Sunday, April 22, 2007

This should prove interesting ...

... Tim Lambert's Reynolds claims "More Guns, Less Crime". (Hat tip, Maxine Clarke.)

Of course, here is a recent post of Glenn's on a different subject: I agree that Tim Lambert makes a poor spokesman for, well, ... anything.

I realize there is a cultural divide on the subject of firearms and I hope to have time to elaborate my thoughts on the subject later today (I am at the office still trying to restore order to the book room). But I feel obliged to remind people that a human being killed the 32 people at Va. Tech. He used firearms. The fiorearms did not act on their own. They never do. Had the killer been unable to use firearms he would likely have used explosives, since it seems clear he was bent on killing. It is those factors - him and his being bent on killing - that should be the focus of the debate. The logic of asserting that because criminals (who do not bother to obtain them legally) and lunatics commit crimes - often horrendous crimes - with firearms, no one else except the state should be allowed to posses forearms simply eludes me. As if the state itself were never guilty of horrendous crimes, often commited with firearms.

Update: I think we all would like to hit upon effective ways to lessen the likelihood of incidents such as the one at Va. Tech. But the reflexive gun-control response is not effective, if for no other reason than that it is not going to happen. So the question is this: Given that it is not going to happen, are there other things than can be done? I think training people to be prepared for such events and steps to take should they occur is feasible. And I do think it both possible and desirable to enact laws mandating strict licensing for gun possession. After all, why should anyone be sold a gun if they don't know how to use and use it with skill. A proper licensing procedure might also serve to alert the authorities to anyone mentally unstable seeking to possess a gun.

11 comments:

  1. The Economist has a good leader this week on the topic:

    http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9040170

    The "human being" was able to buy semiautomatic guns - no central register, no references required (only ID), etc. If guns were not on sale, that would be a help. And to argue, as Glenn R has implied and others have said, that arming other students would have allowed the bad guy to be shot is spurious beyond belief. Can you imagine the mayhem if students were routinely armed?

    The focus of the debate should be what nobody in America seems able to see -- guns should not be on sale. Period.

    From the Economist article: "Cho Seung-hui does not stand for America's students, any more than Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris did when they slaughtered 13 of their fellow high-school students at Columbine in 1999. Such disturbed people exist in every society. The difference, as everyone knows but no one in authority was saying this week, is that in America such individuals have easy access to weapons of terrible destructive power. Cho killed his victims with two guns, one of them a Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistol, a rapid-fire weapon that is available only to police in virtually every other country, but which can legally be bought over the counter in thousands of gun-shops in America. There are estimated to be some 240m guns in America, considerably more than there are adults, and around a third of them are handguns, easy to conceal and use. Had powerful guns not been available to him, the deranged Cho would have killed fewer people, and perhaps none at all.
    But the tragedies of Virginia Tech—and Columbine, and Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, where five girls were shot at an Amish school last year—are not the full measure of the curse of guns. More bleakly terrible is America's annual harvest of gun deaths that are not mass murders: some 14,000 routine killings committed in 2005 with guns, to which must be added 16,000 suicides by firearm and 650 fatal accidents (2004 figures). Many of these, especially the suicides, would have happened anyway: but guns make them much easier. Since the killing of John Kennedy in 1963, more Americans have died by American gunfire than perished on foreign battlefields in the whole of the 20th century. In 2005 more than 400 children were murdered with guns. "

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  2. I'm afraid, Maxine, that I'm unwilling to The Economist's word for the assertion at the end that since Kennedy's assassination more Americans have died from gunfire than were killed on all the foreign batlefields in the 20th century. I'll need some documentation before swallowing that, especially in a piece whose author seems to think that only semi-automatic weapons are rapid-fire. A double-action revolver is virtually as fast. You say that guns should not be for sale -period. And I respect your opinion, even though I do not share it. The point, however, is that such a ban is not going to happen here. I realize Europeans do not like it, but we do have a Constitution that says that the right "of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." The likelihood of that Amendment being repealed is nil. So, given that the gun ban solution is not feasible, is there anything else that can be done? I think there is - as the update to this post indicates.

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  3. BTW, on Tim Lambert's blog there are various posts about Glenn R's logic too == those two guys just don't agree with each other.

    I don't want to pick holes in statistical arguments about guns, Frank -- I though overall the Economist article was calm and well-argued. No statistic is ever going to convince me that there is a case for selling guns. To me, it is immoral, period.

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  4. PS, Frank, I have seen several quotes of that part of the constitution with the first part of the sentence added in, which states that it is talking about the miltia. (A force of law).

