19 April 2007

Gun control

I'm not going to try to write a comprehensive posting about the Virginia Tech massacre here. Instead, I want to focus on one specific point which this atrocity has thrown into sharp relief.

Predictably, the news had barely hit the net when all the usual gun-control fanatics came out of the woodwork trying to exploit the murders as a pretext to push this or that new restriction. All their arguments were the same as they always are -- only the context was new.

Well, Virginia Tech already had a completely gun-free policy. Even people licensed to carry concealed weapons under Virginia law were not allowed to carry them on campus. That simply guaranteed that none of the students or professors would be armed and able to stop the massacre in its tracks. Just one student or professor with a gun could probably have shot the murderer soon after the killings began, and most of those victims who are now dead would still be alive.

If I were a nihilistic monster plotting a big mass killing like this, I would certainly plan on doing it somewhere where guns were banned, so that no one could stop me (until the police arrived, which would take plenty of time). I wouldn’t do it somewhere where I knew many people had guns and I would probably be killed myself long before I’d carried out my intentions.

No matter what laws we have, a criminal who is determined enough to get a gun will always be able to get one. Gun bans disarm only law-abiding people.

Let me re-emphasize that. No matter what laws we have, a criminal who is determined enough to get a gun will always be able to get one. Gun bans disarm only law-abiding people. This is the central point of the entire issue. In all the debates and arguments I've seen on the internet since the Virginia Tech massacre (or ever), the would-be gun-banners have never been able to address this.

We have laws which totally prohibit marijuana and cocaine, yet people who are willing to break the law are still able to get those things. Prohibition banned alcohol entirely, yet people who were willing to break the law were still able to obtain it. Gun bans are no more effective.

The gun-control laws in Britain have become stricter and stricter over the last few years, to the point that they are now among the strictest on the planet — and as an entirely predictable result of that, gun crime has been increasing there.

Facts are facts. Gun control disarms victims and empowers criminals. The anti-gun crusader is the unwitting ally of the burglar, the rapist, and the murderer.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Patrick Bateman said...

"Gun bans disarm only law-abiding people."

I strongly dispute this. Guns being widely available surely make it easier for law-abiding citizen and madman alike to arm themselves.

Are you suggesting that a total ban on firearms would have prompted this guy to get in touch with his local organised crime syndicate and obtain the tools needed to commit his atrocity? Or is it more likely that he might have killed one or two people another way and then killed himself?

As someone said in a newspaper here, guns may not kill people, people may kill people, but guns make it a hell of a lot more efficient.

In addition, does your reasoning apply to say, making murder illegal? Making assault illegal? Making dangerous driving illegal?

20 April, 2007 00:21  
Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

I would tend to disagree on the grounds that it is not a simple black white issue. You cannot make a simple equation that more guns equals less crime. Cananda has as many guns per capita as we do, and far less crime. there are more issues at stake than simply more guns or less guns. Anyway, how could we possibly have more guns? The laws are not very strict as it is. Surely you don't advocate more semi-automatic weapons in the hands of college students. (Imagine the fun at frat parties!)

The question should really be how can we change our culture to not embrace violence. It is possible, Canada is evidence of this. Gun laws are perhaps something of a red herring when looking at the whole picture.

20 April, 2007 04:32  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Guns being widely available surely make it easier for law-abiding citizen and madman alike to arm themselves.

But the madman is far more strongly motivated to overcome whatever difficulties the law creates. And the law-abiding citizen is likely to feel inhibited in trying to obtain a gun just because it is illegal, while a person who is planning murder obviously does not feel the slightest inhibition about breaking the law.

Are you suggesting that a total ban on firearms would have prompted this guy to get in touch with his local organised crime syndicate and obtain the tools needed to commit his atrocity?

What I'm saying is that such a ban would not have stopped him from getting hold of guns to carry out his attack. See my examples of marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol.

