Wednesday, August 01, 2012

A response to Michael Shermer (no poker content)

I wasn't planning to use this space to address gun control yet again, after having done so once just ten days ago, but a post I read on another blog today prompts me to do so.

In this case, the identity of the writer in question matters a great deal. Michael Shermer is one of the authors I admire most. He is the editor of Skeptic magazine, to which I have been a loyal subscriber and reader since I first learned of its existence with Volume 3, #1, which I think was in about 1995. I have bought and read several of his books. They are uniformly interesting and enlightening. I have a special fondness for his Denying History, which is a careful examination of the evidence for and against the claims of Holocaust deniers, leading to a broader consideration of the fascinating philosophical and pragmatic question of how we can know anything about history. His books are usually among that rare breed that forever change how you think about the subject involved.

The hallmarks of Shermer's writing are careful attention to facts, rigorously sifting the reliable from the unreliable, and sticking to logical inferences from them. He is the epitome of reason, willing to go wherever the evidence leads, regardless of his own preconceived ideas. To make matters even better, in recent years he has been more overt about his leanings toward libertarian economics and politics, further endearing him to me. He is a sufficiently interesting writer and speaker that seeing his name on an article or as a guest on an upcoming radio or TV show is all the reason I need to read it, or to tune in. Heck, I've even read a good deal from Mr. Shermer's hand about competitive cycling because it is a passion of his, and his writing is so interesting and insightful that I find it worth reading along even in subjects that are not especially important to me.

OK, enough with the sycophancy. I thought it worth a bit of space to make clear in what high regard I hold Mr. Shermer, before I turn to my disappointment of today.

Here is the blog post in question:

My disappointment is not just that Mr. Shermer disagrees on a question of public policy that is important to me. Of far more importance is that it appears to me that he has abandoned his usual characteristic care about both facts and logical inference.

Points of agreement

Let me begin my analysis by stating where we agree: There are and probably always will be mentally ill among us. Some small percentage of such people will erupt with public violence. (We might add that some who are not mentally ill will do the same for political, religious, or other reasons.) Such events are largely unpredictable, especially when committed by those with no prior history of crimes or formal contact with the psychiatric or legal systems. As a result, it seems virtually inevitable that we will, sadly, continue to occasionally experience sickening scenes such as happened in Aurora, Colorado, a couple of weeks ago.

Errors of fact

Mr. Shermer's first factual errors come when he speaks of "semi-automatic assault rifles like those [James] Holmes’ [sic] allegedly used to murder 12 and wound another 58 in a matter of seconds."

The first problem with this is that the phrase "semi-automatic assault rifle" is nonsensical, self-contradictory. An "assault rifle" by definition is full automatic. See, e.g., here. If a gun is semi-automatic (i.e., one shot per trigger pull), it is not an assault rifle. This error creeps in again later when Mr. Shermer refers to "outlawing all automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles for anyone who is not in law enforcement or the military," which is the specific policy his blog post proposes.

Secondly, I'm not sure it's accurate to refer to the assaults as having happened in a matter of "seconds." My understanding from news reports is that it was several minutes at least.

The third error, or at least unwarranted assumption, is that Holmes used his rifle to kill 12 and wound another 58. News stories are quite consistently reporting that he began with the rifle, but it jammed at some point. He then turned to the shotgun he was carrying, and later to his Glock handgun. I have seen nothing yet that tells us how many of the fatal and non-fatal wounds were inflicted by which weapons, nor how many shots were fired from each. I assume that those questions are still under forensic investigation. For all we know, his rifle might have jammed after two shots, both of which missed, in which case no harm was inflicted by it. I don't think that is likely, but we just don't know yet. It is certainly premature to say that all 70 victims were shot with Holmes' AR-15-style rifle (apparently a variant made by Smith & Wesson). If it turns out that the great majority of the wounds were actually inflicted by the shotgun and handgun, and not the rifle, is Mr. Shermer prepared to retract his policy proposal? I doubt it.

Another error pops in unexpectedly when Mr. Shermer writes about assault rifles "that can be secreted into a movie theater." First, Holmes did no such thing. Eyewitnesses tell us that he entered the theater with everybody else, then left, then returned with the guns in hand and in full view. How this constitutes them being "secreted" is beyond me.

