Comments Galore

November 11, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

The previous post brought an unusually high number of comments for this blog, most of them not highly complimentary. But for the most part, the commenters and I agreed on the basic idea that was at issue. I phrased it offensively: using a gun to stop someone else from doing something you don’t like. There’s another way to phrase it. As I said in the original post, “Gun advocates put this in terms of self-defense.” Oh boy, did they. Check out the comments.

I also said that distrust of the government was a common theme. The comments also bear this out. At a minimum, commenters did not trust the government to protect anyone from criminals. They seem to distrust government in other ways as well.

So we agreed on what guns do. The smidgen of disagreement arises over whether guns galore is a good idea. The commenters seem to be united in their certainty. I am less so. I just have these gnawing thoughts that allowing anyone and everyone to buy this kind of weaponry might not be an unmitigated good. I don’t know the Texas law and how it works in practice, but my guess is that Hasan could have made his purchases even if he had not been in the military. If any disturbed, angry, jihad-minded nut could have walked into Guns Galore and come out armed to the teeth, that gives me cause for concern.

The problem is not that gun owners are “psychotic killers on power trips,” as one commenter interpreted my post. The problem is that psychotic killers on power trips have no trouble becoming gun owners. Their massacres, not to mention the individual shootings, are a very high price to pay.

Another commenter made a comparison with the UK. Here’s the most recent info I could find (here)
The murder rate in England and Wales has fallen to its lowest level in 20 years, with 648 homicides recorded in 2008/09 – 136 fewer than the year before. Home Office statisticians said the drop was "not a blip".

Annual crime figures published yesterday show the number of murders and manslaughters and infanticides fell to a level not seen since 1989.
There was a significant further fall in gun crime with the number of incidents involving a firearm down by 17% to 8,184. The number of fatal shootings fell from 53 to 38.
That works out to a rate of 1.4 - 1.5 murders per 100,000 population. The rate in the US last year was more than triple that – 5.4 per 100,000.

The CDC report mentioned by another commenter does say that there is not enough evidence to show that gun laws are effective in reducing violence. That may mean merely that the gun laws we have don’t really reduce the flow of guns, especially to those who are most likely to misuse them. Or, as the CDC says in a Rumsfeld-like utterance, absence of evidence for violence reduction is not evidence of the absence of violence reduction. The effect may be there, but the difficulties of doing this kind of research make it very hard to find.

Finally, one commenter wrote of guns as a means of “punishment to defectors.”
Guns are the means to--if necessary--to punish defectors (criminals) within a population of cooperators (law-abiding citizens) as a means of maintaining the trust required for other-wise costly altruism.

It's also a probably factor in out of control crime-rates in cities. Not so much the loss of altruism at the individual level, but the inability for local populations to maintain an ability to promote social norms regarding trust and altruism.
That’s an interesting point, and I have a vague memory of seeing some lab-experiment studies on it. I don’t know of any real-world data. (It may well exist, but I’m just not up on this literature.) Usually, it’s the government that punishes defectors. Where the government cannot fulfill that function, altruism and trust break down. But I don’t see how individual gun ownership – self-defense – replaces governmental control. The more likely solution to the government’s failure would be vigilantism – private, but collective, punishment of defectors.

Thanks for all the comments, guys. I hadn’t known about LiveJournal – what it is or how it works. I’ll have to check it out.

26 comments:

Weer'd Beard said...

"I don’t know the Texas law and how it works in practice, but my guess is that Hasan could have made his purchases even if he had not been in the military. If any disturbed, angry, jihad-minded nut could have walked into Guns Galore and come out armed to the teeth, that gives me cause for concern."

You would be correct. Most Likely Major Hasan would have been able to buy his firearms in all but the most restrictive states in the union.

But you seem to omit the big failing here which is that there was no reason why that wasn't wrong.

He hadn't been convicted of anything. He (even as of today) been ruled mentially deficient. He was still in good standing with the US Military at the time of the Purchases (which was several years ago) but also at the moment that he crossed the gates into the base with murder on his mind.

This is also the same scenario with the Virginia Tech shooter, Seug Cho.

Obviously both men were nuts, and very bad people. You won't find anybody who will say "No, that guy TOTALLY should have had guns".

But the problem comes down to our legal system.

Major Hasan had a clean criminal background, despite likely enough evidence to at least throw him out of the military, and possibly enough to charge him with SOME crime (This is a developing story with much information, so time will solidify the details)

Cho had been ruled a danger to himself and others...but was released to seek treatment on his own recognizance. Essentially the judge said "You're a danger...but not dangerous enough for me to legally force you to get better"

Cho never sought the recommended treatment, and nobody followed up on him. He also had a restraining order against him in relation to the above case mentioned, but at the time of his buying the guns the order had expired, and therefor any weapons restrictions under the law (if you have a protective order against you you may not own or buy firearms and WILL fail an instant background check).

