Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Law, Free Will, Choice and... Guns

In my mis-spent youth, I used to listen to NPR's Morning Edition every morning while doing my math (yes, that's the kind of thing we wacky homeschoolers get away with). One morning (this was probably around '93) they were covering a "guns for toys" program, where people were being encouraged to bring real or toy guns down to their local police station and pick up stuffed animals in exchange.

How warm and fuzzy can you get? (And seriously, how many hardened criminals did the people staging this imagine would repent and come get a teddy in return for their gat?) They interviewed a few kids who dutifully said that they knew it was better to play with animals than with their toy guys they'd turned in. Then they interviewed an eighty-year-old woman who'd just turned in the police revolver that her grandfather used to carry in the 1870s and 1880s. "I've never shot it," she said. "But I'd kept it all these years as a piece of family history. But you know, things aren't the same anymore. I heard about this exchange and I thought: It's not the wild west anymore. I'd better go turn this in to the police where it belongs. I think we'd all be a lot safer without so many guns around."

Maybe in some abstract sense we would -- but I'm not sure we got any safer when that old lady turned in her piece of family history.

However as I was thinking the other day about the enthusiasm for gun control (or just outright banning guns) on the left, this clicked into place as half of the puzzle. Here's the other half:

We've all run into the argument that outlawing or restricting abortion would not cut down on the number of abortions, just drive the industry underground. What we need to do instead, we're told, is simply to abolish poverty, injustice and bad relationships. Then no one will want an abortion.

Now since many of the same people who make this argument are strongly in favor of gun control laws, my first instinct was to counter: So if banning abortion won't decrease abortions, how will banning guns decrease gun ownership?

But this actually wouldn't be a good comparison. Getting an abortion is the sin itself. Owning a gun isn't. It's what might be done with a gun that people are worried about. The equivalent sin involved with owning a gun would be murder or suicide. So in a certain sense, a pro-choicer who was in favor of gun control is being consistent: He doesn't think that the laws against murder will do anything to stop people from committing murders, so he wants to ban the means that people might use to commit a murder. This would be like someone who was pro-life saying: "I think we need to outlaw abortion, but of course that won't work. So then we need to outlaw OBGYNs and coathangers and alcohol and medical instruments and..." And yet I find it rather hard to imagine the pro-life movement engaging in that kind of advocacy.

At root, the gun control idea (or at least, the extreme form of essentially eliminating guns from society) stems from a lack of willingness to allow for the existence of free will.

Your prototypical example of law might be the ten commandments (or if you want a non Judeo-Christian example: Hamurabi's code): a list of "thou shalt not" statements carved in stone. These don't take away free will, but they seek to form it by setting forth standards and sometimes prescribing specific punishments (costs) for violating the stated norms.

Banning guns, however, is not an attempt to directly ban unlawful behavior. Rather, it's an attempt to remove the means of doing so. If the normal approach to law giving is symbolized by the stone tablets, gun control could be symbolized by the straight jacket: We can't trust you to follow the laws you've been given or be motivated by fear of punishment, so we'll simply restrict your ability to act.

Now, we do this to an extent as it is. People are not allowed to possess nuclear weapons, land mines, machine guns, etc. because it seems like there are few responsible reasons for wanting such things as a private individual (thus the lack of freedom imposed is minimal) and the potential destruction from misuse is high.

There are other areas where no sane person would attempt to go. For instance, cutting off the genitals of all men would do a lot to stop the spread of AIDS (unless everyone turned to injecting drugs out of despair) -- but I don't think anyone is going to start advocating it. The loss of function/freedom would not be proportional to the intended good.

So I think that a lot of how people feel about gun control boils down to how people feel about guns. To some people, this is the 1911 Colt .45, one of the best built guns ever designed, and still going strong after nearly 100 years.To others its just a scary and evil hunk of metal which is liable to get up and make someone kill someone else.

To those people, banning guns seems like a pretty good idea. If they have absolutely no positive value, and are sometimes used to kill people, why not ban them?