Moreover, I wonder if Mr. Shermer has ever tried "secreting" an AR-15 on his person? Teller manages such a trick in his stage magic act with Penn Jillette here in Vegas at the Rio hotel and casino (I actually think it's a shotgun rather than a rifle, but my memory might be playing tricks on me), but I doubt that anything less than a trick prop gun, a carefully constructed suit, and a bunch of well-rehearsed stagehands could get the job done.

Second Amendment considerations

Mr. Shermer defends his proposal against constitutional objection with this observation: "When the Second Amendment was written stating that citizens have a right to 'keep and bear arms,' rifles took over a minute to load one bullet at a time. The most crazed 18th century American could not possibly commit mass murder because no WMMs [Mr. Shermer's abbreviation for "weapons of mass murder"] existed at the time."

The last sentence is not quite accurate. One could presumably have committed mass murder in the late 18th century with a bomb, or a cannon, or with arson of a crowded building. But that's beside the point.

The larger point, of course, deals with the march of technology. I realize that Mr. Shermer is not writing a technical piece for a law journal, nor a legal brief for the Supreme Court. His point is a conceptual one here, not a rigorous legalistic one. And that's fine. I'll address it on the same rhetorical level.

Technology has moved on in communications as well as firearms. If we were to accept Mr. Shermer's implicit argument that the protection afforded by the Constitution stops with the technology available to those who produced that document, we would logically have to conclude that the same is true for the First Amendment as for the Second Amendment. Freedom of the press and of speech would continue to be recognized for actual speaking and for actual ink-stained printing presses, but not for more modern technologies, such as radio, television, fax machines, photocopiers, photography, and the Internet. I have a hard time believing that Mr. Shermer's view of the First Amendment is so crabbed. If I'm right about that guess, then on what logical exegetical basis does the Second Amendment get treated so differently?

Of fists and noses

Mr. Shermer wishes not to be thought of as anti-freedom: "My fellow libertarians are likely to see this as another loss of freedom, but I disagree. The principle of freedom states that all people are free to think, believe, and act as they choose, so long as they do not infringe on the equal freedom of others. But the freedom for me to swing my arm ends at your nose."

Fair enough. But such a cute aphorism is not terribly rigorous, and is subject to such varied application as to be pretty much useless. Does it mean that I cannot swing my fist at all, lest there be an off-chance that I run into the nose of somebody I was not aware was there? Does it mean that I can swing my fist at your face, so long as I stop a millimeter short of your nose? (Current laws would call such obvious threat of bodily harm an assault, even if I did not complete the swing so as to turn it into a battery.) If taken to an extreme, it would seem to mean that I do not have the right to punch an assailant in self-defense, even if he is attacking me. Is that Mr. Shermer's view? I doubt it, but resorting to such a vague, glib talking point lends itself to that interpretation as well as to any other.

So it is with the subject of the implicit analogy. Does the use of the aphorism mean that nobody should own an assault rifle, or merely that one does not have the right to injure another person with it? Those are vastly different conclusions. I own a semi-automatic rifle, a civilian version of the AK-47, which is kept unloaded and locked in a safe when not with me at a firing range. The chance that Mr. Shermer or anybody else will ever be injured by my possession of this gun is so remote that it hardly seems within his proper purview to prohibit me from it.

It is conceivable that Mr. Shermer will some day get drunk, climb in his car, and recklessly run me over when I'm innocently crossing a street. Should I on the basis of that remote possibility be allowed to prohibit him from drinking alcohol? Or from owning a car? The chance that I will flip out and start shooting up a movie theater, or that a carelessly errant shot from my rifle at the gun range will sail for miles and hit somebody, or that a thief will break into my house and safe, steal the gun, and then use it to rob a bank, is of a similar degree of remoteness. It is a far, far cry from launching my fist forward when standing a foot in front of another person.

Collective risks

Of course, there are collective risks. The fact that I could legally acquire and can legally use my rifle for shooting competitions (which is all I have ever used it for, having no interest in hunting) means that others can, too, and some small percentage of them will eventually use the weapons criminally. If we cannot accurately predict which of the users are the vast majority in whose hands the guns will forever be harmless and which are the tiny minority who will turn them against the rest of us, then certainly one possible solution is to ban them across the board.

