Thursday, April 9, 2009

The only freedom I'll ever understand

After my recent post on gun control, Kevin Baker of the blog The Smallest Minority left a comment inviting me to take part in a debate with him on the issue across our two blogs. I was reluctant to accept for two reasons – firstly, I'd only just taken part in a full-scale debate on the matter and it was difficult to see the purpose of instantly embarking on a second one which would probably cover much the same ground. Secondly, having visited Kevin's blog it became clear that the honeyed words in his comment here about the value of such a debate and my contribution to it were somewhat at odds with the rather more caustic assessment of me he had made over on his own patch –

"Not only more free that he's ever imagined, more free than he can ever possibly understand."

It's hard to fathom how someone he regards as being so intellectually challenged in this way could also simultaneously be regarded as someone worthy of entering into intelligent debate with. A suspicious person might almost think I was being looked upon rather more as a willing patsy. He also made a suggestive remark about the conclusions he might draw if I declined this entirely out-of-the-blue invitation from a website which, after all, I'd never even heard of before – "I've invited 'Scotgo,' Mr. James Kelly, to debate the topic of gun control. I hope he is more willing than the last half-dozen invitees." I trust, on reflection, that Kevin as a fair-minded man would accept that there are in fact a million and one perfectly good reasons why someone might be unable or unwilling to accept an unsolicited invitation to do something that at the very least would be extremely time-consuming?

With these severe reservations in mind, I didn't make any commitment about entering into an ongoing debate, but I did offer to write at least one article drawing my thoughts together on the gun control issue, and allowing people to take issue with me if they so wished. So here it is.

Imagine that you are a child being brought up in a very isolated place, your home miles away from any other settlement. The only people you ever see are your parents, who school you at home, and warn you that if by any chance a stranger should come to the door, you should keep a discreet distance from them and avoid making physical contact. Just to be on the safe side, you should also wash yourself thoroughly after any such encounter. They explain the reason – strangers carry germs, and can make you ill. Sometimes very seriously ill, sometimes you can die. Just to drive this important lesson home, they show you photographic evidence of people suffering from TB and other easily communicable diseases. There can be little doubt – these poor people are suffering terribly, and all because they had done something that was so easily avoided. They had just got too physically close to strangers. But if you make sure you don't do that you can keep yourself safe.

So having learnt and understood this valuable lesson, you have no difficulty accepting and valuing your life as it is. The limitations don’t seem that great – after all, with modern technology you can make friends on the internet, and interact with them almost as if they’re in the same room. You realise how minor these compromises are when weighed against the awful alternative you had seen in those photographs.

But as you interact with more and more people and find out more about the world around you, a strange realisation hits you. Other people simply aren't making the same compromise, or taking the same precautions. They're not in a remote room communicating with others remotely, they're out and about in crowded places brushing against people, shaking their hands, sitting next to them for long periods on long-haul flights, sometimes even kissing and hugging them, etc, etc. Are these people completely nuts? Don't they know about the germs and the diseases, haven't they seen the photographs? Don't they realise their behaviour is leaving them totally exposed to this danger? Well, yes they do. And yet they carry on doing it, seemingly without a care in the world. To you, whose way of life had always been defined by the need to protect yourself at all costs against these risks it seems utterly inexplicable.

This (admittedly colourful and extreme) example seems to me roughly analogous to Rachel Lucas' bafflement in encountering a society where it's not simply the case that ordinary citizens are legally thwarted from owning guns for self-defence purposes – for the most part they simply have no wish to do so. After all, she comes from a society where it's taken as a given that people will be constantly aware of potential threats against them and will want to directly protect themselves against those threats, in many cases by owning and even carrying a gun. But upon arrival in Britain, she cites examples where innocent people have been attacked and have been unable to adequately defend themselves. Isn't it obvious, she asks, that these individuals would have been more likely to survive if they'd had a gun handy? On the face of it, the answer can only be yes. So haven't other people in the society around them heard about these attacks, haven't they read the newspapers, haven't they seen the photographs? Yes they have. So don't they want to possess a gun to lessen the risk of the same fate befalling them? On the whole, no they don't. Utterly inexplicable.

But of course, the reason why people in Britain don't want to carry guns even though there are hypothetical situations in which they might 'need' them is exactly the same as why people get physically close to others even though they might pick up deadly germs. It's not that they're fools or that they haven't spotted the risks – it's just that they choose not to allow their way of life to be defined by those particular risks. I was mercilessly mocked the other day for suggesting the cornerstone of true personal liberty is the freedom from fear. This was a childish fantasy I urgently needed to grow out of, I was told – freedom from fear is a literal impossibility, because it is a simple law of nature that we are all at constant risk. But this is to completely misconstrue the point I was making. Women who walk the streets without the gun in their handbag that they might 'need' to defend themselves against a potential assailant, or just anyone who shakes hands even though there's a small chance it might make them ill...all these people in a small way have achieved that freedom from fear I was talking about. Not because the risk, the source of the fear isn’t there any more, but because they’ve recognised as rational people that it's an acceptably small risk and that their lives therefore don’t need to be defined by that fear. Isn't there freedom in not feeling you need to be practically chained to a gun, in the same way there's freedom in not feeling compelled to avoid shaking hands with others?

Ultimately life is chock full of eminently avoidable risks – but for the most part those risks are small and the available protective strategies are extreme. A woman can significantly lessen the risk of being raped if she never allows herself to be alone with a man – similarly a man can lessen the risk of a devastating false rape allegation by never allowing himself to be alone with a woman. You can avoid drowning by never going near the sea. You can ensure you survive a sudden nuclear war by living in a bunker. Few people would think these steps were worth it, even though they are all perfectly effective, practical strategies to deploy against genuine risks. Why not? Because the sacrifice is too great, the richness of potential life experience missed out on too worthwhile. So instead we all at times make ourselves vulnerable when we don't have to – that's the only way we can truly live. The more we feel able to do this the richer life is, and the more free we are. That's what I mean by freedom from fear.

But of course for this to work people need to know that the risks we're talking about genuinely are acceptably small. It's not rational to feel 'free from fear' to walk in the woods if in reality there's a 90% chance you're going to be eaten by a wild animal. But this is where gun-owners whose way of life – admittedly only to a degree – is defined by their fears have got themselves and the society around them into a terrible bind. Because the actions they are taking to alleviate that fear are in fact increasing the level of risk from one that would otherwise be acceptably small to one which is perhaps not. Think about those unfortunate individuals in Britain who Rachel Lucas observed would have been safer with a gun – if it was possible to look at those situations as entirely self-contained, she might be right. But the inevitable implication is that if those particular individual citizens have a gun, so do millions of others. The UK would have transformed itself from a largely non-weaponised society with what is still a much, much lower level of gun violence than the US to a highly weaponised society with...well, I don't think it's really too big an assumption to suggest our level of gun violence would be bound to increase dramatically. And with the greater risk to individuals' safety comes – ironically – the greatest curtailment of personal freedom, one which the 'right' to carry guns is a very poor substitute for. If guns became so suddenly ubiquitous, isn’t there an inexorable logic to every household needing to have one to protect itself from those other 'defensive' weapons that are suddenly absolutely everywhere? What about my timid elderly aunt who lives alone and would probably faint at the thought of having to learn how to handle a gun – is she going to be told she simply has to get into the 'real world' in the same routine way she's currently told she needs to make sure her locks are secure? Won't she be terrified by the sudden cold message that her personal safety is no longer measured by the efforts of the community around her to collectively be secure but instead by her own (perhaps very limited) proficiency with a gun? Where's the freedom in that?

So there we are. I haven’t even covered a fraction of the areas I was planning to, but that'll do for now. I’m not promising there'll be a follow-up article (or a response to any 'verbose rebuttal'), I'll just see how I feel. In any case, I'm sure I've come up with enough serf-like compelled helplessness in the preceding few paragraphs to allow the fun and the relentless mockery to get well and truly underway. And that's what it's all about at the end of the day, isn't it lads? Enjoy!

UPDATE (Friday, 1am) : Kevin (perhaps wisely) suggested to me yesterday that I shouldn't respond directly to points made in the comments section. I've found, however, over the last few hours that I haven't been able to resist the temptation. And after seven solid, rather mentally exhausting days of participating in exchanges on this topic, I now feel definitively it's time to stop. I'm an occasional blogger, largely on the subject of Scottish politics (and to Montague Burton's annoyance sometimes the Eurovision Song Contest as well) so in contrast to Kevin and others it's very difficult for me to envisage maintaining an indefinite dialogue on this one particular issue. I'll be interested to read Kevin's rebuttal, and although I won't be entirely surprised if it makes my blood boil in some way (or even in a whole multitude of ways), I don't plan to respond to it. Thankyou to everyone who has left comments and feel free to continue doing so (although please note automatic moderation will kick in after a week).

84 comments:

Kevin said...

James:

Thank you. May I copy this to my site for rebuttal?

James Kelly said...

Kevin, I've had people copy and paste my posts in their entirety onto their own blogs once or twice before, and while I suppose it was a touch cheeky of them to do so, I would certainly never complain about it because we all know that copyright is a fairly elastic concept in the blogosphere. And as you can see I've used a couple of minor quotes from your blog myself. If you're asking me what I'd prefer, obviously part of the reason I declined your offer of guest posting status was that I preferred to keep control over my work and host it here rather than at your blog. So that's my preference but I certainly won't make a fuss about anything you might choose to do (within reason of course!).

Kevin said...

James:

Well, my reason for asking is that I've done this sort of thing before and had the pieces I've replied to vanish when the blog was dropped, the blogger changed services, etc. (I've been blogging about six years now. Most blogs just don't last very long.) I promise to not alter a word of your piece, and mark it fully as a work by you with a link to this page. I just want an archived copy.

James Kelly said...

Kevin, you're a hard man to please. I've said that it isn't my preference, but I've also essentially given you my blessing to do what you want, within reason. That's my position and I don't know what more else I can say. There's no guarantee this blog will still be around in six months or a year but the same applies to your own.

Greybeard said...

James, your statement that you've never heard of Kevin's blog, is undoubtable proof that we live in different worlds. I commend your decision not to directly debate him, you probably wouldn't have cared for the results, and likely would not have been able to see the logic of his arguments.

James Kelly said...

Oooh, Greybeard, that's an intriguing and elliptical comment. Have I unwittingly been challenged to a debate by some kind of blogging superstar? (Doesn't change my position by the way.) As for 'not caring for the results', having had a quick look at Kevin's rather full-on approach to 'debate' on his blog, my one observation would be that I noticed a glaring factual inaccuracy within the first couple of minutes. He stated in the autumn of 2008 that Labour was no longer in power in Britain. So if that kind of basic mistake is typical, I'm sure I'd have scored some hits in the debate somewhere along the line, whatever you might believe!

ravenshrike said...

Choices made that are rational imply knowledge of the subject, both of the immediate consequences and the long term inherent therein. As such, your stipulation that "it's just that they choose not to allow their way of life to be defined by those particular risks" is almost entirely a choice made without rational thought.

Anonymous said...

So Kevin is off by a few months on when Labor is in power. Oh look, a mis-spelled word in the sixth paragraph. Finally he should've used a semi-colon over there...Therefore (according to your logic), the entire piece and all its supporting documentation links can be dismissed out of hand as irrelevant...right?

