Monday, August 6, 2012

"Someone intent on killing will find a means."

This Facebook post came from a high school friend who has before made observations worth noting.  The original post, regarding the Aurora theater shooting, was this:

"Someone intent on killing will find a means."

Pretty good article that doesn't choose "sides."

I wanted to capture the comment stream (before Facebook ages it out of all our feeds), which is as follows, as of this writing.  Comments are presented in full, unedited, and with names scrubbed to protect the friendly.  The original poster is "J", there is a "K" who is not me, and I am listed as "Me".

K:  I saw or heard something yesterday (maybe on NPR?) to the effect that Japan has very strict gun control and very few gun homicides. I don't recall that the piece made any mention of the sarin attack in the Tokyo subway not so many years back ...

Me:  It does rather read like actual reporting--which, sadly, is a noteworthy thing anymore.

Me[K],welcome to the world of straw men and red herrings. For anyone who is persuaded by statistics (full disclosure: I myself am not--the moral argument is always more powerful than the pragmatic one), digging a little deeper will also reveal that Americans kill far more people with bare hands and other weapons than Japanese, in almost exactly the same proportion as the "with gun" numbers--and it's been that way since as long as people have kept records for comparison. Dig a little further and you'll then find that the homicide rates for Japanese *Americans* are pretty much the same as Japanese living in Japan--much lower than the rest of the American populace, regardless of weapon type. By this stage of discovery, the point is pretty clear: the only reason anyone would attempt to establish causation from guns, is if that is the pre-ordained conclusion he set out to "prove" in the first place.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

For many years (and by that I mean more than twenty) I chased the stats. I wanted to be able to respond to the victim disarmament crusaders nobly, and by "nobly" I assumed "in kind", both by disproving their stats and by offering better ones of my own. And of course the truth is (even taking into account that lots of "good guys" perpetuate either bad stats or bad analysis of good stats), the available body of data provides absolutely no credible support for the idea of forcible victim disarmament--at least not as any sort of effective vehicle to minimize victimization of the peaceable. Statistical support for deliberately going the other way is somewhat less obvious, but still very strong.

"They" got nothin', in short--and yet it doesn't matter. Never has. Never will. It took me an embarrassingly long time to admit--to really admit--that victim disarmers don't actually care about statistics at all. I'd long understood that they didn't understand that the "just one life (furda children)" meme was meaningless because it's based on the absurd assumption that guns cannot save lives but only take them, but it's beyond that. Eventually, I reached the point of demanding that they declare their own threshold, if nothing else as a thought experiment: at what point would the numbers tip the other way, and prove "pragmatically" that empowering individuals was the proper "public policy" instead? "Describe that to me: what would it take? What would it look like?" Universally, their reactions proved to me that the stats didn't matter at all, but were simply a marketing tool of convenience to push a pre-ordained conclusion.

What didn't take quite so long after that, but which was a bit more surprising, was to realize that I don't care about stats either. Think about it: if you engage in a policy discussion governed by statistical "pragmatism", that means that somewhere along the continuum of possible statistics is a firn-line that, when crossed, causes a change in the approach to policy. In this case, we're talking about competing policies of 1) forcible disarmament of the peaceable and 2) no forcible disarmament of the peaceable, and at some threshold the objective preference changes from 1) to 2), or vice versa. For many years my standard was "guns save more lives than they take", and using any credible stats I've ever seen, that is still a reasonably comfortable position. But...what if the day ever came when that changed? This is ultimately the same question I asked the disarmers, and as it turns out I learned from it too. It caused me to re-frame the question morally, rather than statistically:

Is there any statistic that is suddenly, upon meeting some threshold, going to justify the forcible disarmament of even one person who has done nobody any harm?

No. No, there is not. Period. There is no equivocating here. Liberty is either for everyone or it is for no one.

This is a much better position to defend, and from which to attack. It is not subject to any change in real statistics, and it is inherently impervious to the sort of misleading, artificially "enhanced", or outright falsified stats that the disarmers have such a well-earned reputation for generating.

M:  Kevin - as usual you put together a very eloquent argument, most of which i could not follow :) question is not one of gun ownership as we have question is why are people allowed to own fully automatic or military grade weapons? I have a driver's license but am definitely not allowed to drive Indy class, NASCAR or Open wheel class cars as I don't have the skill or knowledge etc...can't the same thing be said about the class of guns we are allowed to own?

Me:  For any forewarned-but-yet-inexplicably-still-curious followers of this thread: I indulge [M's] question at [Facebook URL, here redirected to a separate blog post that covers it]

K:  Kevin: Regarding "actual reporting" - Charlie Sykes, a talk radio guy in Milwaukee, when he came upon a piece of actual reporting by the media, would refer to it as "a flagrant act of journalism."

Regarding straw men, red herrings, statistics, etc. - I agree that the claim about Japan that I heard is misleading in that way too. I do think that the point [J] highlighted - "Someone intent on killing will find a means" - is a worthwhile one also. i.e. - it's true that Japan has fewer non-gun homicides than America does - it is also true that they do have some homicides, i.e., that even with gun control, someone there who wants to kill a bunch of people can find a means.

This continues in the next post, with me choosing not to defile [J's] wall with another rant.  ([J] never asked me to do that, and might not have minded if I'd kept it here, but I made my choice and left the link.  :-)

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