Sandy Hook

January 11, 2013

Well, I have one thing in common with gun control advocates: We're pissed and we never want this to happen again. But we're pretty far apart when it comes to the solution.

I sometimes wonder if the gun control crowd is serious, or if they were just looking for a subject in which they could demonstrate every known logical fallacy for the benefit of students everywhere.

For what it's worth, I have a kid starting school this year. This is not some abstract policy discussion to me.

First Things First

I've seen many people argue in various ways that the right to self-defense isn't worth the lives of children. In other words, the practical concerns outweigh the philosophical. When someone who's been trying to violate our rights for 40+ years tells us it's because of something that happened last month, it's a little hard to take them seriously, but let's try.

When President Obama addressed the country, he made several statements beginning with "The majority of Americans support—" in reference to various gun control proposals. The majority of Americans would probably support sterilizing Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. This is an example of the Appeal to Popularity fallacy. You're not allowed to do things simply because the idea is popular.

Others have said that the Second Amendment doesn't mean what we think it means, or that the founders would never have wanted this. I'm going to say something you won't often hear in an argument for gun rights: What the founders thought then, or would think now doesn't matter. The Second Amendment, like all the others, recognized a right. It did not create one. What the founders gave us was a powerful legal defense to protect our rights from a legal assault.

The rights to own things or defend ourselves did not magically pop into existence to support the Revolutionary War. None of our rights magically disappeared when that war ended, and the opinion of "the majority of Americans" cannot make them go away. Rights exist as long as people exist. Changes in time, technology, circumstances, or laws do not change rights.

Ignoring this concept for practical concerns is not an option. There are practical benefits to chattel slavery too. Now picture it: You're sitting across from someone and, with a straight face, they're trying to convince you this country needs slaves. Are you listening with an open mind? Are you at all swayed by statistics and anecdotes? That is how ridiculous you sound to us when you talk about limiting access to guns. Even if you don't agree, I hope you will at least see where we're coming from and why we're so resolute.

We stick to our guns, literally and figuratively, because any political body that thinks it can decide what our rights are "worth", or which of our rights are optional, is more dangerous than 1,000 madmen with AR-15s.

Answering the Gun Control Advocates

It's important to realize that gun control can't deliver the practical benefit it's selling anyway. It's an illusion that results from conflating two ideas: getting rid of guns, and making guns illegal. Getting rid of guns (assuming it was done uniformly) would unquestionably provide many benefits to humankind. But that's not possible. Making guns illegal provides no benefits to society, and imposes terrible costs.

I also urge everyone to think of the solution, not the problem. If you go to a store for cereal and you can't see the sign above any aisle, will you wander back and forth for hours looking for it? No. You came to buy cereal. Don't get hung up on finding a sign. In this case, heavily armed civilians are not the problem we need to solve. Mass public shootings are.

So, here's how we stop these shootings almost completely:

  1. Eliminate their hunting grounds, a.k.a. gun free zones. Let all law abiding people carry guns wherever they want and publicize it.
  2. Stop turning the shooters into celebrities.

But didn't you hear? Mother Jones specifically studied cases where no one shot back and discovered that in every one of them, no one shot back! Mother Jones only included incidents where four or more people were killed. In the many cases where armed citizens intervene, the body count doesn't get that high, you assholes! The story isn't that, in cases with four or more deaths, no one had a gun. The story is that when one or more victims has a gun, the death toll never gets above three. More like this please!

Now quick, name just one of the shooters from one of the incidents that was interrupted. I know I can't. They're effectively anonymous. Again, this is exactly what we want.

From the Mother Jones post:

In the fierce debate that always follows the latest mass shooting, it's an argument you hear frequently from gun rights promoters: If only more people were armed, there would be a better chance of stopping these terrible events. This has plausibility problems—what are the odds that, say, a moviegoer with a pack of Twizzlers in one pocket and a Glock in the other would be mentally prepared, properly positioned, and skilled enough to take out a body-armored assailant in a smoke- and panic-filled theater?

Here is an example of the Appeal to Ridicule fallacy supported by a False Dilemma. The snarky implication is that, unless you're Jason Bourne, a gun is useless in your hands.