So essentially the crux of your argument is that people with a clean criminal background and no legal restrictions should still be considered guilty without finding.

I understand that 20/20 hindsight can make us all emotional, but remember, I'm not defending the actions of the above jerks or others like them, but instead pointing out the flaws done by our legal system that allowed people who were KNOWN to be dangerous to be given a pass by the anchorites.

We have federal statutes that can strip the 2nd Amendment rights from dangerous people (I live in Boston, and I'll assure you the violent acts I read about on a regular basis are all committed by people who could NOT lawfully acquire or keep guns...not here, not in Texas, not anywhere in this country.)

Have a good read of this federal law
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_Control_Act_of_1968
and this
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brady_Handgun_Violence_Prevention_Act

(and by all means don't simply trust wikipedia...I just find it a good starting point before delving into the heavy stuff)

and you'll see that the laws we have are VERY solid.

But laws are simply tools, and tools do nothing unless they are used.

The case of Major Hasan and Seung Cho, as well as many other violent people is a failure of our justice system, not our laws.

Joshua said...

On the other hand, whites treated slaves as though they were family. Giving them a place to live, inviting them to family events and sharing part of their wealth.

*stunned*

Corey said...

An anonymous commenter on the previous post asserted the "fact" that 80% of us will be victims of a violent crime at some point in our lives. Another commenter rhetorically asked, what if the Major had used sharp metal to carry out the massacre...

Lets call shenanigans on this discourse. The 80% of us will be victims of violent crime is pure horsepuckey unsupported by social science. If we use the NCVS, the gold standard measure on victimization, we see that violent crime victimization rate is 24.7 per 1,000 population. [No, that doesn't capture victimization over the life course, but a rate that low can not sustain an 80% cumulative risk over the life course].

http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cvus/current/cv0601.pdf

As to the use of lethal implements other than firearms (setting aside the fact that the major used automatic firearms designed to maximize output]... The fact is that most homicides are accomplished with the aid of a firearm. Lets say that the major came into that readiness center with a machete. It strains reason to suppose that he would have been able to inflict as much carnage with a sharp blade than he did with automatic firearms.

There's a broader thing going on within this discourse. Paranoid firearm fundamentalists (of the sort claiming 80% of us are destined to be victims of violent crime) will not be convinced by any evidence that broader access to firearms makes us collectively less safe. This certitude is supported by the faulty logic that assumes that a deranged killer can inflict as much damage with a bat or sword as he or she might with a firearm.

No amount of reasoned argument with appeals to evidence will change these minds. [By the way, I say this as a 2nd amendment supporting, government distrusting, libertarian. I have a right to bear arms... even if that right may in the long run make me less safe].

James Santiago said...

Data from the CDC shows that roughly half of all deaths involving a firearm are suicides. I also understand that there is other data that states that most homicides with a firearm involved people who knew of their victim or vice versa which supposedly included criminal associations or rivalries. Now, that is an interesting bit of information but it would have to be verified to be of any use. However the above along with data from the US department of Justice (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/guns.htm) seem to indicate that firearms violence is a more complicated issue than is normally portrayed.

the DOJ states: #

According to the 1997 Survey of State Prison Inmates, among those possessing a gun, the source of the gun was from -

* a flea market or gun show for fewer than 2%
* a retail store or pawnshop for about 12%
* family, friends, a street buy, or an illegal source for 80%

# During the offense that brought them to prison, 15% of State inmates and 13% of Federal inmates carried a handgun, and about 2%, a military-style semiautomatic gun.

Also the DOJ shows that violent crime rates have were in decline since 1993 and started to increase in 2005. This roughly tracks inversely with the economy in the US during that time.

I may be citing these in a rather random manner however I have a point. Mass shootings, although highly publicized are rare. The offenders who are responsible for the bulk of gun violence obtain their weapons outside of gunshops and gunshows. Most of the weapons used are not high capacity semi-automatic pistols or "assault weapons".

So the perception of where the majority of death in this country is coming from is already skewed. It's not the columbines or the Hassans that make our society deadly, we're actually killing ourselves first and then the remainder is largely junk black market street guns. I'd like to point out that the majority of non-sexual violent crime in america is linked to the drug trade. I also believe that if you look at countries with strict gun control measures (like mexico) and countries where there is a high level of gun ownership (like switzerland) it breaks the pattern of more guns = more deaths. However... if you track the activity and amount of narco-crime, especially narco-street crime in various countries you can see an almost direct correlation to gun deaths.

So, stricker gun laws may work for other countries whose firearms violence make-up is different. However here in America, although stricter laws may have driven hassan to use a bomb instead of a firearm, it wouldn't have stopped the other 90% of the violent or self inflicted deaths we face in this country.

