Mike the Mad Biologist

Instapundit is arguing that, had the Virginia Tech students been armed, fewer students would have died. Even if this were correct, it ignores all of the other times students would have guns. Do you really think drunk college students should be carrying?

If college hasn’t changed too much since I went (which wasn’t that long ago), there are a lot of students who start drinking Wednesday night, and don’t really stop until Sunday night. Do you really want them to have firearms? How many shootings would happen because someone was drunk and stupid? As this horrible slaughter shows, just even a single ‘Maniac-of-One’ can snuff out many lives. And it doesn’t stop at murder. How many additional rapes would happen at the point of a gun? And every year, at some college campus, there is always some sort of post-game excess that resembles a riot. I can’t even imagine the damage and loss of life that would ensue if those idiots were armed.

This is the same sort of fantastical thinking that typifies much of the modern conservative movement. Of course, at that moment, you would probably be safer. Your home would also be less likely to be burglarized if troops were quartered in it, but there are some good reasons why we don’t do that. What is missing from Instapundit’s idiocy is any serious thought about all of the ramifications. And if that sounds anything like our foreign policy…

More magical thinking from the Peter Pan Right.

Comments

  1. #1 apalazzo
    April 17, 2007

    It’s incredible how the pro-gun right live in some strange la-la land. All mantras and pseudoreasoning. They are puppets of the gun industry and they don’t even know it.

  2. #2 Edward
    April 17, 2007

    I like to look at the numbers: the stats I’ve seen say a handgun in the home is 20-40 times more likely to shoot someone in a suicide, crime of passion, accident, etc. than it is to be used to defend a home. Given that, from a public health POV, it is really stupid to have a gun in your home. I’m sure that the stats would be far worse for guns in the dorm rooms of college students.

  3. #3 Andrew Dodds
    April 17, 2007

    I have a better idea.

    Everyone should have a small nuclear device strapped to their back. This will be rigged to go off at the first sign of violence (Being shot, stabbed, punched, etc). Everything within a 500 meter radius will be vapourised.

    Just imagine how polite society would become. And how little crime there would be!

  4. #4 Ahcuah
    April 17, 2007

    Mike wrote: This is the same sort of fantastical thinking that typifies much of the modern conservative movement.

    I’m sorry, but your comments, and the other comments I’ve seen so far, really look just knee-jerk to me.

    Instapundit is talking about people with concealed carry permits, not generic college students. Those with concealed carry permits are not allowed to carry while under the influence. Also, when you look at the statistics for those who have concealed carry permits, the get in trouble with the law are much lower rates than the general population, so one would also expect that, if they were going to be carrying, they would not be drinking (and vice versa). The people I know with concealed carry permits take carrying a weapon pretty seriously.

    My emotional response is also to ban all guns, but would that really work? The news says that these guns had their serial numbers filed off, which strongly suggests black market guns, maybe acquired from gangs. We are failing at removing drugs; what makes us think we’d be any better at guns?

    Also, I doubt folks are also advocating getting rid of all guns. Surely that does not include the police. Yet, police departments lose guns all the time (particularly big city–there are bad cops everywhere). Again, compare with how cops are paid off by drug dealers. Those guns also then make it out onto the street. If guns were banned the black market would only increase.

    Concealed carry permit holders could in some way be considered an auxiliary police force. Most states require a fair bit of training to get one, in addition to the extensive background check. If you don’t object to the police being armed, why object to an additional 1% or so of the population who have training?

  5. #5 Matt Penfold
    April 17, 2007

    Ahcuah,

    I live in the UK. In the UK the police are not routinly armed. Most police officers here have not been trained to handle firearms. Nor does the UK allow the public to own handguns and certainly not carry them: in fact doing so can land you in prison for at least five year. The number of people killed or injured by firearms in the UK is much much lower than in the US. The majority of people involved in shootings involving handguns are themselves involved in criminal activity. Innocent bystanders do sometimes get shot, but this is rare and makes national headlines when it does happen.