The world is not separated into super-assassins and bumbling doofuses. The appropriate contrast here is between a moviegoer with Twizzlers in one pocket and a Glock in the other, and the same moviegoer with only the Twizzlers. That's who's going to be there. Which of the two has a more plausible chance now? If you could somehow magically go back and hand a gun to one of the moviegoers in that theater, would you refuse on the grounds that it might not help?

Let's not overlook the double standard at work here. On the one hand, guns don't belong in civilian hands because any antisocial pansy can use them to kill dozens of people. On the other hand, there's no point allowing decent civilians to have guns because they can't do anything effective with them. Guns allow bad guys to shoot multiple people, but the idea that a good guy can shoot just one "has plausibility problems". Which is it?

The consistent thread in these arguments isn't "guns are dangerous"; it's "we don't want you to have them". Gun control advocates can certainly recognize the truth in an adage like "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." It just doesn't dissuade them because controlling people is exactly what they were after in the first place.

…one striking pattern in the data is this: In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun.

Was there a single case where civilians were allowed to have guns? What's striking about the fact that none of them did? Who is it that pushes for these gun free zones, by the way?

Armed civilians attempting to intervene are actually more likely to increase the bloodshed, says Hargarten, "given that civilian shooters are less likely to hit their targets than police in these circumstances." A chaotic scene in August at the Empire State Building put this starkly into perspective when New York City police officers confronting a gunman wounded nine innocent bystanders.

Umm. You know that isn't an example of what you just talked about, right? I don't disagree that, on average, cops will be better marksmen than civilians, but this is an odd way to make the case.

This is another false dilemma anyway. We're meant to contrast an armed civilian in the middle of a shooting with a cop in the middle of a shooting, but that's a fantasy. The real-world contrast is usually between an armed civilian in the middle of a shooting, and a cop who won't even get the call for another three minutes.

In March of this year, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that concealed weapons are legal on the state's college campuses. (It is now the fifth state explicitly allowing them.) If former neuroscience student James Holmes were still attending the University of Colorado today, the movie theater killer—who had no criminal history and obtained his weapons legally—could've gotten a permit to tote his pair of .40 caliber Glocks straight into the student union.

What a stupid thing to say. What was stopping him from bringing guns to the student union before? How do you know he wasn't doing it routinely? If that was his target, do you think he would have gotten a permit first? He wasn't allowed to bring his legally obtained guns into the movie theater, after all. So many questions.

It doesn't matter where he takes his guns. It matters what he does with them.

Now we turn to Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker who, in arguing for gun control, has provided some excellent arguments in favor of arming teachers and other civilians.

In Scotland, after Dunblane, in Australia, after Tasmania, in Canada, after the Montreal massacre—in each case the necessary laws were passed to make gun-owning hard, and in each case… well, you will note the absence of massacre-condolence speeches made by the Prime Ministers of Canada and Australia, in comparison with our own President.

This is an example of the Misleading Vividness fallacy. Mass shootings get a lot of attention, but high profile anecdotes are still just anecdotes. They're not the whole of reality.

The fact is, in the United States, crime is at a 40 year low. Gun violence specifically is at a 40 year low.

As for the rest of the world, per capita comparisons to Europe show similar rates of multiple-victim public shootings. That alone is pretty damning to the gun control argument, but I can do even better. Gun control advocates have explicitly and repeatedly said mass shootings in the U.S. are a direct result of all the guns. If that's the case, shouldn't we make it a per gun comparison instead of a per capita one?

A 2003 survey found that Europe had 17.4 guns per 100 people, while the U.S. had between 83-96. With roughly the same number of mass shootings per capita, that means mass shootings per gun are roughly 5 times higher in Europe. And as gun control advocates love to point out, the number of guns has surged in the U.S. since then, making their case even weaker.

Australia has had no mass shootings since banning guns in 1996. That's great, but it's not the whole story. What else has happened in Australia since then?

Crime Change
Armed Robberies up 69%
Assaults with guns up 28%
Gun murders up 19%
Home Invasions up 21%

To ignore these things based on the regularity of mass shootings is irresponsible and cruel.

