Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Five months on : someone finally responds to my ten-question challenge (after a fashion)

A follow-up to last night's post about Kevin Baker : I left a comment on his blog expressing bemusement that after all his talk about how he needed more time to get his "√úberpost" response to me "just right" and to give it his "best effort", we had waited five months and been rewarded with a 21-word post and a link to a YouTube clip by someone else. However, in his reply to my comment he suggested that this wasn't his real response, which is apparently still to come - fair enough, although I think my confusion was understandable, given that his post was entitled 'My Response to James Kelly'.

While I was at his blog, I did finally manage to provoke someone (a poster called 'Dean in AZ') to respond directly to my ten-question challenge from June 9th, in which I raised a series of logical objections to the suggestion that it had been 'proved' that widespread gun ownership in America prevents crime. It really is extraordinary that, with Kevin's enormous legion of followers who pride themselves on having an unanswerable response to any question, it's taken five months for even one of them to respond directly. However, better late than never - although, perhaps unsurprisingly, the answers are far from satisfactory, and in some cases actually help to bolster the points I was making. Let's take them in turn...

Question 1 was - How many of the attempted crimes allegedly foiled were actually genuine?

Dean's response - Since many CRIMES themselves are subjective in nature- for example, here in America "assault" is wholly in the mind of the assaulted; if you feel as if you are being threatened in a any way, you HAVE been assaulted! - the reporting of these crimes must therefor also be wholly subjective. Since the crime itself may be difficult if not impossible to substantially "prove", asking if "objectively establishing" that a crime has occurred is a moot and foolish point. Battery, on the other hand is easy to prove, but how do you prevent battery if you actually have to get hit to have the crime committed? Ah, you cannot. Thus, subjective reporting of "foiled crimes" is really the only way to get the data, short of putting up camera everywhere (1984-style; which your country is making an admirable attempt at doing, I might add).

It's true that there's nothing unusual about allowing people to subjectively decide for themselves whether a crime has been committed for the purpose of collating statistics - the British Crime Survey works in the same way. But it's nonsensical to suggest that this means a crime has actually taken place in every single case - if an alleged victim's subjective perception is really sufficient to meet the definition of 'crime', it would do the courts out of a job. My concern in raising this question is that if, for example, someone reacts in an over-the-top fashion to a stranger being close to their property and scares them away with a gun, of course they're going to rationalise that after the fact as a 'burglary thwarted' or whatever. They simply haven't given themselves a chance to discover that the 'threat' may not have been real. Dean implicitly concedes this point in saying that there is no way to 'get the data'. My objection therefore stands - it's quite possible (indeed overwhelmingly likely) that a signficant percentage of the 'crimes prevented' by guns are illusory.

Question 2 was - How many of the attempted crimes were serious and how many were petty?

Dean's response - DOES IT REALLY MATTER?

'Yes' is the short answer, given the suggestion that the 'crimes foiled' can be meaningfully weighed against the appalling loss of life caused by widespread gun ownership in America each and every year.

If a serious crime is, say, murder, and a "non-serious" crime is simple assault, are you saying it's OK with you that people get assaulted?

And this time 'no' is the short answer. The words "straw man" are springing to mind once again.

Without being to show you statistics (for the reasons listed in my response to #1 above), let's just say 10% of those would be serious crimes - like say murder - then we have "saved" as many murders as are "caused" (althought I do believe myself that people cause murder, not handguns). The question here is not if they prevent "petty" vs. "serious" crimes; the question is do handguns SERVE A LEGITEMATE PURPOSE. If any of the previous paragraph rings true to you, then they DO, and you are incorrect in your conclusions.

For Dean to state that my conclusions are incorrect, he first has to understand what they are, and clearly he doesn't. I'm not suggesting that guns served no 'purpose' in preventing petty crime (in fact I implicitly acknowledged that they did), I was instead pointing out that knowing the extent to which the crimes foiled were serious rather than petty is vital to any claim that this apparent benefit can be meaningfully weighed against the cost of thousands of lives per year. As Dean doesn't have the relevant figures (and apparently doesn't think they would tell him anything important if he did), the question remains unanswered.

Question 3 was - How many of these crimes could and would have been averted anyway, without the use of a gun?

Dean's response - Straw man alert!

Ah, we've been round this block before, Dean - that's known as 'projection'. As you're about to demonstrate...

"...in the UK, members of the public without guns prevent both petty and serious crimes every day of the week." I am sure they do... Just as there are members of the public without guns who do the same thing here in America. The report is specifically speaking to those situations where a gun was involved in the prevention of crime; if you concede that there are people out there preventing crime *without* having to resort to using a gun then clearly there are people out there that *HAVE TO* use guns to avert crime, AND IN DOING SO SUPPORTS ONCE AGAIN THAT THOSE SAME GUNS HAVE A LEGITEMATE PURPOSE. Everything else is just argument as to the matter of degree of the need. And, when you consider that at least SOME "serious" crime (see response to #2) must have been averted by the use/presence of a gun, then once again we come full circle to "legitemate purpose". If lives can be taken by criminals then lives can therefore also be saved by good people - or is that too farfetched an idea?

Sigh. My point was not that no crimes are ever thwarted in America without the use of a gun, but rather that many of the crimes prevented with a gun could and would otherwise have been prevented without one. Dean hasn't even addressed that point, so the question remains unanswered. It also needs to be pointed out at this stage that his logic is somewhat faulty - while I'm actually happy to concede that there are instances where guns genuinely do prevent crime (where armed police are involved, for instance) how that logically "follows" from the observation that some crimes can be prevented without a gun is a bit of a mystery.

Questions 4-10 to follow...

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