Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I wasn't going to

touch the tragic events at Virginia Tech with a ten-foot pole. People much better informed and more articulate than I are all over this; go to Instapundit for updates and spot-on commentary. However, being in the academia, I feel an obligation to occasionally shout out against the insanity that has become ivory tower conventional wisdom.

Just yesterday someone was in my office telling me how it's impossible to get guns in Japan, and how even the criminal gangs have to manufacture special-purpose bats. So much for that tripe.

I have no desire to turn this into a gun control flamewar; if you're going to comment to the effect that more gun control could've prevented this tragedy, at least entertain me by explaining how it's Bush's fault (and bonus points if you manage to link this to the Israel lobby).

I'm writing about the general powerlessness and impotence fostered by a paternalistic government and eagerly accepted by the cud-chewing masses. Read this article by a Virginia Tech grad student. Money quote:
I am licensed to carry a concealed handgun in the commonwealth of Virginia, and do so on a regular basis. However, because I am a Virginia Tech student, I am prohibited from carrying at school because of Virginia Tech's student policy, which makes possession of a handgun an expellable offense
I am in the same boat. I have a concealed carry permit, have had extensive safety and tactical training, and am even an instructor. Not that this is of any use on campus, where firearms are limited to the omnipresent and omnipotent police. Every time a student gets mugged or assaulted (every month or so, on average), campus police send out a report, with the helpful advice "If confronted by an assailant, don't resist. If he wants your wallet, purse or backpack, give it up." Not a word about carrying even a sub-lethal weapon such as pepper spray. Just give the bad guy what he wants and hope for the best.

Tragedies like this can be prevented if ordinary citizens are allowed to defend themselves instead of being infantilized. A Virginia Tech professor told that student whose article I linked to, "I would feel safer if you had your gun." In a similar vein, my Rabbi has specifically allowed me to carry my pistol in his house, even on Shabbat (when ordinarily carrying items like keys and a wallet is prohibited). As long as idiots like this continue to be the voice of campus officials, we can expect more attacks on soft targets such as schools -- whether isolated acts of insane individuals, or planned terrorist attacks.

[Update May 11, 2007] At least I wasn't kicked out of my school for expressing these views...

19 comments:

Aaron Greenhouse said...

I too didn't want to get involved in this, but Leo has asked me too, and so here I am. While I feel slightly ghoulish advocating my point of view over the dead, the fact is we as a society must learn from our horrible mistakes. And the one thing we refuse to learn is that compromising with evil doesn't work. This is not a gun-control issue per se. It is (1) an evil-control issue and (2) an issue of who is responsible for you.

Of course it is true that if you magically made all the guns disappear, never to be seen again, you would never have a massacre via a gun. But you would still have evil people, intent on doing evil: Cain did not kill Abel with a semiautomatic handgun. No one seriously considers banning automobiles even though there have been several incidents over the last five or ten years of people intentionally trying to run over crowds of people. People argue that cars are too generally useful to be banned simply because a few people cannot be trusted with them. We as a society make these compromises all the time. People die in accidents and from the intentional misuse of objects all the time without general cries for banning or controlling those objects resulting.

Obviously, and despite the attempts by hair-brained dogooders, you cannot simply outlaw evil, any more than you can outlaw alcohol. Society must erect barriers that check evil impulses. The threat of jail and fines is enough to control the impulses of most. Most people, evil doers included, are, I think, fundamentally interested in living (at least long enough to complete their mission). This is why, of course, many people advocate removing guns and other weapons from society. They want to live, I can sympathize with that. But to do so removes the ability to effectively kill an evil person performing an evil act. But more importantly, it removes the threat of death, significantly lowering the cost, and raising the probability of success, of being successfully evil.

The fact is that legally, and obviously in practice, as much as the State tries to convince you otherwise, the State has no obligation to protect you specifically as an individual. Period. End of story. Any one telling you otherwise is lying. You are responsible for your own safety. The problem here is that the same folks who aren't responsible (i.e., the State) keep interfering with your responsibility.