In addition, does your reasoning apply to say, making murder illegal? Making assault illegal? Making dangerous driving illegal?

Those aren't comparable cases because they're laws against actions, whereas gun bans are laws against the mere possession of something. Anyway, I'm not disputing the fact that a gun ban would reduce the number of people who have guns -- it's just that all the reduction would take place among law-abiding people who only want them for self-defense. Criminals would still have them.

You cannot make a simple equation that more guns equals less crime. Cananda has as many guns per capita as we do, and far less crime.

If so, that undermines the argument that the pervasiveness of guns in the US somehow causes crime, doesn't it?

Making comparisons between countries (or even between American states) can be misleading because cultural differences have a huge impact on crime rates. Even Canada is not culturally identical to the US (for that matter, Oregon is not culturally identical to Alabama). When you compare changes in gun possession laws to crime rates within the same culture area over time, you find that it is indeed true that "more guns equals less crime" in most cases -- see my example of Britain.

Surely you don't advocate more semi-automatic weapons in the hands of college students.

All I'm saying is that if Virginia Tech allowed people who already have concealed-carry permits (which, in most states, require taking a gun-safety class and other preconditions) to carry their guns on campus, this disaster would not have happened. The average US Army soldier is both younger and less educated than the average college student, and soldiers have easy access to firearms, yet they handle them responsibly.

The question should really be how can we change our culture to not embrace violence.

Changing a whole culture is enormously difficult, especially in a society like the US where people are individualistic and independent, and resistant to anything that smacks of top-down guidance. (And there is an irreducible basic level of violent impulses in an intelligent species which evolved from creatures as short-tempered and aggressive as chimpanzees, as a thoughtful orangutan should surely be aware.) Changing gun laws, by contrast, is relatively easy.

20 April, 2007 05:28  
Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

I hope I don't sound too antagonistic. I love a good debate, but I am afraid that my language might sound too terse. My apologies in advance. your argument is as sound any other, and you present your case well. I just disagree.

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Zaius: You cannot make a simple equation that more guns equals less crime. Cananda has as many guns per capita as we do, and far less crime.

Infidel753: If so, that undermines the argument that the pervasiveness of guns in the US somehow causes crime, doesn't it?
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Why yes, that is sort of what I said, isn't it? I did not argue that the pervasiveness of guns was the only cause of crime. Your powers of observation serve you well.

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Infidel753: Making comparisons between countries (or even between American states) can be misleading because cultural differences have a huge impact on crime rates.
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Missing entirely the point that differences between cultures can be a good place to look for ways to stop crime, as the guns themselves seem to only be one of many factors in a complex equation.

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Infidel753: When you compare changes in gun possession laws to crime rates within the same culture area over time, you find that it is indeed true that "more guns equals less crime" in most cases -- see my example of Britain.
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And thus by your theory, the only cause of a decrease in crime in the any example cited will always be due to either the lack of or abundance of guns. That's the nail theory - if the only thing that you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

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Zaius: Surely you don't advocate more semi-automatic weapons in the hands of college students.

Infidel753: All I'm saying is that if Virginia Tech allowed people who already have concealed-carry permits (which, in most states, require taking a gun-safety class and other preconditions) to carry their guns on campus, this disaster would not have happened.
----------------

Perhaps this true, perhaps not. mass murders are not very uncommon. There is no real way to make an accurate prediction or reading about them. On the other hand, it can be proven statistically that stupid accidents involving students, beer and guns generally happen far less when guns are not present. ;0)

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Zaius: The question should really be how can we change our culture to not embrace violence.

Infidel753: Changing a whole culture is enormously difficult, [...] Changing gun laws, by contrast, is relatively easy.
----------------

Without finding a true cause or solution, you are ready to use your hammer on the answer that looks most like a nail. What gun laws would you change? Guns on campus? And you would do this to avoid another madman? OK, I just see this as a solution that is limited in scope and carries with it many dangers as well. Kids and guns are like kids and cars. The insurance premiums will be expensive, among other things.