    The evidence seems to suggest that limiting gun ownership, espcially handguns, does stop people being killed by them. If we are to accept the argument that having a large level of gun ownership in the general populace reduces crime then we must conclude that for the US to have the murder rate it does, even after you take into account any reduction due to gun ownership, the US must be a very violent place indeed. I am not sure that is what proponets of gun ownership would want to claim

  6. #6 Julie Stahlhut
    April 17, 2007

    Okay, so what this person is suggesting is that every confrontation on a college campus, or in an office building, or a public school, or a crowded shopping mall, or in a packed bar, or on a busy city street, should have a vastly increased probability of ending in a shootout. To make things even more exciting, some large proportion of the people involved will be panicked, enraged, drunk, mentally ill, poorly trained in firearm handling, completely full of themselves, or just plain immature.

    I feel safer already….

  7. #7 Speedwell
    April 17, 2007

    …the stats I’ve seen say a handgun in the home is 20-40 times more likely to shoot someone in a suicide, crime of passion, accident, etc. than it is to be used to defend a home.

    Because guns are magic, sentient, evil talismans that by themselves and/or by reason of their very existence brainwash gentle, innocent people into murderous violence when those poor deluded people would otherwise have solved their problems rationally and quietly, I suppose. You actually in so many words say that “…a handgun in the home… is more likely to shoot someone,” as if the gun picks itself up with murderous intent.

    And you accuse gun rights proponents of magical thinking?

  8. #8 Matt Penfold
    April 17, 2007

    Speedwell,

    The evidence that correlates the level of gun ownership with the level of deaths caused by firearms is overwhelming. The more guns there around the more people get killed by them. Yet you argue that the opposite is the case, guns prevent people from being killed. I ask you again, explain why the evidence shows otherwise.

    More people are killed by guns in the US than in the UK. More people own guns in the US than in the UK. In Switzerland all men of military age keep a army-issue rifle at home. Switzerland has more people killed by firearms than other Western European nations. Everywhere you care to look you find a correlation between the level of gun ownership and gun deaths. Are ALL those reports wrong ?

    I also suggest that you are not being entitely honest. I doubt you would suggest the police in the US be armed with say knives or baseball bats. Both can killl but both are considerably less effective at doing do that firearms.

  9. #9 Ahcuah
    April 17, 2007

    The study folks are probably referring to is the Kellerman study, which found that having a gun in the house made it 23 times more likely to result in a homicide.

    However, the same study, using the same methodology, also found that renting your house made it 4 times more likely.

    Now, if you want to claim a causal effect for having a gun in the house, you also need to claim a causal effect for renting.

    Or, maybe, the study didn’t quite separate things out as well as it should.

  10. #10 Matt Penfold
    April 17, 2007

    Ahcuah,

    It seems that you can understand data very well. Why are you surprised that a study might showe an increased risk of being a murder victim if you rent your home rather than own it ? Did you not stop to think what differences there might be in the populations who own and rent ? Or about the likely correlation between the property values of areas with a high proportion of property that is rented compared to those with a high proportion of home ownership ? Or that the wealth of a neigbourhood is inversely correlated to the murder rate ?

  11. #11 Rance
    April 17, 2007

    Are any of the proponents of having a heavily armed student body aware of the level of binge drinking that goes on on campus?

  12. #12 SteveG
    April 17, 2007

    Binge drinking is only one aspect. We are getting to that point of the semester that is a pressure cooker. Kids under unbelievable amounts of stress, worried about grades and what their parents will think, how do I get done all this work I’ve put off til the last minute, sleep deprivation,… And then there are all the kids in tears in my office because of romantic break-ups, problems at home,… College kids are in incredibly intense times when perspective is incredibly skewed. Yeah, lots of firearms is a real good idea.

  13. #13 QrazyQat
    April 17, 2007

    as if the gun picks itself up with murderous intent

    If you are angry and reach for a potential weapon it makes a big difference whether the weapon at hand is a gun or something like a baseball bat. (I mention the bat because it’s a common potential weapon and in fact here in Canada it’s the preferred weapon for convenience store robbers.) With the baseball bat you can do some serious damage if you really lose it; if you simply get really pissed off and twitch a bit the baseball bat will not go off and kill someone like the gun can (and so often does). You have to go that step (or more) further to do damge with the bat, and usually way far to do serious damage. With a gun you take the first step and you’ve done serious damage — one from the muzzle of a gun is far more likely to be serious, perhaps deadly, than one blow with a bat.