The go-along-get-along attitude with evildoers should not be advocated as a matter of policy. I've never been in a situation where I needed to test how I would react. I'm not so naive as to say that sometimes it isn't the most reasonable thing to do to preserve your own safety and the safety of your family. It should not, however, be your only option.

To this day, I am completely flabbergasted that the 9/11 hijackings could even have occurred. If the hijackers truly had only box cutters, it is just shocking to me that they could not have been overpowered. The only answer seems to be that on three of the four flights no one tried. Also, while I am fuzzy on the details of how exactly the VT shootings took place, I understand they occurred in an academic building. It's likely the first victims were totally surprised and couldn't fight back. But did it occur to no one in another class room to attack the shooter from behind while he was shooting up a different room? This guy killed 30+ people; wounded many more. He obviously fired more than 30 rounds. He must have reloaded. Okay, so you didn't have guns. But stab the guy with a pen or pencil at least. Many of the students probably had pocket knives—stab him with those. Hit him with a text book—they are big and heavy. Go down fighting. Don't die like a f'in sheep.

I have had a PA carry permit since June 1998. I didn't actually start carrying until August 1999. Several events during the summer of 1999 convinced me start exercising my right, most notably, an attempted mass shooting at a JCC. As I am no longer enrolled or affiliated with Carnegie Mellon University, I will reveal that I chose to deliberately violate their weapons policy. For many years I carried a handgun with me on campus. To me, the risks of doing so were minimal: if I truly kept the handgun concealed, no one with the power to "discipline" me would ever know. And should I ever have to use it, I think the administration would have bigger problems than the fact that I actually defended myself from some goon that they failed to protect me from.

I saw this morning that the University of Pittsburgh has posted some namby-pamby feel-good letters around their campus about diversity, tolerance, and coming together in this tragedy. How it is a tragedy for University of Pittsburgh students I cannot fathom. Notably, the letter does not suggest that their response will be to allow the students to protect themselves in the future.

Leo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stevelaniel said...

Well, it's certainly easier to argue from principle than from evidence. If we were arguing from evidence, we would probably try understanding why some nations that ban handguns have lower crime rates than nations that allow them.

Until then, let's keep talking about compromises with evil. It's much easier that way.

Part of the argument you're making, Aaron, is that advancing a no-tolerance approach to evil is likely to lower the total amount of evil in a society. Your suggestion is that only by imposing the threat of violence on evil people can we stop them. Do you have any reason to believe this?

Truth to tell, I have no particular stake in the gun-control debate. The strongest argument for allowing people to have guns is probably that they're the last defense against tyranny. I can accept that. But they clearly also have their downsides.

So one way to frame the debate is that it's a question of appropriately balancing interests -- the interest in minimizing firearm deaths versus the interest in protecting ourselves from an encroaching government. The particular principles don't especially matter; take your pick. But I hope you'll grant me that there are competing interests here.

Finally, it doesn't serve the debate at all if you characterize your opponents as "hair-brained" idealists who advocate a nanny state or whatever. I have this dream that one day we will all stop minimizing our opponents' desires by characterizing them as hopelessly stupid or evil. At least since 9/11, we've had a great time declaring that the terrorists are only motivated by a desire to destroy things that are just or good or beautiful in the world. Once we declare this, we've decided to
turn off our own minds. Which is sad to me.

If we're going to high-mindedly declare principles that the whole debate is about, I'd like to high-mindedly declare a meta-principle. My meta-principle is this: when establishing principles, don't de-humanize anyone. Give your opponents the benefit of the doubt in all things; if you can still win against their argument, then I'll follow you. If, on the other hand, you can only win by interpreting all their ideas in the weakest possible light, then you have no argument.

As it is, Aaron and Leo have committed the cardinal sin of attacking straw men. Who are these effeminate nanny-state-loving liberals that everyone makes fun of? I've not met them. Please point one out for me the next time you see one.

I'm more unhappy with the whole tone of this discussion than I am with the fact that I probably stand on the opposite side of the political scale from either of you. Can't we argue like adults?

