James Wright’s article about how he was wrong about gun control and why it is doomed to failure, from the 90’s. The years change, but the song remains the same:
Came across this last night:
America’s decades long national argument about gun control is not a normal political debate about addressing policy to problems but about what kind of politics to have. It is fundamentally about how citizens should relate to each other and the state, and that makes it a matter of political philosophy, Politics with a capital P. That in turn explains why the debate has gone on so long without resolution and the division and frustration it inspires.
Of course it is up to Americans to decide what kind of society they should have, not philosophers, and certainly not foreign ones like me. Indeed, part of my argument is that even this most fundamental question must be decided politically, by the people, and not by appeal to the special authority of sacred constitutional principles or social science or even philosophy. Philosophers’ pronouncements of truth and rightness have no special authority over politics, nor should they. What philosophical analysis can do is offer new perspective and argumentative resources by which a political debate such as this one might be improved from its toxic stalemate.
I know what you are thinking. This is going to be a long winded argument about how guns are bad. WRONG!
So what does my philosophical perspective come down to? First a diagnosis. Both sides of the gun control debate know they are right. But only one side recognises it as a fundamentally philosophical dispute. The other has systematically evaded the real debate about values in favour of the faux objectivity of a statistical public health argument [See Hunt for a discussion of what the gun control debate is actually about]. Second some positive advice. The advocates of gun control need to take the political philosophy of the gun rights movement seriously and show that a society without guns is a better society not that it is a safer one.
It only gets better from there:
I’m going to have to be blunt. Gun control advocates rely excessively on a public health case that is not only much weaker than they believe it to be but also crowds out the kind of arguments that might actually win over their opponents. Their confidence that they are on the right side of history has blinded them to the fact that they have chosen to fight on the wrong ground. They keep harping on about guns killing people. As if guns were like cigarettes, and as if the numbers were big enough to matter
Guns are an excellent killing technology. They are extremely good at transforming an intention to kill into its achievement. However, that doesn’t mean that they are a particularly significant cause of death; only a particularly exciting one.The idea that forcibly removing guns from citizens would reduce death rates in any appreciable degree is a triumph of moral indignation over statistics. America is not 43rd in the world for life-expectancy because it kills so many people with guns, but, principally, because of the social gradient in health that follows from its shameful levels of socio-economic inequality .
Let’s go into this a little more.
We hear a lot about the large number of deaths caused by guns in America, around 33,000 per year. This sounds like a big number. But understanding whether a number is big enough to matter requires considering it in context. 2.6 million Americans die every year [CDC] . Gun deaths represent just over 1% of deaths, and two thirds of those are suicides. From a public health perspective, many other causes of death seem much more deserving of our worry, and also more likely to yield to government intervention.
So happy to see someone else making the same arguments I’ve been using for years. This one addresses a plethora of typical arguments: Guns vs Cars, Suicide, Mass Shootings, etc. I have to disagree with the author’s “Your gun isn’t going to stop the military” argument for reasons outlined in previous posts, but you can’t have everything.
So I came across an article this morning where David Smalley, Proud Atheist, lectures America about “Why Gun Nuts Lie – I Know From Experience” – and with a premise like that, you know you are in for quite a wild ride.
First, he starts with his credentials:
I live in Texas. I’m a gun owner. I have a concealed handgun license. I’ve taught my kids how to fire weapons.
I also understand and appreciate our Constitution. I’m fully aware of the 2nd Amendment, and how its authors wanted to prevent government tyranny. Considering what they had gone through, they had every right to demand such a thing.
I know enough about weapons to have a near perfect score on my firing test, to know that the “c” in SR9c stands for “compact” to make the weapon easier to hide; and to know that the AR in AR-15 doesn’t stand for ‘Assault Rifle,’ but ‘Armalite’ after the original company who made the gun.
Am I a gun nut? Maybe. But I like to keep myself skeptical and informed. And that includes realizing when I’m being illogically influenced by my culture, and taking necessary steps to correct it.
At this nation’s beginning, it made sense for the citizens to be armed similarly to the government to prevent tyranny.
Today, that’s ridiculous. The very concept is outdated. Some have said to me; the point is for the citizens to be “as armed as well as the government.”
Really? The concept is outdated? This would seem to indicate that Mr. Smalley’s beliefs are predicated on either strawman arguments or a lack of history (or both). We’ll go into detail though, don’t worry.
For starters, today, the military has fully automatic M-16s. Citizens can’t buy that. You have to get a tamer version: AR-15.
You can’t have flame throwers, bombs, bazookas, Z10 attack helicopters, bradleys, tanks, fighter jets, nuclear reactors, or a plethora of other secret military weapons you don’t even know exist.