And you wonder why gun-control activists have such a poor reputation.

Bob in VA

Stephen R said...

James,

It strikes me that your argument regarding "freedom from fear" would be an excellent one against REQUIRING people to carry guns, but it says little against ALLOWING them to do so.

Regarding the UK having lower levels of gun violence -- that may be, but it has much *higher* levels of violent crime overall. Again, you've removed the ability of people to defend themselves, and the criminals are simple settling for bricks (or fists).

Kevin said...

"I've said that it isn't my preference, but I've also essentially given you my blessing to do what you want . . . ."

James, I was attempting to alleviate any misgivings you had, since you stated it wasn't "your preference." I'd rather have approval than reluctant acquiescence. The latter (still) being the case, I will quote only those parts I will respond to directly.

WRT Graybeard's comments, no I'm no "superstar," I'm a third-tier gunblogger with a fair following. WRT "basic mistakes," I concede that I erred in my understanding of British politics, but I guarantee you such is not "typical." At any rate, when I complete my response, you can then try to score all the hits you'd like. That is, after all, the point!

James Kelly said...

Bob, Labour are still in power now. In all likelihood they will still be in power twelve months from now. The significance of the mistake was that Kevin was attempting to draw some kind of meaningful conclusion from the "fact" that Labour were no longer in power. The 'entire piece' and 'documentation' can't be dismissed out of hand, no, but a firm conclusion based on a statement of fact that is the opposite of the truth most certainly can be.

If at some point last autumn I'd said "no wonder John McCain is now the US President!" you'd have guffawed and quite rightly so.

James Kelly said...

Stephen R - "that may be, but it has much *higher* levels of violent crime overall"

I've seen that asserted many times over the last few days but I've yet to see compelling evidence. I'm guessing it may depend on the definition of 'violent'.

"It strikes me that your argument regarding 'freedom from fear' would be an excellent one against REQUIRING people to carry guns, but it says little against ALLOWING them to do so."

That's the other side of my argument - that a blanket right to own deadly weapons infringes on the freedom of others, because it leads to a point where the threat from gun violence is no longer acceptably small. At that point the 'freedom from fear' is compromised.

Stephen R said...

"I've seen that asserted many times over the last few days but I've yet to see compelling evidence."

This isn't a bad place to start. There are many similar if you look. (He links to more....)
http://wheelgun.blogspot.com/2007/01/crime-in-uk-versus-crime-in-us.html

Personally I define "violent" as "using violent force or the immediate threat thereof" (threat e.g. "give me your money or I'll kill you" -- but no *actual* violence performed....)

James Kelly said...

OK, so we're making progress. Would you concede that the amount of actual violence, and the number of casualties of violence are also useful definitions, as well as the one you've just given?

unix-jedi said...

that a blanket right to own [cars, trucks, knives, gasoline, forks, rope, sticks, wire, propane, glass, scissors, icepicks, lumber, hands, feet, boots, batteries, crowbars, plastic bags, hammers, metal, socks, rocks] infringes on the freedom of others

The murderers in Rachel's post used their hands. And their feet.

because it leads to a point where the threat from gun violence

Your threat of gun violence is infinitesimal unless it's the criminally-minded, the predators who have them.
"Those without swords can still die upon them".

You're not free from violence. The UK has been rocked by - admittedly underreported! - violence that coincided with the gun bans. Not simply because of the bans, but because of the mentality that accompanied them. But even with the banning - gun crime is up hundreds of percents. Despite there being no legal way to acquire the guns. Funny thing, if you're a career criminal, it's not so daunting.

is no longer acceptably small. At that point the 'freedom from fear' is compromised.

At what point do you disallow anyone's fear from being the determining factor? At what point do you insist that the irrational fears should be dealt with? Do you own a car?

Care to check out the amount of death and destructions cars cut across all industrialized nations and compare that to guns?

Joe Huffman said...

When comparing across political, geographical, and cultural boundaries it often more reasonable to do comparisons on timelines rather than directly between the groups being studied. Hence before and after the removal of legal handguns in the UK and perhaps before and after some legislation in the U.S. is likely to tell us more than direct UK versus US comparisons.

Or you could answer Just One Question:

Can you demonstrate one time or place, throughout all history, where the average person was made safer by restricting access to handheld weapons?

montieth said...

Mr Kelly, You might examine earlier victorian history and look at the firearms laws that were extant in that time period. It's a pretty fair bet to conclude that Victorian England was a dangerous place where gentlemen would carry a revolver in their pocket or a character in a child's book would go out with a brace of pistols and a stout cudgel. Look at the Tottenham Outrage, firearms were available to the citizens for defense and were lent to the police. Sir Robert Peel's rules of policing stated that the police were the "only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence."

If one took the view which you have of citizens armed with firearms and a culture of fear, one could presume that Victorian England was a scary place, it was in fact the opposite. Despite the presence of arms among the various citizens, it was safe. Not because of prior restraints placed upon it's people, but because of the specific temperament of its people. Again, look at Tottenham, regular people AND police pursued the felons. Everyone was outraged. Now days far worse happens in London and people just shrug and go about their business. Maybe they go to court and bear witness. People have been told it's not your job to apprehend a suspect or stop an attack.

James Kelly said...

Joe, you must know that my answer to your 'one question' is right here, right now. There is an unacceptable level of gun violence in Britain today, but the idea that it isn't considerably lower than it would be if guns were more freely available simply isn't credible.

Unix-Jedi - the damage caused by cars both in terms of deaths and environmentally is appalling. But it's not a meaningful comparison because freedom of travel actually enriches the lives of almost everyone. Where is the equivalent benefit to society of having lots of deadly weapons around?

politicsofenvy said...

James, Right there, right now is incidentally where violence of all kinds spiked after you passed a gun ban.

ravenshrike said...

Well, James, the first instance is that home invasions when the tenants are present would plummet. That's one of the very few strong correlations that have been shown to exist between strict and liberal gun laws in the US.

Joe Huffman said...

Numbers James, not a dismissal of "simply isn't credible". Before and after the gun ban for example.

But you are getting a clue. You realize that, in the case of cars, you must balance the innocent lives lost against the benefits. You just don't realize or acknowledge there are benefits to widespread gun ownership.

In addition to all the home invasions prevented, as pointed out by unix-jedi, there were over 80 million civilian deaths (some put the figure as high as 262 million) by their own government in the last century in countries with strict gun control. Genocide by ones own government, does not occur in countries with widespread gun ownership.

There are many other benefits that should be sufficient to get you started in the right direction.

James Kelly said...

Joe, as your country's government has a massive stockpile of nuclear and chemical weapons at its disposal, I wish you luck in trying to defend yourself with your trusty handgun come the day your leaders turn against you and your fellow citizens. Leaving aside the mystical significance of the Second Amendment for some people, the relationship between state and citizenry is in reality built more on crossed fingers and assumptions of good faith in the US than it is in many European countries (with or without strict gun laws).

'Just One Question' - I think as a rational man you must know that whether or not the number of deaths rose after the gun ban is irrelevant - to look at it that way assumes that the numbers would have remained completely static if the ban had not taken place, which is an absurd proposition. What matters is whether the numbers now are higher or lower than they otherwise would have been had the ban not taken place. Do you seriously think the fact that the UK has a significantly lower gun violence rate than your own country is completely unconnected to the fact that we have stricter gun laws? Just chanting "numbers, numbers" at me will not remove your basic credibility problem.

Could I ask you Just One Question as well? Why exactly are you so keen to wish mass gun ownership on a country that simply doesn't want it, and that regards it (rationally, in my view) as entailing a severe impairment to general quality of life? These improbable benefits you're talking about are going to have to be truly fabulous.

Dan F. said...

The UK doesn't have the 'gun culture' that the US does, that's true. What about Switzerland? They do- community ranges, competitions and all. After mandatory military service, the citizen's rifle is set to semi and sent home with (until recently) 50 rounds of ammunition in a sealed box. Their gun crime even then was very low.

A rifle in nearly every house, and lower guncrime (as Orwell might put it). That correlation alone may not equal the outcome, but the culture almost certainly does.

GrumpyOldFart said...

Okay, now I have a question....

"Why exactly are you so keen to wish mass gun ownership on a country that simply doesn't want it..."

If, as you claim, the vast majority of people have no wish to own guns, whence will such "mass ownership" come? Allowing people to own firearms is not the same as requiring it. Either a lot of people wish to have guns to defend themselves, or they don't. If your assertion that most don't is true, I fail to see how this will result in a "highly weaponised society".

Roberta X said...

I would like to clear one thing up: I, for one, am not in the least keen to wish widespread gun ownership upon the British. History is rife with examples of the harm done by armed Brits -- I believe even the Scots might have encountered a little of it from time to time.

Things are different in the 'States. Its one reason why that's where I live

subrosa said...

Roberta, I consider your comments regarding the Scots bordering on the offensive. What evidence you have about harm done with guns by Scots in the past 50 years? (Aside from the Dunblane massacre).

There's hardly a week goes by without massacres in the US being reported. Yes I know the US is far bigger than Scotland but your laws encourage the use of guns.

I'm not entering into this discussion but I would like to hear your evidence for your statement regarding the Scots.

Kevin said...

subrosa, Roberta x was talking about instances in history where Scots have suffered at the hands of armed Brits, I believe.

KCSteve said...

I like your logic and I think I'm going to adopt it.

First thing to do is get rid of the fire extinguishers in the home. The odds of our ever having a fire are very low and having those extinguishers just means that I'm having to worry about it too much. If there ever is a fire the authorities will be here in 10-15 minutes and really, how much can a fire grow in that time? Besides, it's not like you can put out a serious fire with a home extinguisher.

I can improve my gas mileage by getting rid of the spare tire - all it does is take up space and weigh the car down. Once again, in the extremely rare case that I get a flat I can call for assistance. Ok, the last time I did have a flat I was out in the middle of nowhere and after 45 minutes I gave up and put on my spare and drove to where I could get a new tire with no trace of the 'emergency service' ever showing up but what are the odds of that happening again?

Boy I'll bet I can find a lot of things I can get rid of with this new "Let the authorities take care of it" philosophy!

Thnaks!

Kevin said...

KCSteve:

You think you're being facetious, but you're not.

James:

I'm working on my reply. I hope to have it up on Saturday. It, too, will only cover a fraction of the areas I'd wish to, but, what can one do? As you said, at the very least, this is extremely time consuming. But for me, it's worth it. I'm trying to preserve a right that is a keystone to a philosophy that I think brings the greatest liberty to the greatest number, and I'm fighting against a philosophy that leads, in its worst cases, to tyranny and genocide. (I'm not suggesting that the UK is headed there, at least not in the foreseeable future, but you are measurably further down that path that we.)

Thanks for making at least this much effort, and perhaps - just perhaps - my response might entice you to remain engaged.

subrosa said...

Kevin, forgive me for being pedantic, but if someone says Brits they mean English, Scots, Welsh and Irish - all four nationalities. Hence my comment.

James Kelly said...

