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Guns And States

[Epistemic status: I think I probably wrung the right conclusions out of this evidence, but this isn’t the only line of evidence bearing on the broader gun control issue and all I can say is what it’s consistent with. Content warning for discussion of suicide, murder, and race]

I.

From a Vox article on America’s Gun Problem, Explained: “On Wednesday, it happened again: There was a mass shooting — this time, in San Bernardino, California. And once again on Sunday, President Barack Obama called for measures that make it harder for would-be shooters to buy deadly firearms.”

Then it goes on to say that “more guns mean more gun deaths, period. The research on this is overwhelmingly clear. No matter how you look at the data, more guns mean more gun deaths.” It cites the following chart:

…then uses the graph as a lead in to talk about active shooter situations, gun-homicide relationships, and outrage over gun massacres.

Did you notice that the axis of this graph says “gun deaths”, and that this is a totally different thing from gun murders?

(this isn’t an isolated incident: Vox does the same thing here and here)

Gun deaths are a combined measure of gun homicides and gun suicides. Here is a graph of guns vs. gun homicides:

And here is a graph of guns vs. gun suicides:

The relationship between gun ownership and homicide is weak (and appears negative), the relationship between gun ownership and suicide is strong and positive. The entire effect Vox highlights in their graph is due to gun suicides, but they are using it to imply conclusions about gun homicides. This is why you shouldn’t make a category combining two unlike things.

II.

I am not the first person to notice this. The Washington Examiner makes the same criticism of Vox’s statistics that I do. And Robert VerBruggen of National Review does the same analysis decomposing gun deaths into suicides and homicides, and like me finds no correlation with homicides.

German Lopez of Vox responds here. He argues that VerBruggen can’t just do a raw uncontrolled correlation of state gun ownership with state murder rates without adjusting for confounders. This is true, although given that Vox has done this time and time again for months on end and all VerBruggen is doing is correctly pointing out a flaw in their methods, it feels kind of like an isolated demand for rigor.

So let’s look at the more-carefully-controlled studies. Lopez suggests the ones at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, which has done several statistical analyses of gun violence. They list two such analyses comparing gun ownership versus homicide rates across US states: Miller Azrael & Hemenway (2002), and Miller Azrael & Hemenway (2007).

(does it count as nominative determinism when someone named Azrael goes into homicide research?)

We start with MA&H 2002. This study does indeed conclude that higher gun ownership rates are correlated with higher murder rates after adjusting for confounders. But suspiciously, it in fact finds that higher gun ownership rates are correlated with higher murder rates even before adjusting for confounders, something that we already found wasn’t true! Furthermore, even after adjusting for confounders it finds in several age categories that higher gun ownership rates are correlated with higher non-gun homicide rates (eg the rates at which people are murdered by knives or crowbars or whatever) at p less than 0.001. This is really suspicious! Unless guns are exerting some kind of malign pro-murder influence that makes people commit more knife murders, some sort of confounding influence has remained. Let’s look closer.

The study gets its murder rate numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics, which seems like a trustworthy source. It gets its gun ownership numbers from…oh, that’s interesting, it doesn’t actually have any gun ownership numbers. It says that there is no way to figure out what percent of people in a given state own guns, so as a proxy for gun ownership numbers, it will use a measure called FS/S, ie the number of firearm suicides in a state divided by the total number of suicides.

This makes some intuitive sense. Among people who want to commit suicide, suppose a fixed percent prefer to use guns compared to other methods. In that case, the determining factor for whether or not they use a gun will be whether or not they have a gun. Hospitals diligently record statistics about suicide victims including method of suicide, so if our assumption holds this should be a decent proxy for gun ownership within a state.

There’s only one problem – I checked this against an actual measure of gun ownership per state that came out after this study was published – the CDC asking 200,000 people how many guns they had as part of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey – and the FS/S measure fails. When I repeat all of their analyses with their own FS/S measure, I get all of their same positive correlations, including the ones with non-gun homicides. When I repeat it with the real gun ownership data, all of these positive correlations disappear. When I look at exactly why this happens, it’s because FS/S is much more biased towards Southern states than actual gun ownership is. Real gun ownership correlates very modestly – 0.25 – with 538’s ranking of the Southern-ness of states. FS/S correlates at a fantastically high 0.62. For some reason, suicidal Southerners are much more likely to kill themselves with guns than suicidal people from the rest of the States, even when you control for whether they have a gun or not. That means that MA&H 2002 thought it was measuring gun ownership, but was actually measuring Southern-ness. This is why they found higher homicide rates, including higher rates of non-gun homicide.

So we move on to MA&H 2007. This study was published after the CDC’s risk survey, so they have access to the same superior gun ownership numbers I used to pick apart their last study. They also have wised up to the fact that Southern-ness is important, and they include a dummy variable for it in their calculations. They also control for non-gun crime rate, Gini coefficient, income, and alcohol use. They do not control for urbanization level or race, but when I re-analyze their data including these factors doesn’t change anything, likely because they are already baked in to the crime rate.

They find that even after controlling for all of this stuff, there is still a significant correlation between gun ownership level and gun homicide rate. Further, this time they are using good statistics, and there is not a significant correlation between gun ownership and non-gun-homicide rate. Further, there is a correlation between gun ownership and total homicide rate, suggesting that the gun-gun-homicide correlation was not just an artifact of people switching from inferior weapons to guns while still committing the same number of murders. Further, this is robust to a lot of different decisions about what to control or not to control, and what to include or not to include.

