and irrationality. <
Generally speaking I agree. But in this case it seems to me that there is quite a bit of irrationality at play, as in the press conference that the NRA held today, just to mention one example. (Actually, the best interpretation of such press conference is self-serving cynicism, but still a good number of people need to buy into its non sequiturs for it to have bite.)
> we both can cite individual studies that purport to evidence a correlation between gun laws and murder rates and/or gun-related homicides. <
I don’t think so. Can you provide a link to the European study? And are you also dismissing the (alleged) effects of bans in the UK and Australia? How much evidence is it going to take to convince you, exactly?
> The claim is rather that *since* there is no good reason to believe that our actions would decrease the probability of an event, and *since* such actions would have significant costs <
I rejected the first premise, and I question the second one (it depends on your definition of “significant”).
> if one wants to enact further gun laws to reduce gun-related crime but insists on riding a bike to and from work, or (god forbid) decides to walk around a city at night, one is being irrational through and through <
Eamon, seriously, I expect better than that from you. These are red herrings, as you should very well know. People take all sorts of risks for all sorts of reasons, and each of those would require a separate conversation. Instead, let’s stay focused on why exactly we are taking Newtown-type risks. Any good reasons in sight? I don’t see them.
> The most immediate response is: Who cares about virtue ethics? It does not provide a rational meta-ethical basis for morality. <
Well, that’s your opinion, likely because it would make meatballs of your precious and self-serving libertarianism. But we’ve had this discussion before, so there is no need to go back there. The fact remains that I think that someone who wishes to go around with assault weapons has either something seriously wrong with his brain or is the kind of person with a corrupt character I’d think society would do best to guard against.
> we have no reason to believe that further gun laws would not have zero probability of reducing gun-related crimes. <
I do wonder whether you think all law enforcement is hopeless, or whether you consider gun control to be in a special magical category where lack of effect is not just due to, say, the existence of loopholes and purposefully lax enforcement.
> Those states have more blacks. <
I wasn’t going to address your despicably racist comment, but since others are taking it seriously, here we go: how do you explain, according to your theory, that the overwhelming majority (maybe even the totality) of mass killings in the US have been committed by young white males?
It's not "racist" to observe the fact some racial groups commit crimes at higher rates than others. Not doing so makes rational discussion of crime and gun control impossible.Delete
I take it you've never heard of Seung-Hui Cho, Nidal Hassan, Colin Ferguson, Jiverly Voong, James Edward Pough, David Burkein, Chai Vang, Omar Thorton, or The Beltway Snipers, to name a few.
Some startling numbers:ReplyDelete
8593 people were killed by guns in the US in 2011
32,000 people were killed with automobiles
75,000 estimated deaths from alcohol
400,000 deaths from tobacco.
What should we ban first?
Automobiles, the one thing on that list that is nonessential.Delete
>8593 people were killed by guns in the US in 2011Delete
This number seems to be wrong according to the CDC (refer to page 42), the number is actually 11,101.
If I thought it was remotely possible, I'd restrict alcohol first.
The federal Department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms is the main regulator controlling the manufacture, distribution and sales of these substances that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans a year. The ATF is a subsidiary department of the IRS. Revenue!Delete
Re: "I don’t think so. Can you provide a link to the European study? And are you also dismissing the (alleged) effects of bans in the UK and Australia? How much evidence is it going to take to convince you, exactly?"
I want to see a large systematic review reveal a clear and unambiguous correlation between gun laws and reduced gun crime. Until I see the research, I have no reason to believe there is a correlation.
Re: "I rejected the first premise, and I question the second one (it depends on your definition of “significant”)."
You should not reject the first premise and we need good data (I agree) on the second, but I think we have good reason to believe (as I stated previously) the costs would be significant.
Re: "Eamon, seriously, I expect better than that from you. These are red herrings, as you should very well know. People take all sorts of risks for all sorts of reasons, and each of those would require a separate conversation. Instead, let’s stay focused on why exactly we are taking Newtown-type risks. Any good reasons in sight? I don’t see them."