Nice try, Kcsteve but very silly examples. Flat tyres are not an acceptably small risk, they've happened to almost all of us at some point so a) it's useful to carry them and b) there's no meaningful deficit attached to doing so that would outweigh that usefulness. Your young child isn't going to pick up a spare tyre and accidentally shoot himself with it. Your depressed teenager isn't going to gravitate towards the spare tyre in a weak moment as a quick and easy way of ending it all. The ownership of spare tyres does not frighten the people around you, and does not create a ratchet effect where reluctant people feel compelled to buy yet more spare tyres as a defensive measure against all the dangerous spare tyres that are now around posing a direct threat to them. People don't have to worry about having a spare tyre wrested from them by an assailant who will then shoot them with it. Most of all, spare tyres are not repeatedly used by 'law-abiding citizens' who have passed 'rigorous background checks' to instigate massacres.

But apart from all that, the spare tyre thing was a great point.

James Kelly said...

Grumpyoldfart - very fair point actually. Prior to the restrictions in the late 1990s, only a relatively tiny percentage of the UK population took advantage of the right to own handguns. But as we saw from the Dunblane and Hungerford massacres, there was a severe danger to the non-gun-owning remainder of the population from even that limited level of legal handgun ownership. An absolutely open-and-shut case of a personal 'right' interfering with the freedoms and rights of others - and in any civilised society, it's at that point where a personal right must cease to be regarded as absolute.

To clarify things further, the reason I suggested in my original post that the UK would have become a 'highly weaponised' society is that Rachel Lucas suggested that more liberal gun laws would have meant that the man who defended himself with a hammer would have had a gun instead. To me, she seemed to be envisaging a situation where gun ownership was not only legal but had also been adopted en masse - unless she was imagining a one in a hundred or one in a thousand chance that the person attacked just happened to be the one of the tiny minority to have taken up the right to own a gun.

Kevin said...

James:

No comment on the fire extinguisher example? ;-)

Broadsword said...

Initially I thought this, "... your laws encourage the use of guns" was just silly. But after a moment's thought, I think I agree. I live in a shall-issue permit to carry a pistol state. This is very encouraging! I can legally use my gun in public as a filler in a holster. The holster can be in plain sight, or hidden away by clothing. My state has specific defining requirement governing the use of my gun in public. I must be in fear of great bodily harm or death; I must be a reluctant participant;there is no reasonable means of retreat; and no lesser force will do. This is also very encouraging. And I will tell you this right now! I will not stand by and let my wife be attacked by anyone! I have the training, the means and the laws on my side. I am not disallowed from defending myself because someone else has a fear of a certain type of tool! As Alan Ladd said in Shane, "It's not the gun, it's the man wielding it. A gun is just a tool, no more, no less." MOLON LABE.

James Kelly said...

Kevin, Kcsteve wasn't (facetiously) arguing that fire extinguishers should be removed because they put people at greater risk of dying in a fire, he said it was because they weren't particularly effective and would make him 'worry' about the prospect of a fire too much. That would be silly and would not satisfy my test of an 'extreme' approach to risk prevention that might variously cause harm to others, curtail people's freedom or undermine the well-being of society and general quality of life (mass gun ownership does all those things).

But if there really are well-founded reasons for thinking that locating extinguishers in a particular spot in communal buildings (and that's all we're talking about here) will actually increase the risk of harm rather than decrease it, don't you think that should at least be considered? I do only say 'considered' because a) the wishes of the residents need to be taken into account at all times and b) I'm not an expert on fire safety. I take it you must be an expert on fire safety, though, to have reached such a clear-cut judgement on a relatively complex matter so quickly.

Roberta X said...

Subrosa, I am indeed sorry that you found my comment offensive; I was not, as happens, referring to firearm violence by Scots but to firearm violence committed against them by British troops. Quite some time ago. As in many generations. Perhaps you read of it in school? I'm given to understand some of my ancestors ended up in the States because of it.

It's fine with me if the UK population wants to render itself individually defenseless save a few special classes of persons; you have a longer and generally better history with highly-stratified society than do most nations. But trying to apply that to the States is simply silly -- our only experiments with extreme stratification did not go well and ended painfully.

We speak similar languages but we are aliens.

juris imprudent said...

James,

Prior to the restrictions in the late 1990s, only a relatively tiny percentage of the UK population took advantage of the right to own handguns.

Apparently you aren't familiar with the restrictions that were in place prior to the late 90s. The first British handgun control law dates to 1934. The 'right' to own a handgun has been null in the U.K. for quite some time. The 90s legislation merely ended the few exceptions that had been maintained.

While it would indeed be difficult to compare the U.S. to Scotland, or even the whole of the U.K., how about Scotland and Switzerland, or Scotland and Finland? Do you think the Swiss or Finns are gun-crazy like you seem to think Americans are? They have guns (more long guns than handguns) in roughly the same percentage of homes as the U.S.

Subrosa,

I've NEVER met an Irishman who considers himself a Brit. That tends to be an either-or proposition.

James Kelly said...

Roberta, I appreciate that Subrosa misconstrued what you were saying, but it's completely understandable she did so - the way you phrased it was a little like saying 'the New Yorkers suffered at the hands of the Americans'. I only gently point that out once again because there seems to be a patronising tinge to your response - I'm quite sure Subrosa (and you'll see the reason why if you visit her blog) is extremely well-versed on all the salient points of Scottish history.

Juris Imprudent - I'd have thought Finland was an absolutely atrocious example to be bringing up given the events of the last couple of years. A few years ago that might have been a good point, but not so much now.

And you've never met an Irishman who considers himself a Brit? Shall I introduce you to Ian Paisley? Peter Robinson? David Trimble? Jeffrey Donaldson? Arlene Foster? I could go on, but I hope you get my drift. Admittedly, Subrosa should have said 'Northern Irish' rather than 'Irish'.

Joe Huffman said...

James, nukes and chemical weapons are only useful for geographical areas not subpopulations within an area which is almost always the case in genocide. And the use of nukes, and to a certain extent CW, tends to make the attacked area uninhabitable which is almost always undesirable for the attacking forces.

Except for Japan in 1945 it has always come down to "boots on the ground" to force the submission. And in genocidal environments the defenders typically outnumber the attackers 100:1 which are very good odds for the defenders even when inadequately trained and equipped. Check out the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising or even watch the movie Defiance for typical results when vastly under armed. Had they been better armed they would have done much better.

You are going to have to explain what you mean by "the relationship between state and citizenry is in reality built more on crossed fingers and assumptions of good faith in the US than it is in many European countries (with or without strict gun laws)". I have no idea what you are talking about. Our entire system is built upon our public servants being given enumerated powers from the people. With all powers not specifically granted to the government being reserved by the people. And the Second Amendment guarantees it stays that way. See also the recent D.C. versus Heller decision by our Supreme Court which validates that viewpoint.

"I think as a rational man you must know that whether or not the number of deaths rose after the gun ban is irrelevant". Not irrelevant. Had you said "not conclusive" I would agree. It's a strong indicator. Since we can't start the experiment over again with identical conditions it's tough to arrive at conclusions with 100% certainty. The other way to test the hypothesis "do weapon restrictions make people safer" is to compare across political boundaries that share similar demographical and economic populations. Such an example would be in Washington D.C. with a complete ban on handguns and just across the river in Virginia where guns can be carried concealed by permit or openly by nearly any adult. The violence is much lower in Virginia. Similar comparisons can be made in Chicago and surrounding areas with the same result. Had you read my Just One Question blog post and followed up on the CDC review of "Reports Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Violence: Firearms Laws" you would have known that. The conclusion was "The Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes." Beyond that I have done correlation analysis between crime statistics and the "grades" the Brady Campaign (a US anti-gun group) gave the states. The results were that there was essentially no correlation. The same conclusion reached by the CDC.

I find it telling that you continue to refer "gun violence rates" rather than total violence or murder rates. If you honestly believe those numbers are useful then you are including justifiable defensive shootings by both police and private citizens in the "bad" category. I can only conclude that 1) you find it somehow preferable that someone be murdered with a club, knive, or feet than by a bullet; and/or 2) you wish to obfuscate the facts.

"Just chanting "numbers, numbers" at me will not remove your basic credibility problem." I have provide numbers and pointers to numbers which validate my case. What do you have? Just opinions as far as I can tell. I find your credibility as lacking as those that would demand people with dark skin tones be deported or banned from public after dark. It appears to me you have an irrational fear of people with guns. You cannot defend your position with anything other than your expression of fear. And from my personal experience of carrying a gun every day (including right now) and being in the presence of people with guns every day I know to be quite unjustified.

If you wish to debate this on the very poor basis of anecdotal evidence then I can play that game too. Check out my blog category Places Without Guns.

In answer to your "Just One Question", I am not keen to wish mass gun ownership on a country that simply doesn't want it. I wish to remove restrictions on a fundamental human right that is being infringed. Whether those people wish to exercise that right would then be up to them. It is unlikely that would result in "mass gun ownership" any more than it has in the U.S. where only about 40% of homes have guns in them. I seek the middle ground.

James Kelly said...

Joe, I'll certainly have to take issue with your contention that 40% does not constitute mass gun ownership, but that's obviously a subjective point. As for human rights, I'll just reiterate that a human right can only be considered absolute insofar as it does not interfere with the rights and freedoms of others.

But if it's genuinely the principle of human rights (and the freedom of each individual to do as he pleases) you're interested in, why fetishise gun ownership in particular? Why not champion the right of an individual to...I don't know, walk down a street naked if he wishes? Or to use hard drugs? There are probably any number of individual freedoms that are curtailed in both our countries because society has taken a collective stance on them for habitual, cultural or (sometimes extremely spurious) moral grounds - why place the semi-mystical significance on guns in particular?

I'm totally unconvinced by the genocide argument. If it's a general population that's targeted the US stockpile of WMDs certainly would be effective, if it's a sub-population in a state where the majority population is supporting the regime (as in Nazi Germany) the position is fairly hopeless anyway.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising might have 'done better' - do you mean they might have improved their own survival prospects, or just killed more Germans in an ultimately heroic failure? The latter possibly, the former seems thoroughly improbable.

And I must admit I do find it mildly galling to be chided about playing the 'game' of anecdotal evidence by someone who just a few paragraphs earlier had resorted to introducing a 'movie' into the discussion as some kind of evidence!

"You are going to have to explain what you mean by 'the relationship between state and citizenry is in reality built more on crossed fingers and assumptions of good faith in the US than it is in many European countries (with or without strict gun laws)'. I have no idea what you are talking about."

With respect, you only had to look at the preceding sentence to see me spell out exactly what I meant. The US government has weapons of mass destruction, most European countries do not (the exceptions are Russia, Britain and France). Privately-owned guns are not a credible defence against nuclear or chemical weapons (and the Second Amendment most certainly isn't), therefore the American populace has to take it on trust that those weapons will never be deployed against them. In reality, we all know that trust is very well-founded, but I don't think it's an unreasonable point for me to make given the paranoid fantasy that's raised by so many in this debate that the citizens of even a long-established liberal democracy like the UK can ultimately expect their government to turn against them if they don't have weapons to defend themselves with. Taken to its absurd logical conclusion, that means every American citizen should be demanding his right to possess a private nuclear missile to be aimed at the White House - just as a sensible precaution, you understand.

"It appears to me you have an irrational fear of people with guns. You cannot defend your position with anything other than your expression of fear. And from my personal experience of carrying a gun every day (including right now) and being in the presence of people with guns every day I know to be quite unjustified."