It kind reminds me of this Boy Scout skit:

Scout #2: Hey, what are you looking for?
Scout #1: I lost a quarter.
Scout #2: Here, I'll help you find it. (starts searching in same area)

Scout #3: Hey, what are you looking for?
Scout #1: I lost a quarter.
Scout #3: Here, I'll help you find it. (starts searching in same area)

(After searching awhile, a scout finally asks)

Scout #2: Man, I just don't see it. Are you sure you lost that quarter here?
Scout #1: No, I didn't lose it here. I lost it over there.
Scout #2: What? Then, why are we searching over here?
Scout #1: Because the light is better over here!

20 April, 2007 10:36  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Missing entirely the point that differences between cultures can be a good place to look for ways to stop crime

Actually, I didn't. I pointed out later that changing culture is enormously difficult. Changing laws is easier. It makes sense to look first at the solutions which can actually be implemented, rather than at solutions which could theoretically work, but in practice can't be implemented.

And thus by your theory, the only cause of a decrease in crime in the any example cited will always be due to either the lack of or abundance of guns. That's the nail theory - if the only thing that you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Not at all. Obviously many factors can affect crime rates. But if crime rates go up, and only one other variable in the equation has changed, it makes sense to look at that variable for the cause.

All I'm saying is that if Virginia Tech allowed people who already have concealed-carry permits (which, in most states, require taking a gun-safety class and other preconditions) to carry their guns on campus, this disaster would not have happened.

Perhaps this true, perhaps not.


On what basis can you argue otherwise? If Virginia Tech students with concealed-carry permits had routinely had their guns with them, then soon after Cho started killing people, one of them would have shot and killed him, and most of the people he killed would still be alive because he would have been dead before he had a chance to kill them. Isn't that obvious?

Without finding a true cause or solution, you are ready to use your hammer on the answer that looks most like a nail. What gun laws would you change?

I already explained that -- remove the campus's rule that people with concealed-carry permits (who have already been trained and shown that they can handle guns responsibly) cannot have their guns with them on campus.

I'm not sure what you mean by a "true cause or solution". Where human behavior is concerned, we never actually "solve" a "problem" -- we just exchange a worse situation for a better one. The main cause of mass-murder incidents is the fact that a certain tiny but non-zero number of people are sociopathic or otherwise dangerously maladjusted. At the present state of human knowledge, this is beyond our power to change. All we can do is try to ensure that when such people turn violent, they can be stopped as quickly as possible.

20 April, 2007 12:27  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

PS Note also that my main purpose in writing this posting was to argue against the people who are calling for tighter restrictions on guns than we already have -- by pointing out that the campus already had tighter restrictions than the general society does, and that it was precisely those tighter restrictions that allowed Cho to kill so many people with impunity.

20 April, 2007 12:32  
Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

This is just for fun, but I like this discussion!

Infidel753: I pointed out later that changing culture is enormously difficult. Changing laws is easier. It makes sense to look first at the solutions which can actually be implemented, rather than at solutions which could theoretically work, but in practice can't be implemented.

First you have to demonstrate that your solution is viable before you implement it. (I think you are skipping steps.) Also, I proposed further research, not a solution.

Infidel753: But if crime rates go up, and only one other variable in the equation has changed, it makes sense to look at that variable for the cause.

Have you actually demonstrated that all other variables in the equation have not changed? (I think you are skipping steps.) I remain unconvinced by your model.

Infidel753: On what basis can you argue otherwise? If Virginia Tech students with concealed-carry permits had routinely had their guns with them, then soon after Cho started killing people, one of them would have shot and killed him, and most of the people he killed would still be alive because he would have been dead before he had a chance to kill them. Isn't that obvious?