These are not red herrings. We are concerned with reducing deaths simpliciter. If you want to reduce deaths, you should consider banning biking over distances of a mile, climbing latters, and walking at night. But the point is more poignant: It may be the case that banning said activities may be more efficacious than enacting stricter gun laws. In which case, you may want to re-direct your advocacy.
Yikes. Yes everyone wants to reduce deaths, but bicycles are not very dangerous to people not riding bicycles. A bicycle rider rides the bicycle accepting the risks involved. Guns (some types more than others) endanger non gun owners. So your analogy is poor and wreaks of propaganda. If the risk of guns were limited to the gun owners themselves, then I support removing virtually all regulations. Heck, you might even see liberals marketing them (;.Delete
Re: "Well, that’s your opinion, likely because it would make meatballs of your precious and self-serving libertarianism."
Nope. I suspect one could be a virtue ethicist and a libertarian. But in any case my libertarianism is not 'self-serving'; it is instead the consequence of much consideration & argumentation.
Re: "The fact remains that I think that someone who wishes to go around with assault weapons has either something seriously wrong with his brain or is the kind of person with a corrupt character I’d think society would do best to guard against."
Who is going around with assault weapons? In any case, most of what you say with respect to your virtue ethics and the supposed character of gun advocates is more a result of your personal predilections than anything else. The problem of course is that you attempt to draw substantive moral and political conclusions from them.
Re: "I wasn’t going to address your despicably racist comment, but since others are taking it seriously, here we go: how do you explain, according to your theory, that the overwhelming majority (maybe even the totality) of mass killings in the US have been committed by young white males?"
Van Carter can defend himself, but I suspect his comment did not have racist intentions. I think he is trying to point out that there are sociological reasons why blacks commit more gun-related crimes and that therefore a higher population of blacks will be correlated with higher crime (it is, by the way).
In fact, the whole "gun control" debate is a mindless and monolithic distraction. Eamon's and Massimo's ingenuous but ultimately "self-serving" libertarianism unwittingly colludes with the most savage excesses of capitalist tyranny, as is easily seen from comprehensive socio-economic analysis of the issue.Delete
> I take it you've never heard of Seung-Hui Cho ... <
Yes, you do realize that half of those people were not black, right? Also, you really need to stop cherry picking and look at studies and stats. The results are overwhelming: the majority of mass murderers are white young men.
> It's not "racist" to observe the fact some racial groups commit crimes at higher rates than others. <
No, unless that observation is false or not backed up by evidence. It is true that neighborhoods with high percentages of black people are characterized by high rates of crimes. But since pretty much anyone with a half brain realizes that that’s got nothing to do with being black, but much more strongly associated with poverty and lack of education, you should have said that Southern states are more violent because they are poorer and less educated, not because there are more blacks. And Eamon, I’m surprised you didn’t pick up on that bit of obviously bad social science by V.C.
I can’t believe you actually cited an article in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. You do realize that that’s a libertarian *undergraduate*, I believe non peer reviewed journal, right? Is that your level of scholarship these days? You see what I mean when I suggest that your ideological blinders sometimes are a bit too much to bear? And of course you conveniently ignored the Australian and UK studies. Too decisive for your taste?
> These are not red herrings. We are concerned with reducing deaths simpliciter. <
No my friend, this is a discussion about violent deaths from guns. One cannot have a meaningful discussion about “deaths simpliciter,” which is why this is a cheap rhetorical trick. Besides, surely you realize that there are significant moral differences between, say, people who die because of smoke-induced cancer (their choice, pertinent information available) and 6-year olds who are mowed down by a semi-automatic rifle, yes?
> I suspect one could be a virtue ethicist and a libertarian. <
I suspect not, strongly.
> my libertarianism is not 'self-serving'; it is instead the consequence of much consideration & argumentation <
I did not mean to impugn your character, apologies. As for your arguments, well, we’ve been over them many times before...