These same people do not advocate banning swimming pools, despite the fact that 7x as many children die each year in drowning accidents as in gun accidents. Nor do they advocating banning cars (or putting the maximum speed limit as 25 miles per hour), because most people have built lifestyles that rely on the availability of cars and aren't prepared to change that lifestyle in order to avoid the 40,000+ deaths per year in the US as a result of auto accidents.

In a sense, it's interesting that in general the liberal side of the political spectrum in the US right now is in favor of lighter punishments for those who actually commit murder, but wants to confiscate one particular means of doing so; while the conservative side supports much stiffer penalties for murder, but keeping guns moderately available. In a world full of thinking persons, this would indicate some very interesting things about how the two side view the human person.
In reality, however, it may just be that the younger, more urban and childless demographics which are the mainstay of liberal activism have a personal distaste for guns, while the older, more rural demographic that in votes most conservatively sees the benefits of guns as well as their cost.


Rick Lugari said...

Another excellent post, D.

I'm not buying the statistical argument that MM is putting forth on VN. First, I don't think the statistical approach in this matter is an accurate or very useful argument for a number of reasons. Second, (and note, I'm not a statitician) I don't think the stats he is looking at are appropriate. Your comments and MZ's post do much to rectify that, in my mind. It seems to me that the mere statistical approach disregards common sense and fails to account for the most important variable: free will. A person (or society) that respects life and others will have a lower homicide and suicide rate regardless of the amount of privately owned firearms.

I propose an exercise for you if you are capable (time and resource wise). Run the numbers on gun crime vs gun ownership vs "blue" regions-"red" regions. My suspicion is that you will find higher gun ownership, less restrictive gun laws and lower gun crime rate per capita in "red" areas. From there there are a number of places one can go. In my mind, it would just validate my thoughts that guns are not the problem, that those who don't value life are the problem.

But other fun things could come from that. "Guns don't kill people, Democrats kill people." "Gun control causes gun crime". You get the idea...

M.Z. said...

I'm not sure how far a red/blue comparison would go. Texas is quite an outlier, and they are a red state. An interesting comment was made by Thomas Flemming of Chronicles after the Virginia Tech shooting. He stated he didn't want to live in a society where guns were ubiquitous. He had no problem with guns and rights, but he didn't want to live in society so entrenched with fear that the citizenry felt compelled to be armed.

My personal view is that gun control laws should be able to limit a person to revolvers and long guns. On the long guns there are probably arguments to be made for calliber limitations and single or double shot. I would be open to pistols, but I question their utility for self defense versus their potential as a purely offensive weapon.

Darwin said...

I don't know what the tendency would be on Red/Blue areas. Certainly, massive amounts of the country's gun violence comes out of a few isolated areas: DC, New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago -- all of which have pretty strict gun control laws to start with.

That's an interesting comment that MZ relates. I think I agree with it in the sense that I don't think it's necessarily a good sign if major numbers of people feel the necessity of stockpiling significant armories for self defense.

However, there are those of us who keep significant armories basically for recreational purposes. Of the five guns that I currently own, none of them are honestly ideal for self defense, and that's not my primary reason for having them. I enjoy restoring and shooting my WW2-era military rifles, and my shooting is primarily recreational -- though if there were some sort of emergency I might pull the M1 or my .22 pistol out of the closet.

I think that there are reasonable things that could be done in regards to regulating gun ownership. My personal preference would be, rather than restricting types and capacities, to have a "gun owner license" of some sort, which basically involves passing a background check and safety requirements. Perhaps, in keeping with the second ammendment, there would also be certain responsibilities attached to this in extreme situations.

I think that the success of the concealed carry permit laws in states like Texas have shown that responsible gun owners don't have a problem being registered, so long as it's not seen as a first step to forcibly taking our guns away.

This is already way too long, but in response to MZ's point on revolvers vs. semi-autos: the big difference is in the handling and trigger pull. Revolvers have a long (usually hard) trigger pull to cock the hammer and rotate the cylander. So in general, revolvers are easier to use for large people with large hands (read men as opposed to women) while pistols are easier for everyone to use.

Also, revolvers often fire larger rounds with more power, while automatics (though they've got a higher capacity) fire (slightly) less lethal rounds.

Anonymous said...

