Tag Archives: gun rights

Correlations

Spend much time debating gun rights on-line, and you’ll be told that “stronger” gun laws correlate to better outcomes in terms of deaths.

All right, let’s find out. I’m drawing data from the following sources:

1. Homicide rates by state, 2013: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/murder-rates-nationally-and-state

Numbers are homicides per 100,000.

2. Suicide rates by state, 2012: http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/usa/suicide

Numbers are suicides per 100,000.

3. Brady Campaign state scorecard, 2013: http://www.bradycampaign.org/2013-state-scorecard

Their methods are their own, but since they are opposed to gun rights, I presume that their scoring favors gun control over loose gun laws.

Both graphs use an X axis with values from 0 to 4 and a Y axis from 0 to 30. The X values are keyed to a four-point grade scale:

A: 4
A-: 3.75
B+: 3.25
B: 3
B-: 2.75
C+: 2.25
C: 2
C-: 1.75
D+: 1.25
D: 1
D-: 0.75
F: 0

The Y numbers are suicides or homicides per 100,000.

First the homicide numbers compared to the Brady score:

Homicide to Brady score

Notice the lack of a pattern, other than groups of states with the same gun laws having homicide rates at wild variance from each other? If the Brady Bunch were correct, there should be a strong correlation, not nothing.

Now let’s consider the suicide numbers:

Suicide to Brady score

Here, there is a low negative correlation, though as with homicide rates, the large grouping at X = 0 is significant.

Of course, as any student of statistics knows, correlation doesn’t imply causation. But if there is causation, there must be correlation. The lack of correlation in homicide rates and the weak correlation in suicide rates demonstrates that we cannot claim that the strictness of gun laws determines lives saved.

Feel free to share this next time you’re dealing with someone promoting gun control.

Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt

In marketing, the term, F.U.D., shows up from time to time. Those letters stand for fear, uncertainty, and doubt. It’s a strategy used to keep people from accepting a new product or proposal by making people afraid to change from some old and settled way of doing things. But these days, this concept is used more generally to discuss attempts in a debate to sow F.U.D. against an idea without bothering to show any actual errors in facts and logic.

One example of this can be found in debates on-line about gun rights:

1.  What are you afraid of?

Little_Miss_Muffet_2_-_WW_Denslow_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_18546

Say that you carry a handgun for self-defense, and someone will ask you what you’re afraid of. It’s an inevitability, just like questions about penis size and other silly examples of ad hominem fallacies. But in addition to mocking a supporter of rights, the purpose of the question is to create fear in the minds of undecided people about those of us who are exercising our rights. The insinuation is that you wouldn’t want fearful and thus unstable people running around in public, now would you.

But let’s consider the data. Violent crime certainly does occur. The rate is down from years gone by, but attacks on good citizens do still occur. Preparing for a potential bad event is not fear. It’s a rational calculation.

On the other hand, carry license holders commit crimes at rates much lower than the average population. Consider these numbers on people who legally carry in Texas. Year after year, license holders represent a fraction of one percent of convictions. These data match reporting across the whole nation.

2.  But how can we know?

Emperor_Traianus_Decius_(Mary_Harrsch)

How can we know that a person with a gun is a good person and not a bad person? We can spend endless hours debating epistemology, but specifically on this question, the essence of American values is the belief that human beings are good until proved otherwise. Asking how can we trust someone with the exercise of basic rights betrays the kind of attitude found in Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, a view that we must be strictly controlled to restrain our evil natures. That is a reasonable view to hold–one that I certainly don’t accept, though–but it is fundamentally contrary to the principle underlying a free society.

3.  What if I don’t believe you?

 Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas

In many discussions, there comes a point at which someone rejects not only interpretations based on judgements but facts as well. The facts about guns in the United States are mixed, leaving both sides the opportunity to have valid positions derived from their values–freedom or safety–without being compelled to choose one answer or another to be intellectually honest. For example, some 30,000 Americans die each year from gunshots, while something like 80,000 suffer non-fatal injuries. At the same time, hundred of thousands use firearms to defend their lives annually. But facts have an unyielding quality that creates cognitive dissonance in the minds of people not willing to ground their beliefs in reality.

So what do we do? We have to admit that we can’t reach everyone, but we can persuade those who are undecided, and we might persuade some who haven’t thought things through. My choice is to advocate for basic rights, a view I call eleutherianism.

Jaw, Jaw

Winston Churchill once said that jaw-jaw is better than war-war.

Churchill_V_sign_HU_55521

He’s famous for leading Britain in the world’s most recent global war, among other things, and his comment came in 1954, after he had written his history of World War II, but presumably it recognizes the superiority of talking to physical fighting. More recently, the Dalai Lama, speaking of his nation’s occupation by the Chinese, expressed the idea that dialogue is the only way to solve human problems.