But then what is to stop similar considerations from being used for other things? We could put Prohibition back into place, because a minority of people who drink manifestly cause all manner of social harms--including murder--when intoxicated. Or we could outlaw automobiles in order to prevent all the accidental and intentional deaths that they cause. Any one of us could build a bomb of frightful lethality out of legally purchased fuel oil and fertilizer, as Timothy McVeigh taught us.

Mr. Shermer, what is the logical limiting principal here? Why outlaw one item that can be used to commit mayhem but not all such items? I would guess that the answer is that he sees no utility in anybody owning the guns he wants to ban, but acknowledges that there is meaningful enough social utility in alcohol, cars, oil, fertilizer, etc., that he is willing to accept the attendant cost of occasional criminal misuse. And if I'm right about that guess, then we simply have very different subjective assessments of what constitutes sufficient offsetting positive utility.


Even if we were to learn that all or nearly all of Holmes' victims were shot with his AR-15-style rifle, that would make the incident virtually unique in modern history. I follow such things with reasonable (although not obsessive) care, and I cannot recall offhand a weapon of this type being used in any other mass shooting. Most such events are carried out with an ordinary handgun or two. (For example, the massacres in Tucson, Ft. Hood, and Virginia Tech University.) Can Mr. Shermer name another incident in the United States prior to this month that was carried out with the kind of weapon he proposes to outlaw?* [EDIT: See Addendum below, in which I more carefully research this point, and find that my memory failed me.]

If not, and if in spite of that he still sticks with his proposal on the basis of what James Holmes did, then it seems to follow that one mass shooting justifies, in Mr. Shermer's view, the outlawing of the entire class of weapon used. It would seem to follow further, then, that all semi-automatic handguns should be banned, too, on the basis of several other mass shootings in which those were the weapons used. Mr. Shermer mentions Charles Whitman, the infamous University of Texas tower shooter. He killed 14 and wounded 32 using a shotgun, an ordinary bolt-action hunting rifle, and a pump-action rifle. If the Aurora shootings justify banning one of the weapons used in it, then why would not the greater number of people killed by Whitman justify banning the categories of weapons he used?

Nitty-gritty details

While I'm speaking of practicality, let's consider the logistics of the kind of ban Mr. Shermer seems to have in mind. The first problem is one of definitions. Perhaps if Mr. Shermer is not familiar with guns, he does not understand how difficult it would be to write a legal definition that accurately and reliably distinguishes between the kinds of guns he wants to get rid of and the ones that he presumably thinks are OK (because he does not propose outlawing all guns, or even all rifles, or even all semi-automatic rifles). Congress tried this in 1994, and manufacturers quickly learned that all they had to do was leave off some unimportant features (such as a bayonet mount, and threads on the end of the barrel to which a suppressor could be attached), and continue producing what were functionally nearly identical arms. What good did that do anybody?

Consider the Ruger Mini-14, an enormously popular semi-automatic rifle. It shoots the same caliber of cartridge as most AR-15s, and can do so in equal quantities. Its two primary applications are recreational shooting and as a light farm/ranch/trail gun for shooting varmints such as gophers and coyotes. Would this be banned under Mr. Shermer's proposal? If so, on what basis? Just the fact that it is a semi-automatic rifle? If that is the case, then Mr. Shermer was apparently not being honest in the scope of his proposal, and he really wants to outlaw all semi-automatic rifles. But if it is not to be included in the ban, then what has actually been accomplished? James Holmes could acquire a Mini-14 exactly the same way he did his AR-15 copy, use the same ammunition, and kill just as many people with it. The differences between the Mini-14 and the AR-15 have little to do with how a criminal or insane person could use it. The presence or absence of a bayonet lug, flash suppressor, pistol grip, or folding stock surely have minimal impact on the weapon's destructive potential.

