Monday, July 30, 2012

And if we armed all children, there'd be fewer abductions.

 UPDATE, July 31: This is, in my view, a wonderfully argued addition to the "we need to do something about guns" plea. As usual, Shermer anchors his debating points in numbers, and they're hard to...well, debate... See what you think.

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"steve salerno" SHAMAmid the renewed talk of gun control—and the predictable response from the NRA and the rest of the right—I though this might be a good time to reprise this post, which I wrote after the V-tech tragedy. I asked it then and I ask it again today: Do you really derive comfort from envisioning a campus full of armed binge drinkers? Which is why it boggles my mind that people in responsible positions are now openly musing, "If the folks in that theater had been armed, it might have been a different story." OK, I'll grant you, if some of the folks in that theater (i.e. the one theater in America that a psycho chose as his shooting venue) had been armed, it might have helped. Or there might have been a frenzied crossfire that took the lives of quite a few more than a dozen people.

But what about all the other movie theaters across America on all other days? How many of you have had and/or witnessed theater confrontations, as I have? (Frequently. I'd say it happens at least once per visit.) In the bad old days those confrontations had to do with smoking. More recently they're about talking or cell phone usage. You really want it to be perfectly all right that people are bringing firearms into theaters along with their screaming babies and cell phones? (And you think parents with a screaming baby are low-percentage candidates to get belligerent? Think again.) Besides, what kind of atmosphere is that?

Instead of advocating for a society in which everyone is armed all the time, why not try to get the weapons out of the hands of everyone who shouldn't have them? Can it realistically be done? I don't know. I do know that we ought to give it a good-faith try.

16 comments:

RevRon's Rants said...

First of all. we DO arm children, although on a much smaller scale than we should be. Not with guns, but with knowledge and skills. Several years ago, I assisted a friend in teaching his junior TaeKwonDo class, offering Aikido moves in addition to the standard TaeKwonDo moves, and pity the adult who assumed that these kids were easy targets.

Secondly, if there was a viable means of disarming criminals and the mentally compromised, I'd be all for it. Sadly, there is no way of doing this without severely diminishing the rights of those who are legally entitled to owning guns.

My feeling has long been that what we need isn't an expansion of concealed-carry laws, but a more universal implementation of open-carry laws, combined with stiffer penalties for crimes committed using firearms. The observable presence of a significant percentage of armed individuals would have a real inhibiting effect upon aggressive behavior, both by would-be mass shooters and those who get caught up in the kinds of idiotic confrontations you describe.

I remember hearing a piece on "All things Considered" years ago that studied the rate of shootings in the Tombstone area at the turn of the last century. Contrary to popular belief, there were very few shootings in the decade under study. The researchers' were as surprised by the data as were most listeners, and ultimately concluded (I'm paraphrasing),"When you walk into a place wearing a gun, you tend to feel overconfident. But when you walk into a place wearing a gun, and see that everybody else is wearing one, too, you tend to be much more circumspect in your actions."

a/good/lysstener said...

Couldn't agree more, Steve.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, this may be an impossible topic to debate with any confidence, because in all likelihood neither of us can present empirical data that stand on their own (without too many confusing variables) and both of us would be put in the position of having to prove a negative at some point.

But let me ask you this: Aren't you leaving out the psychological factor? Let's even assume that ubiquitous plain-sight guns could occasionally prevent a tragedy like Columbine or the Batman shooting. You think that's a comfortable atmosphere for a society to maintain? To feel like you're always in Tombstone or, let's say, going through Israeli security? Is that any way to live your life?

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, for beginners, law enforcement agencies uniformly recognize and implement the deterrence factor as a major crime-prevention tool. The presence of even a single armed policeman has the effect of reducing criminal behavior. The presence of an authority figure capable of wreaking undesired consequences gives all but the most desperate and delusional pause.

I don't feel "like I'm in Tombstone," simply because I recognize that there is always a potential for a dangerous situation to arise. I simply feel awake to the reality of the times, and fortunate that a law enforcement officer - who is unlikely to arrive in time - is not my only protection. Living with the awareness that you're better prepared to handle a situation is very different from living in fear of the situation.

I think that denying the possibility of a violent encounter (or assuming that someone else will save you if one occurs) makes about as much sense nowadays as expecting the Law of Attraction to send only benevolent people your way.

RevRon's Rants said...

BTW - Here on the ranch, I always have a gun and/or machete close at hand; too many copperheads and rabid coyotes around. And I love it here. Not a bad way to live at all.

Steve Salerno said...

Don't try to b.s. me, Ron. You have that gun and machete because of Connie's notorious temper.

Steve Salerno said...

But to be serious for a moment: The deterrence factor of a cop, who (1) presumably stands for law and order, (2) is sane, and (3) has the public's best interests at heart, is a very different matter from seeing assorted total-stranger passersby packin' heat. And for that matter, ask the folks in places like Harlem or South Central of 20 years ago how safe they felt with armed cops around.

RevRon's Rants said...

Good one, Steve! Only problem is that her "temper" manifests in the recipient feeling the sting about 15 minutes after the slap is delivered! Weapons are useless against that. :-)

RevRon's Rants said...