When real people are attacked by real guns held by real-life legal gun-owners, would you describe the very real fear engendered in society by such an occurrence as rational or irrational? You do know that's exactly why Britain decided to ban handguns in the first place, don't you? I'm delighted that the gun-owners that you've had personal contact with have proved so trustworthy, but I presume your circle of acquaintance does not extend to 40% of the entire US adult population. That's a hell of a lot of people to have such touching faith in - indeed some might say such blind faith could almost be described as 'irrational'.

"I find it telling that you continue to refer "gun violence rates" rather than total violence or murder rates. If you honestly believe those numbers are useful then you are including justifiable defensive shootings by both police and private citizens in the "bad" category. I can only conclude that 1) you find it somehow preferable that someone be murdered with a club, knive, or feet than by a bullet; and/or 2) you wish to obfuscate the facts."

Oh dear. You do realise the overall murder rate in Britain is more than two-and-a-half times lower than in the US, don't you?

Roberta X said...

"I only gently point that out once again because there seems to be a patronising tinge to your response"

...And never any in hers or yours? Tch. We all do it. To be chided for choosing to stand up for oneself is a bit more annoying than to be reminded of the history of one's own region.

--Little history for you, I was held up at gunpoint twice, had shots fired at me one of those times, before it sunk in that I had better arm myself and get training, because no matter what I did, the bad guys were not going to disarm themselves. In response, you can do as most anti-gunners do, and tell me I must have been in the wrong place or up to no good if I was robbed. Just like rape victims in short skirts are "asking for it."

The Happy Rampager said...

(Crossposted from Rachel Lucas' blog)

Scotgo, you assure us that as far as our lords and masters are concerned, people who do not use unreasonable force are perfectly safe from criminal prosecution.

So in your opinion, would a man who, when confronting a young lout shouting abuse at his cancer-stricked wife, merely places his hands on a young lout’s shoulders and marches him all the way home, be prosecuted for assault? Or would he NOT?

James Kelly said...

Roberta, my complaint is more that in being patronising you were implying a lack of knowledge on Subrosa's part, whereas in fact you had demonstrated your own knowledge was at the very least somewhat hazy.

I'm very sorry (and frankly shocked) that you've been held up at gunpoint twice but it is utterly wrong of you to put words in my mouth and suggest that I am saying that you must have been up to no good. That was rather more the - dare I say 'intellectually dishonest' - trick of others when I introduced the case of the innocent Aberdonian businessman who was mistaken for a burglar and shot by a homeowner in Texas. And when you suggest that I am doing something equivalent to blaming rape victims for what happened to them, that is bordering on the offensive. And, to be clear, it's offensive because it bears utterly no resemblance to what I said.

If it has happened to you twice, I don't think that says anything about you but I do think it says something about the society you live in (specifically the fact there are too many guns in it). Don't you think a safer society where that's less likely to happen would be a far more valuable prize than the much more one-dimensional freedom you and others are so fixated with?

Roberta X said...

I wasn't putting words in your mouth, merely trying to side-step a common response made by hoplophobes.

What I think is, the persons who robbed me could have used other means just as easily -- a club, a knife or, in the case of the four young toughs who got my Christmas-shopping money, simple numbers.

The cause of such crimes is not firearms and it is disingenuous of you to so imply.

A "safer society?" You mean like the 19th Cent. American West, where firearms ownership was common (especially by solid citizens) and crime was lower than even in the cites of the Eastern Seaboard? (And where the "gun-totin' cowboy" of legend was actually more likely to keep his six-shooter in his saddlebag than on his hip -- and used it far more often on rattlesnakes or vermin than his fellowman). Or in some Nerfed-out future, where our Betters keep us free of anything sharp, explosive, club-like or otherwise dangerous, like bathtubs and shoelaces? You cannot make everything safe and you most especially can't make me the physical equal of a quartet of hoodlums; nor can you stamp out hooliganism. And I am not going to be beaten, robbed, raped and killed so you can "feel safe."

As for my grasp of Scottish history, let alone that of the British Isles in general, it is indeed weak; but I'm pretty sure the Scots didn't exactly join the UK after a whirlwind romance, nor were they altogether subdued for quite some long time.

But back to the sad tale of the shot Scot: sorry, under Texas law, that was a legal shoot, by the simple act of trespass and refusing to desist. Not having been there, I do not know how threatening the man's behavior was but having myself been on the other side of a glass-pane door (like a single French door) from insistent, incoherent drunks in the small hours at least three times, I can assure you it is very frightening. I was armed, on the telephone to police and had the door-basher made any stronger effort, I might well have drawn and fired. Do I live in fear? Nope. It's a situation I know how to handle, with readily identifiable levels of threat and escalation driven only by the aggressor. (My personal beliefs include the non-initiation of force; under threat, I am reactive, not proactive). It's much simpler to stop a danger by shouting and calling the cops, but it does not always work. I should maybe die at the hands of a home invader so some few of my neighbors can "feel safe?" How safe will they feel when police work the scene and my body's carried out?

Maybe you have some plan to eliminate violent drunks? We tried one here but gave it up in 1933. It didn't work so well. (We're still trying something similar with a wide variety of herbs and medications, which isn't working very well, either. Come to think of it, the failure of these two programs doesn't bode well for any plan to "eliminate guns.")

James Kelly said...

Roberta, the point is that your society is caught in an utterly desperate vicious circle. If you felt that you had no option but to protect yourself with a gun, that's because you knew you were under very real threat from other people with guns - and ultimately the gun laws in your country must take at least part of the responsibility for that situation coming about in the first place. I appreciate that vicious circles are extraordinarily difficult to break out of once you're caught up in them, but it does represent a very good reason why other countries should avoid following that example like the plague.

Incidentally, I also accept that what happened to the Scot in Texas was legal under the state laws - and that to me is utterly incomprehensible. A frightened, somewhat inebriated guy rings on a doorbell to ask for help, and when there is no response jumps over a fence to knock on the back door. The homeowner mistakes him for a burglar (do burglars normally announce their presence by ringing the doorbell?), takes a 'shoot first, ask questions later' approach and kills the man instantly - and that's supposed to be perfectly OK? I've even had several people try to make the case that this was simply a routine instance of a 'bad guy' being done away with by a 'good guy' - and that I'm being "dishonest" for daring to take issue with that "fact"!

If you're interested, a small history lesson - the Scottish Parliament voluntarily voted to join the United Kingdom in 1707, so in that sense we were never 'subdued'. There was a touch of bribery involved, however, hence the famous lines by Robert Burns -

"The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour's station;
But English gold has been our bane --
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!"

Kevin said...

James:

My reply is up. Pack a lunch, it's (typically for me) quite long. As to "vicious circles," well, read it.

unix-jedi said...

Don't you think a safer society where that's less likely to happen

Which you haven't proven.

All you've done is handwaved, ignoring the facts that since that Island you live on totally finished slamming the door on legal (hand)guns, and all effective self-defense, it's become more likely for you.

As well as the rest of the violence - besides gun violence - has skyrocketed. Thugs rule the street and law abiding citizens cower in their house, and 999 is "too busy" to assist.

Statistically (which you use when it aids you and ignore when it usually doesn't) you're vastly more likely to be a victim of violent crime over there than here. (Even over here, there's only a few areas, totaling a total square area of less than the City of London where the violent crime rate is so high as to bring the average up. If you were to exclude them, such as, living in small town Texas, your violent crime rate is a fraction of that all over the UK. Statistically.)

You keep asserting that it's "safer" - only from guns - but you've not proven it, and the rate of change in our society is completely opposite of yours. Ours has dropped markedly - yours has increased by an order of magnitude.

I introduced the case of the innocent Aberdonian businessman who was mistaken for a burglar and shot by a homeowner in Texas.

And again, you're being dishonest. At the very best, that's your take, but as should be noted, it's a description that almost everybody else strenuously objected to. Yet you're incapable of advancing past your (self-admitted, not-fully-informed) preconceived notions on this, which indicates it's the same with all your notions.

But in the US, I won't say as to Scotland, the definition of "innocent" doesn't include someone in the middle of committing multiple crimes. Which is why no charges were filed (much to your astonishment.)

It's incredibly dishonest and patronizing for you to repeat again that he's "innocent" without any nod to how everybody else views that incident. Based largely upon even his friend's account, he was a violent, disoriented, loud and threatening presence who appeared to be attacking. That's not "innocent" - and yes, when you accuse the terrorized homeowner as presumed guilty, and blame the incident on guns is exactly the same as blaming the rape on the victim.

James Kelly said...

Good grief, Kevin. We're never going to see eye to eye, but I can only have a sneaking admiration for you in getting such a mammoth article together so quickly. You've also achieved something else I would have thought was utterly impossible - you've found a quote from Alun Michael that I actually agree with!

unix-jedi said...

and that to me is utterly incomprehensible.

Apparently.

A frightened, somewhat inebriated guy rings on a doorbell to ask for help, and when there is no response jumps over a fence to knock on the back door.

In the wee hours of the morning. And "knocking" - even according to his friend and your original report - was hammering on the door and yelling.

The homeowner mistakes him for a burglar (do burglars normally announce their presence by ringing the doorbell?)

Very often, yes. That way they can find out if someone is home. It's not unheard of. But even that doesn't mean that it wasn't exactly the case. Burglars and violent criminals don't have a book of rules they have to obey, there's no Guild of Calamitous Intent enforcing them, and even if there was, almost immediately the criminals would stop using them, because they're making their life by breaking rules.

takes a 'shoot first, ask questions later' approach

Also not backed by the facts known. He didn't shoot the first time de Vries rang the doorbell, nor the second, and only upon him bashing on the back door, after circumventing a fence to prevent easy access.

and kills the man instantly - and that's supposed to be perfectly OK?

Yes.
de Vries was threatening the homeowners and apparently trying to break in. Even now, you don't actually know what de Vries had intended - he was paranoid and suspicious and had jumped out of a moving car that friends he'd been drinking with were driving. That's a large indication as to his state of mind and behavior. But that's all we've got now, is indications. They don't back your description.

I've even had several people try to make the case that this was simply a routine instance of a 'bad guy' being done away with by a 'good guy' - and that I'm being "dishonest" for daring to take issue with that "fact"!

Well, yes. Because you've been minimizing all the bad things de Vries did. I view it much like this. I don't know what he was thinking, I don't know what he was planning, and I think the problem is the culture of drinking and behaving badly in the UK - but given what the homeowner knew, looking at a man screaming and trying to break in, it was a very good decision.

We keep calling you "dishonest" because you keep blaming the homeowner who was terrorized by de Vries, not de Vries. He was the victim. de Vries wasn't innocent. Defending the violent thug, and castigating the victim - who didn't "ask for it", and was merely home when a drunk Scot decided to try and break in - is morally reprehensible.

Kevin said...

We're never going to see eye to eye, but I can only have a sneaking admiration for you in getting such a mammoth article together so quickly.

I've had a lot of practice.

You've also achieved something else I would have thought was utterly impossible - you've found a quote from Alun Michael that I actually agree with!

Even though that quote has been proven to be totally in error.

I am not surprised.

You cannot question the philosophy.

As I said, I didn't expect to change your mind, and obviously I didn't, but did I expose you to any information previously unknown to you? Did any of it make you the least bit uncomfortable?

Joe Huffman said...

"Why not champion the right of an individual to...I don't know, walk down a street naked if he wishes? Or to use hard drugs? There are probably any number of individual freedoms that are curtailed in both our countries because society has taken a collective stance on them for habitual, cultural or (sometimes extremely spurious) moral grounds - why place the semi-mystical significance on guns in particular?"