Instead we have to tackle the phenomena of street narco crime and suicide. I believe would could reduce more deaths by crafting a suicide prevention campaign for gun-owners than anything else.

But that's not sexy, it's not media-genic, and it doesn't give you something to rail against or be afraid of.

Joshua said...

I phrased it offensively: using a gun to stop someone else from doing something you don’t like.

The legal standard for the use of lethal force in self-defense is, generally put, the existence of, "An immediate and otherwise-unavoidable threat of death or grave bodily injury to the innocent." Referring to that situation as, "something you don't like," in the same category as, "Those who hold different political views than you," is definitely offensive. That being said, I think I see what you were getting at. To Major Hasan, the situation he was in represented a threat of that same level of seriousness, and he responded by using lethal force--unfortunately, in an ultimately ineffective manner. Although... I suppose he's not going to be deployed overseas, so if that was his goal, maybe he succeeded.

The comments also bear this out, as for the most part commenters at a minimum did not trust the government to protect anyone from criminals.

This is a case where shades of meaning become important. In general, I trust the government to keep crime below a certain level. The government can reduce my statistical probability of being a crime victim. But crime still exists, and the government will be the first to say that they are not responsible for protecting any specific citizen from any specific crime.

This is not a question of trust; it's just a question of facts. The odds of me being a victim of a violent crime are very low. Thank you, government and all others who are responsible! If, despite those odds, I am the victim of a violent crime, I am responsible for my life, at least until the police get there, assuming that I can get to the phone to call 911, etc... Again, this isn't conjecture. Situations where the police arrive too late to protect someone happen all the time. If I have a lack of trust, it's well-founded.

If any disturbed, angry, jihad-minded nut could have walked into Guns Galore and come out armed to the teeth, that gives me cause for concern.

We can't read people's minds. In this country, we're innocent until proven guilty, and thoughtcrime hasn't been outlawed.

The problem is that psychotic killers on power trips have no trouble becoming gun owners. Their massacres, not to mention the individual shootings, are a very high price to pay.

1) This isn't a very good cost-benefit analysis. It's just a cost-analysis, and it only looks at one cost, and it doesn't look at the costs or benefits of the alternative option (presumably, banning or further restricting guns). Okay, so it's just a one-off blog post, but still. I hear this argument made, and it just seems so myopic.

2) Why don't the same people who use this argument against guns apply the same thinking to other things. "Whoah, there are a gajillion people killed every year by cars. That's a very high price to pay!" Nope... it's just guns that are singled out for this single-factor standard of judgment. It strikes me as a kind of bigotry.

That works out to a rate of 1.4 - 1.5 murders per 100,000 population. The rate in the US last year was more than triple that – 5.4 per 100,000.

One-to-one comparison of a statistic between countries is largely meaningless. The overall crime rate in the UK has historically been much lower than that of the US. Many other factors than gun control contribute to that statistic. Having seen many attempts to use multivariate analysis to assess the effects of gun control, I have come to the conclusion that multivariate analysis can be used to support both sides of an issue at the same time. Long story short: introducing statistics to a conversation about guns is unlikely to convince anybody.

Thanks for all the comments, guys. I hadn’t known about LiveJournal – what it is or how it works. I’ll have to check it out.

Welcome! Oh, and in case you didn't know: posting about guns, religion, or abortion is a sure way to bump your blog stats.

falnfenix said...

The comments also bear this out, as for the most part commenters at a minimum did not trust the government to protect anyone from criminals.

considering the fact that recently the police in my area issued a statement that reflects this as fact, my lack of trust is legitimate. they have said they are under no obligation to protect us from harm.

Eric said...

The problem is that psychotic killers on power trips have no trouble becoming gun owners.

Let's put that into perspective.

The problem is that psychotic killers on power trips have no trouble becoming machete owners.

The problem is that psychotic killers on power trips have no trouble becoming SUV owners.

The problem is that psychotic killers on power trips have no trouble becoming chainsaw owners.

The problem is that psychotic killers on power trips have no trouble becoming sword owners.

The problem is that psychotic killers on power trips have no trouble becoming nitrate fertilizer owners.

The problem is that psychotic killers on power trips have no trouble becoming rat poison owners.


All of those could kill. Why are you obsessed with guns?

Bob S. said...

Eric addressed it but I'll hit it again from a different angle.

The problem is not that mothers are “psychotic killers on power trips,” as one commenter interpreted my post. The problem is that psychotic killers on power trips have no trouble becoming mothers. Their massacres, not to mention the individual shootings, are a very high price to pay.

I'm thinking of people like Andrea Yates who murdered 5 of her children.

Do you propose the same restrictions on a right of a woman to have children?

They seem to distrust government in other ways as well.