Mr Smalley shows a fundamental lack of knowledge with these statements, starting with current gun control laws. Citizens can buy fully automatic M-16s, they are regulated as Machineguns under the National Firearms Act of 1934. Flamethrowers? Not even federally regulated (even CNN scratched their head on that) and there are models for sale online right now in various configurations. Bombs & Bazookas? They are considered “destructive devices” and have similar paperwork to machineguns. Attack helicopters (Z10? wtf) & fighter jets? Uh, here ya go. Bradleys, tanks? Whoops.
So right off the bat, Mr. Smalley is entirely full of shit. Of course if you confront him on this, he will shift the goalposts to whine about how you can’t buy the latest in military weapons systems like AH-64 Apaches with full Block upgrades, or a F-22, but that is besides the point – anyone citizen based uprising doesn’t require full air dominance & support. They just have to apply the same asymmetric warfare principles that were used against the US in Iraq, Afghanistan & Vietnam.
Secondly, what if you were? I could hand you 50 AR-15s, give you 1000 illegal bombs, steal you a couple of tanks, and smuggle in some bazookas, and even let you fully train 500 of your closest friends.
If the government wants your shit, they’re going to take it.
You still wouldn’t be a match for even a single battalion of the United States Marine Corps. Not to mention the Air Force, Army, Navy, National Guard, Secret Service, FBI, CIA, and Seals.
So stop acting like your little AR-15 is going to stop tyranny.
There’s the money shot! The argument is “your AR-15 doesn’t matter against the full weight of the US Government. At a base level, he’s correct – one person cannot stand against the government. One person, however, can make a difference, whether they are Ed Snowden, or Bradley Manning, or others. If Mr. Smalley had a base level of knowledge, he’d recall back to how WWI was started before making such a vacuous argument.
Here’s the thing though: We’ve been at war since just after 9/11 – 15 years now. Despite that, we haven’t been able to pacify two areas that are smaller than Texas. We still have troops deployed in Afghanistan, and despite “withdrawing” from Iraq, we have troops fighting there as well. So while one man with a rifle can’t make a difference, it would behoove Mr. Smalley to recall the riots in Baltimore and Ferguson, or the LA Riots from the 90s, before dismissing the effectiveness of large groups of people. Larry Correia has a great article on why your “citizens can’t stand up to the government” argument is not grounded in reality, I suggest you read it.
But that can’t be all of his argument now, can it? Of course not:
Just be honest. You like it because it makes your pee-pee big, and when you fire it, it gives you a tingle in your no-no place.
Of course, nobody could want an AR-15 (or equivalent rifle) because they are fun guns to shoot. Or that they are excellent for home protection. Or that they work for shooters as tall as 6’6″, or children barely in their teens. No, it’s because we’ve got little dicks. And Mr. Smalley has a vast amount of experience with the genitalia of gun owners because he’s clearly conversant and can speak from experience having handled many of them, right?
So what’s next? Oh, more of the usual antigun talking points:
A collection of studies from 2012-2013 found that having a gun in your home significantly increases your risk of death—and that of your spouse and children. If you have a gun (regardless of how it’s stored), everybody in your home is more likely than your non-gun-owning neighbors and their families to die in a gun-related accident, suicide or homicide.
Oh look, a list of 10 strawman arguments from Mother Jones, followed by a moronic “correlation = causation” argument that ignores that firearms homicides or suicides aren’t even on the top ten lists of ways to die in America. Guess what, Mr Smalley – owning a car makes it more likely you’ll be in a car accident too. Please, let go of your pearls.
Gun owners and their families are not more suicidal than non-gun-owners, research shows. Nor are they more likely to have a history of depression or other mental health problems.
But they—and their families—are at significantly increased risk of successfully taking their lives with a gun.
Sure, because firearms are pretty efficient like that. But, as I’ve stated before, “Remove guns, PROBLEM SOLVED” doesn’t work with suicides either, as people will switch methods. See (gun free) Japan with 2x our suicide rate, and (gun free) South Korea with more than 2x our suicide rate, and (heavily gun restricted) Belgium with 1.33 our suicide rate.
Next, Mr. Smalley fails at the google:
Let’s play a little research game. Google: “man fights off gang of bad guys with AR-15” and the first thing that pops up is a video of criminals shooting at a moving car with handguns. …
Your fantasy of wiping out those 14 burglars, like Rambo spraying bullets from your AR-15, just isn’t going to happen.
It doesn’t happen. Period.