As I wrote last January, the central insight of the modern study of criminal violence is that all crime—even the horrific violent crimes of assault and rape—is at some level opportunistic. Building a low annoying wall against them is almost as effective as building a high impenetrable one.

Yes, yes, exactly! The mere possibility that a few victims might be armed is precisely the sort of low annoying wall that would prevent these shootings. To revisit a previous example, Jason Bourne is a high impenetrable wall, and an unprepared moviegoer with Twizzlers and a Glock is a low annoying wall.

The "crime" he refers to preventing is of course gun ownership, not murder. But buying things and owning things isn't a transgression in need of prevention. Who's rights are being violated? He would make criminals of 40% of U.S. households overnight.

Some will point out that a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used on the owner or a family member as it is on an attacker. Let's assume this Appeal to Fear is numerically accurate. These same people love to point out that the chance of you using a gun to stop an attacker in your lifetime is effectively 0. They never make these statements back to back of course, because 22 x 0 is not particularly scary. And how does this not-scary-in-the-first-place number compare to something like a swimming pool in the back yard, or a car in the garage that you regularly drive? Do you try to scare people away from those far more dangerous things?

What the New York Police Department found out, through empirical experience and better organization, was that making crime even a little bit harder made it much, much rarer. This is undeniably true of property crime, and common sense and evidence tells you that this is also true even of crimes committed by crazy people (to use the plain English the subject deserves). Those who hold themselves together enough to be capable of killing anyone are subject to the same rules of opportunity as sane people. Even madmen need opportunities to display their madness, and behave in different ways depending on the possibilities at hand. Demand an extraordinary degree of determination and organization from someone intent on committing a violent act, and the odds that the violent act will take place are radically reduced, in many cases to zero.

Yes again! Exactly! If you think good people with guns won't dissuade an insane, suicidal person because he wants to die anyway, you couldn't be more wrong. These shooters have a sick plan. Carrying out "the plan" is literally more important to them than life itself. And the plan falls apart if they aren't convinced they'll be in complete control once it starts. They won't even try. Arguments about the effectiveness of unprepared moviegoers and teachers with guns during a shooting (poor aim, lack of training, surprise, confusion, etc.) are immaterial when there is no shooting in the first place. This is what we're after, people!

…the inflated figure of guns used in self-defense every year, running even to a million or two million, is a pure fantasy, even though it’s still cited by pro-gun enthusiasts. Those hundreds of thousands intruders shot by gun owners left no records in emergency wards or morgues; indeed, left no evidentiary trace behind. This is because they did not exist.

Ah, the 'ol Straw Man. No one is claiming that over a million assailants are being shot every year. Using a gun to stop someone does not necessarily mean shooting them. In fact, it almost never means that.

I’m grateful to my colleague Jeffrey Toobin for showing so well that the idea that the Second Amendment assures individual possession of guns, so far from being deeply rooted in American law, is in truth a new and bizarre reading, one that would have shocked even Warren Burger.

I've asked this before but it bears repeating: Do you honestly believe that 9 amendments in the Bill of Rights were meant to protect the rights of individuals, but the Second Amendment was only meant to protect the rights of a government entity? Honestly? What would be the point of that anyway?

Say you do believe that about the Second Amendment. What about the Ninth? Do we have the right to exchange goods with each other? Do we have the right to defend ourselves? Of course we do.

Our existence alone is iron-clad justification for individual gun ownership.

The Nail in the Coffin

Schools where presidents and senators send their kids have armed staff. Not one gun control advocate questions the need for this. You might argue that those kids truly need protection, and of course they do. But not one single person who has opposed arming regular schools has done so on the grounds that they don't need protection. They instead argue that providing protection with guns would lead to more violence and death. This is demonstrably false.

Guns at high-end private schools don't lead to more violence. You can plainly see that and would probably even argue in favor of it if weren't already the case. So why can't the rest of our kids be protected, too?

Current Events Archive

Subscribe: RSS

Content, design, and biggity-bad-ass back-end code by Rob McBroom

VI Improved Valid HTML 4.01! Valid CSS! [Valid RSS]