To an extent, you are correct. But more accurate we distrust the government's ability to protect us.
The courts have already stated the police don't have a responsibility to protect individuals.

The Fort Hood shooting shows that the law enforcement, even at the faster response times, are minutes away when trouble starts.

So, what should we do? Cower under desks? Give the criminals what they want? Check out the posts on my blog to see how that works out.

I just have these gnawing thoughts that allowing anyone and everyone to buy this kind of weaponry might not be an unmitigated good.

I think this is a misstatement of most gun owners position. One designed to cast us in poor light; question becomes is it deliberate or oversight?

Can you name gun owners who have said that it is okay for people committed to prison or mental institutions to have firearms?
Or children to have firearms unsupervised?

What we believe is that absent an disqualifying reason; people should have the right to keep and bear arms.
Is what someone may do in the future a reason to keep them from purchasing firearms?

Let's change your words again and see if they make sense.

If any disturbed, angry, pedophile minded nut could have walked into CAmeras Galore and come out with everything to make pron, that gives me cause for concern.

Do you propose strict laws for cameras and computers?

How do you tell the angry disturbed what ever from the average person?


And are you willing to live in a society that can tell the difference before they act criminally?

Anonymous said...

"Usually, it’s the government that punishes defectors. Where the government cannot fulfill that function, altruism and trust break down. But I don’t see how individual gun ownership – self-defense – replaces governmental control. The more likely solution to the government’s failure would be vigilantism – private, but collective, punishment of defectors."

In agent-based models, it wasn't the act of punishment that drove defectors down as much as the locally overwhelming presence of punishers. In general, the proportion of punishers available can prevent the presence or development of defectors.

Which is the problem with restricting to or assuming governmental punishment. Without some additional factor--like religious fear--the actual effect area of government is pretty similar to a like number of other agents. Only when the amount of information the agents can have increases can you make do with fewer punishers. In a fashion, privacy is at odds with controlling defectors unless everyone or a sizable percentage are also willing/able to punish as well.

Vigilantism is historically a form of self-government by individual groups but became a "problem" once a central hierarchical authority came to prevalence because it limits the central authority's ability to influence a population. After a fashion, vigilantism--as a group--is a form of altruism, just not one helpful to people outside that limited group.

Anonymous said...

You know what kills way more people than guns? Auto accidents. WAY more people, every year, than guns. And yet no one ever calls for making cars illegal, because we accept that accidents happen, and that it is impossible to prevent someone from climbing into an SUV and mowing down 30 people if they suddenly go crazy out of nowhere. We accept that auto deaths and injuries are the price of the freedom to drive, which is crucial to our current society.

Similarly, I accept that - tragic as they are - gun murders are the price of the freedom to defend yourself, and the freedom to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Do I think we should do everything we can to reduce gun murders? Yes, I do... but the right way to do that is to work to reduce crime, not to reduce freedom.

No matter what, you're never 100% safe. If Hasan couldn't get guns, he could have made explosives from any of a thousand common, unrestricted household products. Five minutes on the internet could have taught him to to make bombs out of fertilizer or a laptop... so why aren't you calling for restrictions on the internet? Because these dangers are the necessary price of freedom.

On a side note, as a gun owner, gun enthusiast, and ardent gun-rights advocate, I wouldn't say I distrust the government. But cops can't be everywhere, and good fences make good neighbors. So I'll keep my guns, just in case (God forbid) I ever need to defend my life or my freedom.

Corey said...

The smoke from the burning strawmen is getting in my eyes.

Analogies between firearms and {knives, chainsaws, SUVs, Rat Poison, etc} border on the absurd.

Why?

[1] What is the functional purpose of these objects? A knife and chainsaw is a tool to cut things (steak, rope, boxes, etc) and an SUV is a transport mechanism (an incredibly dangerous mechanism). Now rat poison is similar to a firearm in that it is solely designed to be a lethal object. But it also generally used as a tool. Believe it or not, few Nanny Staters really want to completely obliterate your freedoms. They want to minimize what they (wrongly, in my view) take to be unreasonable risks.

[2] Few of these objects offered as rhetorical comparisons are actually used to commit murder (defined as the willful, non-negligent, intentional ending of another human life). Says who? The Dept of Justice: Bureau of Justice Statistics: "In 2005, 55% of homicides were committed with handguns, 16% with other guns, 14% with knives, 5% with blunt objects, and 11% with other weapons."

By my math that's 70% firearm, 15% knives; 5% beer bottles; and 11% misc stuff (maybe SUVs, Chainsaws, and Rat Poison).

Now I know that this isn't convincing anyone; but the silly analogies being offered here by firearm rights supports do a disservice to their cause. You can make a principled argument (as some of the other comments in both threads do) without burning strawmen; you are more likely to persuade folks like Jay (who is really pretty smart) when you do that.

