Saturday, May 18, 2013

Research on guns and killing - follow up


In response to my Ethical Musings post, Research on guns and killing, I received the following comment from an anonymous reader:

"About 30,000 Americans die annually because of gun violence. None of those Americans dies defending her or himself against governmental tyranny. The evidence very strongly supports debating the merits of the second amendment, with an eye toward advocating its repeal."

Two thirds of those unfortunate deaths are suicides. How many would still commit suicide with something other than a firearm? I don't want any of them to, mind you. But to call the suicide portion a "gun violence" problem is ridiculous. The remaining third are dominated by urban gang and drug violence. These lives are precious, too. But your idea of gun control for this segment is irrelevant. As long as we have a porous border, we cannot exclude things that are in demand (cheap labor, drugs, and guns if there was no domestic supply).

Lastly, you remain stuck on this notion that the only reason for the Second Amendment is storming the Bastille. For law-abiding citizens, it is defensive, either in a personal protection sense (as noted by the Supreme Court of the U.S. in the Heller decision) or a defensive check on tyranny. By that, I mean raising the political and financial cost of suffering the fate of some 100 million individuals who were easily taken into custody and sent to Gulags, collectives, or concentration camps.

Although the comment may appear cogent at first glance, closer reading reveals deeply flawed arguments:

  1. The comment is correct: two thirds of those who die from gun violence are suicides. Suicide, for example, is the number two cause of deaths among male teenagers and guns are their most prevalent method. Reducing the number of guns in homes would reduce the number of male teenagers committing suicide. This is clearly a gun violence issue.
  2. Reducing the number of guns, banning automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and outlawing large magazines will not end urban or gang violence. Gangs and other criminals may (hopefully!) find obtaining guns and ammunition more difficult. Gun control legislation is not a panacea. But that is not a reason to do nothing. Instead, policies that achieve incremental reductions in the level of gun violence are worthwhile and cumulatively can make a significant difference in the quality of life of in the United States.
  3. Gulags, collectives, and concentration camps are generally found only when tyranny rules. The one notable exception to this was the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during WWII, which was a terrible insult to loyal citizens, an embarrassing example of state sanctioned racism, and an abrogation of the Constitution that the Second Amendment did not prevent. Additionally, people may voluntarily choose to live and work in collectives, e.g., the Israeli kibbutz. The gulags, collectives, and concentration camps that are morally reprehensible occur under dictatorships, which brings us back to my argument that the Second Amendment is an anachronism, no longer an effective means of preventing tyranny.

At Ethical Musings, I am interested in what should be (i.e., ethics) not in interpreting the law (the role of the Supreme Court). As a Christian, an ethicist, and a patriotic American, I'm convinced that the United States would be a much better nation in which to live if the Second Amendment were repealed and automatic weapons, semi-automatic weapons, and large magazines outlawed.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

"1. ...Reducing the number of guns in homes would reduce the number of male teenagers committing suicide. This is clearly a gun violence issue."

You believe that it would reduce the suicide rate. It might or it might not. There is mixed evidence on that subject in the academic literature, and it is easy to note examples from gun free Japan where suicide is the leading cause of death in young Japanese men.

As to framing the issue, suicide among male U.S. teenagers is more of an issue of 1) gun safety and 2) mental health. Calling it "gun violence" is a political tactic to obscure and blend different issues together. Go ahead and use the term "gun violence" if you want, but don't claim to adhere to Reason as one of your stool legs.

Anonymous said...

"2. Gun control legislation is not a panacea. But that is not a reason to do nothing. Instead, policies that achieve incremental reductions in the level of gun violence are worthwhile and cumulatively can make a significant difference in the quality of life of in the United States."

OK, I'll make an admittedly utilitarian counterargument. Yes, we should do nothing if the costs outweigh the benefits. You are assuming that there is no cost to your proposed gun control, so therefore any incremental gun control is worth it.

However, it is quite possible that your proposed gun control would result in negligible benefits for either the suicide issue or the gang violence issue. Especially if you reasonably assume an increase in illegal imports of restricted firearms and ammunition on the part of organized crime.

On the flip side, the criminology literature documents the incidence of what they call "defensive gun uses" that number in the tens or hundreds of thousands annually (see Ch. 5 of the NAS book "Firearms and Violence: A Critical Study") This is a little discussed example of the defensive benefits of firearm ownership. I don't want to quibble about whether there are 11,000 or 1.1 million annual defensive gun uses. My point is, to the extent that your proposed gun control restricts people from defending themselves, then there is a potential **cost** to your proposed policy -- and a potential reduction in the quality of life in the U.S.

If you don't address the likelihood of real benefits and costs, then I suspect your policy position for appearances sake, or emotionally driven. At a minimum, if you don't at least address the complexity of an issue like this, then I have a hard time taking you seriously. I don't mean to sound insulting -- You're probably a smarter man than I am.

George Clifford said...

The real costs of gun control are to gun manufacturers and gun sellers, all of whom, in my opinion, would do well do find a more socially beneficial occupation. The U.S. has too many guns and too many people own guns, many of whom store their guns unsafely. Few Americans in the 21st century hunt or target shoot; we'd have a safer, healthier society if everyone else got rid of their guns.

Anonymous said...

"Gulags, collectives, and concentration camps are generally found only when tyranny rules...The gulags, collectives, and concentration camps that are morally reprehensible occur under dictatorships, which brings us back to my argument that the Second Amendment is an anachronism, no longer an effective means of preventing tyranny."

The point was that it was easier and cheaper for those dictators to detain and displace (and ultimately destroy) people because the latter were unarmed. Had they been armed, as was the case during the Warsaw Uprising, it would have raised the cost of such policy.

You seem to be saying that since the U.S. government is not a dictatorship, then we don't need a 2nd Amendment to prevent tyranny. I agree with that in that I don't seriously expect our form of government to change. I doubt that educated, civilized Europeans thought their government systems would change during the 20th Century, but it happened nonetheless, brought on my unimagined economic collapse. I don't Expect those things to happen to the U.S. I also don't expect my house will burn down, but I'll still pay the homeowner's policy.

George Clifford said...

The character of governments, as you comment, may change. However, an armed ghetto would not have deterred the Nazis but given them cause to destroy the ghetto, with all of its residents, in situ. Since WWII, militaries have even more effective weapons and the idea of individuals mounting an effective resistance without air power, automatic weapons, grenades (i.e., weapons already illegal for U.S. residents to own) is absurd.

Anonymous said...

"The character of governments, as you comment, may change. However, an armed ghetto would not have deterred the Nazis but given them cause to destroy the ghetto, with all of its residents, in situ. Since WWII, militaries have even more effective weapons and the idea of individuals mounting an effective resistance without air power, automatic weapons, grenades (i.e., weapons already illegal for U.S. residents to own) is absurd."

I'd say the Warsaw ghetto situation was a bit more complicated than just saying it caused the Nazis to kill everybody. The ghetto inhabitants were hoping (wrongly) for Russian intervention. And their alternative was in situ starvation or going to Treblinka.

That aside, I agree with you that citizens with small arms will never hold off the modern military. Scale down your notions of tyranny. Those residents of the Warsaw ghetto got there because a *squad* of guys showed up at their village with small arms and rounded them up. Stalin's mass of victims were arrested individually, quietly. You could do that in Stalin's Georgia, but you couldn't do that in Jimmy Carter's Georgia. You would have to send a company of soldiers, or a swat team of police, and it would be be more expensive and noticeable.