Saturday, October 10, 2015

Gun Control Policy in Public Spaces

Introduction
Can you write something about guns in the US of A without pissing off a large portion of your audience? Not likely. But let me try to propose a policy that has elements that both sides might endorse (excluding the most extreme ends of the spectrum).

A little auto-biography
As a Canadian born to pacifist parents, the American fascination with guns has always been mysterious to me. Most of the world probably shares this sentiment regarding Americans and their gun fetish. Why would you want to own something that can--with the simple tug of your finger-- kill another human being? Clearly there is something psychologically wrong with such a person. 

Anyhow, after living in the US of A since 2007, I've come to see that it's not just crazy True Patriots that like guns, it's a lot of "normal" Americans too. In fact, many of the people I've become friends with (and with whom I share political values in every other domain) loved them some guns. This softened my "judgy-ness". Some people just like to shoot things for fun or go hunting. "Piew! Piew!" It's not for me but I no longer see much harm in it. The demographic my friends represent certainly don't own guns with the delusion that they'll someday get to be a vigilante super-hero. 

Let's get to my policy suggestions...

Deez Nuts
The Liberal Media (controlled by Jews who, according to esteemed historian Ben Carson, didn't fight back) loves nothing more than to run stories involving True Patriots accidentally shooting themselves or their friends. While the specific numbers vary between studies, the trend is the same: for every time a gun is legitimately (and successfully) used in self-defense, proportionately more people are killed accidentally (between 100-400% more, depending on the study you look at and the inclusion criteria). If you include accidental non-fatal shootings, the numbers are much higher. 

A significant portion of the anti gun-control lobby sincerely believes that if they were in a public-shooter-type situation they would be able to save the day or at least have a positive impact. This is pure fantasy.  While I don't doubt that a combat marine or special forces operative could "take down" a shooter with minimal "collateral damage", it is only because they have years of combat training

I don't care how good a shot you are in a shooting range (or on your Xbox). There is a massive difference between trying to shoot a stationary target vs a moving (suicidal) target that is trying to kill you. Without training you have no idea how you're going to respond. You may simply freeze up. You may panic and shoot everywhere. You will likely be trembling from either fear or adrenaline undermining your capacity to aim. In a crowded area, failure to have perfect aim may result in further deaths--the exact thing you're trying to prevent.

Trained professionals (military, police, various security agencies) go through thousands of hours of training to condition themselves to deal with high stress situations. I don't care how badass you are in your fantasies: if you aren't trained for using your weapon when someone is trying to kill you, you will not perform the way you think you will. You are either going to have no effect on the situation or you will end up shooting innocent people in your panic. Merely owning a gun does not a brave or competent person make. 

Solution
The typical argument you hear from True Patriots is that if everyone is armed in a public place, suicidal shooters won't be able to do the damage they do. This is only possibly true if the people carrying weapons are trained to use them in high stakes situations. It is not true if they have never been in any situation remotely resembling a live fire fight. 

So here's the proposal: Anyone who wants to carry a gun in a school or similar public place can do so provided they have the relevant training. This would include at minimum (a) a one time course that provides training equivalent to what a SWAT team, marine, or comparable operative receives for live fire-fight situations; (b) mandatory annual training refresher course. 

Regarding (a) the big political issue will be who decides how much training is enough? Easy. Ask the marines or some other respected military/police institution to outline what they consider to be the minimal training required to send someone into a live fire fight. After all, these institutions know better than anyone else what's required. That is to say, we let the experts rather than politics decide. (Crazy. I know.)

Regarding (b) the answer is the same. Knowing how to react effectively in a live fire situation is a perishable skill and so there must be retraining if we want gun-carriers to be more likely to help then harm a situation. After all, that's the goal, right?

Bb..bbut...it's my right. First of all, rights are not unrestricted. They are commensurate with capacities to exercise them. Second, no one is saying you can't go to shooting ranges, keep a gun in your house, or go hunting. This is about carrying a gun in a crowded public place. 

Although there may exist other arguments, the primary argument given for why fire arms should be permitted (or even encouraged) in public spaces is that True Patriots with guns will be able to diminish the casualty and fatality rates. This argument rests on a false assumption that mere possession of a gun is sufficient to, on average, accomplish this outcome. For the argument to have any chance at soundness a premise needs to be qualified. It isn't merely armed True Patriots that can reduce casualty and mortality rates in mass shootings but True Patriots with sufficient training. Otherwise, True Patriots will, on average, probably be a net liability or have no effect at all. 

