Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Gun "Debate" is Bullshit

Another shooting, and more bullshit. This article is some meta-bullshit to consider.

"White men commit most mass shootings" 

Lena Dunham is the latest minor celebrity to hop on this hobby horse with the help of Newsweek's bad data, and the results are predictable. It turns out a lot of the figures that account for 'the majority' of mass shootings do not also make a habit that white men are the majority of men in America - even when using the narrower category of 'non-Hispanic' white men - and often form a greater share of people than they do the advertised share of mass shooters. Which would seemingly defeat the purpose of making a point to mention that the majority of shooters are white.

Mass shooters are mostly male. Mass shooting can fairly be described as a male problem.

However, the racial and ethnic categories don't make much sense. For example of how ethnic categories work, WaPo publishes a number of 134 mass shooters total. Only 2 are women, which will disregarded as a matter of rounding error. Now, assume for a moment that we have a single contribution to this statistic from Korean Americans. If Wikipedia is correct, then Korean Americans make up about 0.06% of the population of males living in America. It just show happens that 1 out of 134 means Korean Americans make up 0.7% of mass shooters.

If one is going to do the math 'right', then at this point one should be screaming about every overrepresented ethnic subgroup of the male population. Yet no sane person will do this because it's obviously not mathematically relevant.

White men make up most mass shooters as they make up most of the evildoers in America. This is a consequence of white men making up most men in America. Just as it's stupid for white supremacist nuts to be shrill about a chart showing white men doing a majority of the good things, it's stupid for social justice 'thinkers' to be shrill about a chart about a chart showing white men doing a majority of the bad things. When the group has such an outsized share of the population, there are few meaningful conclusions to be had.

One could say that white men were historically the authors of a gun culture and do the most to perpetuate its politics - however this is an argument altogether different than adding up shooters and inspecting their skin color.

"You can't regulate evil"

Perhaps the dumbest pro-gun argument is the idea that gun prohibition doesn't work because prohibition doesn't generally work as 'regulating evil' is impossible. It's a dumb argument not because prohibition doesn't work - many prohibitions are famously ill conceived - but because these very same people are arguing for prohibitions in many other areas of life.

Find a 'pro-gun' Republican coming out against prohibition of guns and one will also find someone who is 100% behind the prohibition of one or all of the following:

  • Abortion
  • Refugees
  • Drugs
  • Gambling
  • Internet
  • Pornography
  • Cryptocurrency
  • Serving alcohol to adults (18-20 year olds)
Many of these prohibitions are arguably more harmful to individual freedoms & have greater societal consequences than even the strictest laws against gun ownership. Yet all kinds of politicians that label themselves 'pro-freedom' because they're so pro-gun can't also bring themselves to allow even the most mundane of personal choices in other facets of life.

Similarly, many 'anti-regulation' types are lifelong lovers of these political regulators of evil:
  • Police
  • Army
  • Borders
  • Elections
  • Judges
  • Juries
  • Prisons
  • Etc
People pretending to have a principled/philosophical approach to 'freedom' in many cases simply do not. The debate is of practical realities and what is politically feasible. The language used is 'regulation won't help' & 'freedom must be upheld', but these are just distractions from real reasons why there is such inertia for the status quo on guns in America. Arguments about the Second Amendment are not ultimately a principled pro-freedom stance if taken in ignorance of other prohibitions and regulations in America - the second amendment argument is simply playing the 'it's legal because it's legal' card which appeals only to the most bureaucratic mindsets.

"Mass shootings kill a very small number of people"

This nonsense follows the track:
  1. Gun violence or violence generally is going down 
  2. Mass shootings don't kill very many people in 'the big picture'
  3. Reorganizing society to prevent mass shootings is then too costly
It is an idea similar to that in which we should not bother very much fighting terrorism because historically the numbers have been manageable except for a few uncomfortable euphemistic 'outliers'. 

This reasoning is crap as there's not much to suggest that we should see a predictable or manageable growth in the number of mass shootings. Mass shootings aren't typical economic crimes or domestic homicides. They're psychopathy enabled by recent technological developments. Shootings are live streamed on Facebook and Twitter, guns used are ever more lethal and affordable. Clearly mass shootings will be ever cheaper to carry out and ever more satisfying for deranged killers that desire fame and feedback. It may not be a question about buying bullets, but a killer satisfying their own vanity by buying the best smartphone.