I do champion those rights. Just not as much as the right to keep and bear arms. My wife and I have been members of nudist clubs for years. And, as I told my employees (when I owned my own company) when asked about a dress code I told them that, yes, we do have a dress code here, "You need to dress such that you avoid getting arrested." I have never used illegal recreational drugs and in fact I'm reluctant to even use over the counter drugs such as aspirin. But I advocate making recreational drugs legal and letting Darwin deal with those that abuse them. I focus on guns in particular because they protect all other rights. The right to keep and bear arms in a specific enumerated right guaranteed by our constitution and is the most clear infringed upon.

"if it's a sub-population in a state where the majority population is supporting the regime (as in Nazi Germany) the position is fairly hopeless anyway."

Then you should be able to show where the victims had arms and were exterminated. Such examples don't exist. In every genocide the butchers constitute only about 1% of the population (see also On Killing for reasons why that might be a constant and nearly unchangeable). Given the natural advantages that the defenders have such as fighting from behind walls and having much higher stakes in the outcome the defenders have reasonably good odds if they have reasonable access to arms.

"The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising might have 'done better' - do you mean they might have improved their own survival prospects, or just killed more Germans in an ultimately heroic failure? The latter possibly, the former seems thoroughly improbable."

With only a handful of small arms they tied up thousands of the German army equipped with artillery and other heavy weapons for six weeks. Had they been better armed they probably would not have been in the ghetto to begin with, had they ended up in the ghetto they would have been much more likely to break out, and had they not been able to break out they could held off much longer and tied up more of the German army and perhaps held out until help arrived.

"And I must admit I do find it mildly galling to be chided about playing the 'game' of anecdotal evidence by someone who just a few paragraphs earlier had resorted to introducing a 'movie' into the discussion as some kind of evidence!"

The movie was based on a true story. I read the book several years ago before I saw the movie. The movie held fairly close to the book. I would have suggested you read the book but I thought there was a fair chance you had seen the movie and it would be fair less effort to see the movie than to read the book.

I've been studying genocide by one's own government for many years. I can't tell you how many books and papers I've read. The evidence is overwhelming. The victims were always disarmed first--often for generations. The mindset that "the government is our protector" contributes to the problem in a massive way. They do not have the mindset such that they are capable of fighting back. Some of the saddest cases I have read about were in Russia where people wrote to and desperately tried to contact Stalin "to tell him what was happening" so he could stop the killing. Often, the very people that wrote to him were explicitly put on the list of people to be killed by Stalin himself.

""Privately-owned guns are not a credible defence against nuclear or chemical weapons (and the Second Amendment most certainly isn't), therefore the American populace has to take it on trust that those weapons will never be deployed against them."

You don't understand the mindset of an armed people. In the U.S. if those weapons were used against the people the survivors and others on the targeted lists would make it impossible for the perpetrators and their leaders to survive by any other means than leaving the country with a new identity. The politicians of the U.S. are the public servants and when they attempt to establish a monopoly on the possession and use of arms they are attempting to change the relationship between those that granted them their power their position of public servant. Such servants will be dismissed, either by the ballot box, the jury box, or, as a last resort, the cartridge box.

"When real people are attacked by real guns held by real-life legal gun-owners, would you describe the very real fear engendered in society by such an occurrence as rational or irrational?"

Numbers please. It's about benefits versus hazards. See also Kevin's analysis of the numbers. Although he does unintentionally understates things a bit. I can't seem to find the reference right now but the murder numbers are computed differently in the U.S. and the U.K. In the U.K. it's only counted as a murder after there is a murder conviction. In the U.S. it's counted as a murder/accident/suicide based on the investigation of the situation. You appear to base your conclusions on the justification for banning weapons (not just guns but knives too it turns out) on the possibility that just one person might do wrong with such a tool. Do you use that same logic to all tools including computers, fire extinguishers, and automobiles? If not, then why not? I would posit it's because you see the benefits of computers, fire extinguishers, and automobiles. You apparently cannot accept or deliberately overlook the benefits of gun ownership. Even dismissing the prevention of the somewhat rare instances of genocides numerous studies put the instances of guns being used defensively in the U.S. approximately two million times per year.

"Oh dear. You do realise the overall murder rate in Britain is more than two-and-a-half times lower than in the US, don't you?"

See Kevin's response then get back to me with your sources for that claim. By then you should realize that you still haven't successfully answered Just One Question. And I hope there is a glimmer of realization that until you do successfully answer that question you have no basis for advocating the further restricting the access of weapons by individuals.

Mr. Fixit said...

James,
I am reading that you seem to have a circular argument and a circular answer to it.

The argument seems to be (in basic form) that
1. I don't like guns
2. If I let good people have guns, bad people will also have guns
3. So we should make guns illegal
4. Now no one has guns

The problem with that is that only the law abiding people ever give up their guns when they are outlawed. The people who use and own guns illegal are the ones who will have them no matter what. The other side of that is that the only people who would give them up are the very people who you have no reason to fear or believe would use them illegally.

Pick any item that has been made illegal. Ask yourself if it has been completely removed from society? The perfect example is drugs.

We can not keep criminals from getting illegal items. That's why we call them criminals. So why then do we punish the law abiding?

Mr Fixit

hpcc19 said...

James,

You've been a very good sport about this. Your intuition, internal logic , emotions and feelings are quite valid for you and needn't be attacked by anyone. The "opposition", however, who feels that their natural rights ( the right of self defense) are being stolen and denied by proto-fascist regimes have done a lot of deep thinking about this. They have seen every argument and have a VALID retort for every argument. They are committed, and frankly, they are right. They are angry and heartbroken that being right isn't good enough, anymore. They want to attack debaters with logic. That will do no good in this day and age. The other options are few and unappetizing. Having your "democratic" government steal your natural rights is an abominable crime. and they know this

juris imprudent said...

I'd have thought Finland was an absolutely atrocious example to be bringing up given the events of the last couple of years. A few years ago that might have been a good point, but not so much now.

A few tragic incidents do not an epidemic, or even a trend, make. The same has occurred in Germany and France which hardly have lax gun laws. I'll fully grant you there are problems that need attention, but you focus on guns like a drunk uses a lamppost. That you extend your blindness to knives as instruments of villainy should give you a hint that you are on the path to reducing your own argument to absurdity. The issue is what people DO, not the tool they use to do it.

Introduce me to Ian Paisley? I take back my assumption about you being a nice chap. If subrosa wishes to be pedantic about national identity, then do so correctly as you noted - Northern Irish (and really only the Protestants at that) consider themselves Brits. The rest of the inhabitants of the island would take major offense to that presumption.

juris imprudent said...

You do know that's exactly why Britain decided to ban handguns in the first place, don't you?

No James, that isn't why Britain introduced handgun licensing which gradually morphed into a near total ban well before the legislation of the late 90s (which did effect a total ban). You seriously don't know about that do you? You also don't seem to grasp that the gun violence problem you now have has NOTHING to do with legal gun ownership - you still blame the gun.

James Kelly said...

Juris Imprudent – seriously, I’m quite well aware of what the gun laws in this country were pre-Dunblane – and thousands and thousands of legal gun owners did not represent a ‘near total ban’.

Kevin - "Did any of it make you the least bit uncomfortable?"

For someone who supposedly accepted from the outset he wasn't going to change my mind, that's quite a startling question. Convinced as I am than I'm in the right, it wouldn't even have occurred to me to ask you that question at the end of my own post. But, as I've just said on your own blog, I can only admire such supreme self-confidence (however unwarranted it is).

But to answer your question directly, the one and only point where you made me stop and think about whether there might be a hole in my argument was on the question of the proportionality of the response to the Dunblane and Hungerford massacres - it's arguable under my 'acceptably small risk' principle that two individual incidents shouldn't have been over-reacted to. But on reflection I still haven't changed my view - and this is where the blinkers of your own 'philosophy' will probably prevent you from understanding why. If you think the freedom to own a gun is a vitally important human right, of course you'll interpret the odd isolated incident involving legally-owned guns as an acceptable (albeit tragic) price to pay for something fundamental to human liberty. But if like me you see the right to own a gun as a relatively meaningless, one-dimensional freedom, and thus interpret the banning of handguns as merely a minor disappointment to the minority of people concerned, then it's obviously perfectly rational to put those people through some inconvenience even if it will only save a very small number of lives. And I fail to see how you can dispute the ban will have saved that very small number of lives, because while massacres with legally-owned weapons may be sporadic, they stubbornly keep on happening.

Your moment of immense technical satisfaction when you said "hey, wasn't strict gun control meant to reduce the number of guns?" was predictable, but fairly easy to deal with. All the factors that has led to the increase in the number of guns in the UK would have applied with or without the ban. So if the ban had not been implemented, we would now either have the same number of illegal weapons that we currently do, or an even greater number - probably the latter, if some 'legal' weapons had fallen into the wrong hands.

Final thought - your "do it again, only HARDER!" jibe is amusing, and I wish I'd thought of it myself, because I think it can also be very aptly applied to some people on your side of the debate. All these legally-owned guns haven't got your murder rate down to an acceptable level, so what can you possibly do? "Quick, more guns!"

So, you seem to have tempted me into a response (albeit an extremely brief and partial one), but that really is it from me now. Happy Easter!

Mr. Fixit said...

James said:
If you think the freedom to own a gun is a vitally important human right, of course you'll interpret the odd isolated incident involving legally-owned guns as an acceptable (albeit tragic) price to pay for something fundamental to human liberty. But if like me you see the right to own a gun as a relatively meaningless, one-dimensional freedom, and thus interpret the banning of handguns as merely a minor disappointment to the minority of people concerned, then it's obviously perfectly rational to put those people through some inconvenience even if it will only save a very small number of lives.
************************************

I think freedom to make my own choice and live as a free man, not asking permission to exercise my God-given right to defend myself as I see fit, or to own what property I desire and can afford, is in fact a vitally important human right!

You admit that for you personally the right to own a gun is "meaningless and one deminsional" and therfore in your view it is OK to take that freedom from people who may consider it much more important. Your selfish attitude, and disdain for all things others want that you do not, make you what many Americans (myself included) consider typical European. You do not value freedom as much as Americans. You are willing to give up others rights because you don't want them for yourself. That is typical of the reasons there is a United States. We got tired of asking permission to live as we saw fit.

Freedom is not easy. Freedom means that I have to allow others to do as they see fit, so that I can as well.

I leave you with the words of Sam Adams, they are as true today as then:

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom - go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.

Mr Fixit

Kevin said...

Happy Easter to you as well! (Though I am an atheist, I do not begrudge others their religious beliefs - except where they interfere with my rights ;)

All the factors that has led to the increase in the number of guns in the UK would have applied with or without the ban.

And (again) this belief is based on what evidence? Just an observation, but you seem awfully lacking in the evidence department so far.

I fail to see how you can dispute the ban will have saved that very small number of lives, because while massacres with legally-owned weapons may be sporadic, they stubbornly keep on happening.

This falls under the definition of "proving a negative." I will concede that the UK has not has another spree killing by a gun-toting nutcase since Dunblane. I will even further concede that the anti-self-defense mindset that has been foisted on the British public since the mid-1950s means that the vast majority of Brits (as you point out) now reject the idea that the proper reaction to a violent attack is an overwhelmingly violent defense.

