Thursday, November 11, 2010

We Live in a Free World, I Whittle Down the Wind

While I'm on the subject of gun control, I thought I might as well offer a few thoughts on the Bill Whittle video that Kevin linked to as an indirect response to me the other day. Incidentally, a word of advice - don't ever call Mr Whittle "some random guy on YouTube" in the presence of the KBFC. He is, I am indignantly assured, a Giant Among Men. Here are just some of his pearls of wisdom -

"just because something is fun and scares away weenies doesn't mean that it's stupid"

Clearly he's determined to appeal to our hearts as well as our minds right from the off. Taking delight in scaring off "weenies" with guns doesn't make someone stupid either, but it probably does say quite a lot of other things about them.

"The philosophical substrata for gun ownership is something that most gun-owners understand in their bones"

As Paul Merton would say - that's good!

"They don't need to be told any of what I'm about to tell you because this kind of wisdom is inherent for many people. That's why we call it 'common sense'."

Curious that so many people imbued with this common sense, with inherent wisdom grafted into their very bones (by the Almighty?) are heavily concentrated in certain geographical areas, whereas those of us not quite so blessed also tend to be found disproportionately in particular places. Surely not a coincidence - perhaps there's some kind of 'common sense gene' that Mr Whittle could identify for us? To hell with spreading philosophical substrata to the less fortunate via YouTube - this guy could be in line for a Nobel Prize.

"have you ever wondered why the people who really enjoy telling others what to do and how to live, those fun-loving intellectual elites, seem to be so in love with totalitarian states where people are unarmed, and where survival is utterly dependent on some of the worst people in the world?"

Is he talking about the likes of David Cameron? If so, while I'm not exactly the UK government's biggest fan, I think that particular form of 'totalitarianism' may be getting a slightly bad rap. If, on the other hand, Whittle is seriously asking his viewers why 'the liberal elite' are so in love with leaders like Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin, then the phrase "straw man argument on stilts" springs to mind.

"then ask yourselves, what stands in an unarmed population in the way of determined, heartless bastards like the SS or the Cossacks or the Revolutionary Guard or bands of Hutu militia?"

Absolutely - what has stood in the way of such evil-doers when faced with the "unarmed population" I've been living among all my life? And yet, to date, I've never actually had a Cossack invade my bedroom. Pure fluke, I suppose - I really must update those burglar alarm settings.

"You see, the Framers in their wisdom put the Second Amendment into the constitution to give teeth to the revolutionary, unheard of idea that the power rests with we, the people...

Criminals and criminal regimes throughout all of human history have and will conspire to take by force what they cannot produce on their own and these people must be stopped. The genius of the men who wrote the Second Amendment is that they realised that these people could be anybody, including people like those who wrote the Second Amendment."

Unfortunately, there was one piece of foresight that the Framers lacked - they didn't realise that their successors in positions of power would have exclusive access to weaponry of such unimaginable destructive force that it would be literally impossible for "we, the people" to defend themselves against a criminal regime with the will to use those weapons. Such hypothetical regimes must indeed be stopped - but how? Well, modern-day America depends on precisely the same shields that Britain relies on to ensure that our authorities' exclusive possession of handguns isn't abused - democratic safeguards and the rule of law. Is this approach naive? Does history tell us that it's doomed to fail? From his alarmist rhetoric later in the video, Mr Whittle clearly believes so. But when he says of the Second Amendment -

"You cannot remove that lynchpin of trust without collapsing the entire structure."

Too late, my friend, that bird has flown. Flown long ago. The supposed safeguards of the Second Amendment are a hollow shell, replaced by a situation indistinguishable from the one we have in Britain, whereby the people have exclusively "trusted" the most deadly weapons to the authorities, and would have no means of direct physical defence if those weapons were ever turned against them. A stubborn attachment to an 18th Century form of defence when faced with a hypothetical 21st Century threat may be disarmingly quaint, but it's no basis for rational law-making.