I repeated all of their analyses using two different sources of gun ownership data, a couple different sources of homicide and crime rate data, and a bunch of different plausible and implausible confounders – thanks a lot to Tumblr user su3su2u1 for walking me through some of the harder analyses. I was able to replicate their results. Pro-gun researcher John Lott had many complaints about this study, including that it was insensitive to including DC and that it was based entirely on the questionable choice of controlling for robbery rate – but I was unable to replicate his concerns and found that the guns-homicide correlation remained even after DC was included and even when I chose a group of confounders not including robbery rate. I was unable to use their methodology to replicate the effect in places where it shouldn’t replicate (I tried to convince it to tell me tractors caused homicide, since I was suspicious that it was just picking up an urban/rural thing, but it very appropriately refused to fall for it). Overall I am about as sure of this study as I have ever been of any social science study, ie somewhat.

This study doesn’t prove causation; while one interpretation is that guns cause homicide, another is that homicide causes guns – for example, by making people feel unsafe so they buy guns to protect themselves. However, I doubt the reverse causation aspect in this case. The study controlled for robbery rate; ie it was looking at whether guns predicted homicides above and beyond those that could be expected given the level of non-homicide crime. My guess is that people feeling unsafe is based more on the general crime rate than on the homicide rate per se, which would make it hard for the homicide rate to cause increased gun ownership independently of the crime rate.

If guns are in fact correlated with more homicide, how come me and VerBruggen found the opposite in our simpler scatterplot analysis? This is complicated, but I think the biggest part of the answer is the urban/rural divide. Rural people have more guns. Murder rates are higher in urban areas. Race also plays a part: whites have more guns, but black areas have higher murder rates. Finally, the North and West seem to have more guns, but murder rates are highest in the South (which is what produced the bogus effect on the last study). All of these differences are large enough to cancel out the gun/no-gun difference and make the raw scatterplot look like nothing. This study didn’t address all those things directly, but its decision to control for non-gun crime rate and poverty took care of them nevertheless. As the old saying goes, guns don’t kill people; guns controlled for robbery rate, alcoholism, income, a dummy variable for Southernness, and a combined measure of social deprivation kill people.

If this is all true, how come I spent so much time yelling at that first study with worse data? Because I worry that if people only see the good studies, they’ll get complacent. Vox posted these two studies as proof that there was a state-level gun-murder correlation. The first one was deeply flawed, but the second one turned out to be okay. Do you think Vox realized this? Do you think they would have written that article any differently in a world where both studies were flawed? As long as you trust every scientific paper you see – let alone every scientific paper you see on your side in a highly politicized field – even when you’re right it will often just be by luck.

III.

Vox also voxsplains to us about America’s unusually high gun homicide rate.

Having presented this graph, they say that “To understand why that is, there’s another important statistic: The US has by far the highest number of privately owned guns in the world.”

Even granting, as we saw above, that gun ownership does indeed increase homicide rates, this is not the most important factor in explaining America’s higher homicide rate, or even close to the most important factor. Let me give a few arguments for why this must be the case:

1. The United States’ homicide rate of 3.8 is clearly higher than that of eg France (1.0), Germany (0.8), Australia (1.1), or Canada (1.4). However, as per the FBI, only 11,208 of our 16,121 murders were committed with firearms, eg 69%. By my calculations, that means our nonfirearm murder rate is 1.2. In other words, our non-firearm homicide rate alone is higher than France, Germany, and Australia’s total homicide rate. Nor does this mean that if we banned all guns we would go down to 1.2 – there is likely a substitution effect where some murderers are intent on murdering and would prefer to use convenient firearms but will switch to other methods if they have to. 1.2 should be considered an absolute lower bound. And it is still higher than the countries we want to compare ourselves to.

2. There are many US states that combine very high firearm ownership with very low murder rates. The highest gun-ownership state in the nation is Wyoming, where 59.7% of households have a gun (really!). But Wyoming has a murder rate of only 1.4 – the same as right across the border in more gun-controlled Canada, and only about a third of that of the nation as a whole. It seems likely that the same factors giving Canada a low murder rate give Wyoming a low murder rate, and that the factors differentiating the rest of America from Wyoming are the same factors that differentiate the rest of America from Canada (and Germany, and France…). But this does not include lower gun ownership.

3. There are many US states that combine very low firearm ownership with very high murder rates. The highest murder rate in the country is that of Washington, DC, which has a murder rate of 21.8, more than twenty times that of most European countries. But DC also has the strictest gun bans and the lowest gun ownership rate in the country, with gun ownership numbers less than in many European states! It seems likely that the factors making DC so deadly are part of the story of why America as a whole is so deadly, but these cannot include high gun ownership.

If not gun ownership, what is the factor making America so much more deadly than Europe and other First World countries? The traditional answer I always heard to this question was that America had a “culture of violence”. I always hated this answer, because it seemed so vague and meaningless as to be untestable by design. If the NRA waves their hands and says “eh, culture of violence”, how are you going to tell them they’re wrong?

But we can work with this if we assume the culture of violence (or, if you want to be official about it, “honor culture”) is more common in some populations and areas than others. Some of the groups most frequently talked about during these lines are Southerners and various nonwhite minorities. This provides a testable theory: if we compare American non-Southern whites to European countries mostly made up of non-Southern whites, we’ll find similar murder rates. But first, some scatter plots:

This is murder rate by state, correlated with perceived Southernness of that state as per 538’s poll. I’ve removed DC as an outlier on all of the following.

And this is murder rate by state correlated with percent black population:

This would seem to support the “culture of violence” theory.

Can we adjust for this and see what the murder rate is for non-Southern whites? Sort of. The Economist gives a white-only murder rate of 2.5 (this is based on white victims, whereas we probably want white perpetrators, but the vast majority of murders are within-race so it doesn’t make much difference). And Audacious Epigone has put together a collection of white murder rates by state. I can’t find anything on non-Southern white murder rates per se, but one hack would be to take the white murder rate in non-Southern states and assume there aren’t any Southerners there.

