Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On Comments On Current Events, Part 2

Today we take a quick glance at some of the bluster coming from the nation's "liberty" enthusiasts following the incident in Connecticut. Again, from Facebook:

Ohhh, there's that word again. Freedom. It's one of those weasel words that people like George W. Bush like to brandish as an unquestionable cause or an irrefutable justification. It can mean pretty much anything and so, rhetorically, it's often meaningless.

It is likely meaningless in the practical sense, too.

Feeling free is another matter. Nobody likes to feel that their actions are directly restricted, especially against their will, especially by somebody else. Video game enthusiasts scream and gnash their teeth when politicians suggest outlawing game sales to certain age groups. I screamed and gnashed my teeth when the Obama administration successfully pushed for banning the sale of (most) flavored cigarettes. Gun owners scream and gnash their teeth when somebody so much as suggests a restriction on clip sizes.

The argued aim of our libertarian and second-amendment enthusiast friends is more freedom for more people, what they actually mean translates to some jargon like "as few negatively-experienced circumstantial restrictions on behavior for as many people as can be managed." Now that we have a better idea what they actually mean, I think another look at their argument is deserved.

The funny thing about this line of reasoning is that it only applies to social sanctions imposed by a governing body. If the government tells somebody that they can't or shouldn't do something, a wrong is being committed. A "freedom" is being quashed.

But when a person's "freedom" is restricted as the result of another individual exercising his own "freedom," it's apparently a different case altogether.

Giving an industrialist the "freedom" to dump as much chemical waste into the river of their choice restricts the "freedom" of the people living downriver to enjoy and use the river as they might otherwise see fit. Giving assholes like me the "freedom" to smoke in a restaurant restricts the "freedom" of the other patrons to enjoy a meal without breathing in the toxic fumes I'm coughing out. Giving Americans the "freedom" to easily purchase bullet-spraying automatic weapons restricts the "freedom" of unarmed Americans to enjoy an environment in which there's a minimal probability of bullets whizzing in their direction.

In these cases one rarely hears objections from those voices who cry foul when gun control is mentioned.

But do ask someone at the scene of one of our regular massacres how "free" they felt when the gunman of the day was unloading clips into the crowd.

But it doesn't have to be this way, we're told by some partisans. If more people, as many people as possible, are "choosing" to purchase and carry firearms, then there's much less a chance of gunfire breaking out. You must exercise your liberty to purchase and carry firearms to ensure that nobody's liberty is restricted by the use of firearms.

We want to be able to carry guns, so we strongly suggest that the rest of you carry guns, too.

That isn't just hypocritical. It's tyrannical.


  1. Yesterday my boss took me aside and proudly showed me a Youtube clip of some bank robbery that failed because one of the tellers had a concealed handgun. The only thing I could think while she was gleefully showing it was 'Is there a problem with one's priorities that they are excitedly extolling the virtues of guns right after a bunch of kids were murdered?'

    Honestly, I'm all for people owning handguns if they need them to feel safe. I never would, but if one feels it's necessary then that is a right which should be upheld. Of course I don't see why it's easier to legally own and use a handgun than it is to legally own and drive a car, which is certainly something that does need to be fixed. Barring that though, there is absolutely no reason for any civilian to own anything stronger than a handgun. A handgun already does what is expected of a gun it causes death. Anything stronger is used to cause mass death which is taking an already horrific concept and magnifying it to unthinkable levels.

    I've also heard the absolutely insane opinion that the tragedy could've been averted if only the teachers had guns, which is among the stupidest things I've ever heard coming out of a persons mouth. If there is one place in the world there a gun is absolutely not needed, it is in an elementary classroom. Do people think before they talk?

  2. "The funny thing about this line of reasoning is that it only applies to social sanctions imposed by a governing body. If the government tells somebody that they can't or shouldn't do something, a wrong is being committed. A "freedom" is being quashed.

    But when a person's "freedom" is restricted as the result of another individual exercising his own "freedom," it's apparently a different case altogether.

    Giving an industrialist the "freedom" to dump as much chemical waste into the river of their choice restricts the "freedom" of the people living downriver to enjoy and use the river as they might otherwise see fit. Giving assholes like me the "freedom" to smoke in a restaurant restricts the "freedom" of the other patrons to enjoy a meal without breathing in the toxic fumes I'm coughing out. Giving Americans the "freedom" to easily purchase bullet-spraying automatic weapons restricts the "freedom" of unarmed Americans to enjoy an environment in which there's a minimal probability of bullets whizzing in their direction."

