Saturday, July 30, 2011

Witnessing the collapse

It has to be said that Kevin Baker's whole argument against gun control legislation has been collapsing around his ears over the last 48 hours or so (which perhaps explains why, for approximately the seventeenth time in our off-and-on exchanges, he has just abruptly declared that he is "done here"). Over the last two years, he has repeatedly claimed that there is no basis whatever for thinking that less gun control leads to more deaths - he always attributes Britain's much lower homicide rate to the vague concept of "culture". But he tripped up badly the other day when trying to make a cheap point about a UN report several years ago that labelled Scotland the "most violent country in the developed world", in spite of the fact that we have a homicide rate that is more than three times lower than that of the US -

"Maybe if the Scots had guns they would kill each other at astronomical rates. Given their obviously hyper-violent culture ....

Then again, there might be a few more deaths but a lot fewer Glasgow smiles."

Now, you might think that this is a relatively small concession - that he is saying less gun control would lead to only a very small number of extra deaths. But let's pursue the logic a bit further. Baker is claiming that Scotland's culture is literally the most violent in the western world (ie. more violent than the US), and is also conceding that adding more guns to the equation would increase the homicide rate - it seems logical to conclude, therefore, that US-style levels of gun ownership would lead to a homicide rate that doesn't merely match that of the US, but that actually exceeds it. We are thus not talking about "a few more deaths", as Baker puts it - but possibly three or four times as many. Even if we were to accept for the sake of argument Baker's risible presumption that more guns for "defensive purposes" would solve all our other problems of violence, would a quadrupled homicide rate really be an acceptable trade-off for fewer "Glasgow smiles"? I know what I think.

And Kevin really wonders why most of us in the UK think that strict gun control "somehow" saves lives? The answer to that question came out of your own mouth, Kevin.

You might also be wondering if Baker's comment about Scotland wasn't intended to be taken seriously. But in fact the notion of a trade-off between more gun homicides and preventing lesser types of assault has been a recurring theme of his comments over the last couple of days. For example, he said this in a reply to Tris this afternoon -

"I keep getting accused of "conflating violent crime and gun crime." Yes, I understand why you see it that way, but I have a hard time understanding why getting shot is somehow an entirely different class from being stabbed or raped or curb-stomped by a gang of feral youths. This whole exchange with James came from one story about a young father who was beaten to death by such a gang for having the temerity to ask them to stop vandalizing his property.

You're glad that, on a dark night it never occurs to you that you might get shot in the back. I congratulate you. But do you concern yourself about getting stabbed or beaten or raped? Because that still happens. And you have no way to defend yourself against a gang, or a criminal with a broken bottle, for that matter. You're not even allowed pepper spray...

And you've seen blades.

You're not worried about one of them "losing it"?"

Of course what he's actually being accused of is not conflating violent crime and gun crime, but conflating homicides with lesser assaults. Only by pretending that being assaulted is just as bad as being murdered can he seriously claim that Scotland with its wretched gun control is not a much safer place than his own country. It's especially intriguing that he accepts without surprise that Tris has never seen a gun in Dundee - isn't that a rather powerful indication that gun control works (however imperfectly) in its aim of keeping the most deadly weapons off the street? Kevin's answer to that would be that we need an influx of guns (thus risking a quadrupled homicide rate) to protect ourselves against the thugs who carry knives or even just use their fists - but isn't a more rational response that if we can so thoroughly protect ourselves against guns by keeping guns off the street, why can't we do the same thing with knives? Perhaps the Kevin Baker Fan Club shouldn't sneer quite so much at the UK's tough knife laws, or at ideas like knife amnesties.

Now let's move on to Baker's most recent (and, if we are to take him at his word, final) response to me on the previous thread. I had pointed out that I previously referred him to abundant statistical evidence of the link between gun control and a reduced risk of both homicide and suicide, and that he had casually dismissed all of it out of hand. His response was that he preferred to look at three meta-studies of the statistical evidence, which showed no such link. The reason for this preference was not, as you might cynically suppose, that the findings were more to his taste, but this -

"...far too often the "researchers" know what they believe and are out to prove it, almost always with the money of groups that support their personal biases. Your example of Dr. David Hemenway is one.

I point you to look at the raw data whenever I can. That convergence chart is mine, drawn from the government statistics. I reference these three studies because they are all government-funded and all draw similar conclusions over three different decades on two different continents."