Next consider what happens even if we managed to find a definition that neatly distinguished between the guns that Mr. Shermer thinks you should be able to have and those he thinks you shouldn't. We then have to decide whether to "grandfather" in currently existing examples, of which there are millions upon millions. Criminalizing the possession of items commonly owned legally is an enormous problem, especially when those items are (1) expensive, and (2) highly prized by their owners. It is no small matter to turn millions of law-abiding Americans into felons (many of them unknowing) overnight. Such actions breed deep resentment for the government and a disrespect for law.

But if you don't outlaw those currently in existence, then you will have barely made a dent in the problem. The world in general and our nation in particular are awash in these guns, and with just a little care they can last far longer than any owner's lifetime. Even if all manufacture of them stopped tomorrow, one would be unable to notice any diminution in the absolute numbers in circulation for many decades.

I consider this an essentially intractable, insoluble problem no matter which horn of the dilemma you choose to skewer yourself on.

I suppose I should add that the Supreme Court, given its recent precedents, would be nearly certain to rule such a ban unconstitutional. Mr. Shermer is then put in the difficult position of pressing for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court and limit the scope of the Second Amendment. Good luck with that.


I understand the impulse to read of a heinous crime such as Holmes committed and feel that we should do something. But before such impulses are translated into public policy, they must be carefully processed through filters that take into consideration things like constitutionality, costs, and benefits. I do not see that Mr. Shermer has undertaken that gargantuan task, or even that he grasps how difficult a problem it is. It seems to me that he has simply jumped to what seems an obvious remedy without serious thought put into such crucial questions as (1) would the proposal actually prevent future such incidents (I don't see how it could), (2) what would the costs be (enormous), (3) can the distinction he wishes to make actually be written as law (probably not), and (4) would it violate current judicial interpretations of the Constitution (almost surely).

I find myself dismayed that an author I admire for his rigorous fidelity to facts and logical thinking could suffer such an egregious lapse of exactly those qualities, writing about a subject on which he is self-evidently poorly informed, one to which it appears that he has dedicated precious little deep thought, and for which he has amassed precious few facts. (I speak here of the guns, not of his statistics about mental illness or what is implied by the "law of large numbers.")

Mr. Shermer, won't you please spend some time in more careful background reading (I recommend the several books by economist John Lott as an excellent starting point), then revisit your proposal and see if you still think it holds water?

By the way, Mr. Shermer, if you've read this far, I have rattling around inside my head an outline for an article that I think would be great for Skeptic magazine--about some of the examples of magical thinking and cognitive errors (such as the gambler's fallacy) that I run into day after day at the poker tables of Las Vegas. Interested?

*After writing this, I put a little more thought into it, and came up with one case that I think most people will have forgotten about: In 2005, a man unloaded a bunch of rounds from a semi-automatic rifle, patterned after the AK-47, in the Hudson Valley Mall. Two people were wounded, but none killed.

Addendum, August 1, 2012

I found this list of deadly mass public shootings in the United States from 1984 to the present, and looked up the Wikipedia entry (where available, or other reasonably reliable web sources in the few cases where not available) for each one to find out what types of firearms were used. I am not including the gunmen's own deaths (where they occurred) in the body counts. I am listing here only the incidents in which a semi-automatic rifle was the (or one of the) weapons used.

1989, Stockton, California: 5 deaths, all caused by a semi-automatic version of the Type 56.

1989, Louisville, Kentucky: 8 deaths, all caused by a semi-automatic version of the Type 56.

1990, Jacksonville, Florida: 9 deaths, all caused by an M1 carbine.

1997, Orange, California: 4 deaths. There is no Wikipedia entry for this incident. An L.A. Times story says that he was armed with an "AK-47." However, reporters are notoriously inaccurate at describing weapons. A true AK-47 is fully automatic. It's not impossible that this one was, but it was more likely a semi-automatic version, simply because those are vastly more common in the United States. He was apparently also armed with a shotgun and pistol, and nothing I can find quickly specifies how many deaths were caused by each weapon.

1998, Springfield, Oregon: 2 deaths in school shooting, plus he had murdered his parents at home before going to the school, apparently all using a Ruger 10/22 rifle. This is a semi-automatic, but chambered for the low-powered .22 LR rimfire cartridge. I include it here not because it is even remotely a military/law enforcement weapon, but because if one is contemplating outlawing all semi-automatic rifles, this is one that would be included.