At_the_Unsung_Heroes_of_Compassion_event,_San_Francisco

Not that dialogue has done anything to free Tibet, but he’s sticking to his verbal guns.

These statements do raise the question of whether discussion solves any problem. How often have we heard people insisting that we just need dialogue, that we just need to listen to each other? And yet, anyone who’s been in an argument with a family member or followed politics or engaged in a conversation on Twitter should know that talking so often doesn’t reach agreement or cooperation on matters that people hold deeply.

As regular readers of my weblogs know, I support both gun rights and gay rights. I also accept the science of evolution and climate change. These things make for some interesting discussions on Twitter in which I find myself supported by my fellow Twitterati on one subject, while being vehemently opposed by the same people in other areas. It’s fascinating to watch someone make what looks like a good argument one day, then turn around and make a sloppy one the next.

Of course, it’s harder to spot the logical and factual errors on a position we support, since we tend to be much less critical of ourselves and our allies, and when given the choice to go after errors, it’s more comfortable to attack an opponent, rather than a supporter. But of greater concern is the fact that so many people develop a conviction about a topic and then become impervious to facts and logic.

What are we to do about this? One answer that I’ve addressed before is a slow but steady solution: education. The more ideas and information people are exposed to, the more open–it is to be hoped–they are to considering a variety of positions in a logical manner. Note that this comes from what we call a liberal arts education. The liberal arts are aimed at teaching the skills and knowledge a person needs to be a free person, rather than focusing on some specific requirement for a particular job.

But as I said, education is a slow process, and even educated people get caught up in the passion of belief. This leaves us with the question of why we should bother to debate ideas at all. I offer three answers:

1. Not everyone is decided on every subject

We must remember that for every infuriating true believer out there, many more people will be undecided on the subject. Make a good argument, don’t take crap tossed at you, and trust to the potential goodness in all of us.

2. Support freedom of choice

These debates remain theoretical and intellectually interesting so long as we don’t rush off to pass laws. This is the reason that I call myself an eleutherian. Whenever possible, and it’s possible much more often than we’d like to believe, leave people free to act on their own beliefs while we act on our own.

3. Consider the argument being made

That means keeping this open:

800px-Anatomy_of_the_Human_Ear.svg

and engaging this:

Sobo_1909_624

Those, naturally, are the hardest part.

Crossposted on English 301: Reading and Writing.

What to Do

In discussions about gun violence on news sites and gun control blogs, I’m often asked what my solution to the problem is.

Police_at_Sandy_Hook

The incident at Newtown, Connecticut brings particular poignancy to this question.

First, let’s put this problem into perspective. The current U.S. population is somewhat over 318,000,000, according to the Census. Adding in non-resident visitors and uncounted aliens and rounding for ease of calculation, I’m calling it 320,000,000. Of that number, roughly 30,000 die per annum from gunshot, of which deaths two-thirds are suicides. That works out to 4.7 / 100,000, a rate that we hadn’t seen since the early 1960s.

800px-Ushomicidesbyweapon.svg

The chart here shows data from 1976 on.

This means that your chances of dying by gunfire in America in raw numbers are one in about 10,600. If you don’t shoot yourself, your chances improve to one in 32,000. The numbers vary from city to city, but in our centers of population, murder victims tend in large percentages to be people with criminal records themselves, so if you’re not a criminal, your odds get even better.

But certainly, 30,000 is too many. The answer to this problem in the eyes of some is gun control, but as regular readers know, that is something that I regard as a violation of the rights of good people. Is there another answer?

Submitted for your consideration are my suggestions for reducing violence of all types, including firearms violence, in this country:

1. End the War on Drugs.

508px-Cannabissativadior

We’ve had a number of efforts at prohibition of substances, going all the way back to attempts at drying up the nation in the nineteenth century, but our current efforts at banning classes of entertaining drugs other than tobacco and alcohol got going for serious in the 1970s. In the forty years since, we’ve wasted a trillion dollars, and half of all federal prisoners are in for drug crimes.

As we saw in the 1920s during the Prohibition of alcohol, we are seeing again: Banning a substance only encourages criminal smuggling, gang warfare, collateral damage, and the ruining of lives of many who merely possess the forbidden fruit. Addiction should be treated as an illness, not a crime, and all recreational substances should be regulated in the manner that our two legal drugs, tobacco and alcohol, are. All who were convicted for mere possession should be immediately released and pardoned to remove the stigma of a criminal record.

2. Incarcerate violent offenders for longer terms.

Alcatraz_Island_at_Sunset

Once drugs cease to be a criminal matter, we will solve the problem of overcrowded prisons. This will create room for violent offenders. Criminals who use a firearm in the commission of a crime can have extra time added to their sentences.