As Col. Jeff Cooper put it,

"One bleeding-heart type asked me in a recent interview if I did not agree that 'violence begets violence.' I told him that it is my earnest endeavor to see that it does. I would like very much to ensure — and in some cases I have — that any man who offers violence to his fellow citizen begets a whole lot more in return than he can enjoy."

Such an attitude, believe it or not (and you don't), tends to make violent thugs think twice about attacking people. Especially when they don't know which 80 year-old lady might be armed and willing to defend herself.

Disarming everyone and teaching them to be proper victims on the other hand, emboldens the violent criminal element.

Things have changed a great deal in Britain since the Tottenham Outrage 100 years ago, and not, to American eyes, for the better. A lot of us have started referring to that space on the other side of the pond as where "Great Britain used to be."

All these legally-owned guns haven't got your murder rate down to an acceptable level, so what can you possibly do?

Well, given the results of recent polls, Americans in the majority have rejected the idea of gun bans as a solution, so what constitutes 'acceptable' in your lexicon?

The thing I cannot understand is that, over here, we know that a very tiny, easily identifiable group - just over 2.6% of the total population - provides over 49% of the victims of homicide. Further, we know that 98% of the perpetrators of those homicides come from that same tiny group.

But we're supposed to believe that guns are the cause? I want to know why, if saving lives is the desired end, your side insists that the "solution" to the problem consists of disarming the other 97.4% of the population?

Instead, as another gun-rights activist here puts it, "Gun control is what you do instead of something."

You deride the "Quick, more guns!" response, but you ignore the fact that our homicide rates have been declining almost exponentially for a decade while yours have continually been creeping up. The worst that gun-control proponents have been able to say to the "Quick, more guns!" response is that it might not be partially responsible for that decline.

You, on the other hand, get to wave your hands and ignore the spiraling violent crime rates in the UK, rates that are now the highest in the developed world. Yes, we've got nutters running around killing people here and you don't. But I have a far lower chance of meeting up with a chav or six who want my wallet and to dance on my spleen just for the fun of it.

What will you do if faced with that "hypothetical" situation? Should it happen to me, I'll at least have a chance to defend myself. Should it happen to you, should I just dismiss the results as "bumps and bruises" and neglect to send flowers to your hospital room?

juris imprudent said...

and thousands and thousands of legal gun owners did not represent a ‘near total ban’.

Out of how many millions population? In comparison to even French and German law, the English law was more restrictive. I very specifically said a near total ban because that is bloody well what it was. The only country that I know of that had stricter gun laws than the U.K. at the time would be Japan.

I really don't think you do understand what the law was. Guns were not available, legally, to most anyone who wanted one, let alone were they widely owned. Perhaps you would just call that severely restricted, I call it a near total ban. Look at it this way, it was a much smaller step that was taken last (in the 90s) then what came before.

One useful point that Michael Moore made was that Canadians own guns (long guns at least) on roughly the same order as Americans yet experience much less [gun] violence. One might respond to that observation that it really is more a matter of culture, but that would undercut the simple "it's the guns stupid" approach.

You seem to not be bothered that some idiot on the street might be intent on doing you harm, so long as he doesn't have a gun or a knife. I don't know if you fancy yourself some kind of hand-to-hand warrior, but even if the yob just has a brick (or a pair of Doc Martens) you're likely to come out much the worse for wear (if you survive at all). That man's bad intent is the problem, not the particular tool he chooses to employ.

James Kelly said...

That 'bumps and bruises' comment that so thrilled you, Kevin, was - as you very well know - based on my suspicion that a poster's contention that Britain is literally now a MORE violent country than the US must be based on instances where a relatively low level of violence occurred. 'Low level violence' would most certainly not describe that horrific picture you placed on your blog - and if you intended to imply to your readership I would describe those injuries as mere 'bumps and bruises' that was, to coin a phrase that has been chucked at me a few times, 'intellectually dishonest', not to mention cynical and offensive.

You in fact helpfully proved the point I was originally making with your own statistics - it seems the more serious the form of violence the more likely it is that it will still be considerably more prevalent in the US than the UK. I believe you conceded on your most recent figures that the rate of rape was still three times higher in your own country than it is here.

"Just an observation, but you seem awfully lacking in the evidence department so far."

Kevin, if I understood you correctly, you seemed to be implying that the slow but gradual rise in the murder rate in the UK must be in some way connected to the slow and gradual erosion of gun 'rights'. Just an observation, but you seem somewhat lacking in the evidence department on that point yourself. Ever heard of the phrase 'correlation is not causation'? You seem to be making the basic error of failing to spot the difference between reeling off a list of complex statistics and actually proving anything with them. In trying so hard to demonstrate that I can't nail my case down with hard statistics, you in fact have come closer to demonstrating that neither of us can - and whatever you might believe, I think that may well have been the conclusion of any 'neutral' who stumbled upon your article.

"Well, given the results of recent polls, Americans in the majority have rejected the idea of gun bans as a solution, so what constitutes 'acceptable' in your lexicon?"

Re-read the sentence of mine you're responding to there, because I can only assume you've misunderstood it at the most basic level. I'm accepting that people don't think a gun ban is a solution, and I'm mocking them for that (in my view) irrational conclusion. Did I really have to spell that out? But whatever people might believe the solution is, I'd be very very surprised if your countrymen thought the current murder rate was acceptable. Do you?

As you've provoked me into yet another unplanned response, I'm glad this at least gives me the opportunity to point out to Joe Huffman that Kevin essentially conceded my point about the US murder rate, and if he wants the sources he only needs to look at Kevin's own post! And to Mr Fixit, it's very simple - Thomas Hamilton's right to own a handgun interfered with more than a dozen children's most basic right, the right to life. Leaving aside this (synthetic) notion that Americans are more free than Europeans, I believe even in America the right to life would trump any other rights.

Phew. Now THIS time when I say 'Happy Easter' what it translates as is 'I'm not even going to look at this page for a few days so I'm not tempted to respond'!

Kevin said...

For someone who doesn't really want to debate, you're sure staying up late (or getting up early - or both) to comment!

if I understood you correctly, you seemed to be implying that the slow but gradual rise in the murder rate in the UK must be in some way connected to the slow and gradual erosion of gun 'rights'.

No, you didn't understand me correctly. My contention is that the erosion of gun rights didn't make you safer. I'm quite familiar with the difference between correlation and causation, thank you, and since the gun-control line - the one you agree with - is "only the strictest control of firearms will protect the public," it seems odd that the rate keeps going up when, according to the philosophy, it should be going down while (by that same philosophy) ours has been going down while it should be going UP. Check that graph again - when do you think the homicide ratio is going to cross 1:1? Looks to me like sometime around maybe 2012? By that time there will be something like 350 million firearms in private hands here, 120 million of them handguns.

You seem to be making the basic error of failing to spot the difference between reeling off a list of complex statistics and actually proving anything with them.

That's because you aren't grasping what it is I'm trying to prove with them. Your world-view doesn't let you. Case in point:

I'm accepting that people don't think a gun ban is a solution, and I'm mocking them for that (in my view) irrational conclusion.

It's "irrational" because you refuse to look at reality. You are exhibiting "cognitive dissonance." The philosophy cannot be wrong. If it fails, it must be because the strategy was improperly executed. The only response can be "turn up the power!"

If you were arguing specifically that banning firearms would prevent some rampage shootings, you'd be correct. But what you ignore is the unintended consequences of such bans. They empower non-insane violent criminals.

You in fact helpfully proved the point I was originally making with your own statistics - it seems the more serious the form of violence the more likely it is that it will still be considerably more prevalent in the US than the UK.

Case in point 2:

No, James. Do the research. (It's a pain in the ass because the Home Office does not make finding this information easy. And they keep changing the "counting rules" and the classifications. It's almost like they want to keep this information a secret!) Assault - "grievous bodily harm with intent" - is higher in the UK than in the US, though the fact that the government there has finally admitted fiddling with the statistics to make them look better leaves us wondering just how much higher it actually is. The British Crime Survey says that in the 12 months ending June, 2008, a resident of England or Wales had a 1.7% chance of experiencing a crime of violence resulting in injury. That's 17 people per thousand residents. According to our Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2008 there was ONE per thousand residents who experienced a non-sexual violent assault resulting in injury.

And Scotland is more violent than England and Wales.

The UN survey I mentioned in my piece said that in Scotland 3% of the population had been the victim of an assault, in England and Wales it was 2.8%, and in the US it was 1.2%. The difference being therefore, by implication, that most assaults didn't end in injury. (Threatening someone with a weapon here is "aggravated assault" even if no injury ever occurs.) But what would explain the difference between 30-in-a-thousand assaults resulting in 17-in-a-thousand injuries, and 12-in-a-thousand assaults resulting in ONE-in-a-thousand injuries?

I suggest you go back and re-read my piece. Apparently your eyes glazed over on the parts with numbers.

I was intentionally cynical and offensive in posting that picture, James, because you disregard the kind of information I just painstakingly dug up for you because it doesn't fit your philosophy.

I'd be very very surprised if your countrymen thought the current murder rate was acceptable. Do you?

No, I don't, but I don't believe (with evidence!) that banning guns would improve it, either. I'm frustrated that, instead of trying something that might actually work, so much effort is expended on trying to disarm the people who are not the problem. As I said, "Gun control is what you do instead of something."

Thomas Hamilton's right to own a handgun interfered with more than a dozen children's most basic right, the right to life.

That is the kind of thing that really pisses me off. No, James, it wasn't Thomas Hamilton's right to own a handgun that killed those children, it was Hamilton himself. Once again, you blame the weapon, not the man who loaded it, aimed it, and pulled its trigger. You place the blame on an inanimate object rather than on the perpetrator. Hamilton meant to kill kids. He could have done it any one of a thousand different ways, but because he chose handguns, that's what you focus on.

You focus on the guns because you are afraid of them. You've said it yourself. But you don't fear your neighbors who drive automobiles, or have small cans of gasoline in their garages, or who have kitchen knives . . . oh, wait.

juris imprudent said...

James, a thought for you to consider when you return to this page. The U.S. non-gun homicide rate for blacks and Hispanics is higher than the rate with guns for all other race/ethnic groups. [Data from CDC/WISQARS]

So, if guns are the primary cause of America's high homicide rate, how do you account for THAT?

Stephen R said...

I said...
"Personally I define "violent" as "using violent force or the immediate threat thereof" (threat e.g. "give me your money or I'll kill you" -- but no *actual* violence performed....)"

james kelly said...
"OK, so we're making progress. Would you concede that the amount of actual violence, and the number of casualties of violence are also useful definitions, as well as the one you've just given?"

The *amount* of a thing can not be a *definition* of that thing. So no, I do not see the amount of violence as part of a definition of the term "violence" itself.

James -- as I read this comment thread, and as somebody mentioned the difference in violent crime statistics between blacks and whites in the USA, it occurs to me that your "right to feel safe" argument could be used to institute racially based laws. Hey, statistics show that black people commit far more violent crime, therefore my right to FEEL safe is an argument that we should have strict curfews for black people.

That is of course a specious argument, but it is no less specious than your own regarding guns. It's also very similar to arguments that I hear once in a while that say people have the right to free speech so long as what they say is not "offensive". It's basing one person's rights on the subjective feelings of another person.

