Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Gun Control

I have not commented on the issue of gun contol in this blog mostly because I do not know what conclusion to draw.

However, even a person who does not know the answer to a question might be able to contribute something to understanding how to approach the problem, or some of the answers that have been given. One thing I do know is that many people on both sides who think that there is a clear and obvious answer and and who disagree with them are plain evil are mistaken.

It would appear that many people begin with an oversimplified understanding of the problem.

On the left, there is the simple equation of "Nothing to shoot implies no shootists." If people who want to slaughter others cannot find something to use to slaughter them with, we are all safer. One question I have is: How hard is it, really, to build a bomb or to use a vehicle as a weapon?

On the right, there's the aversion to cowering behind a file cabinet or under a bed while somebody with a gun walks down the hallway racking up a body count, all the time waiting for a hero with a gun to show up to end this menace when the hero with the gun could have been there at the start. One question: When you have your gun and step into the hallway, and you see another person with a gun, is that the shootist or another hero? Or maybe there's no gun - just a shadow mixed with a little imagination and a lot of adrenaline.

At this point, confirmation bias sets in. With every piece of supporting evidence, one points and says, "See! See! I told you do." With every piece of conflicting evidence one can tell a story that will discredit it. Do not think that this is a problem only for the weak minded. The best scientists are aware of the fact that everybody does this, so the best scientists - rather than insisting that they do not suffer from the problem - design systems to combat this tendency.

What systems have you adopted to ensure that you are not guilty of "confirmation bias" on the issue of gun control?

Then, tribalism makes its contribution. Tribes accentuate the virtues of their own tribe while vilifying competing tribes.

To those on the right, the opposing tribe is made up of people seeking to preserve childhood from cradle to grave, perpetually cared for by others and unwilling to take responsibility either for their own lives or the people around them. Instead, they prefer an infantile dependent relationship to the parent-state who will take care of them, and seek to reduce everybody else to the same condition.

To those on the left, gun advocates are testosterone-infected monsters (both male and female) with near-sexual fantasies of killing things who, if they do not become shootists themselves, provide the cultural breeding ground for shootists.

One fact we can probably add to this description is that the tribe on the right is also probably better armed. This, by itself, gives them power over the tribe on the left. "You can take my gun when you pry it from my cold dead fingers." The only way the tribe on the left can win this battle is - of course - by sending in people with guns (police or the army - depending on the type of opposition) to take the guns.

Taken from a different perspective, one of the objective of gun control is to turn otherwise law-abiding human beings into violent criminals.

We also know that guns are simply one tool of destruction among many. We will not, in fact, be safer simply by reducing access to one culturally preferred tool for doing harm. As long as there are people who want to do harm, we are at risk. If they do not have guns, they can find something else.

There are countries that have outlawed guns that have lower rates of violence then the United States. But which came first? Did outlawing guns make the people more peaceful? Perhaps it was a general culture of non-violence that both, at the same time, brought peace and made it possible to ban guns that few people wanted anyway. On this model, we should not be focused so much on access to the instruments of violence (which we cannot actually control anyway), we must ficus instead on the moral character of the people.

Guns do not kill people. People kill people.

This cliche of the right is often dismissively swatted aside. Yet, it rests at the very heart of moral institutions. The way to prevent people from killing, stealing, engaging in fraud and rape, or committing any of a long list of moral crimes is by molding their character - giving them an aversion to these types of activities. If we make the mistake of focusing on a symptom - access to guns - we leave behind people with an interest in killing looking for another tool. If we focus, instead, on the moral character of individuals, then it will not matter what tools the person averse to causing harm has access to.

However, before the tribe on the right gets too giddy over this argument, there is another point to consider. Perhaps creating "people who do not kill people" we must create a culture filled with just those types that have no interest in guns - that have an aversion to guns - that tend to support restrictions on guns. It may be the case that the people least likely to kill other people are those most likely to be positively averse to having a gun, to using a gun on another person, or to see any sense in other people having guns either.

This is speculation. It addresses the types if questions one must learn the answers to before one can claim to have a reasoned and rational opinion on gun legislation. I am not claiming, "I know the answers, so here is the correct opinion on gun laws." i am saying that I do not know the answers; therefore, I cam give no informed opinion on gun laws."

This is not a post on what attitude the virtuous and informed person would have on gun control. I do not know that answer.

Instead, it is a post on what attitude the virtuous and informed person would have on some of the ways this issue is being debated. One thing that I can say with near certainty - the person who says that they know the right answer and cannot possibly be mistaken, and who is willing to kill others on the basis of that certain knowledge (either to keep a gun or to take a gun away), is probably neither virtuous nor well informed.


Joshua Bennett said...