> 8593 people were killed by guns in the US in 2011
32,000 people were killed with automobiles
75,000 estimated deaths from alcohol
400,000 deaths from tobacco. What should we ban first? <
See my comment above to Eamon as to why this is a non starter.
"The results are overwhelming: the majority of mass murderers are white young men."Delete
Whites are 70% of the population and around 70% of recent (since 1982) mass killers. Blacks are 12% of the population and perpetrate around half of all murders.
"unless that observation is false"
It's a fact blacks commit crimes at higher rates than whites.
"It is true that neighborhoods with high percentages of black people are characterized by high rates of crimes."
"pretty much anyone with a half brain realizes that that’s got nothing to do with being black"
You should change the name of this blog to Emotionally Bleating.
"much more strongly associated with poverty and lack of education"
Being black correlates with poverty and lack of education, and poor blacks commit crimes at higher rates than poor whites.
"you should have said that Southern states are more violent because they are poorer and less educated"
Black population is a better predictor of homicide rate than whether or not a state is in the South.
Being black correlates with poverty and lack of education, and poor blacks commit crimes at higher rates than poor whites.Delete
So what do you infer from this and the other facts you site about race and crime? Is it your opinion that the presence of Eumelanin in the skin and other biological factors of different human races is a useful predictor of crime? Just citing statistics of correlations between race and crime without all the sources is destructive to understanding. It invites one to make inferences that are not justified. This is indicative of an attempt at persuasion not understanding.
From today's New York Times (editorial by Charles Blow):ReplyDelete
An analysis this year from the Violence Policy Center found that “states with low gun ownership rates and strong gun laws have the lowest rates of gun death.” The report continued, “by contrast, states with weak gun laws and higher rates of gun ownership had far higher rates of firearm-related death.” According to the analysis, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut had the lowest per capita gun death rates. Each of those states had “strong gun laws and low gun ownership rates. On the other hand, “ranking first in the nation for gun death was Louisiana, followed by Wyoming, Alabama, Montana, and Mississippi.” Those states had “weak gun laws and higher rates of gun ownership.”
Surely not enough evidence yet? Let's wait for more...
You didn't link to the article, so I went to nytimes.com to see if the analysis controls for violent crimes without guns and distinguishes murder from suicide from self-defense, but the first thing that pops up is a full-screen ad by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. At that point, I knew this would be a waste of time.Delete
Evidently the strong gun laws in Connecticut didn't help this time. There was another mass shooting in Manchester, Connecticut in 2010. New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Hawaii, they're all over the map.Delete
There were plenty of mass shootings during the Federal Assault Weapons Ban between 1994 and 2004, including Columbine in 1999. Is there any evidence that it made a difference?
there sure is irrational stuff in this case. I thought I was clear about that.
Insane stuff? I just think that going clinical is the beginning of the end. Some serious epistemological issues arise, but let’s just say that debates that turn into an extended version of < A: ‘You’re crazy!’; B: ‘No, you’re crazy!’ > aren’t really that useful, let alone informative.
As for the Second Amendment, the point is that its ambiguity does allow different interpretations, i.e. fancy manifestations of underlying political concerns – philological accuracy becomes a mere function of political goals. Which interpretation wins ultimately depends on the political strength of its supporters in specific socio-historical contexts.
Nowadays the Second itself sounds like a non sequitur, something very similar to ‘Since public transport is necessary, people have the right to possess trains and buses’.
It seems to me that engaging in such exegetical contests is little more than a concession to what is commonly thought of as a reasonable, neutral and acceptable starting point.
One last thing. Don’t you think that labels such as ‘poverty’ and ‘education’ (and ‘working class’, as in one of the studies you linked) are rather loosely (un)defined categories that suffer from a certain degree of (commonly accepted) ideological biases? I think that studies should do much better than that and be much more specific as to what exactly is related to what; e.g. precisely what phenomena that fall into the broad category of living conditions are likely to increase the risk of violence in what specific contexts? ‘Poverty’ is just a muddy, mainstream umbrella term.