3. Improve schools.

800px-School-education-learning-1750587-h

As a teacher, I’ve gone on at length here about education reform. To sum up, we need to spend more money to pay teachers what they’re worth, to reduce class sizes, to repair and upgrade facilities, and to offer a wider selection of classes. The goal here is to provide all students with a chance to succeed. It seems obvious, but the more educated a population is, the less crime that population commits.

4. Improve access to mental health services–with the caveat that privacy must be protected.

Sigmund_Freud_LIFE

In these incidents of mass shootings, some shooters are seeking revenge against those whom they perceive as having wronged them, but the typical case is a young, white, male, loner with mental health problems. Unfortunately, such individuals don’t often see themselves as needing treatment. I suspect that part of their reluctance involves a fear of being reported, so making privacy a guarantee is important. Of course, young men who head down the road to becoming a mass shooter reach a point of no return. That leads me to the next two points.

5. Stop making these shooters stars.

Temple_of_Artemis

As author and space scientist, David Brin, argues, we should treat these mass shooters in the same manner as the Ephesians wished to treat the arsonist who burned down the Temple of Artemis. His name was to be erased and never recalled again. This, of course, will require the voluntary cooperation of news organizations, since we cannot do right by violating rights. But as long as America has a love affair with wacko killers, those nutcases will have motivation.

6. Address bullying.

Bullying_on_Instituto_Regional_Federico_Errázuriz_(IRFE)_in_March_5,_2007

Here in America, the intellectual loner is not a popular type. But a core value of our nation is that we all should be free to express our own individuality. That is one of the key messages that should be taught until the concept is absorbed. We can be ourselves without demeaning others. At the least, it should be clear that attacking others will not be tolerated.

But there’s more. We’ve created a culture in schools where someone who acts in self-defense is treated the same way as the person who started the fight. One solution to this is to teach martial arts–Krav Maga, for example, since it’s free of the religious overtones of Eastern systems–and make it clear that human beings, even students, have the right to stop physical violence used against them.

These are my answers to the problem, realistically assessed, of violence in our society. We will not eliminate all of it. Violence is in human nature, and Americans are more violent as a culture than other societies, but we can go a long way along reducing it. And we can do so without violating our rights.

How Many Do You Need?

One common meme among the gun control freaks is the idea that a gun’s magazine should be allowed to hold no more than ten rounds. (Or seven, if you have the misfortune to live in New York.) Things like this:

604px-Double_drum_magazine_filled.svg

send them the vapors. And if you have the temerity to say that round limits make no sense, they will sneer that you must be a bad shot if you need more than ten rounds to drop a deer.

There are many things wrong with this point of view:

1. Hunting

Rifle_Springfield_M1903A4_with_M84_sight

In many states, hunters are limited to five rounds, not ten, indicating what the control freaks would like to see, perhaps–on their way to banning everything, that is. But the constant reference to deer shows a lack of awareness about what firearms are for. Yes, hunting is one purpose. Self-defense is another. To bring hunting into every discussion implies that this use is the only acceptable purpose to which a firearm may be put. However, people defend their lives with firearms, and that needs to be considered.

2. Power

50_AE_and_32_ACP

Not all cartridges are equal, and handgun rounds are much less powerful than rifle rounds. In fact, while a handgun can be used to good effect, unlike what Hollywood wants us to believe, one shot is unlikely to get the job done. A woman in Atlanta, for example, fired six shots at a home invader, five of which hit the man in the face and neck, and he was able to get away, only to be caught later when the cops finally arrived in the area. The woman’s revolver was a .38 Special, a common and worthy self-defense piece. Whatever the typical effect of X rounds of Y caliber happens to be, in this case, five weren’t enough. Had there been a second invader, even more would have been needed.

3. Defense

800px-Penalty_kick_Lahm_Cech_Champions_League_Final_2012

The attacker chooses the time and place of the attack. But we as good citizens are obliged to wait. This gives the attacker a tactical advantage. The gun control freaks ask me how many rounds I need. A good answer to that is that I don’t know. That’s precisely the condition that a defender is in. Before the action starts, there is often no way to anticipate how many attackers there will be or how many rounds will be required. The reports that I’ve seen suggest that a gunfight will be over most of the time after three or four shots, which is why I accept necessity and carry only one gun and a spare magazine, typically, but that is not a guarantee. While we all make concessions to what’s practical, I see no reason to tell you how many rounds you may have.

4. Rights

Gesto,_David_Černý(sochař),_21.10.2013,_Praha

When gun control freaks ask me why I need X number of rounds, my answer is that the question is wrong-headed. I don’t have to justify to the government why I want so many of whatever. It’s the government’s job to explain what need it has for requesting me to limit myself and beg my permission to enact such a limit.

