Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mass murder in Orlando

The recent mass murder at a gay nightclub in Orlando has prompted four musings.
First, the shooters in both the Orlando and the San Bernardino attacks apparently fully complied with Federal firearms laws when the attackers purchased the weapons used in those attacks. This is not an argument against background checks and other requirements. Instead, this observation points to the inadequacy of present laws to keep people safe.
Second, the shooter in Orlando, like the shooters in San Bernardino, appears to have had no links to any terror group, domestic or foreign. As I have previously argued in Ethical Musings, considering all mass murder as terrorism unhelpfully conflates two different types of crime. Tightening immigration policies would not have prevented the Orlando attack.
Third, the ultimate path to a safer society consists of promoting respect for the dignity and worth of all persons. Laws that encourage divisiveness (e.g., laws in North Carolina about who can use which public restroom) tacitly incite prejudicial acts by individuals and groups. Laws intended to make ownership easier or more widespread similarly, if subtly, are catalysts for greater violence. If the US is not going to repeal the Second Amendment, then churches and concerned citizens should advocate the voluntary destruction of personal firearms. Fewer firearms create a safer community by reducing the chances of accidental death. In time, with expanded support for voluntary firearm destruction, the movement will gain sufficient traction to contribute to reducing the number of mass murders by gun and to perhaps lead to repeal of the Second Amendment. In an age of nuclear weapons, fighter jets, crew served weapons, armored vehicles, and other modern implements of warfighting, personal firearms no longer represent an effective deterrence to the emergence of tyranny.

Fourth, responses that do little beyond offering prayers and sympathy for the deceased and bereaved may seem to express laudatory concern for neighbors. However, genuine concern for neighbors requires more than verbal statements. Loving all of our neighbors requires welcoming the stranger, standing against hate in all of its manifestations, and enacting laws to make communities safer.


Anonymous said...

Several counter musings to this statement: " In an age of nuclear weapons, fighter jets, crew served weapons, armored vehicles, and other modern implements of warfighting, personal firearms no longer represent an effective deterrence to the emergence of tyranny."

1. Yes, private small arms won't prevent military forces from arriving at your city. But when push comes to shove, cities, and especially individuals, are subdued by house-to-house fighting with small arms. Recent examples would be back and forth battles in Iraqi cities like Fallujah.

2. Historically, tyranny doesn't arrive at your door in the form of military hardware. The pattern of the 20th century shows scores of millions who died in camps, mostly from starvation. They were arrested by secret police or soldiers with small arms, and then aggregated into prisons and camps. I guess that this is the least expensive way of doing it, especially in terms of political capital expended by a would-be tyrant. Unleashing military hardware on civilians is noisy, costly, and invites rebellion from within and intervention from other countries. Now, you might counter that if, say, armed Jewish Germanshad resisted their (illegal) arrest, they would have then been crushed with military force. Yes, but that would be more expensive, as well as noisy and noticed -- by everybody. Could Pol Pot have afforded to send a SWAT team or an infantry squad to arrest all four million of his victims?

3. The statement implicitly assumes that the only rationale for the second amendment is the collective right to serve in a militia (to prevent tyranny). That is one view (four out of nine SCOTUS justices agreed with it, so you are in good company). But there is also the counter view, with historical and judicial precedent, of the individual right to keep and bear arms, which brings up other rationales besides tyranny prevention, e.g., protection from criminals, as in the Heller case.

Anonymous said...

Fr. George -- after clicking "Post" to my last comment about second amendment stuff, I had a twinge of guilt about potentially raising your blood pressure or lowering your endorphines with my comment. So I trust you will take it for the academic wannabe, caffeine-inspired musing that it is. Regards, John in Houston

George Clifford said...

John, No worries. Research has consistently shown that people without guns are safer (less likely to be harmed) by criminals. Furthermore, not having a gun in the home significantly reduces the likelihood of gun-related accidents in the home.

Anonymous said...

If I may muse further about that research, what you reference are generally applications of the the epidemiological approach. In these models, the incidence of a bad outcome is specified as a function of various control variables and some measure of gun ownership or possession. The data are usually collected via a survey, and the model specification is typically estimated using logistic regression. This allows one to interpret the regression coefficients as to how the explanatory variables influence the probability of the outcome. I'm not a criminologist, but that's my general take on it.

The thing that gives me pause about that research is that there is typically no consideration of how experienced, careful, responsible, trained, licensed, etc. the gun owner is. I am not throwing stones at the researchers because of this, since I imagine such attributes are hard to measure and hence the data would be expensive to collect. So the model specifications typically lack the human capital aspect of gun ownership. Without such information, I contend the results of those logit models say very little about the real influence of gun possession on the risk of a negative outcome related to homeowner's gun possession.

In the absolute, of course, if you have no firearm in your home, then you can't harm anybody with your firearm, and others cannot harm you with your firearm. It does not follow that having a firearm in your home increases the risk of harm without knowing something about how that firearm is handled, stored, carried, etc. by its owner. If such discriminating data could be collected and included in the specification of the incidence of gun mishaps, I hypothesize that different gun handling/storage practices would explain observed differences in the incidence of gun mishaps. Such results could be the basis for education, PSA's, licensing requirements, and even be something that pro-gun advocates and anti-gun-violence advocates could collaborate on.

OK, so that's just another coffee break hypothesis. My other reason for getting into the methodological weeds is to highlight a problem with church advocacy on anything. I agree with the principle that our faith implies being politically active. Modern policy advocacy is frequently built on research from hard sciences or social sciences. It seems to me, there are frequently issues of data or methodology that should give us all pause on a great many issues. Trouble is, being humble about the research underpinnings of one's position is not what advocates do. The advocacy process appears a lot less academic and a lot more selectively adversarial. There's a tension there that I don't know how to resolve.

John in Houston

George Clifford said...

The methodological issues you note are real. I would not be surprised if gun safety programs, requirements for proper storage, etc., did reduce the incidence of accidental deaths and so forth. However, your proposals raise enforcement issues, e.g., how can the state enforce gun storage requirements without violating personal privacy? One of the lessons that I learned in developing policy for the Navy is that policy is universal, i.e., written for general application rather than each specific case. And this is where the research becomes important: in general, owning a gun makes the gun owner and others less safe.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough.

My State has approached the enforcement problem mainly in setting the conditions for concealed carry licensing training. I don't know if it is the result of the training or just self selection, but the 22 year history of the policy has been relatively successful as measured by annual criminal conviction rates (sort of a proxy for safe behavior). That is, licensed concealed carriers are convicted of crimes ten to twenty times less frequently than the general population.

I agree that a storage safety standard would be hard to enforce without intruding on privacy, which is one reason why a safe storage bill promoted by anti-gun-violence folks died in the recent legislative session.