Of course, alternatively you can just conclude that Jay is a pointed headed liberal nanny stater and continue to talk among yourselves.

Bob S. said...

Corey,

First the functional purpose of a firearm is to expel a projectile out of a barrel. PERIOD. End of Story.

What is the target of the person aiming the firearm is what matters.
I enjoy target shooting, does that mean since I haven't used the firearm as a lethal object I'm using it wrong?
Yes, it can and will be used as a weapon - but to protect myself in the case someone wants to do my family or I harm.

Next, sorry while you say "few Nanny Staters really want to completely obliterate your freedoms." the evidence suggests otherwise. If that was the case, why did D.C. have a ban on possession of a handgun? Why does Chicago have a functional ban on possession?
Why have politicians called for handgun bans? For repealing the 2nd Amendment?

Second:
Few of these objects offered as rhetorical comparisons are actually used to commit murder

Murder isn't the only violent crime, is it?

In aggravated assaults, less then 25% of the crimes are committed with a weapon....yet people are willing to take firearms out of the hands of people using them to protect their families?

Rapes - I think the number is 7% or 9% involve a weapon. Yet "nanny staters" want to make it harder for females to use effective self defense tools.

Why do "nanny staters" have such a problem with analogies?

We often liken firearms to knives and are told that we are being silly.

Yet in the United Kingdom efforts have been under way for years to prevent citizens from being able to carry knives.

Nanny staters often say "but we register cars"....making the analogy not us pro-right advocates.

The other question I don't see being addressed by those willing to restrict our rights is the question of defensive gun uses.

Focusing on the crimes committed with firearms completely ignores the lives saved, the crimes stopped and the benefit to society.

Endif said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_politics_in_the_United_Kingdom

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1576406/28-gun-crimes-committed-in-UK-every-day.html

So much for the UK as an invalid comparison. 28 per day in the context of a total ban, a surveillance state, and a knife violence epidemic is hardly something to crow about.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1034472/SIX-stabbed-death-just-24-hours-Blade-Britains-knife-epidemic-spirals-control.html

@ Corey

Those strawmen are your own. To address them in order:

1. No, the purpose of a firearm is to project force, be that as an un-used deterrent to crime or as the brick wall that stops a crime in progress. Those are its legitimate uses. Illegitimate uses are dealt with by the rule of law.

2. And? Banning or further restricting firearms will do nothing to change this, since law abiding responsible citizens will follow the rules and criminals will continue to not-follow the rules. All you do is further disadvantage the good to the benefit of the bad. Availability changes not at all, as demonstrated in total-ban areas, and public safety is eroded, not enhanced.

The same analogy holds true for most illegal drugs, cannabis in particular. Prohibition does nothing but ruin otherwise harmless users lives and cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars every year. Availability has not changed, and public safety is anything but improved since most violence is drug traffic related.

Ultimately, this comes down to a question of personal responsibility.

I take responsibility for the safety of myself and my family, while you prefer to rely solely on the state (ie, police protection).

Continued due to the inadequacies of blogger in accepting more than 4096 characters. =/

Endif said...

Continued..

Example A:

4 am. You are sleeping. Someone breaks in. You hear them. You call the police. You do not own a firearm. Intruder is free to do with you as he sees fit until the police arrive. In this instance, the intruder has decided this means that he'll rape you and your wife with the power drill he found in your garage. You have no way to stop this from happening, so it does. It is horrible. You die.

Example B:

9:45. You are watching Stargate: Universe off the DVR, dog in lap, beer in hand, pistol in its usual place beside you. It is loaded with hollow point ammunition, and safed inside a holster. The outside screen to your front door is opened, and the dog growls. You put down the beer and lean toward the door, listening, as you reach toward the pistol. *bang* Someone has kicked the door, and the hinges are splintering. Your wife knows to head upstairs while calling 911, and to stay there with the shotgun. You know to grab the pistol and rearguard her escape. The door comes down, and two large men enter the house. Their entry mode demonstrates that their intentions are clearly not friendly, your life is obviously in danger. *pop pop* The first one is down, screaming. The second runs. The police arrive 15 minutes later, and you greet them with the safed and empty weapon under your foot and your hands up, explain who you are and what is going on. You will definitely face an investigation, as well you should; you killed a man. But you're alive, and you're in the right, and you'll almost certainly be exonerated given the clear and present danger you and your family were put in by the intruders.

Example C:

You are walking home from a night class. You have a concealed carry permit and use it, always. Five young men come out of an alley behind you and start yelling epithets. You run. They chase. They corner you. You warn. They ignore. You draw. They see the pistol and hear the click as you un-safe the weapon and chamber a round. They piss themselves and run. You call the police and report the incident. You are inconvenienced and terrorized, but not in the hospital, or dead.