Sure. But if you arm all of the students, don't you also arm all of the "Cho's" that are on medication and didn't have a gun before? The general safety of the students is really the question at hand. If you arm all the students, then you also arm all of the mentally ill students, and the students who are mad at their girlfriend/boyfriend, and the students who are drunk, and the students who are stupid, etc. I think the matter deserves research, not a quick decision as you propose.

Think about it this way, if you were an armed maniac and you wanted to kill as many people as possible at a college with armed students without getting shot yourself, don't you think that you could conceive of a best case scenario that would grant you results similar to Cho's? A time and place where others would probably not have their guns? Whoops! Solves nothing then. The criminal mind can think around just about any heroic ideal. They are usually even better at it than we are.

Infidel753: Without finding a true cause or solution, you are ready to use your hammer on the answer that looks most like a nail. What gun laws would you change?

Automatic and semi-automatic weapons need a lot more policing than they are getting. Especially automatic weapons. As I stated before, though, I am not convinced that the guns are the only issue. We need to look at ourselves and find other solutions for our violence. Poverty causes a lot crime, for example. Building more prisons is not necasarily the best solution to that issue.

Infidel753: I already explained that -- remove the campus's rule that people with concealed-carry permits (who have already been trained and shown that they can handle guns responsibly) cannot have their guns with them on campus.

Yes, and then those who have not already been trained and have not shown that they can handle guns responsibly will do just Cho did, sneak it in. What's the difference? And then you still have the students who are mad at their girlfriend/boyfriend, and the students who are drunk, and the students who are stupid, who are suicidal, etc. now playing with their guns on a Saturday night.

Infidel753: The main cause of mass-murder incidents is the fact that a certain tiny but non-zero number of people are sociopathic or otherwise dangerously maladjusted. At the present state of human knowledge, this is beyond our power to change. All we can do is try to ensure that when such people turn violent, they can be stopped as quickly as possible.

Often times the best solution is to stop a problem before it happens. The system failed in this case. The government does like to fund mental illness issues, which may have contributed. I think that you are weighing the potential danger of a lot of smaller gun incidents over time if the student population is armed, against the chance of the one lone guy that goes nuts. He can probably figure around the other armed students anyway.

Infidel753: PS Note also that my main purpose in writing this posting was to argue against the people who are calling for tighter restrictions on guns than we already have -- by pointing out that the campus already had tighter restrictions than the general society does, and that it was precisely those tighter restrictions that allowed Cho to kill so many people with impunity.

Hey, it's only a discussion. It's fun to debate these things. I'm not even sure that I'm right, it's just my opinion. You have brought up several good points.

I'm not sure how accurate these statistics are, but:

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(A) The number of physicians in the U.S. is 700,000.
(B) Accidental deaths caused by Physicians per year are 120,000.
(C) Accidental deaths per physician is 0.171.

(Statistics courtesy of U.S. Dept. of Health Human Services)

Guns
(A) The number of gun owners in the U.S. is 80,000,000.
Yes, that is 80 million.

(B) The number of accidental gun deaths per year, all age groups, is 1,500.
(C) The number of accidental deaths per gun owner is 0.000188.

Statistically, doctors are approximately 9,000 times more dangerous than gun owners.
Remember, "Guns don't kill people, doctors do."

FACT: NOT EVERYONE HAS A GUN, BUT ALMOST EVERYONE HAS AT LEAST ONE DOCTOR.
rense.com
--------
So how bad can guns really be?

20 April, 2007 15:04  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

But if you arm all of the students,

As I've said multiple times, that's not what I was talking about. I was talking about rescinding the policy that says people with concealed-carry permits can't have guns on campus. Also, my primary purpose was to argue against the people who want to put tighter restrictions on guns. I'm not calling for a change in the status quo. I'm arguing against people who want to change the status quo in a way I think would put us all in more danger.

then you also arm all of the mentally ill students, and the students who are mad at their girlfriend/boyfriend, and the students who are drunk, and the students who are stupid, etc.

The only people who would be allowed to have guns on campus would be the same people who are already allowed to have them everywhere else in Virginia.