But since some people are obsessed with limiting magazines to ten rounds, I have a proposal: Let’s make it a separate crime to use a magazine of more than ten rounds in the commission of another crime and apply an extra ten-year sentence for using such a magazine in a criminal act. That way, we all may have as many rounds as we find appropriate, but those who misuse a firearm will receive additional punishment for their evil ways.

On the Origin of Rights

Regular readers will know that I spend a great deal of time talking about rights, particularly gun and marriage rights. But in the course of writing these articles and in discussing the concept elsewhere, I’m often asked where rights come from. There are several typical notions to answer that.

1. Law

CodexOfHammurabi

The Code of Hammurabi is one of the oldest codifications of law that we have. It’s stated purpose is to establish justice in the land. There is also a great deal of talk about the gods, but we’ll get to that later, and it’s not the main point of the Code. The idea here is that the law creates the rights of the people whom it governs. I hear that view expressed by those who tell me that I have no rights that the Constitution doesn’t grant me.

The problem here is that what the law gives, the law can take away. That makes rights essentially no better than privileges. Now certainly, a contract establishes rights held by the parties involved. And civil rights are those that we have by virtue of belonging to a given society. But if we apply that same reasoning to something like freedom of expression, we rapidly will end up in a situation where only such speech as our leaders accept will be tolerated.

2. Consensus

Magna_Carta_(British_Library_Cotton_MS_Augustus_II.106)

The Magna Carta arises out of a tradition called common law. That came from the Germanic tribes of northern and western Europe that valued tradition and the agreement of people who were closely related to each other. The notion of a trial by jury is from the same tradition–in other words, a group of one’s fellows must agree on a verdict.

That isn’t unique to Germanic cultures–including English-speaking nations. The ancient Greeks had a similar idea, and there we have examples of how consensus can go wrong. Citizens who were lost popularity were ostracized. Socrates was executed after the public will turned against him. Consensus turns rights into a game of popularity.

3. Divine gift

Decalogue_parchment_by_Jekuthiel_Sofer_1768

This invokes images of Charlton Heston coming down the mountainside. It has the advantage of elevating rights out of political squabbles and implies a permanence to rights. But there are two problems:

If those rights are the will of a divine being, that makes them acts of capriciousness, rather than reason.

If rights come from God or one set of gods, what of people who worship other gods or no god at all?

4. Existence

465px-JohnLocke

John Locke was one well-known exponent of this idea, but it goes back to ancient thoughts of the Stoics and others. The concept here is that we are born with the power of choice. In a state of nature, we have no obligation to take anyone else into account. Living in a society creates expectations of restraining one’s actions for the benefit of others, but a fundamental core of rights always remains with each one of us individually.

The difficulty here is in determining the measure of restraint necessary. But as I discussed before in my first article on Eleutherianism, the principle here is the most liberty possible for everyone. We secure that by first determining whether anyone is harmed by an action and what is the minimum action to rectify or prevent that harm. A gay couple enjoying the benefits (and burdens!) of marriage cannot harm anyone outside that relationship and is, in fact, a good for society by making relationships more stable. Guns, alcohol, and marijuana are more problematic, but simple requirements like prohibitions against driving drunk or discharging a firearm randomly within a city can handle the potential wrongs. We’re often told that we can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, but that presumes that no actual fire is burning, and it ignores the fact that we don’t leave our tongues or brains outside the theater–though many filmmakers wish we would, seemingly.

The idea of natural rights is also connected to the belief in rights given to us by divine will, but not necessarily so. My argument is that we have rights by virtue of our being able to choose. In principle, it is not required for us to justify our actions. It is the burden of government or society to explain why our actions must be restrained and to beg our permission to do that. But fundamentally, government and the law should defend our rights before, above, and beyond all else.

More of my writing can be found here.

Rules for Thee, But Not for Me

On my favorite gun control blog, Mikeb302000, I ran across an article on the latest abuse of power by a mayor in New York. And no, it’s not Michael Bloomberg.

Apparently, the mayor of Rochester, one Lovely Warren:

Lovely-Warren

has decided that she needs two armed bodyguards, including one who is her uncle. This, of course, is what she needs, but she supported the New York SAFE Act, a gun control measure that places new infringements on the already violated rights of New Yorkers to own and carry guns.

Hypocrisy, much? Abuse of power, perhaps?

And so, with apologies to Alan Jay Lerner, I present to you, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”

All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the unwashed air
In my mayorial chair.
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?

Lots of chocolates for me to eat,
Bodyguards all packing heat,
Including Uncle Reggie sweet.
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?

Oh, my people abso-blooming-lutely disarmed,
And I won’t ever budge to help
No matter how much they’re harmed.

The people’s rights resting in my hands,
My oath of office flows away like sand,
Corrupted power makes me feel so grand.
Oh. wouldn’t it be loverly?

Loverly, loverly, wouldn’t it be loverly?