  14. #14 TomDunlap
    April 17, 2007

    So, you can take all the guns away and make us all safer, but you can’t stop kids from binge drinking? Something wrong with that logic. I would gladly give up my guns if I knew for a fact that no one could get them. But as we’ve seen from Prohibition to the “War on Drugs”, it does not work. 23 three times or not, when it comes down to it, when the gad guys start shooting I want to exercise my right to fight back. When this society starts addressing the differences between us and say Britain re guns I will listen to you. But we are not British, we don’t have a Queen and we don’t all live on a crowded little island. Guns, like it or not are a part of our culture and until you change that, you won’t stop gun violence and you won’t take my right to defend myself.
    – A Liberal with a permit.

  15. #15 Troublesome Frog
    April 17, 2007

    As it was pointed out elsewhere, we sort of have ourselves a prisoners’ dilemma here. We’re clearly all safer if nobody has guns, and we individually feel safer if we have guns, regardless of whether or not anybody else is armed. That kind of leaves us stuck with them as any attempt to collect them all would leave a bunch of armed undesirables out there.

    That being said, people who say that the solution is even more guns don’t seem to be thinking the position through. Sure, more guns in the hands of people who would never use them in anger or stupidity would be great for all of us, but we’re generally an angry and stupid population, so color me skeptical.

  16. #16 Edward
    April 17, 2007

    Wow Tom, I feel so much safer knowing that you are out there with you gun and attitude (NOT!). I’m sure all the folks who get shot by your stray bullets will be so grateful you exercised your right to fight back, not to mention the folks who get shot by bullets that the “bad guys” would not have shot if you were not shooting at them.

    I am reminded of a conversation between two people I knew in college, one a black belt, the other a girl who had recently been robbed at gun point. The girl was interested in self defense as a result of her experience. The black belt said somethink like, “but if someone had a gun pointed at me, I’d just give them my wallet. It’s not worth getting shot.” Similarly, if someone has a gun pointed at you, and you reach for a gun, you will very likely get shot.

    No, this is not the UK, but gun-related death rates in the USA are vastly higher in the US than in ALL the other industrialized nations, not just the UK. See, for example:

    Krug E.G., et al. Firearm-related deaths in the United States and 35 other high and upper-middle-income countries. International Journal of Epidemiology 1998 Apr; 27(2): 214-221.

    According to this study, firearm deaths in the USA are more than twice the rate of the next highest rate “High Income” courtry – Northern Ireland! Isn’t that great? The USA has more gun deaths than a country that is just short of being in a civil war, and illegal guns are common!

  17. #17 MikeB
    April 17, 2007

    TomDunlap – as Matt has already pointed out, on our ‘crowded little island’ very few people have guns. Thats the difference.
    Binge drinking is certainly as much of a problem (have you ever seen England football fans?); we also have drugs and social deprivation (and a Royal family – a blessing or curse is another matter). But we dont have guns (at least legal ones), and thats really the only difference that counts here. And we have far less gun crime. You can argue that the two are not related, but are you more likley to be killed by a gun in the US or the UK? Guns help kill people better – thats why armies use them. Do I want drunk, depressed students having guns? Do I want them having anything where they can cause harm to themselves or other people. No, and I suspect neither does anyone else.

  18. #18 Dave Godfrey
    April 17, 2007

    It would be nice if America had a gun culture like that of Canada, where lots of people own guns, but gun-related deaths are very much lower.

    I think a start might be to treat guns like cars. If you want one then you must demonstrate that you are able to handle one safely. This isn’t necessarily going to prevent the occasional massacre like this or Columbine, but it could cut down on the number of gun-related suicides, manslaughters and accidents, which produce far more victims over the course of a single year than events like this do in a decade.

  19. #19 bruce
    April 17, 2007

    Ahcuah: Actually I do object to the police being armed. Our police (New Zealand) and generally unarmed.

  20. #20 Science Avenger
    April 17, 2007

    Apalazzo said: It’s incredible how the pro-gun right live in some strange la-la land. All mantras and pseudoreasoning. They are puppets of the gun industry and they don’t even know it.

    Funny, my experience has been that it is the gun control side more so that seems to live in some sort of la-la land. This thread has been no exception. In fact, I got interested in the gun control debate despite having no personal interest in guns, simply because of the absurd arguments I kept hearing from the anti-gun side.