Given a technological trend that is leading a social trend, there logically should be an investment commensurate with the impact to be expected by making violence cheaper and more enthralling. 

Even guns aside, the United States is finding itself in a era of performative violence - be it antifa or the alt-right, every scam artist trying to make a name for themselves either in journalism or politics is creating or participating in 'protests' of all kinds across the nation. The hope is in the hashtag, as a good punch and torch-lit rally makes for entertaining GIFs and good victim narratives in a miles long twitter thread. 

Regulating speech will not change the people addicted to this drama, however it seems to be a decent idea to invest in tools that prompt users to select information over expediency and nudge them into making constructive decisions before participating in a toxic feedback loop.

The best pro-gun argument

The best pro-gun argument is the assumption that America exists in many places and times as a state of despair. Large parts of the population are not particularly clever - perhaps due to overexposure to lead and underexposure to education. Large parts of the population are not particularly satisfied with life - perhaps due to strange cultural expectations or disparities in wealth. Large parts of the population are already armed - centuries of history with a very open relationship with guns has naturally led to this.

Given things as they are, when viewing the state of things with a calculating angle of what's actually possible, the simplest solution is to just acquire a weapon for one's own use. It's easier to just be armed in a gated community than fight the mind-numbing minutia of every single social issue in a very complicated country. Why should one have to convince many levels of incompetent government to very precisely manage a crazy acquaintance's behavior when one can participate in a miniature arms race?

And this is it for the pro-gun argument - no special noises about freedom, nothing about law, just realization of the role guns already play, the impact of both handguns and long guns (a lengthy discussion of how it's not clear cut that one type is worse than the other is here), and the type of mindset pervasive in American society. 

The best anti-gun argument

Ignoring for a moment the center of the universe that is the United States, it's clear that countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and indeed most of the world should find themselves in no hurry to emulate the United States' gun laws and gun culture. From where they are, there is no compelling reason to desire to go where the United States is at - ubiquitous guns, popular fantasies about the role of guns in a constitutional republic, grandstanding about which laws will fix "the problem" while the state actually has next to no idea exactly who has what. 

America let the genie out of the bottle, and the genie is now very armed. One can argue that genies should be in bottles, one can try to sanely limit the genie but ultimately actually getting the stupid thing back in the bottle is not a straightforward task. 


  1. I’m pro-immigration and anti-War on Drugs, so is it cool for me to be anti-gun-control?

    I did hear a really interesting gun-control argument from Alonzo Biden, though: registration & mandatory insurance. Everyone’s right to arms remains intact, but guns—like cars— are inherently dangerous, so insurance is required. Government won’t decide who is likely to be dangerous with a gun, but insurers will, and will increase rates or refuse to cover people who are higher risk.

    Anyway, that sounded like a form of gun control that could greatly reduce gun violence without impinging on anyone’s Second Amendment rights.

  2. *Bodden*, not *Biden*. Auto-correct.

  3. 1. That an argument has inconsistent adherents does not make it a dumb argument. So no, the fact that large swathes of people in the gun debate are pragmatists with the intellectual range of a fired rubber band in itself doesn't invalidate principled arguments for freedom.

    2. Police, prisons etc. are not "regulators of evil". They are mechanisms of safeguarding individual rights, paramount among them being *freedom* from one specific evil: the aggressive use of force.

    "Regulating evil" would be trying to use government against things that are evil, but not forcible (or "victimless") - like putting pineapple on pizza, or breeding chihuahuas. The rationale being, of course, vive la difference.

    The dominant driver of inertia has always been the gun control side - there's been so much bad faith in their argumentation for decades that the pro-gun side has simply decided "fuck it, I'll just tribalize and refuse to move". And they have; that's why we have Dana Loesch adopting the Left's idea of "speech as violence" without batting an eye.

  4. Hi Mountain: Insurance is not required for cars that are not driven on public roads. So, the equivalent insurance for guns would actually be carry insurance. I think that's what the NRA's "Carry Guard" was supposed to be, but the underwriter has already bolted thanks to "Boycott NRA".