Shooting Down Straw Men

In the wake of the terrible string of shooting sprees that made their way into the public conscious through focused media coverage in 2012, there has been an upsurge in the debate over gun ownership:

Shortly after the Connecticut shootings, I began observing cheeky memes that attacked advocates of stronger gun control laws by humorously implying that since criminals don’t obey the law, then gun control laws won’t be effective. A similar kind of attack is to point out that laws against drug usage don’t prevent people from using drugs. Beginning with the first point, we can agree that, of course, criminals don’t obey laws – by definition a criminal is someone who breaks the law. It does not follow that laws are therefore useless. Indeed, I’d wager the vast majority of the people putting forth this “clever” argument are far from advocates of abolishing all laws. That’s because laws do accomplish things for good and ill. Breaking a law is risky and in most cases, fear of punishment for breaking a law is a deterrent. Thus, laws reduce behavior even if they do not eliminate it. The fact is that the criminals-don’t-obey laws attack is setting up a straw man by subtly slipping in the idea that supporters of gun control seek to eliminate mass shootings when in fact they merely seek to make them less likely. By holding up an impossible standard, the arguers give the false impression of absurdity to the political view that they oppose.

The related meme concerning drug laws has the same implied false standard of effectiveness, but also falsely equates drug usage and gun usage when they are very different behaviors. Drugs directly stimulate pleasure zones in the body and are addictive. Thus, people are more likely to take risks such as breaking the law to acquire them as the short term pleasure reward overrides their ability to reason correctly about the dangers of the long term health risks or the possibility of getting imprisoned. In contrast, gun ownership doesn’t directly tap into the body’s pleasure system and so most gun owners aren’t going to find continued gun ownership worth the risk of imprisonment or the risk of dealing with the black market. Therefore, while guns would continue to exist and criminals would find ways to still acquire them, if guns laws were strengthened or if guns were banned, overall ownership would be reduced significantly and the chances of someone who is likely to go on a shooting spree having access to a gun would also be reduced.

It is not gun enthusiasts nor even professional or semi-professional criminals who are the ones using guns to commit mass murder. Gun enthusiasts just want to collect guns and use them for hunting and marvel over their crafting. Criminals just want to use them to help conduct their “business” – not to kill random members of the general public. It’s the mentally disturbed or those who pick up a gun impulsively in the heat of emotion or distress who are using them to slaughter people. The logic behind tighter gun regulation then is to make it harder for these people to get their hands on guns.

Personally, I find guns repugnant as agents of death. Politically, however, I support a regulated right to bear arms, especially when exercised collectively in the context of collective defense. What this means for me varies depending upon the culture in question. In our society and culture, I support strengthening our gun regulation laws to include aspects of Japan’s gun control laws such as restrictions on what kind of weapons can be owned, successful completion of safety courses for gun owners, periodic mental health evaluation for gun owners and those with whom they live, and verification that guns are stored securely and safely.

What Most People Think

The verdict of the “world” on a public character, as well as on moral worth in general and its opposite, like the public opinion of the “world” on other matters, represents only too often the verdict or the opinion of class prejudice and ignorance. It is, in fact, a fairly safe plan to ascertain for oneself “what most people think” on such questions, and then assume the opposite to be true. The result is a good working hypothesis, which remains, of course, to be possibly modified or even abandoned by subsequent investigation, but which is generally the nearest approach to truth we can make in the absence of the requisite knowledge for forming an unbiased judgment.

-Ernest Belfort Bax

Quote About The Meaning of Liberty

Here’s an insightful quote by Abraham Lincoln that I recently read about the meaning of liberty and how different people with different interests define it in different ways:

We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name, liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names — liberty and tyranny.

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act, as the destroyer of liberty… Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon the definition of the word liberty.