Excellent post. I do have one quibble, though. You say the following:

"We will not, in fact, be safer simply by reducing access to one culturally preferred tool for doing harm. As long as there are people who want to do harm, we are at risk. If they do not have guns, they can find something else."

This is rather like saying, "Well, a determined criminal can find a way into your house even if you have a burglar alarm and lock your door. So burglar alarms and locks don't make your house safer." In fact, burglar alarms and locks do make our houses safer because they make it harder for criminals to get inside our houses. When it's harder to rob your house, the less determined criminals are less likely to try it.

In the same way, violent crime may, in fact, be reduced by greatly limiting access to guns. It would take much more planning and determination to carry out mass murder if you had to learn to build a bomb than if you could just borrow your mom's gun. It's harder to do on a whim or in a moment of rage. Does that mean that no mass murder will ever happen if there are no guns? That we will be completely safe? Of course not. But we will probably be safer.

Dan said...


Build a bomb...heck I showed the Royal Rangers the basics lighting a council fire for you guys one time. I bought everything I needed at Walmart, common chemicals and with no effort at all instead of a fire I could have blown up a building....just saying it is not rocket science it is very basic chemistry. Timothy Mcvey...bomb, not a gun...and it was not to difficult.

Justin said...

The fact is that gun control does work (see the NFA). It doesn't prevent guns from being acquired, but if the civilian population is having a difficult time acquiring guns, then the criminal population (who aren't manufacturing their own) will have a similarly hard time getting guns.

There is a reason why the armed forces use firearms and not knives and late-model sedans in order to murder people - it's because guns are great a murdering biological organisms. Let's consider tighter regulations on rocks and knives when you can kill 30 people with one, while standing still, as they run from you in all directions.

I have an AR15, and a variety of rifles, pistols and shotguns. I don't think making them outright illegal is necessary, but the bar to owning effective, offensive weapons like semi-automatic center fire rifles should be MUCH higher.

It may not reduce VIOLENCE, but it can reduce FATALITIES.

Lunch at Table 54 said...

We at Table 54 concur with much of what you've posted here. Our discussion today will revolve around the University of Toledo, OH, where Young Republican members are asking the Ohio legislature to pass a law allowing all students to carry concealed hand guns to classes for their protection. We can not help to feel that the more guns you place in the hands of ordinary people, the more gun violence there will be. Accidental shootings and confrontations between armed students will take place. There is a reason towns in the old West restricted carrying hand guns within town limits. Common sense needs to be applied at some point or our country, which already sees more gun related deaths than the rest of the world combined will see such violence increase exponentially.


Mark Frank said...

Nice post - a few additional points.

* Why is the debate always phrased as guns or no guns? I am not a US citizen so I have limited involvement - but as I understand it the most likely proposals are preventing the sales of certain types of guns and magazines, enforcing background checks, and allowing research into the links between guns and violence in the USA. Similar laws are already in place for vehicles (there are laws about what vehicles are allowed on the road, who can drive them, and research into road safety is encouraged) - why not guns?

* As well as directly limiting access to guns, gun control laws may go some way to creating a non-violent culture. You sort of said that - but not explicitly. So in this was gun control may make people less violent.

* A country that relies on armed citizens to protect themselves to keep violence under control has essentially lost control of law and order.

@b said...

This gun controversy is two-fold; do americans WANT their government to change the gun laws now, or not. And if the former, do americans want their government to RELAX those rules or TIGHTEN them up. Or a nuanced combination of both.

As the OP points out, there's plenty of divisive rhetoric from gun lovers and gun haters.

However, it seems odd to critise either camp for hurling forth their emotive arguments and half-truths. That's how to garner supporters. Even if it upsets others. Or results in the majority losing interest in the debate.

Obama's announcement seems rather safe if gun haters outnumber gun lovers by as much as I suspect they do (or is that naive?).

Regardless, fear of having a gun pointed at you will drive americans to continue this debate forever.

Devy said...

"Guns do not kill people. People kill people."

That's almost equivalent as saying: "toasters do not make toast, people do"

Nicole the writer said...

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Karen said...

Appreciate the effort at both sides of this issue...You made the comment "There are countries that have outlawed guns that have lower rates of violence then the United States" but you failed to mention there are many many countries that have outlawed guns that have higher rates of violence than the US...

And although mental health issues is occasionally mentioned in this should be top of the list. We do not have a system to handle the mentally ill once they reach the age of 18 and can no longer be legally handled by their parents or society. We have all known mentally ill people in our lives that scared the heck out of us. Until they do kill someone or harm someone, there is nothing legally we can do about them or for them. If we are so bent on protecting their privacy/rights at the expense of our safety, then this problem will not be solved with any kind of gun control.