Let's put it yet another way. You say you have a "right to feel safe", and since you don't feel safe if guns are legal, that means guns can be banned. Well I would not feel safe in a society where arms were banned. If I lived next door to you, how could our "right to feel safe" POSSIBLY be reconciled? There is **no such right**, because it's impossible to objectively legislate what people FEEL about anything.

Joe Huffman said...

I'm going to wait until my blood pressure drops a little before responding. I might say something impolite at this point.

I still might say something impolite in the morning but it will delivered a lot cooler than it would now.

Joe Huffman said...

I needed to use pictures for my response.

My response is here.

James Kelly said...

To be honest, Joe, I'm not planning to follow your link - but on the plus side that at least means you don't need to worry about me penning a counter-post entitled 'Why Joe Huffman is So Offensive to Me'. It's interesting that Kevin suggested on his blog that I was guilty of resorting to the typical emotional arguments of my side of the argument (implying that he by way of contrast relied solely on hard-headed logic). And yet we've now seen clear-cut examples of angry/emotional reactions from both Kevin and Joe. And when someone reacts to a calm debating point with such startling emotion, I think it's always worth looking beneath the words to see what it is that's really making the person so uncomfortable. In the case of Kevin's reaction to my point about Thomas Hamilton, I don't think we need to look very far - it clearly hit a nerve because the logic of my argument is inescapable. Everything we know about Hamilton's character suggests that if he hadn't been able to obtain guns legally, he wouldn't have obtained them at all. Allowing Hamilton the right to own handguns therefore directly deprived more than a dozen young children of their right to life. Repeating over and over again that the object in Hamilton's hand made no difference to the outcome (only the killer’s murderous intent counted) is a desperate last line of defence and a poor one - and I'd guess Kevin's discomfort in having to rely on it is as good an explanation as any for his resort to emotion. He knows in his heart of hearts that Hamilton simply would never have succeeded in killing as many as he did with virtually any other realistic choice of weapon at his disposal.

The other point at which Kevin substituted logic with emotion was on his own blog post, with his shameless juxtaposition of a photo showing hideous injuries with the words "after all, it's just 'bumps and bruises,' right?". The equivalent of that debating tactic for me would have been to show a photo of one of the Dunblane victims with a caption reading "was my right to life really so much less important than your right to own a luxury item - one that you described yourself as an 'inanimate object'?" I haven't felt the need to debase my argument with that kind of tactic - others can draw their own conclusions from the fact that you have felt such a need.

Other matters - Kevin, your response to my 'correlation is not causation' point was interesting, but it raised more questions than it answered. You assert that since the UK murder rate has not gone down since the handgun ban, this constitutes proof that the ban has not protected the public - quite simply this is woolly thinking. In order to say you have 'proved' that, you would have had to demonstrate that the murder rate would not now be even higher than it currently is had the ban not been implemented. At what stage have you even come close to demonstrating that? This idea that the only test that counts is whether the murder rate goes up or down in absolute terms following a change in the law is one you've conveniently conjured out of the air, and it has no rational basis whatosever. I could just as easily - and I did the other day - conjure up my own test that says any lowering of murder rates following the introduction of 'conceal/carry' laws is meaningless unless it reduces the murder rate to below that seen in a comparable society that had fewer guns in circulation in the first place. (And incidentally, any of your attempts to draw conclusions from apparent localised drops in crime rates following a liberalisation of gun laws in the US also very clearly falls foul of the 'correlation is not causation' principle – I don't see how you can now credibly dispute that.)

On the Alun Michael quote - any reasonable person would understand that he was talking about protecting the public specifically from violence caused by handguns. Again, how have you proved that the ban has failed to do achieve this? Small hint - you haven't. The overall murder rate is irrelevant (as it includes non-gun-related deaths), and highlighting that there are more guns around than there were before 1996 doesn't even begin to do the trick, because as I've already pointed out there might now be even more illegal weapons in circulation had the ban not been implemented. You've already pointed out that I have no evidence this is the case - so I'm now waiting with baited breath for your hard evidence this is NOT the case, which is the minimum that would be required to substantiate your claim that Alun Michael's statement has been 'proved' wrong.

"Things have changed a great deal in Britain since the Tottenham Outrage 100 years ago, and not, to American eyes, for the better. A lot of us have started referring to that space on the other side of the pond as where 'Great Britain used to be.'"

It's ironic that you charged me with being a stereotype in the arguments I deployed, because when you used the words I’ve just quoted it was at that point you revealed yourself to be a walking, breathing stereotype of your 'type' of right-wing American. Did you actually imagine I or others would never have encountered that particular clich├ę before? As a Scottish nationalist I've got no special illusions about the 'greatness' of Britain past or present - but in hankering after (for instance) Britain's Churchillian past you're missing an aspect of the British people's true 'greatness' in times gone by that I suspect wouldn't be quite so much to your taste. For during Churchill's wartime tenure as PM, the electorate were just biding their time to replace him with a red-blooded socialist government that would build the welfare state and a National Health Service free at the point of need. And if you want me to go further back, I can – it’s now more than 100 years since the Liberal landslide that laid the initial foundations of the welfare state, and that was accompanied by the first massive influx of socialist members of parliament. So it’s not only your assessment of Britain's present that's distinctly faulty, it's your assessment of our past.

Finally, I had no intention of doing this, but as someone has just penned a blog post with a title that takes my name in vain, I feel I now have no option but to take the precaution of reintroducing full comment moderation for the time being. I apologise for doing so, because to be fair no-one has actually over-stepped the mark yet.

Kevin said...

"Full comment moderation" due to something someone posted somewhere else.

As to stereotypes, you just fulfilled the last one: You are now practicing what we call "Reasoned Discourse™".

I'm undecided on whether to dissect this comment in all its circular-logical glory - I am tempted - but I will most definitely put a link to it on my blog, along with a copy of this comment, since I believe it probably won't escape your "full comment moderation."

James Kelly said...

Wrong as on so many other points, Kevin. I was - to put it mildly - somewhat startled to see the title of Joe's blog post, and if you can't understand why that gave me good reason to reflect on whether I should reluctantly introduce full comment moderation...well, nothing I can say will make you understand. Perhaps having been at this for six years you're more hardened to this kind of very personal stuff than I am (I've been at it for a week and a half). Anyway, I've still got a few days of leisure ahead of me, and I don't intend to spend every waking moment checking this page just in case someone has said something completely outrageous - it hasn't happened yet, and hopefully it won't, but I don't see how I can now exclude the possibility.

Incidentally, this is the second time I've felt the need to introduce moderation - have a look here and you'll immediately understand the other reason (based not only on Joe's title but also on something you said in an earlier comment yourself) that's led to my decision. You might think it's an absurd reason but we all have our own values.

As an observation, the Rachel Lucas blog (where this all started) is moderated to a degree and for understandable reasons closes comments completely on a post after a certain number of days - is she also guilty of 'reasoned discourse'?

juris imprudent said...

James, no one was killed at Dunblane merely so one man could own a "luxury item". They were killed because one man decided that whatever his personal, petty grievances with the world were - they trumped the right of those he shot and killed. A bit south of you and several years later another man decided to act out the same way, in that case with a samurai sword. Again, the response isn't to deal with the real issue, but to take exception to the tool used.

For someone who stresses "correlation is not causation", you need to heed your own words, particularly in light of my last comment on U.S. homicide rates. And to not put too fine a point on it, Brazil and Mexico have much stricter gun laws than the U.S. and much higher homicide rates.

Nathaniel said...

James,
You continue to make references to a “vicious circle” whereby civilian gun ownership leads to greater violence and thus a rational fear of it, leading to yet more civilian gun ownership to protect oneself from the rising violence, which becomes a Keynsian fallacy of composition: what works for an individual is disastrous for society if everyone does it.

However, it appears that you are making a series of assumptions here:
1) More civilian guns equals more violence
2) Legally-owned guns are the ones responsible for violence

Every single one of your arguments is predicated on the assumption that illegal violence involving guns is a phenomenon primarily originating among citizens who otherwise lawfully own these weapons, and that the solution is to remove the guns because then the violence will fade. Everything you say flows from this assumption.

I don’t believe that you trust your fellow citizens, James. You do not trust your neighbor to responsibly own a firearm without misusing it out of malice, ignorance, or insanity. Thus, you believe that your neighbor must be prevented from owning anything which could facilitate his inner violence lurking below the surface.

I would like you to answer this question, James, if you please: If I gave you a gun today and told you that you had to carry it around, and for some strange cosmic reason (on a game show, a deity told you to, whatever, etc.) you had to obey, do you think that you would abuse the responsibility you had been given? I know it may be tempting to scoff at such a contrived situation, but please, I would earnestly like you to imagine how the presence of a gun on your hip would affect your behavior.

Do you think that you would shoot people who offended you or pull it out and wave it around every time you heard someone scream? Would you fire shots at the first suspicious person you saw running from a policeman? Or, on the other hand, would you become more aware of your surroundings, more polite to others so as to avoid escalating verbal tiffs, and less boastful of your accomplishments as a consequence of increased confidence?

In short, do you think the presence of gun would make you a more violent, unpredictable person, or a more peaceful, centered person?

I ask this because in my experience, people who are uncomfortable around guns actually do not trust themselves. They unconsciously think "Gosh, I think guns are so scary and dangerous, there's no way I could ever be trusted not to abuse that amount of power!" And, the human mind being what it it, this internal fear becomes projected onto others, so it begins to seem that it's not you, it's actually everyone else you who's untrustworthy and irresponsible.

James Kelly said...

Hi, Nathaniel. Your assumptions about my assumptions – number 1 (more civilian guns equals more violence) is correct, number 2 (legally-owned guns are the ones responsible for violence) is not correct, or not wholly so. I accept that illegally-owned weapons are responsible for the bulk of gun violence (certainly not all as we saw in Dunblane), but there’s one crucial assumption I am making that you’ve omitted from your list – more legally held weapons lead to more illegally-held weapons, and hence to more gun deaths. The distinction between legal and illegal is bogus – an illegal weapon is simply a legal weapon fallen into the wrong hands. Admittedly, incredibly tight restrictions on gun owners can lessen the risk of that eventuality occurring, but I’m guessing you wouldn’t be mad keen on that idea either!

“I don’t believe that you trust your fellow citizens, James.”

I think the vast majority of people are trustworthy but not all, and I don’t believe you can tell who the trustworthy ones are by looking at them (or by looking at their nominally squeaky clean police record). Therefore, in allowing mass gun ownership you are guaranteeing that guns will end up in the hands of untrustworthy people – or indeed in the hands of vulnerable people who might be a risk to themselves. That to me is a rational world view borne out by experience. But I have to say (and I think I’m on fairly safe ground here) I don’t think you or others on your side of the argument trust people either, Nathaniel – what precisely is the use of a ‘protective’ weapon if you are so touchingly trusting of your fellow man anyway?

“In short, do you think the presence of gun would make you a more violent, unpredictable person, or a more peaceful, centered person?”