    The short version is this: it’s about DEATH, not GUN DEATH, and the relevant context of who is dying (suicide, self-defense, homicide). Obviously if you have no guns you have no gun death. But if your overall death rate doesn’t change between having them and not, big deal. Death is death, be it by gun or knife or baseball bat. And let’s not forget about half of gun deaths are suicides. The anti-gun side never wants to mention that. For more detail, see my blog.

    Edward, you are either making up your black belt story, or your black belt isn’t very knowledgeable. Holding someone at gun point is unwise, because they can hit the gun before you can react. It’s a simple thing to demonstrate, just get a friend to point his finger in your face and try to slap his hand before he can say bang. It’s fairly easy. The black belt would whip the gun-wielder at that range.

    That’s not to say I’d attack the guy were I being held up at gun point. But I wouldn’t passively give him my wallet either. The longer you are in front of that gun, the higher your danger is. Best to toss something in one direction and run in the other. Even a trained marxman would have great difficulty hitting a running person with a pistol, and most muggers are more interested in your money than shooting you anyway. As long as he is 5 feet in front of you with it pointed at your head, he can’t miss, even if he slips.

  21. #21 Tyler
    April 17, 2007

    Ahcuah,

    Maybe the point is that, as a country, we should stop with this attitude that “guns are alright (in the case of ____)”

  22. #22 tyler
    April 17, 2007

    Sorry – I got cut off.
    My point was that when is the US gonna realize what guns are all about? They are NEVER okay. They do not work as defense.

    The first girl to get shot at Virginia Tech, 7am – please! Do you think she even had the time to think, let alone react? Or should she have woken up earlier to starp on her gear? Even if she was armed to the gills, she’d still be dead i think. Rather, she was thinking what any rational person would – that she was getting up for class and shouldnt have to worry about ya hoos with guns who had had a bad day/semester/life (and went to Wal Mart the day before to buy a gun).

    Wake up. Guns were made for killing. Thats it. To own one, to expect someone to come after you with one, to think you need one, means you are a damaged angry sick individual.

    “Guns help kill people better – thats why armies use them.”

    They were made for no other reason. But somehow, somewhere, they are going to cause good results? So far everyone has cited the stats, as they should. But forget the stats for second and realize what a simple thing this is – guns are made for hurting. So what could possibly follow that intention?

  23. #23 Edward
    April 18, 2007

    “Science Avenger” – if you had bothered to look at the scientific paper I cited, you would have seen that the MURDER Rate (both with guns and total) is higher in the US, not just the overall gun death rate, and most murders in the US are committed with guns. The accidental death rate from guns is also much higher in the US than in other developed countries. I question whether you have really looked at the SCIENTIFIC papers on this subject or just the political rants. The National Review is hardly a scientific journal: it’s the playground of political hacks.

    Also, the scientific articles I’ve seen are up front about including the suicide rate. But while you are dismissive, I think it’s scientifically valid to do so: suicide attempts with guns generally result in death at a greater rate than attempts by most other means. Also, it’s not even close to 50/50 gun murders/gun suicides in all countries. It’s true in the US, but in Nothern Ireland there are more murders, although the US still has a higher murder rate with guns. In the other very wealthy countries with high gun death rates, it’s mostly suicide.

    I’m not making the black belt story up – the conversation was more detailed than I gave in outline. He did say he might be able to knock the gun away, but it wasn’t 100% certain he’d do it, and he’d rather loose his wallet than take a small risk of loosing his life. Also, another detail I left out is that there were two guys who held up the girl. You are assuming that the mugger was at point blank range, but I don’t remember that that was the case. My classmate gave what I thought was a very rational risk/benefit analysis. It was his feeling that the money in his wallet was not worth even a small chance of getting shot, which could result in his death or a hospital stay.

  24. #24 Kristjan Wager
    April 18, 2007

    When you learn martial arts, you learn how to deal with being hold up with guns, but any sane sensei will also tell you that it’s not worth trying, unless it seems like the intend is to murder you – something which rarely is the case with robberies.