Our main confounder will be urbanization. Western Europe is about 80% urban, so let’s look at states at a similar level. The four northern states that are closest to 80% urban are Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Connecticut. I’m throwing out Colorado because it has a large Latino population who can’t be statistically differentiated from whites. That leaves, Washington (2.4), Connecticut (2.0), and Oregon (2.0). So possibly adjusting out Southerners brings us down from 2.5 (all whites) to 2.1 or so (non-Southern whites)? Again, compare to Germany at 0.8, Canada at 1.4, and America at 3.8.

There’s one more factor that needs to be considered:

This is a plot of the gun death rate vs. the robbery rate. There’s a strong correlation (r = 0.78). Robbery is heavily correlated with percent black, percent Southern, and urbanization, so it’s probably coming from the same place. Nevertheless, it seems to correlate with murder better than any of them alone, maybe because it’s combining all three measures together. I was able to make a linear model using those three measures that correlated at r = 0.79 with murder, about the same amount that robbery does. I should also mention that robbery correlates negatively with gun ownership at r = – 0.52, but this disappeared when controlled for urbanization.

So my very tentative conclusion is that although the US murder rate is much higher than that of other First World countries, this is partly due to the existence of various cultural factors not present in those other nations. When we adjust those away, America’s murder rate falls from 3.8 to 2.1. Which is still higher than Germany’s 0.8 or Canada’s 1.4.

Is that extra due to guns?

IV.

According to MA&H 2007, each absolute percentage point in gun ownership was related to a 2.2 relative percentage point difference in homicide. This part of the study was beyond my ability to check, and I’m not sure why they switched from absolute to relative percents there, but suppose we take it seriously.

America has a gun ownership rate of 32%, so if we somehow decreased that to zero, we would naively expect about a 70% decrease in homicides. Unfortunately, only 67% of American homicides involve guns, so we’re back to pretending that eliminating guns will not only have zero substitution effect but also magically prevent non-gun homicides. This shows the dangers of extrapolating a figure determined by small local differences all the way to the edge of the graph (I’M TALKING TO YOU, RAY KURZWEIL).

Maybe we can be more modest? Canada has a gun ownership rate of aboot 26%, so…

…wait a second. I thought we’ve been told that the US has a gun ownership rate seven zillion times that of any other country in the world, and that is why we are so completely unique in our level of gun crime? And now they’re telling us that Canada has 26% compared to our 32%? What?

Don’t trust me too much here, because I’ve never seen anyone else analyze this and it seems like the sort of thing there should be loads of analyses of if it’s true, but I think the difference is between percent of households with guns vs. guns per capita. US and Canada don’t differ very much in percent of households with guns, but America has about four times as many guns per capita. Why? I have no idea, but the obvious implication is that Canadians mostly stop at one gun, whereas Americans with guns buy lots and lots of them. In retrospect this makes sense; I am looking at gun enthusiast bulletin boards, and they’re advising other gun enthusiasts that six guns is really the bare minimum it’s possible to get by with (see also “How many guns can you have before it’s okay to call your collection an ‘arsenal’?”, which I have to admit is not a question that I as a boring coastal liberal have ever considered). So if the guy asking that question decides he needs 100 guns before he gets his arsenal merit badge, that’s a lot more guns per capita without increasing percent household gun ownership. This should actually be another argument that guns are not a major factor in differentiating US vs. Canadian murder rates, since unless you’re going on a mass shooting (WHICH IS REALLY RARE) you wouldn’t expect more murders from any gun in a household beyond the first. That means that the small difference between US and Canadian household percent gun ownership rates (32% vs. 26%) would have to drive the large difference between US and Canadian murder rates (1.4 vs. 3.8), which just isn’t believable.

…okay, sorry, where were we? Canada has a gun ownership rate of about 26%, so if America were to get its gun ownership as low as Canada, that would be -6 absolute percentage points = a 13% relative decrease in murder rate = the murder rate going from 3.8 to 3.3 = a 0.5 point decrease in the murder rate. That’s pretty close to the difference between our 2.1 US-sans-culture-of-violence estimate and the 1.4 Canadian rate – so maybe beyond the cultures of violence, the rest of the US/Canada difference really is due to guns?

(I’m not sure whether I should be subtracting 13% from 2.1 rather than 3.8 here)

In Germany, 9% of households own firearms (wait, really? European gun control is less strict than I thought!) Using MA&H’s equation, we predict that if the US had the same gun ownership rate as Germany, its murder rate would drop 50%, eg from 3.8 to 1.9. Adjust out the culture of violence, and we’re actually pretty close to real Germany’s murder rate of 0.8.

How much would gun control actually cut US gun ownership? That obviously depends on the gun control, but a lot of people talk about Australia’s gun buyback program as a model to be emulated. These people say it decreased gun ownership from 7% of people to 5% of people (why is this number so much lower than Canada and Germany? I think because it’s people rather than households – if a gun owner is married to a non-gun-owner, they count as one gun-owner and one non-owner, as opposed to a single gun-owning household. The Australian household number seems to be 19% or so). So the gun buyback program in Australia decreased gun ownership by (relative) 30% or so. If a similar program decreased gun ownership in America by (relative) 30%, it would decrease it by (absolute) 10% and decrease the homicide rate by (absolute) 22%. Since there are about 13000 homicides in the US per year, that would save about 3000 lives – or avert about one 9/11 worth of deaths per year.

(note that our murder rate would still be 3.0, compared to Germany’s 0.8 and Canada’s 1.4. Seriously, I’m telling you, the murder rate difference is not primarily driven by guns!)

Is that worth it? That obviously depends on how much you like being able to have guns. But let me try to put this number into perspective in a couple of different ways:

Last time anyone checked, which was 1995, about 618,000 people died young (ie before age 65) in the US per year. Suppose that the vast majority of homicides are of people below 65. That means that instituting gun control would decrease the number of premature deaths to about 615,000 – in other words, by about half a percentage point. I’m having to borrow this data from the UK, but if it carries over, the average person my age (early 30s) has a 1/1850 chance of death each year. Gun control would decrease that to about 1/1860. I’m very very unsure about the exact numbers, but it seems like the magnitude is very low.