2000, Wakefield, Massachusetts: 7 deaths. The Wikipedia entry states that he used an "AK-47 variant," a 12-gauge shotgun, and a .32 pistol, without specifying how many deaths were inflicted by each weapon.

2001, Omaha, Nebraska: 8 deaths, claimed to be from an "AKM 7.62 x 39 mm semi-automatic rifle," which would be an AK-47 variant.

2011, Carson City, Nevada: 4 deaths, apparently from an AK-47 variant. News reports at the time were claiming that this was manufactured as a semi-automatic rifle but had later been illegally converted to fire in full-auto mode. I have seen no definitive confirmation of this, however.

2012, Aurora, Colorado: 12 deaths, inflicted by an unknown combination of a semi-automatic AR-15-style rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun.

But the listing is clearly incomplete, for reasons that I don't understand. It omits at least the following incidents:
  • 1991, Ridgewood, New Jersey: 4 deaths, attributed in this article to "a semiautomatic 9 mm pistol [and] an Uzi semiautomatic assault weapon." The latter phraseology is clearly incorrect, however, I can't discern what he's trying to get at. As far as I know, all Uzis (both fully automatic and semi-automatic) are chambered in pistol calibers, not rifle calibers. Because of this, not even the automatic versions are assault rifles, and so would presumably not fall within Mr. Shermer's proposed ban.
  • 1991, Royal Oak, Michigan: 4 deaths using a Ruger 10/22 rifle. (See comments about 1998, Springfield, Oregon, above.)
  • 2006, Goleta, California: 6 deaths using a 9 mm pistol.
So to the extent that the information I could quickly find on such incidents and the weapons used is accurate, then a maximum of 10 out of 32 mass shootings with multiple deaths over the past 28 years in the United States employed a semi-automatic rifle to inflict some or all of the killings. The great majority used one or two handguns.

Although my memory was admittedly terribly faulty when writing the main blog entry above late last night (i.e., I couldn't offhand recall any of these incidents having used semi-automatic rifles), this compilation gives some idea as to the upper limit of the damage that could be avoided even if we magically removed all semi-automatic rifles (both military-style and others) from existence. I see little reason to hope that crazed gunmen would not simply turn to other weapons of comparable destructive capacity, such as semi-automatic shotguns and semi-automatic pistols, to carry out their schemes.

Addendum 2, August 1, 2012

I keep poking around the web more in search of other mass shootings not accounted for above. There is a whole category of them that some people refer to as "familicides," in which one person shoots and kills several family members inside their home, often ending with the suicide of the shooter. As just two examples, there was this one in California in 1989, and this one in Alabama in 2009. It's hard to pin down numbers on such incidents. They are obviously as sad and tragic as the mass shootings of strangers in public places, which are the focus of all of my discussion above, though they tend to frighten us less because they are less apparently random. I don't want to ignore this type of crime, nor to be accused of deliberately omitting them. But at the same time, I really don't want to invest the time and energy to suss out a comprehensive list of such incidents. That they occur in private and have victims with special relationships to the killer clearly means that some potential deterrents to public mass murder might help prevent these, while others would not. I'll leave it at that.


MisterFred said...

Gun control is not a big issue to me. Nor am I coming out in favor of any particular level of regulation or lack thereof.

But I always find arguments based on the Second Amendment rather specious. The reason being that it seems to me EVERYONE in the United States prefers that the government violate the Second Amendment.

The Second Amendment, after all, guarantees the right to bear arms. Which in that context refers to weapons of war. Not just guns. Yet there are whole categories of weapons of war that we ban citizens (and even our government) from possessing.

You can get arrested for bearing, say, a surface-to-air rocket launcher. And I'm pretty sure tanks aren't street legal. To say nothing of chemical weapons or a dirty bomb.

All of which should be legal under a generous reading of the Second Amendment.

So it's irrational to throw the Second Amendment about willy-nilly as a reason the government cannot regulate automatic rifles. Virtually everyone in the United States agrees in some form of weapons control.

Quibbling about where the line should be drawn is all well and good. But it is no great philosophical divide, nor is it some huge constitutional crisis.

Eddie said...

