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Irrational Enthusiasm

January 17th, 2013
Before Obama announced his plan, New York already passed a tightening of gun laws. Predictably, people with little sense acted irrationally:
“It's ridiculous. It’s absolutely — how to put it nicely — it’s Prince Andrew Cuomo’s bid for the White House,” said Jim Hanley, who was waiting to buy another handgun. “I want to do it before the right is taken away. Andrew Cuomo and Barack Hussein Obama are two best gun salesmen in the history of the world.”
So, what provisions prompted Hanley to buy another handgun?
Signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday, the New York legislation tightens a ban on assault-style rifles, calls for background checks on ammunition purchases, outlaws large-capacity magazines and tries to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people deemed to be a threat.
Therefore he believes his right to own a handgun will be stripped from him. Okeydokey. This disconnect between fact and reality is somewhat emblematic of the gun “enthusiasts.” Fight for decades to win an inch, finally gain a centimeter, and the gun crowd starts shouting about how you've taken a mile and are quickly approaching infinity. I've gotten the same reaction countless times when I have discussed guns on the Internet. I can start my statement with a whole paragraph about how I believe there is an individual right to keep and bear arms, how I would never suggest a gun ban, and how the measures I wish to introduce would allow any law-abiding citizen to own a large number of guns. Then I lay down a set of reasonable gun control proposals with rationales for each. Inevitably, the response from gun advocates begins, “You should never ban guns because….”
Chris Thiel of North Tonawanda has a pistol permit and belongs to a pistol league but doesn’t own a pistol. He described himself as a hobbyist and said he’s been thinking about buying an AR-15. “Say this goes through and another tragedy happens and in New York state,” he said. “You’ve got to do more then? When does it end?”
Hopefully it ends with your having to go to a gun range to enjoy your hobby rather than 20 more children being slaughtered. Or is going to a club too high a price to pay for other people's lives? Here's one way to see it: a person owns a car, but feels that it is unreasonable to force them to do any maintenance on it. They ignore many warning signs, a lot of minor problems, and let things accumulate. Finally, they are driving through a school zone and their brakes fail because they didn't check the brake fluid and a leak drained it. The car goes out of control and runs down a crowd of schoolchildren. You may feel that just punishing the cretin is OK, but I would think that the parents of the dead children might not be so comforted by the late action. The people, stunned by the horrible incident, approve passing a law that requires car owners to undergo regular brake maintenance to find such problems before such an incident happens again. However, car enthusiasts are livid. “It's ridiculous,” they complain. “How long before the right to drive my car is taken away?” one driver asks. “Say this goes through and another tragedy happens because of some other aspect of car maintenance,” another driver says. “You’ve got to do more then? When does it end?” Seen in any other context, the arguments of the gun crowd would appear as ludicrous even to them as it does to the rest of us. Nor is it any comfort that the people furiously buying weapons are paranoid and stupid. Just as a law requiring brake maintenance is not a harbinger of a total ban on driving cars, neither are New York's laws—nor laws that go a great deal further—a harbinger of the loss of the right to keep and bear arms. Face it: if you think you need a Bushmaster, and if you live in the United states and are not on duty in Afghanistan, you're an ass. Your losing your ability to wield your toy and only be forced to register it is not a violation of your rights. It is, in fact, a violation of the rights to those around you, because your freedoms do not extend to actions that put your neighbors' safety and even their lives at stake for an unnecessary bang-bang toy. And that's at the heart of this issue: virtually right we have is limited if it potentially infringes on the safety of others. You have the right to free speech, but not if it wrongly harms others, as in slander or reckless endangerment. You have the right to be protected from search and seizure, except where a court finds reason to void that right for public safety. The gun advocates, however, seem to believe that they are exempt. We make everyone go through a long and difficult process to get a driver's license, but a shorter and easier process to certify a person to use a gun—a tool specifically designed to kill people—somehow is an unbearable price to pay and must be stopped. How would you feel about an 18-year-old driving a car around your neighborhood without a day of training? And the assault rifle? Well, why stop there? Why not allow hand grenades? Nerve gas? Or, if you want to weasel about how it's only projectile weapons in question, then how about RPGs? Howitzers? The assault rifle belongs in the same category: it's a military weapon, and has no place in our neighborhoods. It's time for people who own guns to stop being whiny, selfish pricks and start cooperating with completely reasonable public safety measures.

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  1. Troy
    January 17th, 2013 at 10:14 | #1

    Half this country is just nutso and/or stupid.

    Like that guy who blew away Yoshihiro Hattori Clint Eastwood-style back in 1992.

    Complicating matters is Alan Kay’s maxim that “Point of view is worth 80 IQ points” — ideology is making people stupid, too.