On the other hand, lives are very valuable. In fact, the statistical value of a human life in the First World – ie the value that groups use to decide whether various life-saving interventions are worth it or not – is $7.4 million. That means that gun control would “save” $22 billion dollars a year. Americans buy about 20 million guns per year (really)! If we were to tax guns to cover the “externality” of gun homicides preventable by Australia-level gun control, we would have to slap a $1000 tax on each gun sold. While I have no doubt that some people, probably including our arsenal collector above, would be willing to pay that, my guess is that most people would not. This suggests that most people probably do not enjoy guns enough to justify keeping them around despite their costs.

Or if all gun enthusiasts wanted to band together for some grand Coasian bargain to buy off the potential victims of gun violence, each would have to contribute $220/year to the group effort – not totally impossible, but also not something I can really see happening.

This is very, very, very, very very tentative, but based on this line of reasoning alone, without looking into the experimental studies or anything else, it appears that Australia-style gun control would probably be worth it, if it were possible.

(I didn’t price in the advantages of guns in terms of preventing state tyranny and protecing freedom, which might be worth subsidizing, but my guess is that if 32% gun ownership is enough to maintain freedom, 22% gun ownership is as well)

V.

In summary, with my personal confidence levels:

1. Scatterplots showing raw correlations between gun ownership and “gun deaths” are entirely driven by suicide, and therefore dishonest to use to prove that guns cause murder (~100% confidence)

2. But if you adjust for all relevant confounders, there is a positive correlation between gun ownership and homicide rates (~90% confidence). This relationship is likely causal (~66% confidence).

3. The majority of the difference between America’s murder rate and that of other First World countries is not because of easier access to guns in America (~90% confidence).

4. But some of it is due to easier access to guns. This is probably about 0.5 murders/100K/year.

5. An Australian-style gun control program that worked and had no side effects would probably prevent about 2,000 murders in the US. It would also prevent a much larger number of suicides. I am otherwise ignoring suicides in this piece because discussing them would make me too angry.

6. Probably the amount of lost gun-related enjoyment an Australian-style gun control program would cause do not outweigh the benefits.

7. This is not really enough analysis to make me have a strong opinion about gun control, since this just looks at the correlational evidence and doesn’t really investigate the experimental evidence. Contrary to what everyone always tells you, experimental evidence doesn’t always trump correlational – there are cases where each has its strengths – but it wouldn’t be responsible to have a real opinion on this until I look into that too. Nevertheless, these data are at least highly consistent with Australia-style gun control being a good idea for the US.

If you want to look into this more, here is a CSV version of all the relevant data.

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1,493 Responses to Guns And States

  1. entobat says:

    However, as per the FBI, only 11,208 of our 16,121 murders were committed with firearms, eg 31%.

    You’ve switched something with its complement here – 11,208 / 16,121 is 69%. (And yes to be a nitpick, but i.e. is proper here, unless 31% is only one of many possible percentages that could describe your fraction.)

    (Really, it’s 69.5 + epsilon. I’m shocked, *shocked*, I say, at your lack of journalistic integrity by rounding up 30.47% to 31%.)

    Edit: Also,

    There are many US states that combine very low firearm ownership with very high murder rates

    is probably not the best way to begin a paragraph that discusses only DC.

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    • hawkice says:

      This raises a curious observation: it should really only be kosher to round off >1 digit at a time. If you only know something to the accuracy of 44.5, you can’t round to 45, only to 40, because the 0.5 is already “rounded” within your understanding of its accuracy — it could be a 44.48, and therefore the rounding to 45 isn’t appropriate.

      And yet modern math education recommends “rounding the trailing 5 and above up and everything lower down” — can we get some education professionals on board to change it to “rounding the trailing 50 and above up and everything lower down”? I’m sure there are textbooks or (state-level?) standards for this. Otherwise we could successively round 44.44444444445 to 50 (I wasn’t sure at first that multiple roundings are useful, but I believe the SEC’s rule that stocks can trade for fractions of a penny interacts with my penny-rounded brokerage account in such a way that this happens constantly — wait a second, is my brokerage firm obligated to steal fractions of a penny this way a la the plot to office space?).

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      • Anonymous says:

        IIRC in physics class they told us to round .5 up or down with 50% probability (or something, it’s been a while).

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      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Otherwise we could successively round 44.44444444445 to 50

        FWIW, I used that example on my third grade teacher, and was told to stop making trouble.

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      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        In high school physics, I was just taught to keep track of significant figures and always round (in the normal way, up from 5) to the level of significance. For instance, if you measure 3.27 cm and multiply it by 50 (163.5), you should round it to 164 cm, with no decimals.

        If a 0 is significant it should be indicated in decimals by leaving it trailing at the end, e.g. 0.03270. Or in non-decimals with an overline (which I can’t seem to type) like 327overlined00

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        • Michael Watts says:

          Surely 32,700, significant to four places, is represented as 3.270 x 10^4 and not 32700 with a macron over the left 0? (“327ŌO”?) That’s most of the purpose of scientific notation.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Of course you can do it that way, too. I didn’t even think to say that.

            The overline thing is an actual usage, but you’re right that in practice it’s rare compared to scientific notation.

            On the other hand, when you’re writing numbers on paper in a physics class, it’s sort of annoying to have to break out the scientific notation for a five-digit number. Especially when you’re adding and multiplying by hand.

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          • RCF says:

            My understanding is that the main purpose of scientific notation is to present numbers in a more compact form that is more amenable to certain types of calculations (for instance, if you’re multiplying two numbers in scientific notation, you don’t have to count the zeros, you can just add the exponents).