> let’s just say that debates that turn into an extended version of < A: ‘You’re crazy!’; B: ‘No, you’re crazy!’ > aren’t really that useful <
Of course not, but now you are taking a rhetorical device a bit too literally. Obviously (from the context) I don’t mean that pro-gun advocates are literally insane, but I do mean that their reasoning isn’t exactly the strongest variety to be found. And yes, in a number of cases - as you agree - borders the downright irrational.
> As for the Second Amendment, the point is that its ambiguity does allow different interpretations <
Yes, but not all interpretations are equally reasonable. And someone pointed out, the strongly pro-gun interpretation is a recent invention, I mean development.
> Don’t you think that labels such as ‘poverty’ and ‘education’ ... are rather loosely (un)defined categories that suffer from a certain degree of ... ideological biases? <
Not really. There is plenty of good scholarship that quantifies and statistically dissects those variables.
> the first thing that pops up is a full-screen ad by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. At that point, I knew this would be a waste of time. <
That’s too bad. Here is the link to the article: http://goo.gl/xngVL. And the data were from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Too politicized for you?
> There were plenty of mass shootings during the Federal Assault Weapons Ban between 1994 and 2004, including Columbine in 1999. Is there any evidence that it made a difference? <
Nobody claims that gun regulation eliminates all gun-relate crimes. Just like no law eliminates all possible crimes. But the evidence is pretty clear: stronger regulations is consistently associated with lower crime rates.
Look it’s like saying that seat belts have no effects because some people still die during car crashes. The real question is: do seat belt laws decrease the number of car related fatalities? The answer is overwhelmingly yes.
you latest rant shows to my own satisfaction that my original guess was correct, as per this quote:
> Black population is a better predictor of homicide rate than whether or not a state is in the South. <
Which shows you simply did not understand either my point or the studies I linked to.
That wasn't a rant. It's a fact black population is a better predictor of homicide rate than whether or not a state is in the South. You repeatedly assert things that aren't true, at the same time you label those more knowledgeable and more honest "insane" and "racist", which is the typical modus operandi of the modern public intellectual, and to be fair, you do warn us that's what you are. What happened to Condorcet, by the way? I vaguely remember things not exactly working out for him.Delete
> I deny the Constitution is a living document because it's obviously not alive. <
The first sentence is (possibly willfully) obtuse. "Living" doesn't mean literally alive, it means not to be taken as the perennial word of god, which means it needs to constantly be re-interpreted so that the spirit of what was meant fits the actual situation on the ground.
> We should treat the Constitution the way we treat other legal documents. <
Precisely, we interpret the law, we seldom apply it verbatim.
> It's a fact black population is a better predictor of homicide rate than whether or not a state is in the South. <
You keep missing the point. There were two separate facts that we were discussing, which you keep confusing:
a) there is a strong correlation between low gun control and gun-related crimes. The South is at the top, the NE at the bottom. That's one of several pieces of evidence that links guns and gun control laws to crime.
b) there is more crime in areas with high levels of blacks (regardless of whether it is the South, the NE or anywhere else). That one too is well known and has been analyzed. Turns out, it has nothing to do with blackness, and all to do with low levels of education and high levels of poverty.
> What happened to Condorcet, by the way? I vaguely remember things not exactly working out for him. <
Should I take that as a threat?
I'm not saying the Constitution is "the word of God", I'm saying it is a text with an original meaning. This is in contrast to the "living document" types, who behave like gnostics. I'm not missing any point regarding black crime. You're squeamish about certain facts, which is too bad (whatever happened to sapere aude?). You insist there is a link between gun control laws and crime while ignoring the states that contradict this. It's true low levels of education and high levels of poverty correlate with black criminality, but that does not mean they cause it.Delete
"Should I take that as a threat?"
I think it's a lesson, one that amuses me.