  25. #25 Darwin Youth Leader
    April 18, 2007

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  26. #27 Yankee Gator
    April 18, 2007

    Im a bit bemused by all of the unintelligent musings on control in this thread. The problem of evil will always be with us, whether you legislate guns away or not. The U.K. and Australia have done just that, and surprise! -once the ban went into effect, a spike occurs in the number of crimes in which someone is mugged, assaulted, or killed with a gun. Over 95 percent of gun related crimes are committed with weapons which were obtained illegally. No amount of legislation will keep guns out of the criminal hands, as much as you may wish it so.

    Guns are part of all major industrialized societies, regardless of whether there is a formal ban or not. The only question is whether you will allow citizens who are of the law-abiding kind to purchase them.

    As to everyone’s relative feelings of “safety” on this thread- there are thousands of different ways you can be seriously injured or killed at any different moment, and you chances of being killed by guns are but just one. How about taking on a more mature attitude, and acknowledge that your existence, your next breath, are ulimately out of your own hands- and perhaps trust in a power which, whether you know it or not, is looking over you every second of every day?

  27. #28 Science Avenger
    April 18, 2007

    Edward said: if you had bothered to look at the scientific paper I cited, you would have seen that the MURDER Rate (both with guns and total) is higher in the US… I question whether you have really looked at the SCIENTIFIC papers on this subject or just the political rants.

    I did, and I have. I didn’t say guns didn’t play a significant role in the murder rate. Obviously they do, since they are very effective weapons. I’m just saying we need to use the relevant statistics, as you have, and not phony ones like “gun deaths”. For the most part, you are preaching to the choir.

    I’m not making the black belt story up – the conversation was more detailed than I gave in outline. He did say he might be able to knock the gun away, but it wasn’t 100% certain he’d do it, and he’d rather loose his wallet than take a small risk of loosing his life.

    Fair enough. Those kinds of judgement calls don’t lend themselves to objective analysis.

    You are assuming that the mugger was at point blank range, but I don’t remember that that was the case.

    An honest misunderstanding. To me, the phrase “at gunpoint” implies such a close distance.

    In general Edward, it is not people like you with whom I have a beef. It’s people who make absurd comments like this that I’m addressing:

    Tyler said: To own [a gun], to expect someone to come after you with one, to think you need one, means you are a damaged angry sick individual.

    That, and other opinions like it, are born of fear and hysteria, not an objective analysis of the scientific data. They are easily refuted with simple observation, and nothing is gained by them except to close minds to realistic solutions to the problem. I hope we can agree on that. It’s too important an issue to allow to sink to that level of discourse.

  28. #29 Ken Hirsch
    April 18, 2007

    It’s difficult to take the Krug study seriously since it doesn’t attempt to control for almost any other differences between countries (although it does group them by broad income levels and it has age-adjusted death rates for some of the statistics).

    At the state level (within the United States), there’s no correlation at all between reported rates of gun ownership and the murder rate. I just did the analysis and the correlation is -0.01.

    By contrast, the correlation between the murder rate and the percentage of the population that’s black is 0.75. Since Krug doesn’t attempt to control for ethnic differences, what are the numbers supposed to mean?

  29. #30 Edward
    April 18, 2007

    Gun deaths is not a phony statistic – it’s a number that measures something real. By calling it phony, you are out of hand dismissing real data. Now, it is a summary statistic, and like many many such statistics, there may be complex contributions to it. I think that looking at the gun death rate of different contries is interesting and can tell us something. I do agree it pays to look more deeply at the numbers, as the Krug et al paper does, but after looking at the different sources that contribute to gun death rate, it looks to me like overall gun death rate is a good measure.

    However, even just looking at the Homicide rates reported by Krug et al, consider this: The US has by far the highest murder rate of the 26 “high income” at 9.85 per 100,000. Excluding Northern Ireland (at 5.85), the next highest is Finland at 2.81. Most are below 2, and 6 countries are below 1. If you look at Homicede Rate minus Gun Homicide Rate, the US is still highest, at 2.74 (Northern Ireland also takes a big drop, to 0.78), but many other countries don’t drop by much, so the numbers for the US and Northern Ireland are no longer several times larger than the mean for the others. Those numbers make it look like the primary reason the murder rate in the US is as a result of the availability of guns, although they also suggest it’s not the only reason.