Grump, I appreciate your writing, but you seem overly stubborn about gun control. You seem like a guy who doesn't want to see any more mayhem like what happened in Aurora, but are writing like one who could care less because it might limit his freedoms. I think if you spent some time thinking about it, you could think of ways to make it more difficult for those with mental illness to obtain weaponry without it limiting or preventing you and others from owning such weapons for your sporting interests.

You use the automobile as a reference several time, and let's see if we can find parallels to which we can apply to gun control:

1) Every person who wishes to own a car must have a license and their name in a registry.

2) If you want to drive different classes of vehicles, you need different types of licenses (trucks, motorcycles, etc...)

3) Every vehicle purchased must be registered to an owner.

4) Those with the proper licenses can use their cars, or modified (read MUCH MORE POWERFUL) versions of vehicles for non-general use / sporting purposes.

Seems to me that if you required that gun owners be licensed, require multiple licenses for various classes of guns, and were required to provide proof of such licenses before you could purchase guns and ammo, you are providing some barriers to entry that could help prevent crimes like Aurora.

This won't prevent future crimes or tragedies, but the key is to keep driving the probability down to reduce their frequency.

Rakewell said...


For an extended consideration of how laws would have to change if we were to actually treat gun laws like car laws, see here:

Eddie said...

Again, you aren't trying to find a solution, just shooting down (pun intended) any proposed solution. I'm about halfway through the link above and the argument that you'd have to repeal all sorts of other laws to enable this registry is BS. Many supercars that are available in Europe are not street legal in the US. There are still all sorts of limitations of what vehicles can be sold and used legally on the roads in the US. The same thing can be applied to weapons.

Eclectic Breakfast said...

Everyone who would have an opinion about mass killings in America should read "Mass Murder in the United States: A History," by Grant Duwe, Ph.D.

Anonymous said...


Loved your blog on this issue. I couldn't agree more!

MisterFred said...


While I disagree with grump's overall argument, I think you're jumping the gun a bit by suggesting he should be finding a solution to the 'problem.'

The fact of the matter is there are billions of people in this world. The death of dozens, even hundreds, is sad. But it just isn't a very big deal. If it wasn't in the papers, it would never affect your life.

Frankly, I think people overreact to incidents like Aurora. Could gun control reduce such tragedies? Maybe. Could such gun control lead to worse unintended consequences? That's at least arguable.

But one thing seems clear: Aurora and other incidents like it simply aren't that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.

Certainly in terms of reducing death or promoting your own general well-being and chances at living a long life it makes little sense to spend effort promote gun control rather than, say, environmental regulation. Or the NIH research budget.

Long story short, the problem doesn't demand a solution, so even in the context of a simple policy argument, it's perfectly reasonable for Grump to not offer one. Though again, I'm not saying gun control wouldn't be one.

Anonymous said...

Hey Grump,

I have to agree with Eddie on this one. Me thinks the Grump doth protest too much. Gun control isn’t a big issue to me. I shoot, but get sort of rankled with the argument that any regulation is wrongheaded and doomed to fail. It really doesn’t past the basic sniff test.

It’s easy to hide behind the 2nd amendment too. We constitutionally have the right to keep and bear arms. We surely do. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea that we should have unfettered access to all sorts of weapons, that we can’t do anything in the way of regulation that makes sense in preventing another gun tragedy, or that any attempts at regulation is only going to have negative effects. The constitution has been changed 27 times in our nation’s history. Not to say it should be over this issue, but it’s easy to hide behind it in discussions of what’s the best way to handle something like this. We are a nation of weapons exporters. A lot of big money has been spent pushing the notion that equates gun ownership with freedom.

Look at a worldwide map of shooting deaths per country in the last 50 years. This is just a side effect of our “freedom”? I just don’t believe that this is just a necessary price to pay for it. I think having an honest discussion on the topic would be a first step to working toward some sort of solution. Normally you seem fairly reasonable (except for your deuce four of clubs thing ) but on this issue you seem strident, dogmatic , and just a little defensive.

My two cents,

Gary said...

