As is probably obvious if you've seen the last thread but one, the tragic events in Cumbria on Wednesday have led me to get embroiled in yet another exchange with Arizona-based gun enthusiast Kevin Baker and his ever-delightful Fan Club. I spent a good chunk of the afternoon rebutting various points at Kevin's blog, but as has happened on previous occasions his gang seem to multiply with water, so I'm (not for the first time) going to bail out of a trainwreck of a comments thread and instead give my thoughts here on some of what has been said over the last few hours.
Someone calling themselves 'The Happy Rampager' told me this -
"Let’s face it, you’re the type who puts his own satisfaction ahead of other people’s lives. Mine, the 12 dead, everyone in the UK whether they agree with you or not. You also think you can fling mud to hide the fact that you hold other people’s lives in contempt. What sort of person does holding other's lives in contempt make you?"
A comment that's plainly beneath contempt, but it's worth just pointing out the supreme irony of it being said by someone who clearly puts the personal satisfaction and pleasure of owning a gun before everything else, including other people's lives, safety and peace of mind. The 12 people he referred to were gunned down by someone who owned weapons on exactly the same legal basis as he does. It seems quite likely that without a gun licence, Bird would not have succeeded in killing so many, and perhaps would not have killed at all. There is, therefore, at least an arguable case for asking legal gun owners to accept some small disappointment in return for greater public safety and reassurance. Is 'Happy Rampager' prepared to be socially responsible and make that sacrifice? It seems not, and perhaps that shouldn't be a surprise given his deeply unfortunate choice of moniker.
The poster Ken (who has been making some utterly baffling points all day) followed up with this observation about me -
"Why, it makes him a slave who knows he is a slave, can imagine nothing else, and will not rest until everyone else is likewise enslaved (as witness his ill-disguised glee over National Health coming to America)."
I wasn't trying to disguise my glee - yes, I do believe that health care is a basic human right, not just a perk for the well-off. I'm not quite sure what the value of all this high-minded stuff about the 'freedom of the individual' is if someone is too ill to do anything with that nominal freedom. But the Alice in Wonderland notion of being 'enslaved' by a decent standard of universal healthcare is indeed one to conjure with!
On the broader issue of liberty, I wrote at some length last year about what a limiting freedom it is that can only be guaranteed by the constant possession of a firearm, along with non-stop vigilance and the readiness to use the weapon at any time. That really is a counsel of despair, and yet it's precisely the sort of world more lax gun laws would condemn us to, as people would probably have to consider purchasing a gun whether they 'freely' wanted to or not - because they'd need one to protect themselves against all those countless 'decent, law-abiding' gun-owners they'd suddenly be having brushes with on a daily basis. There must be a deeper, richer freedom out there to be won than that.
'Geek with a 45', in response to my suggestion that it is legitimate for the authorities to disarm private gun owners if mandated to do so by democratic legislation, had this to say -
"No, Democracy, in and of itself, is not the highest value. While it is may be necessary for a free society, it is hardly sufficient."
Agreed, the rights of individuals and minorities need to be enshrined, otherwise you can end up with extreme outcomes like a majority ethnic group making a 'democratic' decision to wipe out the minority. But, in truth, Europe on the whole does a better job than the US of protecting the rights of individuals - by far the most important of which is the right to life. No European country other than Belarus takes the lives of its own citizens, whereas unfortunately most US states still have the death penalty on the statute book.
On the issue of guns, there are two potential rights that can be afforded citizens, but that plainly clash with each other - a) the unlimited right to amass tools for the purposes of self-defence, and b) the right not to be attacked, and perhaps even more importantly, not to have to live in constant fear of being attacked by fellow citizens. Which of these rights should be accorded precedence? I'd say the latter, every time.
Ed "What the Heck" Man, at the end of an interminable exchange in which he imagined (bless him) he was toying with me, finally answered my question -
"I never claimed that these items were as quick and efficient as a gun. (Though in this latest incident, it's entirely possible to kill more people in the same time frame using a baseball bat than this guy killed using his guns.)
What they do accomplish is also to multiply force, even if not as much as a gun does. So even if a person doesn't have a gun available, they can (and will) still find a way to kill. Agreed?
When faced with someone intent on committing violence, how do you stop them? (Remember, you've already agreed that violence comes from the individual's intent, not the gun.)