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      • RCF says:

        You’ve cherry-picked the 44.5 example. If it were 44.8, you could round it it 45. And your complaint makes sense only if one views rounding as some sort of hash function or something. The whole point of a rounding is to get an approximate value. If a number is rounded, then the last digit isn’t know for certain. So it’s perfectly fine to round 44.5 to 45. If the exact number is 44.45, then 45 is within the margin of error. Rounding doesn’t follow the same rules as many other mathematical operations. It’s not deterministic, it’s not associative, it’s not distributive, etc.

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    • codetaku says:

      The eg still hasn’t been corrected to ie and it’s driving me craaaaazy

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    • entobat says:

      This is just about the best bit of discussion I could have hoped arose out of my post.

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        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          No, “to have arisen”.

          Besides, “arose” is closer / not that bad. “Arise” is just totally wrong.

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            “would arise”

            In the past he hoped it would arise in the future.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ HeelBearCub:

            No, that just sounds wrong. I’m trying to think of why, but you can’t say “could have hoped would arise”.

            Ah, I’ve got it. This construction requires either that a) “hoped” take a noun as its object, or that b) “hoped” introduce a subordinate noun clause, with “hoped that” (the “that” is optional).

            “To have arisen” is an infinitive. Infinitives can act as nouns, so it can fit under option a).

            On the other hand, suppose you want to say “This is just about the best bit of discussion [optional “that”] I could have hoped [that] would arise out of my post.” That what would arise? There is no subject of this subordinate clause. Option b) doesn’t work because there is no subject of the subordinate noun clause.

            Contrast this with “I could have hoped this discussion would arise out of my post.” See? You can say that.

            Now, it’s also true that “to have arisen” is not the only option in regard to tense. You could also say “to arise”. But “to arise” is a present infinitive, while “to have arisen” is a present perfect infinitive.

            I say that “to have arisen” is more appropriate for the situation. What does it mean to combine a present perfect verb (such as “have hoped”) with a present infinitive? Well, take “I have waited so long to see you.” This implies that I waited before but am seeing you right now. So we have one action in the past and one in the present. (“Have waited” is nevertheless present in form because it describes one’s present state.)

            On the other hand, what does it mean to combine a present perfect verb with a present perfect infinitive? “I have waited so long to have climbed this mountain.” This implies that I have finished climbing it; perhaps I am standing at the summit. We have two actions, both in the past. (Again, though, “have waited” and “have climbed” describe my present states.)

            If I said, “I have waited so long to climb this mountain,” that would imply that I am climbing it or am about to climb it. There is a big difference in meaning!

            In my opinion, the sense of entobat‘s situation is best conveyed by “to have arisen”. entobat could (in the past) have hoped (also in the past) for this discussion to have arisen (again in the past). At the time of entobat‘s observation, the discussion had already arisen.

            “To arise” implies the discussion was still arising at the time. Perhaps, but it seems to me that once a discussion is taking place, it is not still arising.

            ***

            This was seriously fun.

            I had to go check Wikipedia for several terms, though, to help me get things straight. It’s not every day that you get to really analyze grammar this way. 😉

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Vox:
            My wife, who is generally very good at editing, if not analysis of grammar, said it should “expected” which sort of short circuits the whole problem.

            Damn editors, ruining all of our fun. 😉

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    • RCF says:

      Also, in “If guns are in fact correlated with more homicide, how come me and VerBruggen found the opposite in our simpler scatterplot analysis?” it should be “VerBruggen and I”.

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  2. Tom Bri says:

    How confident are you in the 32% of US households owning guns? I seem to recall wildly varying numbers for this, and it’s the kind of question that many people would either not answer or might fib on in a survey. This number, if higher, would skew a lot of your latter conclusions.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      It would be hard for me to believe it’s much higher. And if it gets much lower, it bumps up against Canada’s rate, which is also hard to believe. Unless Canada’s rate is flawed too, in which case whatever, they’re probably both flawed the same way.

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      • Jardine says:

        I’m not sure if it’s possible to find the actual numbers, but I suspect there’s a huge difference in the types of guns owned by Americans and Canadians. The gun enthusiasts I know (in Canada) mostly own long guns. Handguns are rare and you pretty much can’t transport them anyway.

        I believe there’s still a handgun registry and there was a long gun registry from 1995-2012. That data was supposed to be destroyed, but there might be reports about ownership statistics based on it.

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        • Iain says:

          Legally speaking, handguns in Canada must be registered. As of 2014, the RCMP had 911,789 registered weapons (http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/cfp-pcaf/facts-faits/index-eng.htm); in addition to handguns, this also includes automatic weapons, and semi-automatic weapons below a certain barrel length. (I’m simplifying a bit. See here for the gory details: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_politics_in_Canada#Classification_of_firearms).

          According to the Canadian Department of Justice (http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/csj-sjc/jsp-sjp/wd98_4-dt98_4/p2.html#a22), fewer than 12% of gun-owning Canadian households own handguns, which, using the 26% number, works out to 3% of Canadian households owning a handgun. My cursory Googling couldn’t find an equivalent statistic for US households owning handguns, but I did find an estimate that 114 million of the 310 million guns owned by civilians in the United States were handguns (http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/united-states).

          Even if we generously assume that all of the remaining 196 million non-handguns in the US would be non-restricted in Canada, that still works out to 12.5 times more restricted-in-Canada guns per capita in the US than in Canada.

          This seems relevant. Handguns are disproportionately involved in homicide: the FBI says that nearly 90% of gun homicides in the US are attributed to handguns (leaving out gun homicides with “unspecified” firearms) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_violence_in_the_United_States#Homicides).

          I would be very curious to see what the numbers would look like if they were limited to handgun ownership, rather than gun ownership in general.

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          • I completely agree with this; handguns and rifles are different and comparing them as though they were the same is a serious error that most academic studies on the link between guns and crime seem to make. I don’t know why they make that error, since the ratio of handgun-crimes to gun-crimes is pretty clear, but we just get studies on “guns” in general as though a rifle is a handgun.