Without having read the link to the extended comparison and contrast between gun laws and car laws, I'm reasonably certain that it is pointed out therein that while bearing arms is an absolute right guaranteed by the US Constitution, driving on public roads is considered a privilege, not guaranteed by anything except the possession of a very revokable driver's license, and therefore, at its very core, is an invalid argument for or against gun control.

And Rakewell's points concering other atrocities like this are well-made. The fact that a mass-murder was committed with a Ruger 10/22 should serve graphic proof that one cannot fix this problem by banning guns that are menacing or threatening; the 10/22 shoots the smallest generally-available round on the market today and is the single most popular rifle sold. There are literally millions of them in law-abiding hands, many of whom are attached to youngsters for whom it is their first firearm.

Also his comparison between the Mini-14 and the various AR15 models is similarly enlightening; the main difference between them is simply that one looks menacing, and one does not. Is that a basis for banning anything with a clear conscience?

Nobody wants something like what happened in Colorado to happen again. But let's have a common-sense based conversation about it, that doesn't start or end with arbitrarily banning one kind of firearm or another.

Eddie said...

I never said anything about banning one type of firearm or another. I put out, as an example, a registration based solution that could potentially make it more difficult for people who have not owned guns in the past from acquiring a gun, and thereby making it more difficult for one who has, maybe only temporarily, developed a desire to hurt someone or multiple people. All of this, without limiting one's right to bear arms, just making sure s/he has to go through a few extra steps to do so.

The reason I ask Grump to find a solution is that the solution has to come from the passionate gun enthusiasts. In most gun control debates I've seen, the gun enthusiasts don't give a rat's ass about what the non-gun enthusiast thinks. Therefore, any proposed solution has to come from a gun enthusiast, and he is the one I'm currently having the discussion with.

It's pretty simple gun owners: You know what you don't want to give up with respect to owning weapons, now is the time to figure out what you can do so as not to be constricted and yet make the public spaces of America safer.

Anonymous said...

Eddie: " All of this, without limiting one's right to bear arms, just making sure s/he has to go through a few extra steps to do so." Lets just replace "to bear arms" with "free speech" or that pesky "5th amendment." Yeah, I thought not.

Big-O said...

I still want a BAR for christmas.

Eddie said...

I find it funny that "Mr. Free Speech" had to write in as Anonymous... "I can say whatever I want, so long as I don't have to take responsibility for it!". Besides, free speech never killed anyone. Some ears may have bled, but that's about it. I'm digressing here. Let's get back to the issue of guns....

We, as a society, need to reduce, or ideally eliminate, gun violence in the USA. Do those who are arguing with me on the mechanics of gun control disagree on that fundamental point? If so, please be clear about that in your response.

Now, if you agree with me that gun violence needs to be eliminated, then it's time to stop arguing semantics. Start thinking about what matters most to you as both a gun owner and as someone who doesn't want to get shot at a random public event.

And of course we are not going to solve anything in Grump's blog, but if one or two gun owners can start to see the light and then pay it forward, we might see a cultural change that could save thousands of lives in the US.

Anonymous said...

And yet, even with our supposed horrific gun deaths that just have to be stopped!, the violent crime rate has dropped every year for the last 10 years and is roughly half of what it was in the 70s. Sort of goes hand in hand with 24 hour media coverage and the need for police to get more money (gotta have a predator drone you know.)

Steven said...

Hi Grump.

Thanks for your comment on my article. I see your point of view, and understand many of your complaints regarding the complexities of actually identifying the problems, finding (and implementing) the solutions, but I disagree with the conclusion.

Firstly, the second amendment is outdated and has been proven unnecessary by every modern nation on the planet. The government hasn't taken over Germany, Japan, or Australia, etc. nor have they been invaded by an enemy looking for an easy target. I think any defence which uses this argument is bordering on a paranoid delusion.

Secondly, I think you are overly nit-picky regarding terminology. It's much like when Sam Harris rejected "leftists" outright for mispronouncing or misidentifying a particular firearm. Such arguments are weak and petty. I submit to you that there is a difference between "errors of fact" and just plain pedantry.

I am with you on arbitrary lines. What to ban? What not to ban? How to classify it? What loopholes would they find? It's an impossible task.

To me these complaints amount to "It sounds hard, let's not try."