Amusingly, when I asked Joe Huffman last year how "the people" would actually go about defending themselves against nuclear weapons with their puny Second Amendment handguns, he told me that I simply didn't understand the mindset of an armed population, and that I could rest assured that the survivors of a nuclear attack would mercilessly hunt down the perpetrators. Well, I'm sure that's a great relief to us all.

Incidentally, I've always been curious about how so many American 'libertarians' manage to square their general philosophy with support for the death penalty. What would their advice be, for instance, to someone who had been wrongly convicted and was facing imminent execution? What would their advice be to that person's family? If the primary purpose of privately owned guns is to snuff out tyrannical actions by the government against the individual, can there be a more heinous abuse of the state's power than to take an innocent individual's life? Therefore, would the correct course of action for the family be to attempt to storm Death Row with guns, or should they accept that the rule of law must prevail, however unjustly? If the latter, why? (And please don't insult our intelligence by trying to wriggle out of the dilemma with the fiction that no innocent people are ever sentenced to death in the US.)

"America suffers an appalling number of handgun deaths each year, perhaps eleven thousand of them...but if we attempt to reduce this horrible number by banning handguns we are taking away the property of someone who has broken no laws"

No, we're not. We're taking away the property of someone who would otherwise be breaking the gun control laws we've introduced. As Mr Whittle would say himself - duh.

In other ways, though, I actually like this part of his argument, because it does what I've urged Kevin Baker to do in the past - it defends his philosophy of personal freedom on its own merits, and fronts up to the fact that he believes in it irrespective of the cost in human life. We know that's the case for Baker and his followers anyway, so why the need to use hocus pocus statistics to try to pretend that cost doesn't really exist? Well, I think we all know the answer to that. They know perfectly well that many of their fellow countrymen don't believe that the freedom to own guns is quite important enough to justify absolutely any and every cost, so they feel the battle of statistics is one they must fight - despite the strong whiff of intellectual dishonesty in falsely implying that they might feel differently if it could be definitively demonstrated that thousands of avoidable deaths are caused each year by gun legality. Whittle to his credit doesn't go down that road...or does he?

"It should be abundantly clear by now that the rate of handgun murders in the United States is not uniform. The murder rate of downtown Philadelphia is horrifying, but the murder rate in nearby Valley Forge, let's say, where there are probably more handguns and hunting rifles than anywhere else on the planet, is virtually non-existent."

Oh dear. Hocus Pocus City. Straight back, without passing 'go', to the magical thinking of Kevin and co that holds that the extraordinary disparity between the respective murder rates of the UK and the US can be easily explained away as entirely to do with "cultural factors" and nothing whatever to do with the rate of gun ownership, but simultanenously insists that any selectively culled internal differences in the US that superficially suit their own case must have nothing at all to do with any other factors - even ones as blindingly obvious as the difference between affluent rural areas and urban areas with social problems. Let's refresh our memory about what the evidence actually shows, shall we?

"Across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded."

"After controlling for poverty and urbanization, for every age group, people in states with many guns have elevated rates of homicide, particularly firearm homicide."

"States with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide. This relationship held for both genders and all age groups, after accounting for rates of aggravated assault, robbery, unemployment, urbanization, alcohol consumption, and resource deprivation (e.g., poverty)."

Finally, I'm struck by Mr Whittle's suggestion that legal gun ownership makes people "equal" and "levels the playing-field" between the strong and the weak -

"It means that even a schoolteacher can defeat a human predator who may have spent his entire life practicing violence"

Hmmm. Adverts for stocks and shares routinely warn that "the value of your investment may go down as well as up", and I feel that a similar disclaimer ought to be put on claims about the effect of guns on power relationships. It really depends on who is holding the gun at any given moment, doesn't it? We've heard many times before, for instance, about how gun legality empowers a victim of domestic violence to defend themselves with a gun (although some will wonder if walking out of the relationship might possibly be a simpler and somewhat less drastic solution). But does the evidence suggest it's likely to actually be that way round?

