one more post about stupid guns

Okay, I know I said am not passionate about gun control, and I’m not. But I am passionate about irrationality. And boy, is this debate pervasive with it.

So, two things:

First, to gun control opponents: lay off the false equivalency. Regulating firearms is not the same as regulating (to take a recent example from facebook) alcohol. Firearms are a technological game changer in many ways (positive and negative, but that’s a larger and more difficult debate). They allow one person to efficiently and rapidly end the lives of others. So let’s not poison the debate by trying to pretend that this is an issue as simple as other issues of regulation. It’s a different sort of problem — you see it playing out in similar ways on a global scale with respect to nuclear proliferation. Warfare changed forever when humans obtained the ability to wipe eachother off the map. (Incidentally, technological progress is probably the reason this debate is entirely moot, as well: people are already firing off rounds from 3D printed weapons.)

Second, to gun control proponents: any honest intellectual debate about gun control’s efficacy needs to start with a comparison of intentional homicide per capita between comparable industrialized/developed countries. A quick survey of the media’s analysis of the issue is rife with comparisons between the United States and other countries with respect to their deaths by firearms. This is like identifying lung cancer as an epidemic, banning tobacco pipes, and then declaring victory because lung cancer among tobacco pipe smokers evaporates. People would still smoke, and people would still die. The problem is that people are being murdered, not that they’re being shot. If you want to fix that problem, you have to demonstrate that eliminating firearms eliminates violent crime, not just gun crimes.

Rarely do you ever see the debate framed this way, but it has been done. Don B Kates and Gary Mauser published this survey of gun control policies and violent crime throughout Europe and the United States in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. Their conclusion:

This Article has reviewed a significant amount of evidence from a wide variety of international sources. Each individual portion of evidence is subject to cavil — at the very least the general objection that the persuasiveness of social scientific evidence cannot remotely approach the persuasiveness of conclusions in the physical sciences. Nevertheless, the burden of proof rests on the proponents of the more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death mantra, especially since they argue public policy ought to be based on that mantra. To bear that burden would at the very least require showing that a large number of nations with more guns have more death and that nations that have imposed stringent gun controls have achieved substantial reductions in criminal violence (or suicide). But those correlations are not observed when a large number of nations are compared across the world.

Over a decade ago, Professor Brandon Centerwall of the University of Washington undertook an extensive, statistically sophisticated study comparing areas in the United States and Canada to determine whether Canada’s more restrictive policies had better contained criminal violence. When he published his results it was with the admonition:

“If you are surprised by [our] finding[s], so [are we]. [We] did not begin this research with any intent to “exonerate” hand-guns, but there it is — a negative finding, to be sure, but a negative finding is nevertheless a positive contribution. It directs us where not to aim public health resources.”

My opposition to gun control is not because I have some fascination with guns or because I’m a constitutional purist. I have no desire to own one (and I find most gun owners’ declarations that they own a gun for self-defense to be mostly bluster and machismo, or at the very least a poor understanding of risk analysis/game theory). I oppose gun control because there is no evidence that it works. When was the last time the government banned something that substantial portions of the country wanted and it was a success? How’s that War on Drugs workin’ out for ya? Convince me that there’s a way to eliminate firearms in this country without savaging the civil liberties the country was founded and we can talk.

As an aside, I am also tired of hearing the “we need to figure out how to identify and institutionalize murderers, not ban guns!!” line, because it’s basically the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard. You’re gonna argue against gun control but forcible institutionalization of, what, suspected murderers is okay? Libertarian fail. The mass murderer phenomenon is a problem that we need to fix. It’s a hard one that gun control really has nothing to do with.

And another semi non-sequitur: Barry Glassner’s Culture of Fear is not the best book in the world, but it’s closer to the mark, and a lot of people having this debate would be well-served by reading it.

I’m goin to a christmas party now.

  • http://steak.place.org/dougo/ Doug Orleans

    I agree with you that the War on Drugs is a failure, but isn’t that the same false equivalency you told people to lay off?  (I think the War on Terror / Security Theater is a better equivalency, maybe.)

    The thing that enraged me the most was when Tom Fucking Brokaw tweeted that it was popular culture’s fault.  So I’m guessing now we’re going to get another pointless round of congressional inquiries into violent videogames and movies.

  • Pj

    Clearly the point of the alcohol comparison is not to compare the damage the two hings do, but rather to speak to the efficacy of banning *anything*.  We can’t keep zipguns out of prisons and people somehow think it will be possible to keep them off the streets?  ditto drugs.  

  • http://theauntiewarhol.wordpress.com/ Auntie Warhol

    I’m not sure that “intentional homicide per capita between comparable industrialized/developed countries” is the proper metric. I believe what most people are looking for is a reduction in what one might consider “senseless” homicide and *random* violence. The sort of stuff that law enforcement can’t do much about because it’s difficult to predict. Bystanders and spree victims being the low hanging fruit in this.

    I’m sure this would be difficult to measure. But it seems plausible that if senseless homicide is a small enough percentage of total homicide, then a significant reduction in this category could easily be eclipsed by increases in other categories for unrelated reasons. More liquor store roberries because the economy’s in the tank, more gang violence because of an escalation in the drug war, etc. (The counter argument that these things increased because of people being unarmed would have to show a decrease in the number of homicides prevented. I believe there are numbers available but this too seems difficult to measure accurately.)

  • cait

    If you oppose gun control then let’s not bother with any of it. Anyone can have any gun they want as easily as they want it. We can put them in vending machines! That won’t make anything worse, since there’s no evidence that gun control works.  :)