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  5. In all of the other Amendments, references to rights of the "people" have always been interpreted as individual rights, rightly so. A consistent interpretation of "people" in the Bill of Rights leads to the conclusion that the first part of the Second Amendment is explaining why the right to bear arms is important, rather than changing the meaning of "people" to somehow mean something other than "people." "Congress shall make no law" is pretty straight-forward. It's tortured logic to use the beginning of the Amendment to argue that the Amendment doesn't mean "Congress shall make no law" when it says "Congress shall make no law." The framers would have to be idiots to write "Congress shall make no law" if what they meant was something else.

    It is also hard to believe that the intent of that Amendment was something other than the right for the people to own firearms, given that the people who wrote the Amendment had just overthrown a tyrannical government through force of arms. There is no way they meant that the government should be armed and the people should not be. It doesn't fit their history or the times. The framers were heavily influenced by Locke's conception of natural rights and his arguments for the rights to life, liberty and property. The right to self-defense -- from crime and from tyranny -- is crucial to the founding premises of this country.

    Maxine asks, "Can you imagine the mayhem if students were routinely armed?" There would be no mayhem. The facts are clear that most violent crimes are caused by a very small percentage of the population, career criminals, repeat offenders -- even though a huge number of people in the U.S. are in fact armed. If most people were dangerous when armed -- even if 10% were dangerous -- we would have a murder rate many, many times higher than we do. Maxine's assumption is that anyone is likely to shoot someone else if they have access to a weapon. That simply isn't true. In states where many people are carrying weapons legally in public, there is no greater risk of being shot and there are no more shootings than in more strict states. I haven't researched it lately. Maybe there are less.

    In Philadelphia, on the other hand, where guns are not legally carried at the rate of say places in Texas, the murder rate is through the roof. We might look at the neighborhoods in which these murders occur and the fatherless homes and poverty and the illegality of the guns and drug laws and the competence of the mayor and police leadership and all sorts of things.

    Of course, more armed people does lead to more accidents, probably, just based on numbers, and probably gives unstable people easier access to guns than in a society that is more strict. And college students, if we view them more like children than like adults, might not be the best examples of responsible people. (Though I once had a Marine, an Iraq War veteran, in my class, and if a shooting happened in my class and he were there, I'd hope he was armed. It wouldn't guarantee anything, but I'd rather he had his gun with him.)

    But I'm not arguing that arming all college students is a cure-all or even the best solution. I am arguing that giving gun-owners the right to bring their legal guns into college classrooms poses no threat to anyone. Someone intent on shooting up a college classroom will disobey a campus ban anyway. Does Maxine think that sane college students will shoot each other over a heated Proust debate? Students aren't usually that passionate about literature. Unfortunately, it's true that some people are nuts. When they get their hands on a gun, it can be terrible. No argument from me there.

    But hard cases make bad law. So do rare cases. Someone went on a killing spree after seeing the movie Natural Born Killers. A kid jumped out of a window trying to fly after seeing Superman in the 1970s. Kids have killed themselves and rock lyrics have been blamed. People called for limitations on freedoms every time (in those cases, freedom of expression). Let's take a deep breath and remember that this terrible shooting is not common and that you are more likely to slip and die in the bathtub than be killed in a mass shooting. You are far more likely to die in a car crash. Let's not scrap Constitutional protections and the right to self-defense because someone went nuts.

    To focus on this one shooting, or these rare high-profile shootings, is to miss the bigger picture. Nationally and in many cities (besides Philadelphia), gun violence and the murder rate in general have fallen dramatically from a couple of decades ago. Yet, guns haven't become less legal or less powerful. More mayhem has not followed from more guns in recent years, despite the high-profile shootings. Journalists don't spend lots of time delivering this information. Scaring us makes for better ratings I guess. And many of them share Maxine's perspective on guns, so they are not inclined to even see this big picture.

    Reality: There are over 200 million firearms in this country. No law would change that. There would be a civil war -- I am not speaking figuratively -- if the government tried confiscating them. If somehow the government could confiscate the legal ones or outlaw them, the people who handed the guns in would be the ones most likely not to use those guns irresponsibly in the first place -- the law-abiding. However, the criminals who possess guns and who trade in illegal guns would not turn their guns in, obviously. I don't see any reason to be cheered by this. Guns are used far more often than commonly thought to prevent crimes in the U.S. See the work of Kleck on this. Someone as motivated as the VT shooter might have acquired his weapon from illegal sources if legal avenues were not available. Maybe not, but most gun violence in this country would not be reduced by removing legal access.

    I don't expect to convince Maxine. Not since she thinks it's immoral. The cultural divide on these matters is wide and getting wider. I happen to think Britain's ideas about the right to self-defense are immoral. Britain keeps adding cameras and broadening the degree to which government is overseeing its citizens. Maybe they think Orwell was convinced 1984 could only happen in other countries. Maybe some have faith that in the long run this poses no problems for freedom. I suggest, however, that most of the world's countries throughout most of the world's history have existed in a state of tyranny. I don't know what reason there is to believe that that is all behind us forever. And the framers understood this, and the nature of power and government, and they were concerned about the long run, and believed in the right to overthrow government, as Jefferson maintained, and that is part of why guns are protected in the Constitution.