            (I suspect the reason that they’re lumped together is that it’s easier to collect data that way, but this is one of those cases where easy of collection makes the data far less useful.)

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        • Sevesteen says:

          My feeling (mostly based on FBI data on gun crime) is that handguns and long guns are too different in their relationship to crime and murder to group them together, and that difference is likely bigger than most of the other confounders mentioned here.

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            I have seen more than one LEO make the observation, in a debate on this topic, that if handguns were banned criminals would start using sawed-off shotguns and the average lethality of an armed encounter would probably increase quite a bit. You might survive a hit or two from a nine milimeter pistol if you’re lucky or close to a trauma center. A few hits from a sawed-off 12-gauge is much less survivable.

            Or we might start seeing the ascent of the sawed-off rifle, which is the worst of all possible worlds, since you can make a (somewhat) concealable weapon which can defeat most police armor that way. Obviously the accuracy would suck, but most criminals can’t shoot anyway.

            I have no idea if it’s true but it certainly demonstrates the sort of unintended consequences that flailing around with halfass measures and feelz-based-solutions might have.

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          • Echo says:

            It’s not “might”. Even 20 years ago the survival rate for handgun shootings was over 80%. I’ll try to find the new stats, but they’ve almost certainly gotten even better with the vastly improved trauma care we’ve seen lately.

            Shotguns though… if it can put down a 300lb animal quickly and humanely, a human doesn’t stand much of a chance.

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          • Adam says:

            My dad got shot in the chest at a range of 15 feet with a shotgun when he was 18 and lived.

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Adam:

            A .410 loaded with rock salt or a 10 gauge loaded with double-ought buck?

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          • Adam says:

            I don’t know. I know it was a hunting trip and they were hunting deer, so I suppose you can guess from what is most common, but obviously this was before my time.

            I mean, definitely not rock salt because I believe that would be absurd to hunt with, but correct me if I’m wrong. Presumably thanks to this experience, he was spooked off of it and never taught me to hunt. My weapons experience is solely from military service.

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Adam:

            I do not mean to impugn the honor of either you or your father, but if he survived a direct hit in the chest from a gun meant to and loaded for killing deer at point-blank range, he was either one of the luckiest so-and-so’s to ever come down the pike, or the ammunition malfunctioned. How long did it take to get him to the hospital?

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          • Adam says:

            Beats the hell out of me. I’ve always assumed he just got absurdly lucky like 50 Cent or something. I give him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t just lying to me, being an otherwise honest person.

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          • Echo says:

            That’s incredible. You lucky bastard! Supposedly there’s only about a 20-30% survival rate for that.

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          • Tom West says:

            Not that incredible. There’s a 100% survival rate for people shot at close range by a shotgun who years later became fathers.

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          • RCF says:

            Isn’t the choke also an important variable? (Although presumably a sawed off shotgun wouldn’t have a choke?)

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            The choke on the shotgun could be very relevant, but not in the situation described. It’s entirely possible the weapon was loaded with a slug, in which case there’d be no choke. If not, it would still have been loaded with relatively large shot, which wouldn’t have much of a spread at the distance implied no matter the choke installed.

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        • I’m with Iain and Sevnsteen.

          There’s an important difference between urban/handgun and rural/longgun styles of usage. They shouldn’t be lumped together.

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      • The Anonymouse says:

        It would be hard for me to believe it’s much higher.

        I wouldn’t be so sure about that. If someone called you up on the phone (or came to the door, or whatever) and asked if you had a gun or several in your home, and you did, how likely would you be to say yes?

        If you are worried that there’s an incremental movement to take away the guns you do have, you are strongly incentivized to say “nope, no guns here!”

        If you are worried that there’s a random person who has demonstrated the ability to find you and is asking if you have a very expensive,* easily portable, easily resellable item in your home, you are strongly incentivized to say “nope! no guns here!”

        I suspect that 32% household gun ownership gives little information as to the true rate other than as a strong lower bound.

        * Expensive in both purchase price and potential liability risk.

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        • Wency says:

          I am fairly certain that a (casual) friend of mine owns guns, but he has refused to confirm or deny when I have asked. He is an upper middle class financial executive and does not by any means come across as a paranoid, tinfoil hat type.

          I suspect that the number of people who would not answer the question accurately to a pollster is somewhat higher than those who won’t share it with friends or acquaintances.

          Still, I agree with Scott that the number doesn’t seem like it can be dramatically higher than 32% of households. It may be that the inaccurate reporting is higher in the US than Canada though, for cultural reasons.

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          • The Anonymouse says:

            Ah yes, thank you. The third prong. If you own a gun or several, and you live in a place where that is not the bien pensant sort of thing to do, are you going to answer ‘yes’ when asked?

            See also, why so many of us “don’t know any creationists” despite creationists being a large portion of the US population. Admitting to owning a gun in a culturally-blue area of the country is outing yourself as being waaaaay deep in the wrong tribe.

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          • Jiro says:

            It may be that the inaccurate reporting is higher in the US than Canada though, for cultural reasons.

            If Canada has to register all guns I would expect underreporting to be a lot smaller in Canada.

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          • JayT says:

            For what it’s worth, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and
            A) I would guess that 50% of the people I know own guns, and
            B) I would never admit to owning a gun, whether it was true or not.

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          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s none of anyone’s business if I have a gun.

            Since I’m kinda of anonymous here, I’ll say I don’t own a gun and don’t want to own a gun, and I’m slightly suspicious of people who do own guns, but I’m much more suspicious of people who want to know my gun-owning status. MYOB.

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          • Is it anyone’s business whether you own a car, explosives, or a nuke? Let me explain: the bright line here is “thing that can readily be used to kill”, or not.

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          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I want to keep my lack of gun-ownership private, pithy slogans notwithstanding.