  30. #31 ScienceAvenger
    April 18, 2007

    Gun deaths is not a phony statistic – it’s a number that measures something real. By calling it phony, you are out of hand dismissing real data.

    Data by itself means nothing, and that data is too often used to make erroneous claims, such as “gun control is a good idea because Country X adopted gun control and their gun death rate went down”. That’s like saying my diet must be working because I’ve eaten fewer donuts this month. If the overall death rate of the gun-control nation stayed constant, one can hardly call gun control a success, even if the rate of gun death dropped to zero.

    The “gun death” stat can tell you how effective the gun control laws are at keeping guns out of people’s hands. But the implicit presumption of those that cite it is too ofte that those deaths would not have occurred were the guns not present, and that is nonsense. Some percentage would, and that is the debate that needs to be had. Guns are merely the best overall weapon for the job, not the only one. Those intent on killing will use other means if guns are not available. Those that killed in a moment of passion with a gun may not with a knife. What are the proportions? That’s the question. To answer it, we have to look at total deaths, not just gun deaths.

    Saying “gun murder rates by country correlate with the presence of guns” tells us nothing that isn’t obvious to a 5 year old. Saying “murder rates by country correlate with the presence of guns” is telling us something worthwhile.

    My personal view is that guns are a small part of the problem in the US, and that the bigger problems are social (our unique racial history) and legal (ie, how many gang shootings go away if drugs are legal?). I’d rather look into ways to keeping people from feeling as hopeless as the VT shooter, and all the suicides, feel. I don’t think it’s productive to focus on the tool they choose for the expression of their pain.

  31. #32 the Whatkin
    April 19, 2007

    You know, this isn’t the first time that I’ve heard the line that arming average Joes will somehow prevent mass shooting from occurring, or instantly stop them the second they begin. And I still think it’s really gawdaweful stupid. Seriously, if that worked, wouldn’t the problem would be over the -instant- any police officer at all reached the scene?

    Guns aren’t magic. Owning/carrying one does not make you an action hero. Your average armed Joe is going to run or hit the ground at best, or start firing randomly in the general direction of the Bad Guy(TM) at worst. They’re not going to react quickly, rationally, and just so happen to have a clear shot at the Bad Guy(TM) while still having enough cover to not get shot themselves while they draw their gun and aim.

    And if you’re close enough to identify the shooter at the beginning of a rampage, you’ve probably got a better chance of tackling them and knocking the gun out’ve their hand than you do of successfully drawing a gun and shooting them.

  32. #33 Grady
    April 19, 2007

    I’m pro choice.

    Aren’t liberals pro choice.

    If you choose to carry a gun, you do.

    If you don’t, you don’t.

    I mean, you are pro choice aren’t you Mike?

  33. #34 Mike the Mad Biologist
    April 19, 2007

    Grady,

    As usual, you’re a jackass. I’m for legal and safe abortion. If you’re pro-choice, you must be pro-murder too, since murderers choose to murder people.

  34. #35 Edward
    April 19, 2007

    ScienceAvenger – I would agree that social and legal issues are part of the problem, but not that guns only play a small part. Again, looking at the Krug et al. data, I did a few quick calculations:

    1) Not only is the US murder rate much higher than any other high-income country, it is more than six times higher than the mean for the other high-income countries, and that’s also nearly eight standard deviations higher.

    2) The difference seems to be in large part due to a higher gun homicide in the US: about 3/4 of homicides in the US are done with a gun, compared to about 1/4 in all other high-income countries. Only 3 countries have more than 50% of homicides done with a gun: The USA, Northern Ireland (probably from catholic/protestant violence), and Italy (probably from Mafia killings).

    3) If the gun homicide rate in the USA were reduced to around 25% while keeping the non-gun homicide rate fixed, the murder rate in the USA would be more than cut in half, but it would still be higher than all other countries except Northern Ireland.

    Do I think that many social and legal issues play a factor in the higher murder rate in the US? Yes, definitely!

    Do I think that the easy availability of guns is the most important factor that explains the higher murder rate? Yes, that too. Also, I just don’t see how anyone can look at this data and come to any other conclusion.