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  6. I want to take a socio-psychological view, a community's view, of what we are up against as we look into Cho. We have his family saying that it is apparent that the son and brother whom they loved, was not who they thought he was. This is how psychosis works, and this is who it attacks, young people in adolescence.

    The problem is systemic, and not a matter of gun control. Because Cho was both suicidal and homicidal, he could have blown himself and many others up, most likely with chemicals available on campus.

    The problem with Cho looks to me to be the problem with Virginia Tech, and the problem with many state colleges. The parents may never be involved as it is none of their business. Furthermore, state colleges put all onus onto students. They are responsible even for overcoming university oversights and errors that effect them, where they attend. They have no argument, only responsibility.

    The president of VT has been asked to resign. He should be fired based on the information coming out now, how Cho "slipped through the cracks." Other students, therefore, with non-homicidal problems are slipping through as well. This means that parents are sending their star pupils off to Virginia Tech, where they go from sheltered good students, to slipping through the cracks. If the students resort to drugs, it is the student's fault. If they get depressed and drop out, it is the student's fault.

    It is much deeper than Cho. It's Sue, Bob, Uri, May, Ava, et al. Young hopes are being dashed, and futures are being redefined into the negative--unnecessarily. We could always have done something about Cho. We must now do something about all our other state students.

    This is not an indictment of Virginia Tech, but of how it is run. For instance, their sports teams may have great coaching--but I wonder what the drop out rate is for their gifted athletes. I wonder how the coaches deal with the red tape. I bet they see students slipping through. And we know that Cho had insightful poetry teachers in Nikki Giovanni and one-on-ones with Lucinda Roy. But, Giovanni felt the need to threaten to quit before administrative action was taken. And even though Cho was committed, he was still in class. Homicidal or not: what was a psychologically sick adolescent doing in college, without treatment?

    I have sent four children off to college. Never should it get to where I would apologize to the world for my son or daughter becoming a mass murderer. And yet, I believe that these murders could easily have taken place in Massachusetts. The appointments to administration are done politically. Every state has presidents who are better golfers than the college administrators their fluffed resumes purport.

    A second systemic issue has to do with adolescence. I agree that these students should not be armed. Their judgment is not mature. These kids have been more sheltered than street wise. They went to school, and then did their homework. They then leap into co-ed situations where they are adults. It is not gradual enough. It can come across as if they have been abandoned. They have none of their support system around them, and suddenly have to make one up--in a state system that has them fending for themselves.

    At Lowell High School, kids do not travel the halls without an escort. There are armed police everywhere. It is a very large school. When I attended high school there, it was the most populous school this side of the Mississippi. We have race issues in this city. No one in Lowell belongs to a majority. Even lumping all light-colored people into the same "white" race--whites are a minority. At Lowell High, there are programs for disturbed students. Whereas in other school systems, kids with psychological problems are sent away, because they are unmanageable. Lowell has the resources. I had no compunctions in sending my kids to Lowell High School, where two of them went. They were safe, surrounded by vast resources, and programs galore.

    What's the difference between Lowell High and Virginia Tech--or UMass Lowell for that matter? The race thing is probably about the same. The need for vast arrays of programs to serve these kids is probably about the same. But, the need to recognize that these are adolescents in young adulthood, and not mature adults--is very nearly the same as well. They are not mature adults. The freshmen are only 18 for Pete's sake.

    What Cho is telling me, is that sure, we need to look at the very positive aspects of our state universities, and that we need to look at the tremendous successes--sure. But we need to look at the failures at these institutions. We need to find the Chos and care about them, not necessarily before they blow us up, but before they slip through the cracks. By the millions, these are our kids. They mean everything to us.

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  7. It remains a mystery to me why we need driving lessons and a licence to drive a car (not designed per se to kill) but don't need lessons and a licence to own a gun (designed specifically to kill). Of course the lessons/licensing approach will not stop anyone from owning and using weapons (so does not negate the possibility of tragedies like this occurring), but should make it statistically less likely that a handgun (whether rapid-fire or not) will be casually picked up and fired.

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  8. This is timely:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18237342/

    Perhaps one example of why guns should not be looked at from a moral prism, because if they are, Miss America's case shows them to be useful.