That point has already been dealt with on the previous thread. Without a phenomenal number of private citizens undergoing a phenomenal level of training, it is simply not very likely that just any old bod with a gun is going to stay cool enough to bring such a frightening and totally unanticipated situation to a clean end. It may even make matters much worse, and lead to more lives being lost. But even accepting your flawed premise for a moment for the sake of argument, your fellow poster Matt gave the game away - he claimed that, in America, people are stopped from committing these massacres "ALL the time". Whereas this was only the third incident on this scale in the UK in the last twenty-five years. Quite clearly, quick 'stops' to these situations on most occasions would not be sufficient to offset the number of lives lost as a result of the hugely greater number of gun attacks occurring in the first place.
Britt said -
"You banned all handguns in 1997. Yet there are still handguns in the UK. In fact, there is more handgun crime every single year. Explain that Jimbo. Handguns banned means zero handgun crime? Right?"
No, it means fewer handguns, and less handgun crime, than would have been the case had the ban not been implemented. That is not the same thing - as has been repeatedly pointed out to Kevin - as saying the level of handgun crime has fallen in the UK since the late 1990s.
Scott Ganz -
"James Kelly demonstrates this mental hitch rather well, focusing entirely on THREE incidents of legally-owned guns being used in atrocities while THOUSANDS are murdered in less sensational ways."
This (ie. the disproportionality point) was something else we went into last year, and it was one of the few points that Kevin made that gave me some pause for thought. However, having reflected on it, the view I came to was that even if only a small number of lives can be saved, these incidents still justify relatively draconian gun laws because the right to own a luxury item like a gun simply isn't important enough. It's not like the brutal logic of weighing up the mind-boggling number of traffic deaths in a year against the huge benefits to society of easy travel.
There was, predictably, quite a reaction when I pointed out that the right to proportionate self-defence is enshrined in law in the UK.
Ken : You lie.
Kevin Baker : No, he doesn't. Well, "enshrined" is a complete fabrication . . .
Ed : You know, I could have sworn that you were arguing for banning shotguns and .22's. Furthermore, I could have sworn that we were challenging you on imposing that desire on others through government force. Are you now changing your tune on that?
Don't be obtuse, Ed. The comment from Kevin, meanwhile, is slightly baffling - the law does indeed provide for proportionate self-defence, and it's as "enshrined" as any law can be in a country that does not have a written constitution.
And back to Ken again. He asked me why, if I believed so strongly that private gun ownership was undesirable, I didn't simply unilaterally go and confiscate people's guns, without any need for legislation. (What a fascinating insight into the mindset of the KBFC.) I pointed out that I believed in democracy and the rule of law, as opposed to 'might is right' and the imposition of one's will by force. But it turns out that Ken doesn't seem to see any distinction whatsoever between democratically-mandated action by the authorities (eg. the collection of taxation), and an individual arrogantly taking action by himself -
"How is any action on the basis of "Do this or I'll imprison/kill you" appropriate? To say that it's okay for the (G)overnment is to say that some people are more equal than others and enjoy prior claim to the property of their lessers. On moral grounds, taxation under coercion is most certainly theft.
Ability is certainly heterogeneously distributed, but on what basis can the legitimate claim that 'Government Agent over there is a better person than regular people, and therefore enjoys a prior claim to my life and property?'"
But, Ken, as I've already pointed out, it's only in your country (well, yours is the only major one in the western democratic world) that the government reserves the extraordinary right to literally take the lives of its own citizens by judicial means.
UPDATE (couldn't resist this one) :
Carnaby : With the conclusion that we ought to increase the restrictions on legally owned firearms. Well, given that logic, how do we solve the following problem here in the USA: you're (anyone) far, far more likely to be shot in the US by a black person than a white person. Furthermore, you are far, far more likely to be shot by a black person using an "illegal" gun than anyone using a "legal" gun. Your solution, James?
A massive policy effort to raise the educational and living standards for black people up to the national average, and then the differential will disappear over time. Unless you're about to tell me that black people are somehow innately more prone to violence. Of course, rational gun control laws would reduce the problem in itself, without the slightest need for racial discrimination in its implementation.
Phew. And, that ladies and gentlemen, was my response to a small selection of the points raised by the KBFC!