In example A, you and your family died horribly for your misguided stance on a political wedge issue.

In example B and C, you and/or your family were inconvenienced and terrorized, but you survived.

The determining factor? The ability to project force.

This happens every day. Millions of lives are saved every year by the individual ability to responsibly project force until law enforcement arrives. This part of the equation isn't mediagenic enough to warrant much if any coverage by the heavily consolidated corporate entertainment/news complex, so it is ignored.

And before you start whining about how the mean old rightard just doesn't get it, let it be known that I'm an extremely vocal liberal in the literal sense of the word. Footprint any of my online presences to verify.

spartakos said...

I am gratified to see you thinking more about this, and discussing it further. I am dismayed to see that you still do not seem to have grasped the problem with your first post. The problem is this statement:

But in at least one way, he was as normal and American as Charlton Heston: he believed in the philosophy of the gun.

The philosophy of the gun is simple: if someone does something you don’t like, shoot them. If you can’t shoot that person, shoot someone like them.


Shall we document the errors in this statement?

1.) The idea that you should shoot (kill) people who do things you don't like is NOT the philosophy of the gun. Trying to claim it is demonstrates either gross ignorance of deliberate malice.

2.) In line with the above, how can it be that "the philosophy of the gun" as you describe it is NOT followed by the vast majority of people who own guns, or who support the 2nd amendment and ownership of guns?

3.) The idea that Hasan and Charlton Heston believe the same things, and are moral equivalents. That is is frankly disgusting.

Heston has not (to my knowledge) shot and killed anyone.
Heston has never murdered anyone, for any reason.
Heston has certainly never shot or murdered any innocent person (like the victims at Ft. Hood).
Heston has certainly never shot anyone just for being LIKE people he disagrees with or dislikes.

There is absolutely no similarity whatsoever between Heston and Hasan, except that each has picked up a gun. There is no evidence that Hasan believed (as Heston does) in the importance of self-defense and lawful ownership of firearms. There is no evidence that Heston believed (as Hasan does) in shooting innocent people as a political statement.
Trying to claim they are equivalent is intellectually dishonest.

4.) The idea that self-defense is "just another way of saying that if you don’t like the person is doing, shoot them." Again, this is another shortsighted attempt at moral equivalence.

If you honestly cannot see the difference between shooting someone to save the life of your 6-year old child and shooting someone because you hate gays or because they "dissed you", I think you seriously need professional help. Those two things--shooting in self-defense and shooting out malice--are as far apart as I can possibly imagine any two things being. Trying to equate them is horrible.

We are not in agreement about "what guns do". In fact, "what guns do" is not even at issue. Guns are tools, just like cars, hammers, and kitchen knives. All of these things can do good or evil, depending on the intent of the wielder.

What is at issue is "what people do with guns", and the disconnect is that you seem to consider anyone shooting anyone with a gun to be morally equivalent to any other shooting. You equate someone who shoots Hitler with Mark Chapman or Lee Harvey Oswald.

Can you possibly explain your position?

spartakos said...

A further remark, on this statement:

The problem is that psychotic killers on power trips have no trouble becoming gun owners. Their massacres, not to mention the individual shootings, are a very high price to pay.

1.) This statement is false on it's face, as psychotic killers on power trips do not (generally) have "no trouble" becoming gun owners. In fact, in many places in the United States, psychotic killers and law-abiding citizens alike are denied the right to own and carry weapons for self-defense. The law, much like yourself, equates people regardless of intent.

2.) It is an undeniable fact of life that certain psychotic individuals will escape diagnosis and be able to acquire any number of dangerous tools, that can allow them to go on killing sprees. A crazy person with an automobile who decides to drive through a crowded park will kill just as many. A crazy person who acquires pilot's license could crash into a crowded building and murder even more. A crazy person can acquire poisons and poison food in a restaurant and cause numerous deaths. Guns are not unique in this...and are in fact one of the more controlled deadly devices in America.

3.) Their massacres are, media hype not withstanding, are rare and not tremendously dangerous. Compare the number of people killed by "psychotic killers on power trips" with the number of people who die every day in automobile accidents. While the death of any person is tragic, you need to accept the fact that the thousands of automobile casualties each year are the price most people (I assumed yourself also) are willing to pay for the convenience of having automobiles be commonplace. Compared to that price, paying the price that psychotic killers place on us is relatively mild.

Corey said...

Sheesh fellas. Y'all are a determined lot.

Look lets get our bonafides on the table before proceeding.

[A] Jay and I agree on lots of things, but we disagree on the question of gun control. I take a libertarian position on this issue. I don't think the civil government should have a monopoly on access to lethal violence. As a citizen, provided I continue to demonstrate that I'm a responsible adult, I should be allowed to possess firearms... so should you.