Loose Ends
1. Gun control is not the same thing as the government coming to take your guns. Why do we always hear this straw man? 

2. As far back as the mid 90s, the NRA sponsored a law in congress (which was passed and repassed) that prevents the CDC from collecting and using any data on gun violence. The law reads that "[any data collected by the CDC] may not be used to advocate or promote gun control.” WTF?  If unrestricted gun ownership and lax gun control laws (and enforcement) really weren't related to higher gun death rates, as the NRA claims, then why does the NRA lobby against collecting the data? What are they so afraid of? If they're right, why not use the data to show it? And more importantly how can we have good policy without good data? To me the reasons are fairly obvious but I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

3. Gun control vs gun rights arguments usually go like this: 

    (a) War of empirical evidence. Continued disagreement for a variety of reasons having to do with biased interpretations and different quality of evidence being given equal credence, methodological disputes.

    (b) Normative: "Fine, I don't accept your studies and you don't accept mine. It doesn't matter anyway. Gun ownership is a right."  So, here's the thing I've always wondered...and if you are anti gun control proponent maybe you can let me know in the comments what you think.  Suppose the empirical data indicated fairly strongly that lax gun control laws (and enforcement) actually do lead to significantly higher rates of homicides and accidental deaths, ceterus parabus. Would you be willing to oppose gun control legislation despite the fact that more people will die and get injured? At how many preventable deaths per year might you change your mind? 100? 200? 1 000? Is there any number? Or is an unrestricted right to own a gun more important than any number of preventable deaths?  


4 comments:

  1. correct me if i am wrong but most of the kinds of guns that are endemically present in todays society did not even exist at the time the second amendment was written.

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    1. You'd be correct but I'm not sure how that's relevant unless your theory of constitutional interpretation is textual originalism (which is quite difficult to defend).

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  2. Mr. Palmer (if not that, how do you prefer to be addressed?) I accidentally stumbled across your blog while reading some basic essays on Kantian ethics, to my delight! I'll be returning, and may even bring along some friends! I served in the Marines for many years and my MOS's (military occupational specialties) include primary marksmanship instructor (PMI). I agree with all the points you make regarding training and re-certification. (In my case it has been waaaaaaay to long since my last meaningful period of infantry tactics instruction!)

    One other thought, the 2nd Amendment asserts a right 'to keep and bear arms' - not just firearms. Yet many states maintain laws restricting the types and sizes of knives their citizens are allowed to carry. If gun rights are absolute, why aren't knife rights? (They both fit the definition of 'arms'.) If it's constitutionally permissible to ban citizens from carrying machetes through town (as is the case in my state) how can it be unconstitutional to do the same pertaining to assault weapons?

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  3. Hi Dirk,
    Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I'm glad to see someone with the relevant knowledge agrees with my suggestions. The knife issue you raise is quite interesting. I've never read anything on it but here are a couple of thoughts off the top of my head:
    1. The problem has the structure of what's known as "the leveling up vs leveling down" problem. When there's inconsistent policy you can "level up"; i.e., make knife policy consistent with gun policy or "level down" and make gun policy consistent with knife policy. I guess in one instance you'd have to look at the reasons for which certain types of knives are restricted and see which types of guns those reasons apply to. In the other case, you'd have to look at the reasons for which certain types of guns are restricted and which knives those reasons might apply to. Not knowing the reasons myself, I'm in no position to say how to reconcile the policies. Nevertheless, you'd have to decide on "leveling up" or "leveling down" (i.e., provide an argument for why one direction should be preferred to the other) then apply the reasons in the one case to the other case.

    Regarding restrictions on bearing arms there's a wide range of views on the topic. One of the more interesting views is advocated by Justice Scalia. He says that, from the phrase "a well-regulated militia" implies that any weapons a government militia has is also constitutional for the public to have. Basically, on his view, if someone wants to own tanks, rocket launchers, artillery, then they can. Most people think this is a step too far...

    Anyhow, I haven't followed the 2nd amendment literature in while so I'm not sure what the state of affairs is now. My own view shifts and I'm not quite sure what it is right now!

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