Serge said...

I would have to agree with the last post. Though the biggest straw man here is that those against guns believe that outlawing them would completely eliminate them. While that has largely been effective in Japan, there are many other social factors at play there (i.e. the Japanese have a much higher respect for the law in general).

No one believes that banning guns will eliminate them completely. However, it is a fact that at one point, almost every gun was legally obtained (i.e. manufacturers do not sell directly to criminals). In fact, most gun deaths are due to legally obtained guns. Those with illegally obtained guns either stole them from a legal owner or used a crooked dealer who at one point legally obtained them.

The question is, "will making it harder to obtain a gun decrease the rate of gun violence?" The answer is an overwhelming yes.

stevelaniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leo said...

Steve,

your point about demonizing the opponent is well-taken; it's one that I've made before. My excuse is that a little inflammatory rhetoric goes a long way in coaxing people into debate. Now that the debate is on its way I'll cheerfully retract the "idiot" and other bits of invective.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get to the substance. First, the easy stuff. Steve: "If we were arguing from evidence, we would probably try understanding why some nations that ban handguns have lower crime rates than nations that allow them." That's a canard. Canada has a rich hunting culture with lots of rifles, yet a relatively low crime rate. Israel is flooded with teenage boys carrying M-16s, and yet the most prevalent kind of violent crime is knife stabbing in night clubs. It's simply not true that the presence of guns causes violence, or vice versa.

The "straw man" that Aaron and I are attacking is the stance that the way to prevent violence is through more gun control -- a stance both you and Serge seem to be advocating.

Your disdain for "argu[ing] from principles" notwithstanding, it's important to spell those principles out -- as in any intellectual debate. It's important to classify the arguments as ethical, legal, pragmatic, and keep these separate (though proponents of gun control tend to conflate them).

So, before I write for pages and pages, let me figure out where the two of you (and the rest of the readers) stand.

1. Do you believe civilians have a right to defend themselves, with lethal force if necessary, against assailants?
2. If you answered Yes to (1), how do you propose they do that? Even in a gun-free society, people can wield knives, bats, or muscles. What course of action do you propose to woman walking alone at night?
3. Do you honestly believe the police will be there to protect you in case of an attack?
4. Is there any doubt in your mind that if a law-abiding student or faculty member had been armed that day at Virginia Tech, there would have been many fewer people killed?

Let's get your responses to these four, as a start...

stevelaniel said...

Hi Leo,

First of all, the example of Canada doesn't prove or disprove very much, just as the example of someone being killed with a handgun in Japan doesn't prove very much. What all of us want to know is whether banning handguns would predictably reduce crime. Maybe in the U.S. it wouldn't. Maybe the U.S. is so different from, say, Japan or the UK that banning them would only worsen the problem. It's an empirical question. I don't have an answer. Like I said -- and I meant it honestly: I have no particular stake in this debate. I have few theoretical precommitments.

The example of Israel is interesting. Ditto Switzerland, which you didn't mention. Everyone in the country is armed. Maybe those cultures have more respect for weapons, given that everyone's in the military. Of course it doesn't follow that arming everyone in the U.S. would turn us into Switzerland or Israel. It doesn't even follow that compulsory military service in the U.S., along with universal handgun ownership, would make us safe. It's likely that there are cultural differences between us and those countries.

So if you ask me a purely abstract question, like whether arming everyone makes us safer, I reject the question out of hand.

Your question about whether VTech would have been safer had someone been armed is also a little off. Maybe the answer is yes. But if you allow people to carry guns around all the time, maybe you make things less safe. At the very least, maybe there are more accidental handgun deaths. So again, it's a question of tradeoffs: the benefit of some reduced crime, with other handgun deaths in other ways. It's just not legitimate to focus on one particular case (the VTech murders), assume that things would have been better had more people had guns, and assume that this settles things. It doesn't settle anything. Your principle has to stand in a world with other competing principles.