    I would argue that principled libertarians who do more than post on the internet try to reconcile "freedom" with property rights summed up as "my freedom to wave my fist ends at your face." I'm not aware of anyone who would support the dumping of chemicals into a river, and anyone who would be impacted by that should be compensated for any damage caused (ideally it would be out of the industrialist's own hide vs. his government-blessed straw-man corporations). Smoking assholes shouldn't be allowed to light up in any establishment they want, but if a restaurant owner wants to feed you AND let you make a lifestyle choice they should be as free to allow you to do so as the owner next door is to kick your ass out.

    As for the crux of current events, weapons, I would say that more is better given the patterns of these once-a-year "massacres" and what we know about the shooters - bullies, failures with no way to make a name for themselves beyond shooting and killing unarmed children who, after they get a sufficient body count or have no way out turn the gun on themselves. They don't go into banks, police stations, or military bases because such places are obviously guarded. They don't even go to malls where they could be easily overpowered by a mob of people scared into action. No, they go for the advertised "gun-free zone" where all of a sudden they have a huge advantage over their peers and whatever minimal, unarmed authority is present. There is no risk and all the reward of recognition for going into a school with a monopoly on violent force.

    One headline though, just one, of a "heroic" teacher cutting some mad gunman down before he could start his spree might be enough to curtail future instances. Instead of going out in a blaze of glory, the bully is a failure who couldn't even kill a bunch of dumb kids. He dies the loser he has always been.

    I might be totally wrong and allowing teachers and other school staff to carry firearms might not be a good enough of a deterrent, but until it's tried we won't really know for sure either way, will we? I'd like to try it as a possible solution though, it seems much easier and more practical than trying to take all the guns away, and it seems better than doing nothing and relying on the police for protection, which hasn't been working out too well as near I can tell.

    Thanks for the blog and have a happy holiday season if I don't see you in chat.

    1. On toxins in the river: mountaintop removal mining, for instance. It puts a lot of nasty stuff into soil and water, and from what I can tell (but may be mistaken), it might still be on the rise. (Bank of America has a lot invested in it, for instance.)

      On me smoking in restaurants: can't argue with you there. I don't think the blanket ban was really called for, but here we are.

      On guns: I won't say there's no way that armed teachers wouldn't deter another lone gunman, but I would only call that a solution in the short term. I'm I don't want public schools to become fortresses. I can't believe the long term solution to gun violence is more guns.

      But I think social and cultural factors (histories of environment blah blah blah) are as much a factor in the problem as easily-acquirable combat weaponry. Whatever the long-term solution might be, it's probably not something that can be easily drafted out, much less deliberately implemented.

  3. So what makes you think any laws passed in the name of restricting access to guns will have any effect on criminals? Technically the guns used in the shooting were stolen. Not to mention that limiting clip size to 10 bullet (or whatever number we decided is magic) would simply mean the shooter would carry more magazines. The whole school was a 'gun free zone' but that didn't seem to stop someone with bad intentions from bringing a gun on campus. It did however let him know that he had until the cops showed up to bring mayhem to anyone he pleased, as there was zero percent chance anyone else was armed. So which law or laws is is that's going to make this magically better? Remember, the 'assault weapon ban' that's now being bandied about was already in effect from 1994-2004, and in that time we had Oklahoma City (168 dead, zero shots fired), 9/11 (3,000 dead, zero shots fired) and Columbine, which while not the first school shooting, is probably the first to gain lasting notoriety. So, no, you can't prevent mass shootings, because evil people will always find a way and, surprise of surpises, they'll work around or break laws as needed.

    1. One: never use the word "evil" when you're trying to make a point. It's another meaningless weasel word. It does nothing to explain why a person behaves as he does.

      Two: how are Oklahoma City and 9/11 germane to this conversation?

      Three: One factoid that's been making the rounds today is the fact that Columbine had armed guards. Their being there helped nothing; H. and K. were too well armed. Is the solution, then, to have a person with a machine gun and body armor patrolling the halls in every public school?

      Are we a nation of barbarians? Why else would something like this be necessary?

      Four: Criminals and psychos have budgets, too. I don't see how it would hurt to make it harder for them to find and then afford firearms.

      I don't think an assault weapons ban and restrictions on clip sizes would instantly solve everything. It's not going to magically eradicate violent crime from the country. But I repeat: I assure you the long-term solution to violent crime isn't more guns in the hands of more people.

    2. Why Oklahoma City & 9/11? To point out that guns are not necessary for mass murder, and in fact played little role in some of the largest mass murders in this country's recent history. All the talk has been "How do we prevent another mass murder" and yet all the focus has been on only one method of mass murder.

