Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bad Gun Argument

For those who oppose gun-control, there's a frequently stated concept that these psycho handgun mass-murderers would be prevented were everyone else allowed to be armed. This came up with the Virginia Tech case and in the few hours after the Ft. Hood massacre some gun-control partisans exposed their ignorance by using this argument ironically/mockingly (the fact is that army bases are quite gun-free). The Styx would like to inject some rationality in this debate.

Primary Point: Evolution and Crime

First of all: there may be a fancy sociology-deviance-criminology term for this, I don't know yet, but I'll call it the Adaptability argument (or the Better Mousetrap, Better Mouse argument): that antagonistic agents will adapt to the expected environment. Put in simpler terms: if a psycho gunman knows his future victims will be armed, he will arm himself better. So instead of bringing a handgun, he'll bring dynamite.

I think Gladwell wrote about this with the anti-hijack tactics in the 1960s-70s. There were a high quantity of airplane hijackings in that era; then the law-enforcement tactics got better at eliminating the easy hijacking, which resulted in fewer attempts, but those that were attempted had a much higher casualty result.

Now one can plausibly argue that having a highly armed populace would be the equivalent of the better law-enforcement in the hijacking case. More guns = fewer mass murders. True, if you buy the analogy, then instead of using guns the murderers will use explosives, lets say, but that may be desirable to the gun defender. The fewer number of possible mass-murderers means, probabilistically, that in such a large country, I'll be less likely to be randomly shot. It's sorta why we say that air-travel is better than car-travel - the car accidents are smaller in body counts but far more frequent, while the air crashes are quite rare, but when they happen, they take out hundreds.

Analogies can be fun, you say. But here's the problem with using hijacking as a pro-gun (air-crash) case: ease of access. What does it take for a guy to go on a gun rampage? Uh, a gun. What does it take for a guy to hijack a plane? Much more planning.

In fact, speaking as a social scientist, it would behoove us to analyze why the gun violence occurs and how the crimes are committed. I'd predict, from what I remember reading about the data, that the murderers are often either (a) insane, or (b) on drugs/alcohol. Which means that their brains aren't working right at the time of the crime. Which means that logic & deterrence will have less of an effect than we'd like. If a person kills because the voices in his head tell him to, then he's going to try to kill. And, as I said above, if the voices warn him that everyone will have a gun, then he won't use his gun, he'll use his legally modified sub-machine gun or explosives.

Therefore, when dealing with nutjobs/addicts, the best defense won't be deterrence, it will be arms control. Ipso facto and QED.

Secondary Point

And, as I said in the earlier post, the key point the gun-advocates miss is that we don't know which citizen, when he buys his weapon, is a (potential) criminal or a (potential) whacko or a (potential) hero. Sadly, most of the pro-gun websites I've visited (when looking for good blog-pics) are also disturbingly racist. That means that these pro-gun people are often the same people who will use their guns not against criminals or varmints, but against their fellow citizens! And my Jewish tush will be on the their top 3 hit list.

Sadly, that means that most of the people who are most forceful about their gun rights may precisely be the people I want most to keep guns from.
The best argument for the pro-gun crowd is one that is nearly unassailable: it's in the Constitution. This means that all my logic, or statistics (if I find 'em), or their cries about freedom and crime-control, are meaningless. Because it's the law of the land.

Top pic from here, second pic is frequently seen on the intertubes. Third pic from here.


Anonymous said...

Interesting story you got here. It would be great to read more concerning that topic. Thanks for posting that information.
Joan Stepsen
Latest tech gadgets

JC said...

Thanks Joan. Which story?