I'd also like to suggest, by the way, that focusing on these murders and claiming that they prove your point is a good example of a common psychological quirk: people amplify recent tragedies and play down everyday ones. People fear plane crashes more than cancer, though they're far more likely to die of the latter than of the former. You're asking me whether I think the most recent tragedy justifies greater gun ownership, but you're not asking me whether accidental handgun deaths justify stronger gun-ownership laws. Hell, even the NRA says that 776 handgun deaths in the year 2000 is proof that they're getting safer. 776!

Any sensible response to any gun tragedy would take this into account. You would be telling me that we ought to be passing much more stringent gun-ownership laws, including heavy fines or imprisonment for people who don't keep their guns properly locked up. Why aren't you asking me that? I submit that it's because you have a particular principle in mind, and that principle has blinded you to other, equally strong principles.

Now: do civilians have the right to defend themselves? How does society normally answer a question like this? Society uses the common law to answer it. We don't answer it abstractly. We don't have a law on the books that says "citizens have the right to defend themselves." If you want the simplest approximation to what the law says, it's: "Yes, you have the right to defend yourself, but we don't condone it. A civilized society gives the power of violence to the police. You sometimes have to take violence into your own hands, but you should expect to go to jail for it. Protect yourself, but know that you'll suffer the consequences." Sometimes these questions are so hard to answer that we take them out of the judge's hands and put them into the hands of a jury. Your peers decide whether you should go to jail. Sometimes your peers will decide that you couldn't help it, and that in a similar position they also would have taken the law into their own hands. Sometimes they decide that you're a threat to society and that you need to be locked up.

I'll tell you what my deepest fear in arguing from principle is: it is that we will all turn into Objectivists, blithely deciding that "Reason tells us X." We will follow that particular train right off the edge of a cliff and never know that we're over the cliff. We'll simplify the world out of existence.

You wonder how to enforce a person's right to self-defense. First of all, I'd like to make it so that people have to defend themselves less. That is, I'd like to reduce crime. Maybe arming people would help reduce the murder rate, but that's not the first place I'd look. For instance, are murders focused in low-income areas of major cities? I'd try to figure out why that is, and why it's gone up in the last 40 years. Giving people the means to protect themselves is one solution among many. But to me, arming people seems analogous to wearing a bike helmet: it's only going to help you once you've been struck by a car. I'd prefer for the car never to hit your bike in the first place. So if I wanted to keep bicyclists safer, I'd push for bike lanes, better traffic enforcement, etc. Helmet use would be fairly low on my list of recommendations.

I'll stop here. I could go on.

Chris said...

Hello all. I was directed to this post by my friend Steve, with whom I share some views and differ on others. Like Steve, I am a bit ambivalent about gun control. I don't believe that the removal of guns makes crime go away or even diminish and I don't believe that the free dispersion of them will either. What compelled me to post is, possibly like Steve, the framing of the problem by a few of the authors here.

First off, this is not a debate about evil and the shootings aren't either. Cho Seung-Hui was not evil, he was mentally ill. Very mentally ill. I have direct experience with non-violent mental illness and it looks almost exactly like that, minus the violence. To frame the gun control debate in the context of "evil" is to miss the point, since it slices the world into Good Guys and Bad Guys. This is easily demonstrably false. I believe it's more useful to think in terms acts and tendencies. Value judgements on acts (which can be a net Good or Evil) and critical evaluations on people's tendency to commit them (tend toward criminality, tend toward civility) when certain variables are at play, such as the presence of guns.

Second off, the gun control debate always becomes a rabid 'stats-off' with one side waving Country X's guns:crime ratio and the other waving Coutry Y's guns:crime ratio. This is dramatically misguided. Comparing Canada to Japan by holding up two variables in isolation is like...comparing Canada to Japan without context. Put another way, I lived in Switzerland for a time, where a rifle was in every home. I didn't feel unsafe, but the guns were pratically irrelevant. Their presence was neutralized by the cultural, historical, and physical contexts in which the people and the guns exist.