    Now, I’m not for a ban on guns. I just think we need some rational controls: Licenses for gun owners with tests and renewals similar to what we have for car drivers, registration of guns, tracking of bullet purchases, etc. I think people who are psychologically stable, have no criminal record, and really understand gun safety should be free to own guns, if they want, but I want a system in place that really confirms all these things.

    Also, the accidental gun death rate in the US is about 3 times higher than ANY other high-income country, and about 7.5 times the mean of all other high-income countries. Some gun owners are very responsible, but others are idiots with no clue about gun safety. Licenses would help with that.

  35. #36 Science Avenger
    April 19, 2007

    Edward said: Do I think that the easy availability of guns is the most important factor that explains the higher murder rate? Yes, that too. Also, I just don’t see how anyone can look at this data and come to any other conclusion.

    Easy: correlation != causality. Sure, maybe Americans are more violent because they have so many guns. Or maybe Americans like their guns because they are violent. I don’t see how anyone can look at American culture and not come to the conclusion that Americans are a violent lot. We like violent sports, violent movies, etc.

    There are really only two ways to get at the truth of this: either get two groups that are identical in every way except the guns, and compare the death rates, or get into the details of each gun death and make reasonable judgements as to how many would have occurred anyway, and then estimate somehow how many people who defended themselves with a gun would have died had they not had that option. I’ve never seen either done, but would be more than happy to read a cite if you or anyone else has one.

    The trait that distinguished Cho from everyone around him wasn’t access to guns. Everyone had access to guns. But everyone did not have a severe psychological disorder that had been neglected. That is the ultimate cause of his killing spree. The gun was just the chosen method. It added to the total, it didn’t create it.

    Let’s not get distracted with accidental gun deaths. They are tragic, but they are a small proportion of the total, and if they were all we had this conversation wouldn’t be taking place.

    Thanks for the rational discourse. It is all too rare on this topic. We all want fewer innocent deaths, so we have that common ground on which to build. It’s just a matter of knowing what we would be giving up to get it, as with most every political issue.

  36. #37 lisa
    April 20, 2007

    Reluctant to comment, and yet I cannot help myself. I agree with the fact that gun laws do not prevent violence with guns. I have 3 guns…I am not damaged (very), angry (most of the time), or sick. I just plain enjoy guns. I have a good eye, enjoy skeet and target practice, and I’m a helluva shot off-hand with my snubnose .38 special. I don’t have a conceal/carry permit, nor do I think I need to be armed at all times. But when I walk in the woods up here in bear country-I’m armed. If someone enters my house forceably and univited-they most certainly mean me harm and will likely be shot. What happened to those students was horrible, but would anyone feel better if this nut was a chem major and used some sort of poison gas or bomb? Nope.

  37. #38 Edward
    April 21, 2007

    Science Avenger – Correlation not being causation is just about the number one argument used by people engaged in willfull denial in the face of overwhealming scientific evidence to the contrary. It’s been used by the tobaco companies to deny that smoking causes cancer and a host of other diseases. It’s been used to deny that humans are causing global warming. Your arguments against doing anything to keep guns out of the hands of people like Cho come from the pages of political journals like the national review, not scientific ones. For example, yes Americans look at violence for entertainment, but this isn’t actually any different from other countries: Asian cinima produces movies that are even more violent than what come out of Hollywood. However, the muder rates in the high income asian countries, which also have some of the tightest gun regulations, are lowest overall. You dismiss suicide and accidental gun death, when they are very much part of the overall problem of excess death rates caused by guns. The fact that Cho was able to easily get guns *IS* also part of the problem. Sure, perhaps 99% of adults will not do something stupid or harmfull with a gun, but the problem is that NRA supporters like yourself oppose any effective measures to keep guns out of the hands of the small percentage that should not have them. No system is ever going to be perfect, but we could do a lot better. You are making excuses, not looking for solutions. I have yet to hear a convincing argument why unfetterd access to guns for ALL adults is a good idea, and there is a lot of data to indicate it is a bad one. Nothing in science is ever 100%, but the available data and scientific analysis makes a very convincing case that the availability of guns in the USA increase the overall death rate. I agree that access to guns did not cause Cho to snap, but you admit that guns “added to the total” – that is an admission that guns DO add to the overall death rate: guns enabled Cho to kill more people when he snapped.

