26 July 2012

I am weird. Thank you for noticing.

As yet one more example of my weirdness: I find guns and people's desire to carry them around everywhere a demonstrable sign of their own barbarism and incivility, as opposed to as they would see it as a response to perceived barbarism and incivility and on top of the actual barbarism and incivility demonstrated by gun-related violence. I would prefer a society where people do not feel a need to arm themselves and that they are not threatened by violence.

But I am still intensely skeptical of most gun laws and restrictions as a way to get people to stop doing this thing I disapprove of or as a means to get rid of gun violence.

Most significantly:
1) I see illicit markets surrounding many cities for the sale of vice and narcotics as a source of intense extra-legal competition for profits. Resulting violence is not unexpected and a resulting need for escalating armament is not unexpected in an environment already involving illicit products implying law violations. Much of this violence has decreased over the last couple of decades. In large part because the profitability of the goods of sale has decreased. (Note: this is not related to government success in interdiction. The problem is the goods are cheaper and easier to obtain and the only barrier to entry is that they are illegal to possess and distribute and that you risk personal safety or arrest). I'm not sure how one successfully disarms this kind of area if we wish to retain the illicit nature of the products. The motivation for force is pretty clear.

I also am aware that in most places, there's a clear delineation between people who have guns and people who do not. Gun sales are up, but they are to fewer and fewer people. I'm not entirely sure why someone would want 5 or 15 different weapons myself (preparation for zombieland or some other imagined hellscape?). But I'm not entirely sure why we would or should restrict these amounts either. Gun violence isn't inherently linked to people who have more guns that I'm aware of. It's linked to people who have guns period.

2) Prevention of mass shootings appears to be the core impetus of public sentiments. Concern over "routine" gun violence does not interest the average person who attends to political events through passive consumption of news and public will. Preventing mass shootings through most proposed forms of gun control is unlikely.
  • Mental disorders - People who are mentally disturbed are not actually a category that is more or less prone to violence than is common and people may purchase weapons at a time when they would not appear disturbed and own them for many years until they could become violently disturbed. Guns are a fairly durable good.
  • convicts/felons - I suppose this is reasonable, if it's confined to violent felons (a felony is actually fairly easy category of crime to get bumped up to, depending on your state laws and city ordinances it can be an absurdly minimal criminal action). Also many places already have it as an established control to be checked. It might be difficult to implement and control for private sales as a requirement but we could establish ease of access to a criminal database to encourage it. Were I to own a weapon or a stock of them, I might be concerned that my potential customers were not about to cause bloody mayhem the moment they walked off my property or out of a gun show.
  • Background checks on sale of ammunition. If someone can buy a gun after passing through a background check, why should they have to pass an ammo check? Maybe its something odd like armor piercing rounds or high caliber rounds? But none of those are associated inherently with mass violence.
  • Restricting magazine size manufacture - Again, while this could make sense as a restriction against mass violence, a magazine is a durable good. Millions of extended magazines are already out there. It also doesn't take that long to reload against an unarmed crowd such that it would save many lives on its own. I'm not sure how this is effective at saving lives. It doesn't take 40 bullets to kill someone. It just takes one and the real problem with gun violence is the sheer number of people killed, not mass murder media events. A mass shooting plan would not require someone to purchase at once a substantial amount of ammunition and thus attract legal attention. A smaller quantity limit for such a check would only tax government resources and attention. It's possible that this ought to be a higher priority for government attention sure. That is an argument. But we have a lot of other things we're asking it to do on top of that. Removing some other (useless or even harmful) priorities could be more effective than increasing the signal that one of them is more important in an already noisy environment of priorities.
  • Restricting sales for body armor - I have a hard time seeing how we could morally justify banning the sale of a defensive item even if it is then used in the commission of morally repugnant violence. And given the disturbing tendency and frequency of our police forces to invade homes of non-violent suspects (or their neighbours) with military grade gear on, it's a little strange to presume this is a necessary step to prevent some kind of arms race. In that case, I'm more worried about what the government is already doing than what some random and crazy citizen could do. Also. To me, this is akin to an argument that something can be used for nefarious ends therefore it should be abolished, while ignoring that it has the potential for positive ends. I don't think that analogy is necessarily strong. I have a hard time envisioning a desirable scenario where large numbers of private citizens are walking around wearing body armor. Nevertheless, I also don't see how it should be carefully restricted and controlled when it has few harmful capacities of its own. Any restriction on body armor sales is liable to be constructed out of the same objections as those on guns and we seem incapable of designing effective statutes there to deter or catch a typical mass killer before they act out a lethal intention. I'm not sure how it would help us to do the same to try to remove their armor.
  • Restricting sales for assault weapons - I am more sympathetic to this kind of claim in theory. But in practice it's rarely been applied to the actual mechanics of a weapon because there's not much functional difference between what is designed as a normal hunting rifle and a semi-automatic assault rifle. So what happens is the laws are constructed to ban less useful distinctions for those that "look like assault weapons" (whatever that is interpreted to mean). Which is basically like saying "I'm afraid of guns", rather than I care about safety. I am afraid of guns, but I'm not worried about what they look like.
3) I am in practice sympathetic to the aims of reducing violence and even gun ownership in our society. I'm not entirely sure how we get from here to there however by focusing solely on guns. I think a lot more attention needs to go on people and why there is violence, and that guns (or at least some kinds of guns, like handguns), certainly seem like a complicating factor in violent action. If not an impetus. What concerns and confuses me is that the messaging of for the most popular anti-gun campaigns is not very well focused on these issues and seems more focused on issues tangential to violence, like fear or discomfort around weapons.

My discomfort with people and their guns has less to do with the guns themselves and more to do with the type of people who would carry such things around all the time on their person. I would be reminded constantly of a needless fear in their presence; a presumed need or desire to be armed at all times as though they no longer live in a civil society governed by laws and they are endangered by powerful and violent others at any given moment. I find myself concerned that there are such badly deluded people in a world with diminishing crime and suburban or otherwise upper middle class lifestyles as opposed to people who might live in a much more dangerous environment, and recognize that this sort of threatened fight or fright response to imagined threats is just as liable to incite needless violence as a more combative situation. I am thereby much more activated by a fear of people who might commit violence than by the tools by which they choose to wield it.

I'm not sure how you construct laws to get people to abandon a sense of assault by "others" or to foster greater senses of cooperation and community in a diverse society. It might however be a sufficient start for people absent these fears to settle into communities that are less tolerant of weapons brandishing and display in public, or to shame those who feel need for arms to carry them around in concealment constantly, and to allow people who imagine their environments to be under siege to devolve into actual siege by continuing to waste precious resources and time on weapons.
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