    For the past 60-odd years there’s been an alternate reality machine being created that has now produced “epistemic closure” of bullshit beliefs that tens of millions of Americans are now ensconced in.

    Reagan won the cold war, and all the other Reagan-era mythology, like he cut taxes or his voodoo economics actually turned this country around. Europe is some dysfunctional basket case of out-of-country government nanny-state social welfarism.

    That we need a return to 19th-century minarchy to fix what’s wrong here.

    Toss together the right-libertarian minarchist contingent, the traditional big-money / cheap-labor conservatives, and the christian fundamentalist social conservatives providing the bulk of the votes on election day, and you’ve got one helluva toxic mix of a political party.

    It doesn’t have to be this way, but to fix things is going to require figuring out how to reverse the economic imbalances we’ve been driving up since 1980 if not earlier.

    http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/MANEMP

    First they came for the apparel workers, but I was not an apparel worker so I said nothing.

    http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/GINIALLRH

    http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/CP

  2. Jon
    January 18th, 2013 at 17:59 | #2

    Consider this chart:
    http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-11

    Assume for the sake of argument that all the rifle homicides listed are “assault weapons”.

    I cannot imagine by what moral logic you can conclude that THESE guns MUST be banned (and in fact that people who disagree are evil and/or selfish to say otherwise), but shotguns and handguns are OK.

  3. Luis
    January 18th, 2013 at 19:56 | #3

    I cannot imagine by what moral logic you can conclude that THESE guns MUST be banned (and in fact that people who disagree are evil and/or selfish to say otherwise), but shotguns and handguns are OK.
    I’m assuming your question is authentic and not a troll, though I have to say it exhibits an odd kind of blindness to the situation.

    Since there is an individual right to keep and bear arms (total gun bans are clearly effective worldwide, but this is not an option in the U.S.), allow firearms that have a practical, legitimate use, and not allow the types which are obviously overkill. Are hand grenades OK? RPG launchers? Sidewinder missiles? Nerve gas? Sorry, but an assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine is overkill, literally. A rifle for hunting or a handgun or shotgun for home defense is not. This is not a personal distinction, but one based on reason; an assault rifle is not necessary for home defense, and you’re a piss-poor hunter if you need one to drop a deer.

    This is demonstrated in the number of lives that can be taken. Look at Aurora, for example: were assault rifles not allowed from the start, and the guy in the theater had a handgun instead of an assault rifle, there’s lives saved right there. Take Tuscon; had the shooter used a magazine with 10 rounds instead of 33, that’s 23 fewer shots he gets off before he has to reload and there is a window to take him down.

    You do the math. You’re in a theater and a guy comes in and starts shooting. Maybe 300 people there. Either the shooter can kill dozens with an M&P15 semi-automatic rifle, or shoot a few people with a handgun or a rifle. The saving grace in Aurora was that the rifle jammed after 30 rounds had been fired. Had the gun not jammed, maybe 30-40 would be dead instead of just 12.

    I am just guessing, but I would suspect that, unless you are a complete idiot, you want the guy to have a handgun and not a drum-magazine-bearing assault rifle. Your chances for surviving improve considerably.

    You would probably even feel this way if you were in the adjacent theater. Assault rifles have stronger penetrating power than lesser weapons; some injuries in Aurora were from the next auditorium over. For home defense, you’re likely to take out family members or even neighbors with an assault rifle.

    Let’s turn this around: what is your idea of the legitimate use of a semi-automatic assault rifle with a 100-round drum? I’d love to hear your justifications for that in light of the lives that have been taken because people have them instead of handguns, shotguns, or normal hunting rifles.

  4. Troy
    January 19th, 2013 at 09:12 | #4

    @Jon

    I cannot imagine by what moral logic you can conclude that THESE guns MUST be banned

    I would say any gun that attracts the mentally unstable should be restricted if not banned.

    The whole Walter Mitty-esque “tactical” subculture of gun nuts is part of the problem.

    Japan has solved the problem of nutty people wanting to dress up as tough guys by allowing air-powered replica rifles but not the real thing.

    Win win, the immature and/or damaged man-boys can pretend to be movie action heroes, while not actually being able to take out entire schools or other public places full of targets/people.

  5. Jon
    January 21st, 2013 at 05:05 | #5

    (My apologies for the delay in response, work and family have absorbed my time for the last couple days)

    “Let’s turn this around: what is your idea of the legitimate use of a semi-automatic assault rifle with a 100-round drum? I’d love to hear your justifications for that in light of the lives that have been taken because people have them instead of handguns, shotguns, or normal hunting rifles.”

    I don’t actually care too much about the “legitimate use” question. I start from the position that people should be free to do as they please up to the point of demonstrated harm to others.