To make the recent shootings into a gun debate is to miss the point, and dangerously so. This entire situation came to a head because someone who was severely disconnected from reality and showed violent tendencies was allowed to have the same specific set of freedoms as someone who does not. Everything else is circumstantial, in my opinion. As was pointed out, he could have just as easily hopped in a car and done just as much damage, or set a bomb.

Victor said...

Well, with all due respect, because I have no control over the guns laws, I wouldn't even spend my time thinking about changing them.

The only entity I may possibly control is myself, so in my opinion, the most important lesson to learn is: this was a human being and I am a human being too - how do I prevent myself from getting into his [or similar] shoes?

If you tell me he was an exception [mentally ill] than the question becomes how do I prevent myself from becoming such an exception and how do I know that I am not already zombied in one way or another?

This should be an interesting dilemma to solve algorithmically!

Aaron Greenhouse said...

> people amplify recent tragedies and play down
> everyday ones. People fear plane crashes more than
> cancer, though they're far more likely to die of the
> latter than of the former. You're asking me whether I
> think the most recent tragedy justifies greater gun
> ownership, but you're not asking me whether
> accidental handgun deaths justify stronger gun
>-ownership laws. Hell, even the NRA says that 776
> handgun deaths in the year 2000 is proof that
> they're getting safer. 776!

But, in fact, that's just the point. More people die in automobile accidents than by intentional and accidental gun deaths, and yet there are large numbers of people who are far more concerned with removing my ability to protect myself than they are preventing/avoiding automobile accidents.

Events like those at VT are incredibly rare. Tragic, to be sure, but rare. Pyschological quirk or not, the people we choose to lead us---and this is of course a whole other can of worms---should have the courage to actually represent them as such and to not allow them to change the rules of the game.


Perhaps "hairbrained" was inflamatory. But I have met people who truly believe that they could just say "don't be evil" and it would fix the problem. Frankly, I think "hairbrained" is the best description for these people.


>First off, this is not a debate about evil and the
>shootings aren't either. Cho Seung-Hui was not
>evil, he was mentally ill. Very mentally ill.

Yes, it is clear he was sick. Perhaps, in general, he was not evil in the same was Hitler or Stalin were. But his actions that day were evil. You can then judge peoples responses to his actions as enabling or frustrating evil.


>As was pointed out, he could have just as easily
>hopped in a car and done just as much damage,
>or set a bomb.

I agree: the fact that *he* used a gun is irrelevant. The fact that no one else had a gun is relevant. Yes, if he clandestinely set and hid bombs, someone else's gun is not likely to have been helpful (unless he was caught in the act). But it sure would have been helpful if he was trying to run people down or attack them with a machete, hammer, crossbow, flamethrower, or other more "personal" kind of weapon.

The fact that the armed agents of the State, i.e., the police, sat outside until the shooting stopped is also highly relevant. That is, they took no action to attempt to stop the madness.

Again, my fundamental point is that people have the inherent right to protect themselves against acts of evil. People should expect the collective (the State) to do it in any specific instances. (Yes, the state protects me when it does successfully try and imprison a criminal: I am effectively protected from that individual injuring me during the duration of his/her sentence.) But it is not very good at protecting during the commision of criminal acts. If an individual chooses be ill prepared to protect themselves, that is there choice. But given that the collective doesn't even have the legal obligation (for sound reasons) to protect any given person at any given time, it is WRONG for them to deny me the means to protect myself. That is my point.

Kevembuangga said...

But, in fact, that's just the point. More people die in automobile accidents than by intentional and accidental gun deaths, and yet there are large numbers of people who are far more concerned with removing my ability to protect myself than they are preventing/avoiding automobile accidents.

Then, also, more people die in accidental gun deaths than in school shootings or from whatever gunman running amok.
Therefore, even assuming mad shooters can still get guns, banning guns will AT LEAST reduce the accidental deaths, PLUS a portion of other criminal killings.
If you ever face a mad killer, bad luck to you, but the chances that this will happen are negligible in regard of the risk of a car related death.
Shouldn't you mind travelling in a car more than fretting about a lone killer?
Do you?

P.S. I guess you should write "harebrained" rather that "hair-brained"?