[B] I am also a professional sociologist who studies crime and social control. One of the things that concerns me is how beliefs drive potentially dangerous behavior.

From my vantage point as a social researcher, I have yet to see any compelling empirical evidence demonstrating widespread access to firearms makes anyone safer. On the contrary, all the empirical evidence that I've turned up points to the opposite conclusion: access to firearms is correlated with elevated mortality odds ratios.

Let me further clarify my meaning. I hear the rhetorical arguments that having access to lethal force protects me in the scenario that I'm confronted with a life threatening violent situation (the sorts of scenarios that Endif pose). But those scenarios don't really play out in reality with any statistical regularity. That is, when these things happen, they are rare and difficult to predict. Looking at things in the aggregate it appears that widespread access to firearms kills more people than it saves. [But, as I wrote at the beginning of this comment, I've made my peace with that].

Now, Bob S. raises an important point that deserves a considered response. Bob notes that murder is not the only violent crime. This is true. Murder is the rarest form of violent crime. Bob also correctly demonstrates that firearms are rarely used in non-lethal violent crime.

Here's the rub. Most homicides start as another sort of violent crime (either assault or robbery). Contrary to the conventional wisdom sustained by television and Hollywood, first degree murder in cold blood is not the norm. What turns these violent crimes into homicides? Access to a serviceable weapon.

Don't take my word for it; I'm just some guy posting on Jay Weinstein's blog. Check out Marvin Wolfgang's studies of Homicide in Philadelphia; or look up David Luckenbill's work on victim precipitation.

Now, I can't disagree with the rhetorical argument that should a deranged killer come into my home and violate me and my family with electric screwdriver, without lethal force we're screwed. That's true! Fortunately for me that sort of crime is so incredibly unlikely that I'm going to opt not to worry about that risk. The risk I do worry about is for one of the kids to find the key to the gun cabinet... (or for the kids to find the .44 that I keep in my bed table [which is where my dad kept his, at least he did until I found it as a 12 year old].

Risk exists. As a sociologist, I happen to think that many of the things we're afraid of are the wrong things. Moreover, I think the ways we respond to these fears ultimately make us less safe. But I could be wrong.

I won't be posting on this comment again. I know I'm not convincing anyone. I just piped in as a kindred spirit of sorts. A libertarian leaning supporter (albeit an ambivalent supporter) of 2nd amendment rights. I don't think the unrealistic analogies help your cause. Now, if you can demonstrate that your scenarios are in fact realistic (pointing to empirical examples drawn from credible sources) you might be able to get some traction.

I'm out.

madkiwi said...

That works out to a rate of 1.4 - 1.5 murders per 100,000 population. The rate in the US last year was more than triple that – 5.4 per 100,000.

If you subtract out the US firearms murder rate the murder rate here is STILL higher than the UK (1.85 murders per 100,000).

Does that mean we have more knives, hammers, feet and fists per 100,000 population than in the UK?

Bob S. said...

Corey,

You had me up to this point:
Most homicides start as another sort of violent crime (either assault or robbery). Contrary to the conventional wisdom sustained by television and Hollywood, first degree murder in cold blood is not the norm. What turns these violent crimes into homicides? Access to a serviceable weapon.

So, the intention of the criminal to commit a violent act and not be deterred isn't what turns violent crimes into homicides?

It's not the access to the firearm, it who has the firearm. If only a criminal has access to it, then his/her actions determine the nature of the crime.

If only the victim has access to a firearm, then the victim has a say in how the crime turns out. don't you agree?

And that is the nature of the rub. Gun Control advocates view the "gun violence" problem only from the acts of the criminal. Kleck and Gertz determined that up to 2.5 million defensive gun uses occur each year. Estimates range from 108,000 to as many as 4.7 million.

Considering that, how many crimes don't turn into homicides because of the presence of a firearm in the hands of the victim?

By the way, if you could or would provide a list of those empirical studies, I would like to review them. Many of them such as Kellermann's study have deeply flawed methodology.

Joe Huffman at The View From North Central Idaho asks "Just One Question". Perhaps you could answer it?

Can you demonstrate one time or place, throughout all history, where the average person was made safer by restricting access to handheld weapons?
http://blog.joehuffman.org/2004/12/15/JustOneQuestion.aspx


The last aspect is I agree with you here:
I take a libertarian position on this issue. I don't think the civil government should have a monopoly on access to lethal violence. As a citizen, provided I continue to demonstrate that I'm a responsible adult, I should be allowed to possess firearms... so should you.

In the end, social utility doesn't matter. My rights don't depend on the good or bad behavior of others, right?

Pete S. said...

Corey: "setting aside the fact that the major used automatic firearms designed to maximize output"

Except that he didn't, in fact, use automatic firearms. News reports that I've read indicate that he was armed with an FN 5.7 pistol and a revolver.