    And here's an interesting portrait of Cho Seung-hui from the Sunday Times:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article1686784.ece

    I doubt very much Ms Paglia's rather innovative explanation:

    Camille Paglia, professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and author of Sexual Personae, believes Cho is emblematic of the crisis of masculinity in America. “Women have difficulty understanding the mix of male sexual aggression with egotism and the ecstasy of self-immolation,” she says. Or to quote Martin Amis on that other killer, Fred West: he became “addicted to the moment where impotence becomes prepotence".

    Are we now going to 'academize' psychopathic killings and put the blame on American mores as a fount for them? Beats me.

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  9. Quick correction: The second part of the Amendment to which I refer in my comment above is actually "the right of the People to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed." I mistakenly wrote "Congress shall make no law." In your head, please insert the correct words when reading my first paragraph. It doesn't change my arguments. It's still straight-forward and my points above stand. The framers would have to have been idiots to write "the right of the People to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed" if they meant that the right could in fact be infringed and only the government could have weapons.

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  10. There is a good editorial in today's Times:

    Dunblane Distorted
    The US gun lobby should not look to Britain for encouragement

    It is deeply unfortunate that in the decade since the Dunblane massacre and the handgun ban that followed it, gun crime in the UK has risen. It is even more unfortunate that some in the US have sought to use this fact since last week’s killings in Virginia to bolster their case against tighter US gun controls. Worse than that, it is an abuse of the memory of the Dunblane victims, and highly misleading.

    Gun violence has gone up in Britain, according to one prominent US politician, “because criminals end up buying illegal guns but the law-abiding, honest citizen is in effect disarmed.” Or, as the National Rifle Association has put it, strict gun laws “take away the tools of self-defence from honest people”. The impression given, of ordinary Britons in the pre-Dunblane era defending their homes with lethal firearms, bears scant relation to reality. When an East Anglian farmer shot and killed an intruder in 1999, the case was so unusual that law lords were forced to reexamine the law on self-defence. The defendant won wide public backing, but a jury convicted him of murder.

    UK gun violence has risen, but from a base so low that comparisons with the US backfire on critics of gun control. In 2004, the per capita gun-related murder rate was 25 times higher in the US than the UK: 10,654 people were shot dead in the US that year — three times the death toll from 30 years of Northern Ireland’s Troubles. Whatever the reasons for Britain’s current gun crime problem, looser controls are not the remedy. As US leaders wrestle with the implications of the Virginia Tech massacre, they should think twice before invoking Dunblane and its legacy.
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/leading_article/article1701274.ece

    So far as I am concerned, I am saddened by anyone who could argue that guns should be on sale. It is insane. I think it is tragic that so many Americans (and other people) can't see that, and tie themselves up in knots on this issue by all these convoluted arguments in favour of something whose only purpose is to kill.

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  11. Hi Maxine,

    I was talking to a customer tonight at work who belongs to a gun club and the NRA. He's a real nice guy, intelligent, not a yahoo or anything, good citizen--and enjoys at least shooting as one of his hobbies. We didn't discuss any collection of his.

    I brought him to the subject, because I had read your response here. He spoke more of the difference between the US history of citizenry with weapons, versus the England citizenry without, even before guns. His take was that the English have always had a ruling or lording elite that has disarmed the commoner.

    I've enjoyed shooting targets myself with my brother. There is no reason why either of us should not be armed. We are both safe and responsible. I don't belong to the NRA myself. My brother may. I don't think so though.

    As far as intruders into households getting shot--I recall a conversation with a guy who has no guns that he spoke of, but told me how he has his house stacked with common household chemicals, cleaners and such, that he knows how to combine and loose, in order to blind, burn, and otherwise hurt intruders. Not a good idea to break into his house.

    Another house we should not break into, is a very good friend of mine's. I was tutoring his daughter in math, to get into the engineering program at the USAF Academy--20-30 years ago. He and I were chatting after a session. He took me into his basement, into the room with his gun collection.

    Very impressive. Different guns hanging on the walls, in locked draws all over, and special cabinets--a place for everything, and each gun with meaning for him. I looked up at the crossbow he had hanging on the wall, and said, "Jesus, John, that crossbow is loaded." He said, "Of course it is. All my guns are loaded too. What good is an unloaded gun?"

    I told the customer tonight about John's collection, and he said that he does not personally agree, that he himself does not keep his guns loaded, but understands those who do. I agreed.

    It would not occur to me to ever take John's guns from him. There would be no good reason to disarm him. He is a very very good guy, who is very well trained. Highly skilled. In fact, we'd probably have a better chance coming out alive from his house, than the guy's with the turpentine creations.

    Another friend of mine, who just died this year, who's picture is right at my computer terminal here, was an avid hunter.

    It seems my customer is right, that there is a cultural issue going on here.

    Like I said, no one is going to disarm Americans. As it has been pointed out, it is basic, as part of our Constitution.

    Yours,
    Rus

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