We found a way to solve ambiguity problem in Australia. We had a particularly terrible mass shooting and so, we did do something.

The solution? Ban automatic, semi-automatic, and any multiple-shot guns. In fact, the only legal guns are single-shot long guns. There is no ambiguity over such a line. It's easy to put into law, and impossible to find a loophole. Small enough to be concealable? Banned. Fires multiple shots without reloading? Banned. Hunters, farmers and target shooters still have their tools of the trade, but the risk of mass shootings is almost gone.

It included buy backs and tougher licensing.

The results? Zero mass shootings in 17 years. Less gun deaths. Less gun crime in general. Or in other words, it worked.

Our gun deaths are about 2% of yours on a per capita rate (and non-gun deaths are almost half - so it's not one compensating for the other). The point of difference is that we never had "self defence" as a valid justification for owning a gun. Nobody owned guns, and therefore nobody got shot. That is the first step, but I accept it's politically impossible to just do it.

The problem then becomes one of "how"?

The easiest path is to enact laws that will encourage people to "self select" out of gun ownership.

This is already happening as people become more aware of the dangers. Despite the flood of guns, you actually have a decreasing rate of gun ownership. More collectors, hobbyists and - dare I say it - nuts, but less average citizens partaking. This trend coincides with a gradual decrease in gun deaths, as expected.

Licensing, training, a registry, buy backs, increased taxes on guns/bullets, sentence loading for carrying a gun while committing a crime, even if it isn't used (I like this idea, and it's been achieving results) etc. would all help to expedite this "self selection" process. Punishing owners for their gun being used in a crime, even if not by them, would discourage ownership or at least encourage responsible storage. Reaching the goal will be slower than a direct law, but easier to enact.

The benefit of this method, over a blanket ban, is that the deterrent effect remains, as do people's freedoms.

The stakes are around 30,000 lives a year, it's not as insignificant as the odd mass shooting, they are merely the ones that grab the headlines. The real tragedy is that the worst mass shooting you've ever had produced less deaths than your tally by lunch on an average day.

Most of these are suicide. And when you consider gun suicides are fatal, but up to 70% of non-gun suicide attempts are not fatal (and also probably less tempting - although that hard to measure and produce stats), that is well over 10,000 lives a year that could be saved by getting help after the first failed attempt. And that's before you even get to homicides.

Rakewell said...


Though I disagree vehemently with both your ends and means, I appreciate that you explicitly tie them together. Most gun-control groups in the U.S. bend over backwards denying that they have any intention of ever trying to repeal the second amendment, or taking away guns from law-abiding citizens. No, they say--we just want these small, incremental, "common-sense" changes.

Those of us who believe that guns are a net good in society, despite their misuse by a tiny minority, always suspect that those denials are lies told by dishonest partisans unwilling to be frank about their true aspirations, and that their current proposals are just the first steps intended to lead to eventual prohibition.

It's refreshing to come across somebody who is willing to be blunt in admitting that that is indeed his aim. It's good to be reminded that the slippery slope is not only real, but is being deliberately constructed and slathered with oil.

Steven said...


I'm a little confused as to how your left reaches its position as well. But I think your slippery slope theory requires a tin foil hat.

The position I'm suggesting is the common sense end goal, and you will get there with or without regulation. Self selection will do the trick, it's currently working and will continue to do so. But it will take centuries and cost literally millions of lives. A few simple laws would speed up the process. Constitutional change would work even faster, if it could be achieved.

But you can't compare my views to your left, as I wrote in my article. The lefties in the US appear to be right wing extremists to most of the 1st world. These people own and use guns themselves, they are definitely not coming for yours. When Biden suggested firing shot guns from your front door as a deterrent, the entire world was in shock, then they realised he was actually the voice of the left and almost had a heart attack.

But, even if they went as far as my suggestions, what's wrong with them?

They reinforce personal responsibility, maintain the perceived deterrent effect, and allow you to partake in recreational shooting (hunting or targets) or even defend your home. Are all these not completely compatible with libertarian ideals and the claimed benefits of gun ownership?

I think if I were to ask "why do you want guns?" And just continually ask "why?" to your response you would eventually have to face the fact that you have no good reason to oppose my ideas.