It doesn’t happen? Oh ok. Let’s try that with videos. First result for “man defends with AR-15” is this:
Here’s another video:
And here’s a woman defending her home in Detroit with a Hi Point carbine:
Hmm, sure looks like people defend themselves with rifles, Mr. Smalley.
I’m not advocating for you to lose all your guns. Even aware of the statistical dangers, I struggle with what to do with mine. I want my kids to be educated on the dangers, but I don’t want to act like guns make me safer. At least if I’m being skeptical even when it hurts.
Ah yes, the “No one wants to take your guns” strawman rears its head.
Here’s an idea: Disarm yourself. If you don’t want a gun, don’t buy one. We’re pro-choice like that. As a matter of fact, I’d suggest you sell all of yours immediately because you sound like an asshole and I’d hate for you to hurt yourself or someone else. Because you aren’t being skeptical: you are showing confirmation bias and are ignoring information that counters your viewpoints.
Then comes the litany of gun control masturbation:
But we have to draw the line somewhere. The bottom line is, we just need common sense. And we need to stop lying to ourselves.
I detailed my proposal for gun legislation on Dogma Debate #211: Guns & Atheists. But here’s the gist of it:
Treat guns like cars.
Operating age limits
Restrict some models
Require safety inspections
I’m drawing the line well before that, because you aren’t educated enough about the laws to have a layman’s opinion and your facts are wrong.
Your laundry list is dumb for a few reason. For one, you don’t want to treat guns like cars, because if you did, you’d actually be making the case to loosen laws. Here’s a couple things for you to read about why your argument has the facts exactly backwards:
- Michael Z Williamson’s essay “We need to regulate cars the way we regulate guns“
- TTAG’s Debunking the “Guns should be Treated like Cars” Analogy
- Eugene Volokh’s “Why not regulate guns like cars?”
All of those lay it out in very simple language why your argument is dumb.
Mandatory licenses? This is a non-starter unless they are freely available on a shall-issue basis. By the way, Illinois has mandatory licenses for even purchasing ammunition under their Firearms Owner Identification requirements. Guess how that works out for them?
But hey, are you going to be ok with 16 year olds getting concealed carry permits? Because that’s what you are asking for.
Mandatory training? I’m down for that if you make it part of K-12 public school curriculum. Otherwise you are just using dogwhistle racism to try to deny those who live in lower income brackets the ability to defend themselves.
Mandatory insurance? There’s not an insurance company out there that’s going to cover criminal actions (the primary reason you want firearms insurance, right?) and suicide requirements are pretty strict in existing health insurance as well. But again, this goes back to dogwhistle racism as the people most likely to be victimized are also the same group disproportionately represented as homicide offenders.
Age limits? Why? This sounds like you aren’t interested in safety whatsoever. We have 360x more children 12 & under being injured in bicycle accidents every year (144,573 in 2014) than firearms (460 again 2014). Hell, almost 6800 kids under 12 almost drowned in 2014. Even looking at fatal injury data, bicycles killed 29 kids, 597 were drowned, 43 fell to their deaths, and 44 were killed unintentionally by firearms. Roughly the same number of kids died falling down stairs or off ladders as were accidentally shot. Double digit numbers of deaths, while tragic and horrendous for the families, are not reasons to curtail constitutional rights.
Model restrictions? Why? What restrictions? Let me guess, ones that scare you based on cosmetic features. We already have model restrictions, thanks, and we don’t need more for dubious reasons.
Safety inspections? Why? Sounds like you aren’t a fan of privacy either.
Mandatory registration? LOL no. Sorry! First, registration schemes are the epitome of Southpark’s Underpants Gnomes style gun control logic. It’s one of those ideas that sounds good in theory, but doesn’t actually work out in practice. Why? Because when guns are stolen, or straw purchased, or otherwise disappear, your registry is useless. Registries are good for one thing, and that’s revenue generation. Past that, they don’t work unless the firearm is recovered at the crime scene… and if you have the gun, you typically have the shooter too.
Finally, Background Checks. See Illinois above. If you want truly effective background checks, open a publicly accessible NICS portal that requires two party token authentication and you’ll have actual gun owners supporting the concept. Meanwhile until straw purchasing and the like are eliminated, not to mention burglary, you are missing the crime gun forest for the trees.
Oh look, another gun buyback…
A South Florida boxing gym is taking a stand against gun violence in hopes of making our neighborhoods safer. A gun buyback event is being held in Miami this weekend.
“We need you guys to turn in your guns. We need the community from all over Miami-Dade County to show up and show out because too many young people have been shot or killed by senseless gun violence,” said Rev. Jerome Starling, Jordan Grove Baptist Church.