Oh come on Darwin, let's have the revolver/semi-auto debate. :-) Just kidding. I have to admit I find the debates fascinating though. My understanding is that revolvers have the edge because they are low maintenance, don't require as much training (point and shoot is easier), and as you said they generally have better stopping power.

While in Texas there certainly have been benefits in having concealed carry, the murder rate is still on the higher end. This may just have to do with Houston, Dallas, and the rest.

Darwin said...

Oh come on Darwin, let's have the revolver/semi-auto debate. :-) Just kidding. I have to admit I find the debates fascinating though.

Heh. Well if you're offering...

You're right that a revolver is lower maintenance, and more likely to function well even if it's dirty and not taken care of. As someone who spends time slaying paper targets (and wanting to make tiny little groups of holes right in the middle) I prefer a short crisp trigger pull rather than a long double action one, so I prefer a good automatic. When a shell out for something other than my .22 target pistol, it'll probably be a .45.

But I've handled some VERY smoothly functioning .44 magnum revolvers. It's a beautiful thing, it's just not my kind of thing. :-)

On the concealed carry, I didn't so much mean that it's been effective in reducing crime overall in Texas so much as that it's an example that most responsible gun owners don't have a problem going through training and registering themselves in order to own/carry weapons -- so long as it's not seen as a stop towards confiscation.

Rick Lugari said...

registering themselves in order to own/carry weapons -- so long as it's not seen as a stop towards confiscation.

It's always the first stop towards confiscation. Err, actually the first stop is some benevolent sounding soul proposing registration.

Really, this stuff is so simple it is beyond words. As Catholics it should be even more simple. We understand and account for free will and our fallen nature. We understand the Natural Law and by default embrace the principles of subsidiarity and the preeminence of the family. Firearms are material objects, tools crafted by man to efficiently serve a multitude of purposes (they are often times works of art as well). They serve man well.

Man's most important corporal duties are to provide for and protect his family. It's foundational. Firearms are the most efficient and effective means for man to protect his family, they are also the most effective means of hunting. A government that would obstruct a man's right or capability to defend himself and his family is unjust. It sins against the family and it violates the principles of subsidiarity. But then again, it's on that last note that I would argue that there is a problem in the first place. Our government not only fails to serve the family, it seeks to destroy it. It no longer operates on principles of subsidiarity, it tries to take on the whole load itself - which is a prescription for catastrophic failure.

Darwin said...

It's always the first stop towards confiscation. Err, actually the first stop is some benevolent sounding soul proposing registration.

Yeah, I should be clear: I don't have a problem with myself being registered as a gun owner. (Actually, I am registered with the AFT as a military firearm collector -- which allows me to buy stuff over 50 years old, up to and including machine guns.)

I would very strongly object to any requirement that I register my individual guns.

My rationale is basically: If the government someday tries to confiscate guns, and I'm registered as an individual who owns guns, I'd have to surrender most of them, but I'd secret one or two away.

On the other hand, registering the individual guns themselves I'd have much more of the problem with, since then they could ask where each one was.

I generally agree that if all non-felons should be able to own any non-full-auto guns.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps, in keeping with the second ammendment, there would also be certain responsibilities attached to this in extreme situations.

I'd propose stiffer penalties for gun-related crimes/accidents from those who have such a concealed carry permit.

Much like the professional boxer is held to a higher standard during a fist fight.

Foxfier said...

I'd gladly register as a gun owner-- and I don't even have one yet. (Just got out of the military and haven't found the "right" one yet.)

Put the "Gun owner" thing national, protect it from lawsuits to get the info (preventing the classic abused-wife problem) and my entire family would sign up, mostly in support of second amendment rights. Even my two highly liberal cousins would do it...

Jim Janknegt said...

I finished reading Cormac McCarthy's latest book, "The Road". One of the lessons I learned from it is: after the apocalypse, whoever has the most ammunition, wins.

Fidei Defensor said...

Regarding those city sponsored turn in guns for toys/cash etc drive. I saw some pictures of guns turned in at one of those, a surprising ammount of M1917 Colt Revolvers which could have retailed for quite a bit. It seemed like such a waste to have them melted down.