Leo said...

Chris: the gun control debate always becomes a rabid 'stats-off' with one side waving Country X's guns:crime ratio and the other waving Coutry Y's guns:crime ratio. This is dramatically misguided.

I agree; please notice that Aaron and I aren't rattling off facts and figures but rather trying to bring the debate back to basic moral principles -- something our opponents are studiously avoiding. This fetishization of "numbers" and "evidence" leads to absurdities in the best case and atricities in the worst.

Steve: I'll tell you what my deepest fear in arguing from principle is: it is that we will all turn into Objectivists, blithely deciding that "Reason tells us X." We will follow that particular train right off the edge of a cliff and never know that we're over the cliff. We'll simplify the world out of existence.

You couldn't be more wrong. Let me propose a policy for reducing the murder rate to zero. Imprison the entire population in solitary confinement. You'll agree that this will radically curtail crime, yet (I hope) you'll find this solution unpalatable -- because it violates some principle, perhaps?

Policy derived from maximizing utilitarian criteria (even when these are reasonable) -- as opposed to grounded in moral principles -- can lead to the absurd scenario of harvesting a healthy person's organs to save the lives of six dying people.

Before we argue about specific policies, we must agree on a common language. How much power do you think the state should have? What about individuals? What checks and balances should there exist between the two?

Yes, I'll grant you that if every single gun were to disappear from the earth tomorrow, there would be no more public shootings. My proposal to allow trained, responsible, law-abiding civilians to carry firarms addresses that problem quite effectively.

I'm still waiting to hear your suggestion for that woman walking in the street (a potential rapist doesn't need a gun, of course). And what recourse did you suggest for citizens against state tyranny? I hear crickets chriping...

stevelaniel said...

Hi Leo,

It's gotten to the inevitable point in any online discussion where the discussants talk past one another, and/or don't listen to one another. So I'll tell you what: this will be my last post on the subject, and the next time you're in Cambridge, Massachusetts (mathematicians need to make a pilgrimage to Harvard or MIT at some point in their lives, don't they?), give me a call and we'll get a beverage of your choice. Sound good? You've got my number and my email address.

As to the value of laying down moral principles: my point is that the law is what happens when principles meet reality. We can't argue in the abstract about what policy would be best for The Innocent Woman In The Park At Night. By writing a law to protect her, we cause other things to happen. Let's say that our law makes guns more easily available. This law will have consequences outside of The Innocent Woman. It may, for instance, put more guns in the hands of criminals. It may make more guns available to children in the home. Etc. So what do we do then?

I've grown tired of college-bull-session philosophizing about abstract moral principles, because they so rarely have any connection to reality. You want to argue to me that the presence of guns discourages potential acts of violence. Fine, I'll accept that this is a plausible idea. But I won't actually believe it until you give me some evidence that it's true in the real world.

You wonder about using guns as a defense against state tyranny. I said in my first post that this seems like a perfectly good reason. But then a) in practice, how well would guns defend against the state, and b) there are other principles in the world that need to be balanced against it.

I don't see this discussion going anywhere. It would go better in person, because then we'd both see that the other is not a lunatic. I'll see you in Cambridge, Leo.

Leo said...

Steve,

I agree that when making concrete policy choices, one must take empirical facts into account. However, I still maintain that before we can draft policy we must agree on a set of principles -- otherwise we're children groping in the dark, prone to stumble on absurdity or atrocity.

These principles are largely about offsets and tradeoffs. Harvesting your organs to save six lives entails one such tradeoff; why is it an unacceptable one? The gun control issue involves several such complex, interacting tradeoffs -- and we have no hope of reaching a coherent conclusion without first deciding how to prioritize and weigh those tradeoffs.

Your offer to meet in Cambridge is very kind and actually rather plausible. A visit there is long overdue, especially since my good friends Maxim and Tamar have recently had a baby I must see! And yes, I've been neglecting Harvard and MIT in my tour-o-talks; so maybe sometime in late May or June. Finally, I never thought of you as a lunatic -- hopefully that's mutual!