Think about it this way, if you were an armed maniac and you wanted to kill as many people as possible at a college with armed students without getting shot yourself, don't you think that you could conceive of a best case scenario that would grant you results similar to Cho's?

Possibly, but it would at least make things a lot more difficult for the murderer. Again, I do not claim any measure can completely eliminate the problem, only that rescinding the gun ban on campus would make such events easier to stop, which is still progress.

Yes, and then those who have not already been trained and have not shown that they can handle guns responsibly will do just Cho did, sneak it in.

They could do that whether or not the ban on guns on campus was rescinded. Keeping the ban only means that people who are concerned about obeying the law will be unarmed.

First you have to demonstrate that your solution is viable before you implement it. (I think you are skipping steps.) Also, I proposed further research, not a solution.

Again, my primary purpose is to argue against a bad solution (more gun restrictions) which other people are proposing, not to propose a solution of my own. The suggestion that people with concealed-carry permits should be allowed to have their guns on campus was an illustration (that is, to say that a situation similar to those people's proposed solution already existed on this campus, and it merely made the killer's job easier). Removing the ban would merely apply the same rules to the campus that already apply to the rest of Virginia.

Often times the best solution is to stop a problem before it happens.

But as I already explained, in most cases we can't do that. We need to ensure that people can defend themselves in those cases.

Have you actually demonstrated that all other variables in the equation have not changed? (I think you are skipping steps.) I remain unconvinced by your model.

The same correlation has been observed in other places. It's a reasonable assumption.

The burden of proof should be on those who want to take away the legal right of law-abiding people to have guns for self-defense. Some people (though I rather think of them as vultures) have seized upon this massacre as a pretext to propose that. That's what my posting was intended to address.

20 April, 2007 17:22  
Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

Infidel753: I was talking about rescinding the policy that says people with concealed-carry permits can't have guns on campus. Also, my primary purpose was to argue against the people who want to put tighter restrictions on guns. I'm not calling for a change in the status quo. I'm arguing against people who want to change the status quo in a way I think would put us all in more danger.

Our views on guns overall seem to only really differ in regards to guns on campus. How our opinions are arrived at about the subject seem to be very different, though. You really like guns, I don't. But they are in the second amendment, and you are never going to get rid of them. I can only hope for a few better controls. I am not convinced that an outright ban on guns would stop crime or suicides. The issue is deeper than that.

Phrases like "put us all in more danger" Makes one think of a slippery slope.

Infidel753: Possibly, but it would at least make things a lot more difficult for the murderer.

It might make things more difficult for the mass murderer, but there is some doubt that more guns on campus would make ordinary, everyday accidents, murder and suicide easier. I have met college students that I don't think really ought to be trusted with serving a meal, much less driving a car or handling other potentially dangerous devices. I know that you talk about training and certifying an elite corp of college student vigilantes, but who will watch the people handing out the certificates? "Who watches the watchmen?"

Infidel753: Again, I do not claim any measure can completely eliminate the problem, only that rescinding the gun ban on campus would make such events easier to stop, which is still progress.

Within the narrow framework of a mass murder such as what happened at Virginia Tech, I concede that your solution of more handguns might have come in handy. I am still concerned about all of the other scenarios I have already discussed. The cost in human life may well prove to be higher without a ban, as the students kill each other and themselves as murders, accidents and suicides.

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Zaius: Yes, and then those who have not already been trained and have not shown that they can handle guns responsibly will do just Cho did, sneak it in.

Infidel753: They could do that whether or not the ban on guns on campus was rescinded. Keeping the ban only means that people who are concerned about obeying the law will be unarmed.
-------------------------------------------------

So either way the bad guy is armed. With a ban everyday suicides, accidents and crimes of passion are avoided. Without a ban, you might be able to play Matt Dillion with that one in a trillion lunatic, but you also get the everyday suicides, accidents and crimes of passion. I am not convinced that the trade-off you suggest is favorable.