    I’m not looking to take guns away from people like Lisa, who sounds like she is probably a responsible gun owner. I think that having a process kind of like the driver’s licence for gun owners would be a good idea. People like Lisa should have no problem passing. Why are you opposed to this idea?

  38. #39 Science Avenger
    April 21, 2007

    Edward spun straw thusly: Correlation not being causation is just about the number one argument used by people engaged in willfull denial in the face of overwhealming scientific evidence to the contrary.

    Uh, no, it’s an issue people who understand how to analyze statistics properly raise to avoid drawing bullshit conclusions. When you start attributing evil intentions to someone merely because they insist on proper scientific analytical procedures, you have fallen off the rationality wagon. That’s usually followed by attacking an absurd straw man of their views like this:

    Your arguments against doing anything to keep guns out of the hands of people like Cho come from the pages of political journals like the national review, not scientific ones.

    My arguments come out of my own actuarially trained head for statistical analysis. What they consistently tell me, this being a perfect example, is that the gun control side of the debate is populated with a lot of people drawing their conclusions based on visceral emotional reactions instead of on sound reasoning and scientific analysis of data.

    Nothing I’ve said could lead a rational person to conclude that I want to do nothing to keep guns away from people like Cho, which is a good thing since that’s not my position. I am also not an NRA supporter. But again this is all typical of what emotional people do when they can’t support their position scientifically – slander the opposition.

    the available data and scientific analysis makes a very convincing case that the availability of guns in the USA increase the overall death rate.

    Prove it. Give me a link to any study that does that with good solid data collection and analysis that 1) supports the contentin that gun control reduces TOTAL INNOCENT homicide victims, and 2) wouldn’t make my introductory statistics professor give you a big fat F. Focusing on “gun deaths” in lieu of everything else would do exactly that.

    …you admit that guns “added to the total” – that is an admission that guns DO add to the overall death rate: guns enabled Cho to kill more people when he snapped.

    If you think cherry-picking one event and generalizing from that consistutes serious statistical analysis, I can see why you don’t understand my objections to the studies I’ve seen. Had all the students in that room Cho entered been armed, fewer people would have died too. Are we to conclude that therefore it is a good idea to have everyone armed all the time? Of course not. To draw a sound conclusion of the effect of our various political options with guns, we have to look at the ENTIRE picture, not just a convenient moment of our choosing.

    I think that having a process kind of like the driver’s licence for gun owners would be a good idea. People like Lisa should have no problem passing. Why are you opposed to this idea?

    Hello? Hello? Is this thing on? Whatever makes you think I’m not? Tired of trashing straw men yet?

  39. #40 Laura
    April 21, 2007

    This thread prompts several thoughts:

    Interesting, the repeated mention of Northern Ireland… surely the social and political structure of the US doesn’t underrepresent or repress certain sectors of the population, creating feelings of helplessness that lead (in the minds of some) to violence as a means of protest, a way out or a way of life. I wish the VT incident prompted more discussion about the causes of domestic terrorism (What! Yes, it’s here, even at good white-kid schools) and less about how scary guns are.

    Our culture repeatedly portrays people with guns as heroes. Our president, law or freedom enforcement here and abroad, Jack Bauer, don’t hesitate to use their guns. Big-business tycoons, also greatly admired. Other cultures are more capable of idolizing (wo)men of peace, wisdom, wit (even writers or scientists).

    Outlawing firearms will not decrease violence in the US. Implementing and enforcing a stricter screening process for gun buyers might help, and might make the folks who are afraid of guns but not afraid of reason feel a bit better: Lisa could keep her handgun, and the next Cho would have a harder time obtaining his. However, the prevalence of irresponsible gun carriers is a symptom, not a cause, of our societal dysfunction. The idea that concealed-carry vigilantes at VT could have prevented the massacre… also a scary symptom.

  40. #41 Ben Kalafut
    April 23, 2007

    Anyone commenting on this must first acknowledge (at least mentally) that concealed carry is permitted on campus in Oregon and Utah and hasn’t resulted in the problems that anti-RKBA commentators with wild imaginations predict.

    This matches the pattern we have seen over and over. Concealed carry is proposed, carnage–people duelling over honor, shooting each other over traffic disputes, etc.–is predicted, and it doesn’t materialize. When do such predictions become lies?

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