Thane said...

blech

i'm removing this rantathon blog from my 'math' feeds

see y'all on the prairie at the next shoot out!

Aaron Greenhouse said...

(I'm getting annoyed that I cannot figure out how to get Blogger to allow quoted replies to specific comments. This is either a grave defect in functionality, or in UI design. I cannot figure out which.)

Kevembuangga said: Therefore, even assuming mad shooters can still get guns, banning guns will AT LEAST reduce the accidental deaths, PLUS a portion of other criminal killings.

If you ever face a mad killer, bad luck to you, but the chances that this will happen are negligible in regard of the risk of a car related death.

Shouldn't you mind travelling
[sic] in a car more than fretting about a lone killer? Do you?

P.S. I guess you should write "harebrained" rather that "hair-brained"?


Thank you for the spelling correction. Spelling and I have never gotten along very well.

The point Leo and I have been trying to make has nothing do with the merits of banning guns or not to prevent accidents.

Yes, I do think it is far more likely I will die in a car accident than at the hands of a mad killer. But at the same time, I also think it would be completely idiotic to argue for banning automobiles to prevent their deliberate (and accidental) misuse. I have many options to ameliorate the risk of death in a car accident, including not riding in cars, staying away from cars, wearing safety equipment in cars, taking defensive driving classes, and buying a car with as many "actively safe" (to quote Lexus) features as possible. The state attempts to make driving, in general, safer by enforcing traffic laws. But they are not terribly helpful at the point where an accident occurs. So it would be unhelpful, for example, for the state to decide to ban ABS, seat belts, airbags, traction control systems, etc., precisely because these items can contribute to making the effects of an accident less severe. People would probably get quite worked up if the state decided to do this. Keep in mind, it's not as if these devices are not without risks of there own: people have been killed by airbags, and improperly used seat belts can do damage as well.

Similarly, the odds of a police officer being able to interfere at the moment you are being mugged/burgled/assaulted/etc are pretty small. So the state actively interfering to remove my ability to protect myself in a situation where the state is not likely to be of any help is equally wrong.

But honestly, the point isn't even about guns in particular. Part of the point Leo and I are trying to make is the apparent lack of responsibility people are officially encouraged to take for their own selves. Official recommendations issued from universities and public safety institutions all have the flavor of "Sit tight. Don't do anything yourself. We will handle it." We are arguing that this attitude is unhelpful and dangerous.

Leo said...

At the risk of losing more readers (pause to wipe a tear for Thane), let me post an article Aaron emailed me -- an engaging and worthwhile read for everyone. Money quote:
<<
Enter the tele-experts. Understandably self-serving, they work to place bad behavior beyond the strictures of traditional morality, making it amenable to their "therapeutic" interventions. The Drew Pinskys of the world conjure so-called mental diseases either to control contrarians or to exculpate criminals. To listen to the nation's psychiatric gurus is to come to believe that crimes are caused, not committed. Perpetrators don't do the crime, but are driven to their dastardly deeds by a confluence of uncontrollable factors, victims of societal forces or organic brain disease.

The paradox at the heart of this root-causes fraud is that causal theoretical explanations are invoked only after bad deeds have been committed. Good deeds have no need of mitigating circumstances. Even though Cho went about his business meticulously and methodically, liberals (and increasingly conservatives) toss the concept of free will to the wind. They acknowledge human agency if – and only if – adaptive actions are involved.
>>

All I can say is that I agree entirely; read the whole thing. Woe unto a nation that loses the ability to call evil when it sees it.

Kevembuangga said...

Aaaron : So the state actively interfering to remove my ability to protect myself in a situation where the state is not likely to be of any help is equally wrong.

The "state" isn't always optimal, many laws are idiotic, but still, as Steve Laniel said:

So one way to frame the debate is that it's a question of appropriately balancing interests

May be you should also speak to him in Cambridge.

Leo said...

May be you should also speak to him in Cambridge

I'll take this as a joke and not as a suggestion that Aaron and I need to have our heads set straight by someone.