      On armed guards? Yeah, I actually agree, one armed guard probably doesn't fix the situation. That's why I'd propose that any teacher who went through getting both a handgun permit and concealed carry permit be allowed to bring their firearm on campus. You want them to have to pass additional training to ensure competence? I'm fine with that. But even if only say 20% of teachers armed themselves, then that means any gunman on campus now has a one in five chance of running into someone who can fight back. If you were inclined to cause mayhem, but not genuinely psychotic, you might think twice if you thought not everyone at the school was defenseless. If you're genuinely crazy an looking to kill, then that leaves people on campus ready to respond far faster than the police can. According to the story at Sandy Hook, as soon as police arrived, te gunman killed himself. That still left him 10-15 minutes to freely kill, knowing there was ZERO chance anyone could fight back in any serious manner. One armed teacher might have been able to stop him with much less bloodshed (maybe not, but it's certainly a possibility).

      Yes, criminals have budgets, but if you think you're cutting into their budgets with these laws, you're only fooling yourself. Right now, most criminals just buy their guns off the street anyway. Would you go through a ton of paperwork, background check, etc. to acquire a weapon with a serial number on it that can be traced back to you if found, just to knock over a liquor store? Or is it more likely you'd just buy a stolen one off the street with the serial number filed off for much cheaper (because again the seller got it for 'free'). If making things illegal made them too expensive to come by, don't you think the war on drugs would be a little more successful?

      Finally, yeah actually the solution is MORE guns not less. Go look up John Lott Jr. He's actually done statistical research into this and found that states and localities with FEWER gun laws actually have lower crime rates. Fact is, when law abiding citizens can and do carry guns, criminals (or at least 'smart' ones) think twice. Put it this way, if less guns makes for more safety, then why was Washington, D.C. consistently among the cities with the highest murder rates (including with guns) when it was illegal to own one within city limits from 1976 until 2010? And the year after the ban was lifted the murder rate DROPPED 25%. Chicago banned them in 1982. Murder was up 15 of the next 17 years. Fact is, you might not like guns, and you might personally think fewer guns lead to a safer society, but there's no empirical data that would actually back you up.

    3. I feel like guns are an all or nothing thing. Guns may have been heavily regulated in D.C., but it's pretty easy to just step in from Maryland or Virginia and do whatever you want to do.

      Look at Japan, for example. The requirements to have a gun throughout the nation are extremely strict, and only rifles and shot-guns are permitted. And Japan has a famously low crime-rate. (Of course, there are other factors in this, but gun control certainly plays a part.)

      We can't have gun regulation be a state by state thing, as soon as we put strict gun control laws in one state criminals will just go to the next state over and purchase weapons there.

      (Also, I wasn't able to actually look at John Lott's work, but I'm sure that most of these states with fewer gun laws are also more rural. Massacres happen in cities, not in fields.)

    4. Japan is also an island. We, on the other hand, share a several thousand mile border to our south that we can't prevent anything short of nuclear materials from crossing. Drugs were basically an all thing for years, still managed to get in here. Also, Switzerland is the nation with the lowest violent crime rate in Europe and yet had the single HIGHEST gun ownership rate (owing in part to no standing army requiring them to arm their citizens directly). So if they can arm their teens and twenty-somethings without widespread massacres, then something tells me simple gun ownership isn't the problem. Perhaps more training and exposure to firearms takes the mystery out of them as well as helping to impart a sense of responsibilty? After all, sex education is cited as helping lower the teen birth rate, yet somehow our gun education solution is to hide them away and never talk about guns, then magically expect kids to handle them appropriately when they encounter them.

    5. I can definitely agree with you there. Maybe a solution could be to have a similar system to what we have with getting a driver's license. Require some pretty strict qualifications, but High schools and Universities could start offering 'Gun Ed' programs. I don't know exactly how we would go about implementing that, but I feel like something along those lines would be a reasonable compromise.

    6. You're right. America isn't Japan and it isn't Switzerland. We're not homogenous culturally, racially, or economically. We're stratified, and unfortunately the demarcations of economic stratification tend to coincide with racial lines. We're a nation with a lot of inequality, resentment, and tension.

      I'm not sure how tossing easily-available semiautomatic assault rifles into this mix helps anyone.

      I don't think a ban on shotguns, hunting rifles, or even pistols is necessary, but I'd be curious to hear reasoning as to how putting firearms designed to kill as many people as easily and in as short a time as possible in the hands of civilians (as opposed to law enforcement agents or soldiers) improves the general welfare.