The former is a semi-automatic firearm (which fires one shot per pull of the trigger), while the second is a revolver (similar behavior, but different operating mechanism). Neither is "automatic" (e.g. a machine gun, a gun that fires repeatedly so long as the trigger is held down).

There is a very specific legal definition for "automatic" firearms such as machine guns, and exceedingly strict laws regarding their ownership and possession. While it is possible to legally own machine guns, it's relatively uncommon and expensive.

Calling a semi-automatic firearm an automatic is like calling a bicycle a motorcycle (an admittedly poor analogy, but let's go with it). Sure, both are operated by a rider, both have two wheels, and at first glance, may appear similar...but they are functionally very different, and there are different legal requirements for owning and operating them.

Jay Livingston said...

A gun is to shoot. Or as Endif says, to “project force” against another person. (We’re not talking here about hunting or target shooting.) Yes, cars cause more death than guns, but these deaths are nearly all unintentional – accidents. Cars are transportation. Nobody buys a car in order to project force.

Spartakos. Yes, there’s an important difference between Heston and Hasan, precisely the one you cite. Heston never used his gun in a crazy, criminal, or irresponsible way. As I said in the original post, that’s true of most gun owners. The law recognizes self-defense, but when you give everyone a gun, you put into the hands of each person the power to define self-defense, to shoot first and ask legal questions later, to shoot Lenin or to shoot Lennon.

The typical homicide arises out of an argument between people, frequently people who know one another. One guy feels that he has been insulted, dissed, that his honor has been besmirched, that his self is under attack. He has a gun, and he uses it to stop this attack. “Arguments” is the category the FBI uses for this, and they are the most numerous. Even in felony murders, as Corey says, the intent to kill is not there at the start. So in all these cases, the presence of a gun, more so than any other weapon, makes death more likely.

Anyway, I agree that even where there are gun laws, they don’t keep guns out of the hands of the bad guys. As Mayor Bloomberg demonstrated, New York’s gun laws don’t mean much if a guy can drive down to Virginia and come back with a trunkful of guns to sell illegally on the street. But does that mean that NYC should tear up its law and let Guns Galore open up a franchise on 42nd Street?

You guys can keep commenting (it is all guys, right, no women?). I’m not going to defend my blog by killing comments as long as their reasonably civil. But I’m packing it in, moving on. Joshua was perceptively accurate: this post was a one-off, a hasty reaction to Ft. Hood.

Weer'd Beard said...

Jay, I'm glad you apriciated the comments, and I'm glad you're not closing them down.

Still I'm saddened to see so many twisted statements in your latest comment.

"The typical homicide arises out of an argument between people, frequently people who know one another. "

Most often rival gang members or drug dealers. Don't you think you omitted this part and that its' rather important. Oh and both men cannot legally posses firearms.

"So in all these cases, the presence of a gun, more so than any other weapon, makes death more likely."

Only about half the time. Especially with gangs like MS13 who choose to use machetes.

"As Mayor Bloomberg demonstrated, New York’s gun laws don’t mean much if a guy can drive down to Virginia and come back with a trunkful of guns to sell illegally on the street."

That's a federal crime, both buying the guns across state lines, and transporting them into NY, and selling them to prohibited persons. (Not to mention failing the NYC licensing and registration requirements).

Hence why most of the guns used in crimes in New York come from.....New York.

I wouldn't be so upset by these comments, but you're saying things that are untrue or misleading about a subject that is under attack.

People are attempting to restrict our rights and confiscate our property.

Repeating the same canards only gives power to those who crafted them originally.

I know you would like to just walk away from this issue, but I would think it the responsible thing to do is to educate yourself and maybe help propagate the truth rather than propaganda.

Weer'd Beard said...

That's it?

I'm disappointed.

Why is it the "intellectual" response from those who want to curtail gun rights is always one of dismissiveness and avoiding discussion?

Jay Livingston said...

Weer'd: I wanted to get in touch with you via e-mail, not publicly, but I couldn't find an address or figure out how to do so via LJ.

Jay Livingston said...

YWeer'd: You can e-mail me at my MSU address: livingstonj@mail.montclair.edu
(I thought it was available on the blog header, but maybe not)

Anonymous said...

I did a word search on this page and was shocked to see that i coudn't find the word "culture" being used. Guns are a large part of america's sense of self and I hear often hear that it is "american" to own a gun. Some one mentioned on the previous post about the country that passed a law so that every house had to have a gun and that the country had the lowest rates of gun violence, this is correlational evidence not causational, and the culture isnt a violent one. When deciding one these issues(read: problems) arguments tend to lose weighting in desicion making and consequences matter much more and place like England have shown that gun control can reduce(not completely) gun violence.