Well, a few points leap out at me here. Firstly, Baker does have an advantage on me that, however one-eyed he is on this topic, he's an obsessive about it in a way that I am not, and can reference these publications in his sleep in a way that I cannot. I'm therefore left in the position where I have to wonder whether to take his word for it that only three meta-studies have ever been carried out in the whole of academic history on such an important topic. I would just note that while that's possible, such a claim does raise suspicions. Secondly, Baker is not, as he insists, simply pointing me to "raw data" - meta-studies provide an interpretation of raw data, just as every other study does. Thirdly (and perhaps most importantly) one of the people doing the interpreting is none other that Colin Greenwood, former police inspector, passionate advocate of the liberalisation of the UK's gun laws, and author of The Historical English Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Hmmm. We could perhaps wish for more objective researchers. When I pointed this out to Kevin, this was his rather unconvincing response -

"Yes. He wrote "Historical English Right" when?

In 2000, some 28 years after publishing Firearms Control.

It's amazing what happens when people look at the raw data themselves, and then dig into the history. Sometimes they learn something.

I've seen it happen many times. I very seldom see it go the other way."

And what about those researchers who Kevin so casually dismisses out of hand? Did they have "hoplophobia" implanted into them in the womb, or did they perhaps - just perhaps - form their own view on the basis of the raw data, just as Kevin claims Greenwood did?

"Once again, if "gun control" WORKS, why can't anybody prove it? You insist it's proven. I point to three studies that say it isn't."

And I pointed to umpteen studies that say it is. Oh, but wait - those don't count because the researchers were biased and bribed. How do we know they were biased? Oh, because they conducted studies 'erroneously' proving that gun control WORKS, and because a meta-study conducted by Colin Greenwood contradicted them. But how do we know that Colin Greenwood approached the topic with an entirely open mind, and that his study is therefore credible in a way that the others are not? Because it 'correctly' concludes that gun control doesn't work.

Circular logic, much?

Lastly, Kevin goes into his favourite teacherly tone of address, to wearily remind me that if only I would APPLY myself to the homework he has set me, it's not ENTIRELY impossible that even a lost soul like me could aspire to attain his own immense wisdom one day -

"Look it up. Check more than one source. I recommend you read six or seven."

It's sorely tempting at this point to recommend to Kevin that he might care to look up fifteen or twenty sources on how much pride Thomas Hamilton invested in his legally-owned firearms, and thirty or forty sources detailing the horrific wounds he inflicted on Primary 1 pupils with those self-same weapons.

Anyway, what he's referring to is the Tottenham Outrage, an incident in 1909 that he seems to have a fascination for. Perhaps it's because it harks back to what he perceives as a better time in Britain, before the pernicious effects of socialism kicked in, when men were still men and were prepared to take direct violent action to protect both themselves and their community. The lesson presumably being - this is what you could be again, Britain, if only you would listen to us. But there's something curious about this - hasn't Baker repeatedly chided me for my supposed (ie. imaginary) belief in the "perfectibility" of the human race, and the idea that there is a "solution to every problem"? Isn't that precisely what he's proposing here - that there is a better, nobler kind of humanity that can be fashioned, and that in so doing we create the 'solution' to incidents like the Tottenham Outrage, or indeed the recent massacre in Norway?

So I'm not quite sure whether it's Kevin or I who is the misty-eyed idealist. The difficulty I have with all this, though, is that when I think of idealism and creating a better world, I tend to think of better education, safer streets, longer and healthier lives for all, etc, etc. Kevin's dreams aren't of these things - the better world he strives for is one in which armed Britons will once again charge the streets of Tottenham in hot pursuit of trigger-happy robbers.

None of which causes me to revise my suspicion that the Kevin Baker & Fan Club 'philosophy' is not really about liberty and self-defence - it's above all else a macho world view that glorifies strength (ie. their self-image of themselves) and vilifies weakness and dependence.


  1. I agree, james, whatrever problems we have here, i'd feel much less safe in America.

  2. I think you answered all the points Mr Baker put to me in his final post, James.

    I'm aware of the fact that some of the areas I work are pretty rough, and yes, I'm always alert to the possibility of danger.

    I can run pretty effectively from an attack (although I'm happy to say that I have only had to do so once, and that wasn't even at work).

    Most knives that lads have are not throwing knives, they are stabbing knives, so as long as you can run fast... you're safe. They don't travel well.

    But bullets do and can move a lot faster than I can.

    Lads tell me that they have to have knives, because other lads have knives... and you need one for protection. If you don't have one, well you better not step out of line.

    Imagine if that were guns...