I don't think that your average street criminal or lunatic is particularly influenced by anything that the presence of a law enforcement official represents beyond immediate reprisal. Getting shot or roughed up and arrested are about as far as their "5-year plan" goes. The major inhibiting element is the presence of the weapon and the willingness to use it. That would be just as present in a room full of armed civilians. You'll notice that there haven't been any mass shootings at gun shows, where everybody and his uncle (son, daughter, grandmother, etc.) is armed...

roger o'keefe said...

Much as it pains me I have to go with Ron here. The old bumper sticker is true: If owning a gun becomes criminal, only criminals will have guns.

Cal said...

I actually read Shermer's comments before I thought to check the blog here to see what was being said.

I've always said to people that we don't allow citizens to own nuclear material, even though it can be used for means to help society (i.e, reduce usage of fossil fuels). Of course, nuclear energy was not available when the 2nd Amendment wasn't written.

We also have more stringent policies for ethical drugs to me than it seems for semi-automatic weapons.

The sad thing is Shermer's point that this will happen again...and again...and again.

I thought Columbine would have been the last straw for major gun legislation against automatic and semi-automatics back in 1999. And close to 15 years later, we still have basically no changes.

It's amazing to me that 50 or 60 years ago kids were being told to hide under desks in case the Soviet Union had dropped a bomb on the U.S. Now they have to hide in case fellow classmates want to kill everybody in the school.

My local paper had a list of the mass murders since the 1980s. I remember one in Killeen, TX back in 1991 when I got my first full-time job. In fact I had just started there two weeks before. There was a guy who worked in the lab for the company that had a sister who lived in Killeen. The terror on his face as he tried to find out about his sister is something I've never forgotten. The shootings were at a Luby's restaurant where he said she and her family ate all the time. The story turned out well for him because she wasn't there at the time.

Steve Salerno said...

Cal, good to see you again. And thanks for your comment, trenchant and memorably put.

RevRon's Rants said...

When I was a kid, literally everybody I knew owned at least one gun. I have no doubt that the concentration of firearms (including semi-automatic) was, if anything, higher then than it is now. And yet, we didn't have the kind of mass shootings we've seen in the last couple of decades. Of course, in those days, "parental supervision" was more likely to remain in place, even when the parents weren't right there. This begs the question: What has changed? Aren't those the factors we should be looking at?

If anyone has any suggestions for a viable (and Constitutional) means of ensuring that criminals can't get their hands on firearms, I'd be very interested in hearing it. But if the only solution anyone can come up with is to eliminate the availability of firearms to law-abiding citizens (who are the only ones who would relinquish their weapons, anyway), it only makes sense to take a pass on that "solution."

Steve Salerno said...

I am as vehemently anti-gun as anyone these days--even though I once carried on a 10-year love affair with my .30-06 and was mesmerized by my neighbor's .458--but I won't deny that it's hard for me to get past the objections raised by Ron and especially (succinctly) Roger. How do we get the guns out of the hands of the people who shouldn't have them--without also leaving good people defenseless? To my mind, on the global scale, that is also the rub in disarmament. In theory no one needs (or has a right to possess) nukes. All the same, in today's crazy world, do we want to end up being the only nation without 'em? Very tough questions. I used to think the only answer was for us to preemptively destroy everyone else's nukes, then voluntarily give up our own as well. But would that work? Is it even doable without provoking the very cataclysm we hope to avoid?

And I am convinced that some nations--say, whose names rhyme with Bizdeal--would never, ever give up their nukes. It's biblical, with them.

Anonymous said...

Neither Bizdeal nor anyone else will ever give up their power/nukes, human nature just doesn't work that way.

Modern western 'culture' is imploding, eating itself--I doubt there is any saving it.

RevRon's Rants said...

Just read Shermer's piece, Steve. First of all, while I am a defender of 2nd Amendment rights, I agree that a limit on magazine capacity is appropriate. When I was a kid, a hunting rifle used on game animals could have a magazine capacity of 5 rounds, maximum, and it imposed restrictions only upon people who had no business hunting. Even in combat situations, a 30-round clip was adequate in all but very few situations. Our unit was issued the high-capacity box magazines similar to what Holmes used, but we avoided them because of their higher propensity to jamming. The current trend toward more "firepower" is the result of marketing to a nonexistent market that has subsequently created that market.

That said, I think it only worthy of note that Shermer's statistical projection, however daunting, has not been borne out in actual instances. His "projection," therefore, represents little more than a scare tactic, much like we see so often in our political discourse. And even if it were to be borne out, even eliminating the single most regulated tool for implementation - much less, merely making it more difficult to obtain - would serve only to modify the list of preferred tools. Where would we stop in our efforts to eliminate the tools?

I still hold to the belief that an increased focus upon providing mental health services (including establishing a shared database of individuals with a known propensity to mental dysfunction), along with the establishment of open-carry laws, offers the only real potential for decreasing the loss of life in these types of events.

You can't legislate crazy into nonexistence; neither can you legislate away all potential implements of mass murder. Better, IMO, to increase our awareness of the crazy, as well as our capacity to defend ourselves against it.