June 13, 2014
Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone’s beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.
Is the rise of school shootings in America a case of too many guns or a simple failure to keep guns away from kids? Gun locks and gun safes exist.
That’s not a rhetorical question. I actually wonder about the answer.
I assume 90% of the kids who become school shooters get their weapons from adults who left them unguarded. Correct me in the comments if I’m wrong.
I know you’re furiously trying to determine if I am pro-gun or anti-gun so you can decide how much extra to hate me. So let me state my position as clearly as possible:
I am pro-data.
And the data is incomplete.
Obviously there’s a strong correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths. But how much of that is causation as opposed to correlation? One can never know if Americans own guns because we’re violent people or we’re violent because we own guns. Isn’t it likely to be some of both?
Common sense says that having guns lying around the house makes gun violence more likely. But we don’t know if the accessibility factor is 10% of the story or 90%. Maybe the rate of stabbings would skyrocket if guns disappeared and that would close some of the violence gap. My point is that it’s hard to size the problem of gun risk, and that matters because the goal is low risk not zero risk. If we wanted zero risk in all things at the expense of personal freedom we would fill every swimming pool with bubble wrap.
We also can’t know if gun ownership will ever protect future citizens from the tyranny of the government. One argument says that the army has the biggest guns and so citizens are effectively defenseless if the government becomes a dictatorship. Therefore, owning a gun doesn’t protect you from the government.
The counterargument is that if an American becomes a dictator, every one of his friends and extended family members would be bullet-riddled by the end of the week courtesy of the gun owners. What would be the point of becoming a dictator in a country where you can’t leave your enclave and you just killed most of the people you care about with your actions? I think gun ownership does add a thin layer of protection against a risk of a dictatorship by rational leaders, but that risk is of unknown size. How do you value the thing that might happen but doesn’t?
We also don’t know what would happen if we went hog-wild with gun control. Would we suddenly become Great Britain and prefer slapping each other with open palms instead of shooting? Or would it turn into another Prohibition fiasco? Nothing sells more guns than the threat of gun control in the future.
In the long run, all violent criminals will be caught every time. That’s the payoff from our creeping lack of privacy. When that day comes, rational adults such as criminals will be doing less shooting because there is no hope of getting away with it. And if we keep guns away from kids, with mandatory gun locks for example, that helps with the school shooting problem.
Once the rational criminals and the kids are neutered, that leaves only the irrational adults with guns as our remaining problem. And probably the best defense against that bunch of nuts involves owning your own gun. But I can’t back that assumption with data.
Anecdotally, I have one friend who gunned down a would-be rapist who broke into her house. And I have another friend who would have been raped by an intruder if her boyfriend hadn’t coincidentally spent the night and taken out the intruder by hand. A gun would have worked if he hadn’t been there. But those are anecdotes not data.
The only thing I know for sure is that the “It is in the constitution” argument is misplaced. No matter what the founders had in mind at the time, we have the option to change it. So the question is what makes sense today, not what a bunch of hemp-smoking slave-owners thought hundreds of years ago.
I’m curious if you think you have enough data to form an opinion on the topic of American gun control. Gun control qualifies as common sense, but in my experience common sense in the context of insufficient data is irrationality in disguise.
To be fair, both sides of the debate have insufficient data and so they must default to using what they feel is common sense but isn’t. (If it were common, both sides would agree.). So I don’t think irrationality is limited to one side of the debate.