Infidel753: But as I already explained, in most cases we can't do that. We need to ensure that people can defend themselves in those cases.

What cases? This one case? Shall we arm our high school students as well? When do we stop? Third grade? Second? OK, assume that now everyone is armed, how do we stop this guy? (Ha! This is my slippery slope argument in the other direction!) I think that sometimes you have to catch your breath and think things through before taking an action of this nature. There has been no concrete evidence that you solution (guns in college) would cause less deaths nationwide, except within the narrow confines of this one fairly unique case at Virginia Tech.

-------------------------------------------------
Zaius: Have you actually demonstrated that all other variables in the equation have not changed? (I think you are skipping steps.) I remain unconvinced by your model.

Infidel753: The same correlation has been observed in other places. It's a reasonable assumption.
-------------------------------------------------

And I must say that once again that I believe that you have skipped a step, from A to C, with only a vague reference of B. People have said all manner of things on this subject, citing studies and statistics, none of which can be called anything more than "controversial." Here is an opposing view. I am not convinced that this article is 100% correct either. The subject is drenched with people's beliefs on the issue.

Infidel753: The burden of proof should be on those who want to take away the legal right of law-abiding people to have guns for self-defense. Some people (though I rather think of them as vultures) have seized upon this massacre as a pretext to propose that. That's what my posting was intended to address.

Yes, well, I think that your post has grown into more than that! Also, many have seized upon this massacre as a pretext to propose many different things. Anything newsworthy can be twisted to some political end.

I don't think that our views on guns overall really differ that much. Our different viewpoints make for interesting discussion, though! My apologies, I shall attempt to be less verbose in future messages!

In Ape City, in the future, only gorillas are allowed to handle guns. That works out just fine. The gorillas mostly only shoot at humans and each other, so the rest of us are safe!

21 April, 2007 02:19  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Our views on guns overall seem to only really differ in regards to guns on campus.

Probably so.

You really like guns

Only in the sense that I "really like" going to the dentist. Guns in the hands of the law-abiding public are necessary as protection against problems which can't realistically be addressed any other way.

and you are never going to get rid of [guns].

Well, maybe not until some other form of technology makes them obsolete, but that's a whole other issue.

I know that you talk about training and certifying an elite corp of college student vigilantes

I do not talk about any such thing. For the umpteenth time, my suggestion was that people with concealed-carry permits should be allowed to have their guns on campus, which would merely apply the same rules to the campus that already apply to the rest of Virginia. Please do not distort what I said. In any case, this was a passing mention in a posting meant to defend the overall status quo in society in general from those who want further restrictions, by pointing out that there is already a place -- the campus -- where those further restrictions apply, and they did not help.

If there are problems with the permit process such that some unstable people are getting concealed-carry permits, then the solution is to fix the permit process, not to create arbitrary geographical zones within which all the permits are not valid.

Shall we arm our high school students as well? When do we stop? Third grade? Second?

Nothing I said could reasonably be taken as suggesting such a thing. No state issues concealed-carry permits to kids that young.

Yes, well, I think that your post has grown into more than that!

No, it hasn't. All that's happened is that some people somehow have misread a very clear argument against changing the status quo as an argument for changing it.

Also, many have seized upon this massacre as a pretext to propose many different things.

And I'm sure that many other bloggers have written postings addressing those proposals that they didn't like. I was addressing the proposal (tighter gun control) that I didn't like. As I said in the first sentence, I was not attempting a comprehensive discussion of the massacre and all the issues it raises.

I really think we have exhausted the subject.

In Ape City, in the future, only gorillas are allowed to handle guns. That works out just fine.

Heh. Seriously, I've long thought that if humans had evolved from any of the other three great ape species (bonobos, gorillas, or orangutans) instead of from a chimpanzee-like ancestor, we would be much less violent as a species in most respects. That's a whole other vast subject, though.

21 April, 2007 07:45  

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