"Batterers use of guns : Recent gun owners were 8 times more likely to have threatened their partners with a gun than non-gun owners. Four main types of gun threat against partners were (a) threatening to shoot then, (b) threatening to shoot a pet or person the victim cares about, (c) cleaning, holding or loading a gun during an argument, and (d) shooting a gun during an argument."

So, it turns out that those who abuse power are more attracted to the idea of owning a gun than the most vulnerable, thus unbalancing power relationships between the strong and the weak even further.  Who'd ever have guessed such a thing?  Nate has suggested to me a couple of times in the past that owning a gun and learning to use it is an empowering experience that enhances confidence and a sense of self. But the example of domestic violence ought to be sufficient to remind us that there are millions of people out there who we actually don't really want to be a) any more empowered, b) any more confident in imposing their will on others, and c) armed with a gun. Mr Whittle tells us in another video that Tea Party conservatives accept human nature as it is and don't kid themselves that they can 'perfect' people. That being the case, it's - again - magical thinking on an industrial scale to imagine that in arming the general 'law-abiding' population you are only empowering 'decent' people. What you're actually doing is making it even easier for untold numbers of arrogant or angry people to abuse their power.

Whittle's real message is that if you want to be equal in his world - more pertinently, if you want to avoid being considerably less equal than you otherwise would have been but for the fact of widespread gun ownership - you have literally no choice but to own a gun, carry it around with you at all times, be trained to use it to a high degree of proficiency, and be blessed with the strength of mind to be ready to calmly use it at a moment's notice.  That's an odd sort of 'personal freedom', if you ask me.

Well, I think I've pretty much had my Tea Party fix for the day from Mr Whittle - now I'm off for some tea.


  1. [i]We're taking away the property of someone who would otherwise be breaking the gun control laws we've introduced.[/i]

    Um, in actual fact they're not, these laws are not (and will never be) enforced against the major criminal gangs like MS13 or the Latin Kings that reside in the larger U.S. cities, for obvious reasons. No, they're aimed at those people that the lawmakers imagine they can coerce easily into compliance.

    [i]it defends his philosophy of personal freedom on its own merits, and fronts up to the fact that he believes in it irrespective of the cost in human life.[/i]

    That would be 'the personal freedom to defend one's own life (as well as others lives')'. Which makes your position one of 'people must have their freedom to defend their own lives interfered with and thwarted, in the name of 'protecting lives' (yeah, if I pretend to be interested in protecting lives I will haz the moral high ground not them!)'.

    [i]States with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide. [/i]

    One wonders how the researchers arrived at that figure. Did they, for example, check only those homes that had seen a homicide take place, for evidence of (legal*) gun ownership, or did they endeavour to find out how many of the approximate 47-53 million households that have legally owned guns on site, to see how many homicides took place with (legally*) owned guns?

    You will appreciate how one method gives us a very skewed picture that is nonetheless politically useful to the gun ban nuts, whereas the other method demonstrates how [i]rare[/i] murders actually are in households with (legally*) owned guns, which puts the lie to the notion that ownership of a gun leads people to murderous outbursts.

    (* I stress 'legally' because if these researchers are including murders committed with [i]illegal[/i] guns into their research, as justification for restricting the freedom to protect one's life for people who do not own guns illegally, then that would be seriously unjust, would it not?)

    [i]It really depends on who is holding the gun at any given moment, doesn't it?[/i]

    Well that indicates that you would be OK with, say, a person confronted by someone intent on their murder, 'holding the gun' at that given moment, which is not the case as you have indicated elsewhere. Rather, your attitude is that as far as you are concerned, there is no way in hell people about to be murdered should be able to prevent their murder by the use of a gun, and to hell with anyone who might find themselves in such a situation.

    [i]Whittle's real message is that if you want to be equal in [b]his[/b] world[/i]

    [i]His[/i] world? Sorry, Whittle isn't personally responsible for the world having people in it who see others as prey, to be abused, robbed, raped and murdered at will.

  2. Anon, I've responded to your questions and other points in a new post.