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          • Mary says:

            “If Canada has to register all guns I would expect underreporting to be a lot smaller in Canada.”

            Those who don’t register would be confessing to a crime, so why smaller?

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          • RCF says:

            I would also expect there to be large overlap between people who use their guns to commit crimes and people who deny having a gun. Are the studies showing that more guns means more death, or that more people admitting means more death?

            “Those who don’t register would be confessing to a crime, so why smaller?”

            It would be smaller among people who haven’t registered, but presumably the percentage among people who have registered would be higher, since they’ve already admitted to having a gun.

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          • William O. B'Livion says:

            @TheAncientGeek:
            > > Is it anyone’s business whether you own a car, explosives, or a nuke?
            > Let me explain: the bright line here is “thing that can
            > readily be used to kill”, or not.

            Do you have any idea how many things have been used as murder weapons over the years?

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          • @EdwardScissorhands

            Everyone, individually, has reason to keep gun ownership private, and if everyone does, that leads to a worse situation overall. Usual problem.

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          • “Do you have any idea how many things have been used as murder weapons over the years”

            Yes, thankyou. I don’t think that is the difference between us. I think the difference is that I am assuming that a life saved is a life saved, whereas you seem to be assuming that only perfection is acceptable. Or are you? After all, if you were, you would have to regard pretty well every piece of legislation ever passed as useless.

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        • Anon says:

          Not only that, I would expect a difference in reporting accuracy in areas with different gun cultures. Where I live I don’t think many would see reason to deny gun ownership as it’s so mundane. I’d expect more “gun-friendly” areas to be less likely to under-report, but I’m far from certain especially since I’m not from the U.S.

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        • Licinius says:

          Re: people underreporting gun ownership to pollsters – I’ve heard gun owners argue the opposite – that the number is overstated because nobody wants to admit to a “pollster” – who may not actually be a pollster – that they don’t have a gun in their house. To hear some people tell it, “if somebody calls you and asks if you own a gun, you better say yes in case they’re a robber trying to case the place.” My gut sense is that the type of person who would think this way is the type of person who would already own a gun, but you never know.

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        • Mary says:

          Hmm. Recently read an article where it observed that gun sales have been through the roof — and fewer households have guns. According to surveys.

          The article thought it meant more concentration. Apparently the inspiration for buying more guns can’t also inspire lying about them.

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          • Harold says:

            Indeed. I did a very rough back of the envelope calculation combining such claims by an anti-gun group and figures generated from Federal Pittman-Robertson Act tax collections and the result, if the former was correct that all these new gun purchases were by existing gun owners would have us owning, on average, an inventory of guns costing $100,000. It would still be an ludicrous figure if you allowed for all the new gun owners due to the tail end of the sweep of shall issue concealed carry in the nation.

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      • Echo says:

        Don’t have the data on this comp, but there was a sharp (~7%-ish?) drop in self-reported gun ownership in the US right after Clinton’s “assault weapons ban”.
        It’s also about the time people started joking about “what a shame I lost all my guns in a tragic boating accident”.

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        • Donny Anonny says:

          Setting aside for the moment that people may lie to random pollsters, it’s unsurprising to see the number of gun owning households shrink as they’re a subset of ALL households.

          So long as the growth of American households outpaces the growth of those households that choose to own guns, the long-term effect will be a gradual downward trend of gun owning households as a percentage of all households, even if the number of gun owning households is growing.

          You’d have to see market penetration similar to smart phones or internet service in order to see the subset of gun-owning households go up.

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        • keranih says:

          Canoeing accident. A v. tragic canoeing accident.

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      • Jiro says:

        I find it extremely easy to believe that it is much higher.

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      • Robert VerBruggen says:

        That’s on the low end. My best guess is somewhere 35-40. Went through some data here: http://www.realclearpolicy.com/blog/2014/02/24/the_vanishing_spike_in_gun_ownership_850.html

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      • John Schilling says:

        I think what we really need for this kind of analysis is the actual rate of handgun ownership, rather than the legal or reported rate of total gun ownership. Or maybe “handgun + 18-21″ barrel shotgun + black carbine”, to better distinguish guns purchased with an eye towards shooting people as opposed to pure sporting goods / pest-control implements.

        We could probably get the legal rate of handgun ownership without too much trouble, but it’s the handguns where I would most expect to find underreporting.

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      • Ano says:

        I think your bubble bias is affecting your estimate on that one. I live in a very red state (Utah) and I would guess the number of gun owning households in my town is somewhere between 70 and 90%. Seriously. It would be weird to NOT have a gun. I don’t hunt or even shoot much, but I have several guns.

        The government will never be able to get an accurate number on gun ownership. Coastal blue tribers don’t realize how much conservatives fear you and by extension the government. There is a lot of macho bluster from conservatives, but that is because they are terrified.

        Blue tribe runs the government, runs the media, runs the internet. The cultural feeling in the red tribe is that blue increasingly wants to run their lives and thoughts too. The red tribe will never willingly admit to owning guns when blue has stated so vocally that they are coming to take all the guns away.

        My personal politics run pretty mixed color for my area, but culturally I am deeply, deeply red tribe. I know my community. On the record, nobody owns guns. But whenever our church men’s or youth group plans a shooting activity, nobody complains that they don’t have a gun. The question is “which guns should I bring?”

        As nice as Scott’s workup is, I don’t have much confidence in the numbers because it runs so very contrary to my personal observation.

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  3. JRM says:

    I remember an older post you did coming to somewhat different conclusions. I think they are the two best things I’ve ever read on guns, though I need some time and energy to look at this one harder.

    I must, however, take exception to quoting John Lott for anything. He’s a bad actor; he made up his data for More Guns, Less Crime (Google it; he says, basically, the dog ate my data) and he sockpuppeted John Lott cheerleaders (Google “John Lott Mary Rosh.”) The research and position papers on both sides of this have been incredibly bad; even the abortion debate is fundamentally more honest.