You have a disturbing way to amuse yourself.Delete
"Precisely, we interpret the law, we seldom apply it verbatim"Delete
The constitution is an instrument of class domination which serves to justify the subjugation of one segment of "society" by another -- why then would someone who purports to give a damn about "the very idea of a free and open society" insist upon invoking it — AS EVIDENCE OF ANYTHING?
It's both significant and fitting that Condorcet's theory of progress exemplifies "in an unusual degree" the tensions, paradoxes, and complicities that have "plagued the liberal ethos since it's inception in the seventeenth century."Delete
All the people with guns should meet once a year out on the Black Rock Desert and have a party called Shooting Man. Bring your guns and ammo and your courage, at noon the party starts with the word 'FIRE". If it becomes an annual event and anyone survives, perhaps people who want to shoot children in schools will wait for the Shooting Man party instead. That's what I call gun control! =
> you are taking a rhetorical device a bit too literally <
True! Of course I was. But it’s also true that such rhetorical devices add no substantive value to one’s arguments and most often turn out to be counterproductive.
> not all interpretations [of the Second Amendment] are equally reasonable <
I never said they are. I see no reason to quibble over something on which there’s no real disagreement (about both the inequality between interpretations and the one that is more reasonable). Besides, that’s not what I was focusing on. My real point was actually related to the fact that > the strongly pro-gun interpretation is a recent … development <
> There is plenty of good scholarship that quantifies and statistically dissects those variables [about poverty, etc.]. <
There is also plenty of scholarly papers that put forth very “creative” hypotheses and seem to be very concerned about quantifying and measuring but much less epistemologically concerned about what exactly is being quantified and measured.
The study I referred to is “The Geography of Gun Deaths”, which is one of the studies you picked.
“The Geography of Gun Deaths” only describes correlations that are shown in a graph. The discussion is carelessly shallow. Interestingly enough, many more words (almost 100) are devoted to the two explicitly political categories than to any other category.
The article gives no precise definition of poverty, etc. whatsoever, and it dissects no variables (of the kinds I mentioned before) at all.
Any references to actual good scholarship that does? (Don’t take me wrong, I’m not challenging you.)
Also notice that my point was that what really matters is not to be found at the level of broad, pre-established categories (i.e. more or less biased, although unavoidable starting points), but in intra- and inter-categorial relations between specific factors.
Fine-grained analyses and accuracy in identifying relevant combinations of factors more directly related to what concerns us are more reliable than ready-to-use categories, which are easily treated as intuitively real, universal entities whose content just needs to be pinned down. For instance, there’s a huge difference between the following sets of questions:
1) What combinations of factors positively and negatively affect a social group’s access to resources in place X? How can a comparison with place Y be made? Which comparatively relevant combinations of factors can become reliable indicators to measure degrees of material deprivation? Which combinations of factors are more often found by tracing each (type of) violent phenomena to specific social contexts?
2) Which indicator should be used to measure poverty? How does poverty correlate with violence? Having established such a statistical correlation, why do the results in place X differ from the results in place Y? What variables affect the correlation between poverty and violence?
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”ReplyDelete
I think the argument that I heard from a conservative was that if you rephrase this as
"A well read electorate being necessary for a good democracy, the right of people to keep books shall not be infringed" obviously means that anyone can keep books , not just the politicians or the voters.
A problem with the argument, though, is that "militia" has a rather narrow meaning, compared to "electorate." Another is that arms are not books.ReplyDelete
The reference to the Second Amendment is to some extent a red herring in any event. Rights, even constitutional rights, are subject to limitations. The rights of speech and assembly are limited by laws long held to be constitutional by the courts, despite the fact those rights are not to be abridged according to the Constitution. It simply doesn't follow from the Second Amendment that there can be no laws regulating guns.
Another is that arms are not books.
Sure - my only point is that its not necessarily an insane reading as the host implies
The reference to the Second Amendment is to some extent a red herring in any event.
Oh I totally agree - no one thinks the right to free speech means you can say anything you want(for e.g. threatening violence).