Hmmm...just a slightly leading question there, Nathaniel. I don’t believe for one moment it would have either of those effects – I think it would make me more fearful, less trusting, more guarded and above all else less FREE. You as good as conceded the latter point yourself when you said I would “become more aware of your surroundings, more polite to others so as to avoid escalating verbal tiffs”. Now, I’ve read that sentence over and over again and I can’t think of a single other reasonable interpretation than that I would have to behave in this way because I know that otherwise I might be shot! (Or that I might end up shooting others.) I’m sorry, but that sounds like a very odd kind of ‘freedom’ to me! I prefer the kind of society where people are nice to each other out of good manners and community spirit, not one where every friendly gesture is motivated by a fear of death!

ben said...

I think James that by your logic, you would agree that automobiles must be banned. If I was upset with the world or crazy or whatever, I could just as easily buy a motorcar... and then drive it at 50-100 km/hr into a group of innocent persons, probably killing several. And all just so I could own a "luxury item."

This has been done. Knife attacks have killed several innocent children at a time in public places. Explosives. Poison gas. How are you going to satisfy your aims without living in nerfland? I suppose we should all just be handcuffed with our arms behind our backs. Then everyone would be safe.

James Kelly said...

Ben, are you seriously arguing that there should be no restrictions on the private ownership of poison gas and explosives? In all probability you are, nothing would surprise me after the last few days.

I've already dealt with the 'car' point (I can't remember if it was here or on the other thread) - that is not a fair comparison because freedom of travel has a clear benefit to society. Whether that outweighs the downside in accidental deaths and environmental damage is of course debatable, but at least that benefit is there. I now realise that people are going to continue making these comparisons between guns and cars, fire extinguishers, cobblestones, plasticine, cuckoo clocks with nasty sharp edges, etc, etc, from now until kingdom come - and every single one of them is absurd. Guns are different because they are specifically designed to kill and because they do so very efficiently. Certainly rather more efficiently than most of the other objects that have been mentioned.

Roberta X said...

Doesn't the UK now have (some) armed police? What's your take on them?

(I should also point out the nutter who committed Dunblane did *not* have a squeaky-clean record; his mental state was already suspect).

I am not at all certain about your assertion that "freedom of travel has a clear benefit to society." Or at least that "freedom to travel" means the freedom to do so in control of a deadly motorized vehicle. The UK has an extensive rail and bus network and a climate suitable for walking or bicycling. The death toll on city streets and motorways is much higher than that of train and bus riders. If taking autos and motorcycles away saves even one more life, how can you claim it is not worth doing? Too, unrestricted travel in one's one vehicle uses up limited resources, driving the price up; by the notions you have espoused, that is hardly a social good.

The cruel math is that in the United States, firearms save more lives then they take. Since we can no more disarm criminals than we can stop illegal drugs, law-abiding U.S. citizens are better off with the freedom to arm themselves than they would be otherwise. --I can't speak for the UK; I think the experiment needs another decade or two.

In the States, we have that pesky Bill of Rights thing -- freedom of the Press, no State church, right to keep and bear arms, no warrantless searches -- every one of which is alien to modern UK culture. We should not be surprised to find our visceral reactions so divergent.

James Kelly said...

Elements of that last paragraph of yours were utterly delusional, but I suppose I can forgive you that because it seems to be an extremely common delusion among Americans. Some of your countrymen seem to earnestly believe the US is the only democracy in the world! You were of course correct about there being no right to bear arms in Britain, and there is an established church (although ironically the separation between religion and politics is much more complete here than in the US).

"I should also point out the nutter who committed Dunblane did *not* have a squeaky-clean record; his mental state was already suspect"

There were suspicions, certainly, but as I understand it none of those would have shown up on his record. However, in talking about 'squeaky clean records' I wasn't specifically talking about Hamilton, I was talking about a broader pattern.

"Doesn't the UK now have (some) armed police? What's your take on them?"

The police in the UK are armed when necessary, yes (which I support), but of course they’re not routinely armed – the biggest surprise for me in this debate is that nobody has mentioned that point yet.

"The UK has an extensive rail and bus network and a climate suitable for walking or bicycling."

I think I’ve spotted at least two flaws in your argument already. Evidently you’ve never been to St Andrews on a Tuesday afternoon in November.

"The cruel math is that in the United States, firearms save more lives then they take."

OK, that’s the point where you might have furnished us with some convincing evidence of that ‘math’. To be fair, at least you haven’t gone down Kevin’s road of claiming to be able to literally ‘prove’ something that is virtually unprovable, so that takes the pressure off a little.

juris imprudent said...

Kevin's road James? You claim that banning guns saves lives, but you are no more able to prove that. Correlation, causation and all that. If guns are America's great problem, why is it that certain parts of the population are murdered at a greater rate without guns then others are with? Why aren't Brazil and Mexico more like Britain and France instead of worse than the U.S.?

James Kelly said...

The difference in this debate is that I have been arguing on the basis of what I believe to be true, and doing my best to explain why I believe it. Kevin, by way of contrast, claims to be able to literally ‘prove’ his case beyond any doubt whatsoever by recourse to detailed statistical data. To underline the point, he even posed the extraordinarily conceited (some would say delusional) question "why isn’t being right good enough for us?"! That’s why ‘correlation, causation and all that’ are a far greater problem for him than they are for me – a ‘reasonable doubt’ does tend to counteract the assertion that something has been literally ‘proved’.

My own view (and note that I don’t claim to be able to prove it) is that Brazil and Mexico are not more like the UK largely for one very simple reason – a greater rate of poverty.

firefighter4884 said...

James,

You claim that firearms "are specifically designed specifically to kill, and do so very efficiently. Certainly rather more efficiently that most of the other objects that have been mentioned."

If firearms are so efficient at killing, then why do more then 80% of people shot with a handgun survive to tell the tail?

As for the trusting my fellow citizens part that referenced in your comment at 8:41PM, I'll be happy to answer that I straight up trust my fellow citizens. I recognize that most of then are good people, who have no desire to harm another human being. That being said, I've also had the distinctly unpleasant exposure to the other side of the coin, and realize that there are people out there that are evil. The only cure for their evil is death. I'm not exactly particular if that death occurs because they pick the wrong person to prey on (and end up shot as a result of it) or if they get caught and executed for their crimes. Although it seems to me (at least here in the USA, that it is far more efficiently done by the armed citizen then it is by the government...)

That all being said, I have thoroughly enjoyed the thread so far, and will continue to follow it.

James Kelly said...

That last sentence was the most depressing thing anyone’s said so far – I’ve been trying to shut this thread down for ages!

"If firearms are so efficient at killing, then why do more then 80% of people shot with a handgun survive to tell the tail?"

Even if that’s true (I'm instinctively dubious but I don't have the statistics to argue with you), I’d still be willing to bet the death rate from attacks by handguns is somewhat higher than from attacks by fire extinguishers, cushions, wedding cakes or any of the other weird and wonderful array of ‘tools’ that certain posters would earnestly have us believe are just as deadly as rapid-fire handguns in the hands of a determined man.

ben said...

"Ben, are you seriously arguing that there should be no restrictions on the private ownership of poison gas and explosives?"

No, I am not arguing that. But those things are simple enough to make, and people have used them to kill many other persons. Crazy nutjobs seem to find a way.

I think, James, that there is one thing you MUST agree MUST be banned, since it gives no benefit to society and is responsible for myriad irresponsible, violent, and just downright bad behavior: alcohol. Sure, it's pleasant for the drinker, but the cost outweighs the benefits by some large margin.

Shooting is also pleasant to the shooter. I very much enjoy a good trip to the range, or a weekend hunting in the woods. I also enjoy having a very useful self defense tool on my person for the protection of my family.

If guns gotta go, so must alcohol.

James Kelly said...

An intriguing point, Ben, because the political party I support (the SNP) is shortly about to attempt to force through legislation in an attempt to cut alcohol consumption in Scotland, and to alleviate its appalling social cost in terms of illness, crime and disorder. It obviously wouldn't extend to a ban but it would as I understand it be the most draconian legislation in Europe in some areas (minimum pricing per unit of alcohol).

So I'd follow you a little further down your path of logic than you probably anticipated, but at the end of the day the comparison is still bogus - handguns are designed to kill, alcoholic drinks (although they do kill in excess) are designed for refreshment.

ben said...

Gatorade was designed for refreshment. Alcohol was 'designed' to get people drunk. It's been used for that ever since it was discovered.

The minimum pricing per unit of alcohol approach is used in Canada. I was just there and the stuff is outrageously expensive. This does not have appeared to reduce consumption.

Your 'gun are designed to kill' thing can be turned around. I could say just as correctly that guns are designed for the defense of self and others against an otherwise stronger adversary. The police are not trained to shoot to kill, btw, they are trained to shoot to stop.

And that number above is more or less accurate. I think the statistic is something like 'anyone shot with a handgun who survives at least one minute has an 80% chance of surviving the incident' or something similar. Rifles are an entirely different story. For example, my .45 propels a 180 grain projectile at around 900 feet per second. My .30 caliber hunting rifle propels a 180 grain projectile at around 3000 feet per second. Do the math, the kinetic energy (converting to metric) from my handgun is 1/2mv^2 = 489 J of energy. The kinetic energy from my hunting rifle is 4876 J of energy. My handgun is designed to stop an immediate threat. My hunting rifle is designed to kill. A moose in this case.

Kevin said...

Thank you so much James, for being such a STERLING stereotype for your side:

"The difference in this debate is that I have been arguing on the basis of what I believe to be true, and doing my best to explain why I believe it. Kevin, by way of contrast, claims to be able to literally ‘prove’ his case beyond any doubt whatsoever by recourse to detailed statistical data."In other words, "My mind is made up. You can't confuse me with facts!"

I happen to be very, very busy this week, but I hope to have another rebuttal post up on or by Saturday, again using your own words and "detailed statistical data," plus a whole lot of comparitive examples.

I could not have begged for a better opponent.

James Kelly said...

You’re welcome, Kevin. And thankyou for so comprehensively demonstrating to every neutral who has read this debate (all two of them) that my stated suspicions at the outset were correct – that your honeyed words in challenging me to a debate were bogus, and that you are not remotely interested in meaningful dialogue, only in mockery and delusional triumphalism. I disagree with Rachel Lucas’ views as passionately as I disagree with yours, but at this stage I would do nothing but compliment her for being genuinely interested in an exchange of views. You in contrast appear to only be interested in theatrics – a kind of gladiatorial ‘performance art’ from which you gain the ‘hit’ of yet more applause from your adoring fans.

I do believe that there is room for constructive debate on this matter, but it can only be in an arena where both sides are interested in talking and listening to each other, not where one side is only interested in talking to itself (and of course in using the playground tactic of deriding any outsiders who wander by – usually a sign of insecurity, no?)

I have now reached the point of utter mental exhaustion. My position is now that the debate is closed on this site, and I will not let any further comments through on the issue, no matter how well-argued or well-mannered (for the record I haven’t deleted a single one yet, no matter how scathing, or borderline abusive in one or two cases). Doubtless you will see this as a cause for yet more gloating on the subject of ‘reasoned discourse’ (incomprehensible ‘in-jokes’ that no-one feels the need to explain are another tell-tale sign of a closed-knit group that is only really interested in talking to itself) but this is of course unjustified – as you appear to have such inspiring determination to bring my words to a wider audience, you and others can ‘debate’ the matter at your own website to your heart’s content.

I wish you all the luck in the world in your ongoing mission to find ever more detailed statistical evidence with which to prove to people who already agree with you that you are even more right today than you were yesterday.