    7. I don't think I can add too much to this discussion, but on the topic of Switzerland's violent crime rate I'd love to see some source for the claim that it's the lowest in Europe. All I've been able to find is Wikipedia's list of countries by firearm-related death rate, and Switzerland is certainly not the winner there. They're beaten by us here in Sweden among others, where guns are very heavily regulated. It's no great surprise that lower gun availability leads to a lower rate of shootings. In fact, I don't think we've ever had a school shooting here.

      William, you also seem to say (and correct me if I'm simply reading you wrong) that banning guns will have no effect on criminals since they don't typically acquire them through legal means anyway. That's an absurd argument. While I'm sure some people will find a way to acquire guns regardless of legal status so long as guns exist at all, availability definitely plays a role. Resolving to use guns for a particular purpose will not make them magically materialize in front of you, after all.

  4. Speaking of meaningless weasel words, semi-automatic assault rifle has to be right at the top. I'm assuming you think semi-auto means shoots multiple bullets with one pull of the trigger? Or at least that seems to be what most people want it to imply. It doesn't. Semi-auto just means it does all the inbetween tasks of priming another bullet to fire. In a semi-automatic weapon you still have to pull the trigger every time you want to dispense a bullet. Automatic weapons have been illegal since the Tommy gun, and for good reason. And as for 'assault rifle', I'd like a definition, a firm one, before we start going and banning them. What, because it kind of looks like a gun the military would use, we need to ban it? Does looking like a military rifle somehow make it more dangerous than a typical rifle? Since we're saying we don't want to take away handguns (which comprised 2 of the 3 guns used in Newtown BTW), shotguns or hunting rifles, then before we start just passing blind legislation like many in Congress want to do, let's define the exact characteristics we think we want to ban, and how those characteristics make them deserving of being banned, and drop these nonsense terms like 'assault rifle' that no one can give a consistent definition on (I've heard assault rifle defined as any gun to which you can affix a bayonet, as if 1864 Springfield Civil War rifles are real crime problem).

    1. Good point. I'm (obviously) pro-gun control, but in most cases I find blanket bans of anything unhelpful.

      At the same time, the more I think about it, the less reason I find for weapons designed to be lethal to be sold and marketed for personal defense. I imagine a weapon designed to fire rubber bullets (or a shotgun filled with salt, if we're sadists) would make an adequate deterrent -- or, if necessary, stop a malefactor in his tracks.

      Hunting is another thing -- but if a bolt action rifle was good enough for the hunters of yesteryear, why not today? It would do nothing to get the more efficient models out of the hands of their current owners, but it would make them harder to steal, less likely to end up on the black market, etc.

      I just see the model proposed by the NRA as a temporary palliative. I don't see a scenario (within the overall social environment of the United States) where more guns leads to less gun violence.

      I've spoken with some people in Poland about gun laws. From what I understand, gun control here basically means having to fill out an application, go through a background check, and write an essay explaining why they want/need to own a firearm.

      This might be helpful. But if gun control truly does nothing to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, then maybe they shouldn't be on the market to begin with.

      I'd still like to know why making easy-to-access guns in an already tense (and rather fractured) society like the United States makes sense -- but I guess I already know what your answer will be, and don't agree with it.

      If the problem is primarily a cultural one, I don't think the NRA's contributions are helping much. Turning schools and public places into guarded fortresses (if it comes to pass), reinforcing the "good guys vs. bad guys" narrative of the world, and implicitly training people to approach others with fear instead of love won't make the United States any less tense or dangerous (but it would probably foster an environment where more people felt encourage to purchase firearms).

      At any rate, I don't think either of us is going to persuade the other of anything. We'll just have to see what happens.

    2. I agree with your notion that we'll probably never see eye-to-eye on the solution, but I'd be curious about your take on this. According to the best statistics I was able to get, there were about 8600 firearms related deaths in America in 2011 (I'm assuming that's accidental and intentional, legally owned or not). Meanwhile, there were about 9,900 deaths that same year related to crashes involving DUIs. Would you support legislation mandating that all cars be equipped with a breathalyzer that controls the car starting, and if you blow any kind of number above say .02 or .03 the car wouldn't start? It would presumably save lives, even if it's a bit intrusive, and unlike guns, there's no constitutional right to drive. Basically, the question starts becoming, how far reaching do you want the government to be in 'protecting' you, even assuming gun-control, or in this case vehicle control, would work.

    3. I'm not Pat, but I'd certainly be in favour of breath locks being installed in all newly manufactured cars by default. Basically, I think that anything that can be effectively used to harm others should be heavily controlled. But then I live in Sweden, where we have laws prohibiting you from even carrying a knife in public.