Well, let’s see what the plan is:
The plan is to give people $100 gift cards for each working gun they turn in and $50 gift cards for guns that don’t work.
The Heavyweight Factory boxing gym in Hollywood is sponsoring the event and donating $100,000 for the gun buyback. The owner of the gym grew up in Liberty City.
Hmmm, $100 gift card? This seems like an excellent opportunity for enterprising buyers to offer $150 cash for any AR-15 or SW686 or Colt 1911s that would be turned in.
Or to head on down to Home Depot and make a few pipe guns.
The next time your left leaning friends decide to lecture you about how you are a terrible gun fetishist, feel free to refer to this well written piece:
Those of you who read this blog should be familiar with my use of the term “security theater” and how most gun control proposals are little more than soundbites. Thomas Sowell, noted economist, wrote an article covering yesterday’s Presidential address and reminded me of the flip side; political theater.
Those who have been marveling at Donald Trump’s political showmanship were given a reminder of who is the top showman of them all, when President Obama went on television to make a pitch for his unilateral actions to restrict gun sales and make a more general case for tighter gun-control laws.
It was beautifully choreographed, like a great ballet, and performed with consummate skill and understated eloquence.
First of all, the scene was set with a room full of people who have lost loved ones to gun violence. A father whose son had been gunned down made a long introduction before the president showed up, walked down the aisle and up onto the stage to growing applause.
As political theater, it put Donald Trump’s rantings in the shade.
As for the substance of what Obama said, there was very little substance, and much of it false, but one of the signs of great artistry was that the presentation overshadowed the substance.
None of the things proposed by the president is likely to reduce gun violence. Like other restrictions on people’s ability to defend themselves, or to deter attacks by showing that they are armed, these new restrictions can cost more lives on net balance.
I’m always glad to read when my point of view is the same as others that I respect.
People who are prepared to defy the laws against murder are not very likely to be stopped by laws against guns. Only law-abiding citizens are likely to be stopped by gun-control laws, and to become sitting ducks.
As for facts and statistics, the only ones likely to be mentioned by gun-control zealots, including the media, are those on how many people were killed by guns. How many lives were saved by guns will never make it through the ideological filters of the media, the political establishment or our educational institutions.
Yet factual data on how many threats or attacks were deterred in a given year by displaying a firearm have long been available. Seldom is it necessary to actually pull the trigger to get some thug or criminal to back off and go elsewhere, often in some haste.
Are the only lives that matter those that are lost, usually because there is no gun immediately available to protect them, but not the lives saved because they did have a gun at hand to protect them?
Gun-control zealots seem especially opposed to people being allowed to carry their guns concealed. But concealed weapons protect not only those who carry them, but also to some extent those who do not, because criminals have no way of knowing in advance who does and does not have a gun.
Muggings and rapes become much more dangerous activities for criminals where many law-abiding people are allowed to carry concealed guns. It can take a lot of the fun out of being a thug.
Obama said that we are the only “advanced” nation with so much gun violence. But there are a number of countries with higher murder rates than ours and stronger gun-control laws. But that leaves the definition of “advanced” to Obama — and makes for clever political theater.
Damn straight. Thank you Dr. Sowell, for seeing through the bullshit.
I love Reason’s articles so very, very much. I can always count on them to be levelheaded when it comes to this topic:
This week, in an editorial titled “Don’t Blame Mental Illness for Gun Violence,” The New York Times noted that “less than 5 percent of gun homicides between 2001 and 2010 were committed by people with diagnoses of mental illness.” The week before last, in a front-page editorial titled “End the Gun Epidemic in America,” the Times urged Congress to ban “the slightly modified combat rifles used in California,” a.k.a. “assault weapons” (although the rifles used in the San Bernardino massacre did not qualify for that label under California law). FBI data indicate that rifles in general, which include many guns that are not considered “assault weapons,” were used in about 2 percent of homicides (and 3 percent of gun homicides) last year.
Why does the Times understand percentages when it comes to people with psychiatric diagnoses but not when it comes to people with guns? Probably because fear and loathing of firearms prevent its editorialists from thinking straight. But in light of these numbers, it seems quite unlikely that a ban on so-called assault weapons—even if it somehow eliminated the millions of “assault weapons” already in circulation, and even if murderers did not simply switch to other, equally lethal guns—would have a noticeable impact on gun violence, let alone that it would “end the gun epidemic in America.”
Why isn’t anyone else pointing out the double standards? Why is it ok to paint gun owners with the broadest brush possible and use guilt-by-association tactics to imply we’re all mass murderers or borderline psychotics, while every effort is made to diminish any similar claims about other groups?
It’s shameful, but at least they are blatant.