    It is “in light of the lives that have been taken because people have them instead of handguns, shotguns, or normal hunting rifles” that I dispute.

    Consider your example of the Aurora shooter. He did not stop shooting because he had to reload. He was not tackled and subdued. He was not out of ammo. He appears to have simply lost interest in shooting people and wandered out into the parking lot to plink at his car. The *mechanical properties* of the guns he used had NO relevance to the casualty count, that was decided by the shape of his crazy.

    The Virginia tech shooting used only handguns, and was much more lethal. This was again not a property of the guns used, but rather because he shot each target multiple times to be sure they were dead. He reloaded at least 11 times, it made no difference. Again, the choice of weapons used meant nothing, it was his *behavior* that mattered.

    There are only two rampage shootings that I know of where reloading offered a ‘window’ to take the shooter down. That would be the Giffords shooting and Colin Ferguson’s rampage. In both cases however, the difference was that they started in the middle of a crowd. Again, not the weapon but the behavior.

    There is no correlation I can see between the choice of weapon and the effectiveness of rampage killers (at least within the scope of what we are talking about here). The death and injury count is always a factor of how their insanity and remaining mental capability combine to form their behavior.

    While correlation cannot prove causality, it CAN rule it out.

    So when I evaluate an “assault weapons” or magazine size ban, here is what I see:

    It will cost billions of dollars, seize and destroy billions more in private property, incarcerate numerous productive citizens who had no idea grandpa’s hunting rifle was an ‘assault weapon’, and *will do nothing to address the actual problem*.

    Your initial metaphor regarding the runaway car is useful, but inaccurate. To make it match the ‘assault weapons’ ban, the proposed action would be to ban pickup trucks, because maybe if he had plowed through a crowd of children in a car it wouldn’t have been so bad. And how often do you really NEED a pickup truck?

  6. Luis
    January 21st, 2013 at 10:47 | #6

    I don’t actually care too much about the “legitimate use” question. I start from the position that people should be free to do as they please up to the point of demonstrated harm to others.

    That is what you call a “cop-out,” not to mention an excellent example of the “neutral space” fallacy I outlined in a recent post. In terms of responding—I ask you one question, you brush it off and then want me to engage in answering a barrage or your own? That, plus…

    Consider your example of the Aurora shooter. He did not stop shooting because he had to reload. He was not tackled and subdued. He was not out of ammo. He appears to have simply lost interest in shooting people and wandered out into the parking lot to plink at his car. The *mechanical properties* of the guns he used had NO relevance to the casualty count, that was decided by the shape of his crazy.

    …make me conclude that it’s a waste of time discussing this with you.

    You cannot know whether he would have continued spraying the audience had that gun not jammed; the fact that he moved to other guns after the rifle jammed is proof that he had a desire to continue firing, which contradicts your idea that he would not have emptied the drum. In fact, after a rather exhaustive search on the Internet, Lexis-Nexis, etc. I could find no documents giving any supportive evidence telling why he stopped in the end; nothing about the amount of ammunition he had left on him when he left the theater. Nor do you provide a source nor any other reason to believe what you claim.

    Which tells me that in addition to copping out on the one question I asked you, you seem to be just making crap up. Which also tells me that the time I have spent researching the info so far has been a waste of time.

  7. Jon
    January 21st, 2013 at 14:50 | #7

    “In terms of responding—I ask you one question, you brush it off…”

    You asked one question – in two parts. I answered both. If ‘demonstrated harm to others’ is some sort of fallacy then why was “in light of the lives that have been taken because people have them instead of handguns, shotguns, or normal hunting rifles” part of the question?

    You have placed this question into cost/benefit terms. I answered it in the same. And my answer is that cost is irrelevant because there is NO benefit.

    “…and then want me to engage in answering a barrage or your own? ”

    I am confused by this; I did not recall asking you *any* questions, let alone a “barrage” you were expected to answer. I re-read my post carefully but was unable to locate this “barrage”. In fact, unless my eyes are failing me the only question mark in the entire post was where I quoted your question. I am uncertain where you saw these questions, but if you reread what I wrote without making statements into questions, perhaps you will find my answers more useful.

    “You cannot know whether he would have continued spraying the audience had that gun not jammed; the fact that he moved to other guns after the rifle jammed is proof that he had a desire to continue firing, which contradicts your idea that he would not have emptied the drum.”

    I said *nothing* about emptying the drum. But you make my point for me. He DID continue spraying. Just with another gun. My point is that the *specific gun* did not matter. And it is the banning of the *specific gun* we are discussing here. There is no need to have some battle of the research, this encapsulates my point perfectly – deprived of his ‘assault weapon’ he “moved to other guns”.

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