    There’s still a problem if we conclude guns cause lots of deaths (and I have a family member who died in a gun-related suicide, and I came rather closer to being on the ventilated end of a gun-related homicide than the actuarial tables recommend). Taking the guns from people is going to be… interesting. We’re not starting from square zero.

    But the first step is making sense of the mess of data, much of it bad. This is great.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yeah, I remember that.

      IIRC that was working off of mostly experimental studies; this is working off of mostly correlational ones. Unclear which is better – usually experimental ones are, but they can be limited – for example, most of the experimental ones looked at gun control within a US state, but that isn’t that useful because you can just take a gun over state lines.

      Overall I am still confused, as I mentioned in 7. I’ve edited the post a bit to make that more obvious.

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      • Professor Frink says:

        Even worse for the natural-experiment papers is that none of the gun control laws passed in the states do much- i.e. if you can’t conceal and carry but you can still buy a gun without any sort of licensing or waiting, then you can just buy a gun and stick it in your purse.

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        • RCF says:

          By “can”, do you mean “are physically able to”, or “can legally do so”?

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          • John Schilling says:

            Are physically able to and almost certainly will not be punished for doing so.

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          • Professor Frink says:

            “Physically able and unlikely to be punished.” It makes carrying a concealed firearm a lot like speeding in a car.

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          • John Schilling says:

            Correct, including the part where (at least in the United States, and barring occasional ticket quotas) the police don’t want to cite or arrest you for either one unless you’re being blatantly obvious about it or are on their shit list for some other reason.

            The one difference is that speeding is always visible; even in places or circumstances where police would want to arrest you for illegally carrying a concealed weapon if they knew about it, they probably won’t know or have cause to look.

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          • William O. B'Livion says:

            California is what is called a “may” issue state, which means that you may beg your local “Chief Law Enforcement Officer” for permission to carry a firearm for self defense.

            This ranges from places like Northern CA where most sheriffs (so I’m told) will issue a CCW to anyone who lives there and isn’t a known dirtbag to San Francisco County which has (at least up to the time I lived there) only issued 3 permits, one of which was to Diane Feinstein, who is more equal than you and I.

            And to places like Santa Clara County were a 5000 donation to the local Sheriff’s re-election campaign would get you a permit. Of course, if you donated to her opponent, even if you were a bail-bondsman, you did not have good reason.

            Which is to set up the comment that I carried in San Francisco and Santa Clara county *every day* for about 7 years without a permit.

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          • Anonymous says:

            “Law abiding”

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          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Anonymous – yup, he’s a criminal. Just like Martin Luther King.

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          • Anonymous says:

            Sure, invoke MLK when convenient but “law abiding” isn’t a phase coined or widely deployed by gun control advocates–rather it’s the gun advocates that loves to throw it around, claiming that this or that restriction will inconvenience law abiding folks. So which is it, law abiding or proudly law disregarding?

            Perhaps law abiding means something else, not what it says on the tin. Maybe I’m missing the true meaning because it’s just at too high a pitch for me to hear.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            This is just like when conservatives play their little rhetorical game about illegal immigrants not being “law abiding”.

            Yes, by definition, they are breaking a law by entering the country. But are they breaking laws in a way that actually hurts anybody?

            Moreover, as I understand it, the argument by gun rights advocates is that people who did follow these laws would be victimized. Not necessarily that people have an obligation thus to victimize themselves.

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          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Anonymous – “Perhaps law abiding means something else, not what it says on the tin. Maybe I’m missing the true meaning because it’s just at too high a pitch for me to hear.”

            True, necessary, kind?

            You are already perfectly aware of this, but I’ll spell it out explicitly for the cheap seats: William, as he describes himself, is a “law abiding citizen” in that he does not engage in wanton criminal behavior. He does not rob, burgle, rape or assault his fellow citizens. He does not randomly engage in destruction of property. He does not involve himself in gang activity or the drug trade. That is the common definition of a law abiding citizen, and no part of it involves race.

            No part of the above definition precludes carefully considered civil disobedience, which concealed carry *by the law abiding* amounts to when it is outlawed. The comparison to MLK is a valid one. Please stop being maximally uncharitable.

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    • Troy says:

      I must, however, take exception to quoting John Lott for anything. He’s a bad actor; he made up his data for More Guns, Less Crime (Google it; he says, basically, the dog ate my data)

      I first saw this accusation from Andrew Gelman, and it seemed damning to me at the time, but a recent post from Gelman containing a reply by Lott made me much more skeptical of it: http://andrewgelman.com/2015/06/29/a-note-from-john-lott/

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      • I stopped following the Lott controversy years ago, but as best I recall that accusation was made not about “his data” but about the data for one claim in the book. It had nothing to do with the original Lott/Mustard paper showing a positive effect from shall issue laws, over which there has also been controversy.

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        • John Schilling says:

          That, and using sock puppets to defend himself in online debate. There’s reason to doubt his intellectual integrity, and I don’t trust his numbers unless I or someone I do trust has double-checked them. But he does go through a good deal of effort to collect data, and when it can be double-checked it’s probably OK to use his work as a starting point.

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          • I’m not inclined to entirely trust anyone in a politically controversial debate such as gun control–you have to look at what the critics say and then how those criticized reply. I tried to do that on my web page for a while with respect to the Lott/Mustard controversy, but gave up when the statistical arguments got beyond my statistical competence.

            I think John is too willing to believe things that support his views–I had a discussion on my blog some years back of one such case. But, as best I could tell, John was believing (and repeating) a story invented by someone else on his side of the argument.

            http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2007/07/lott-lambert-guns-and-merced-killings.html

            So far as the sock puppet episode, I think John’s claim was that that was the work of his children posting in his defense. He and his wife home schooled, which has some tendency, for good or ill, to produce a family that views itself as an in-group, much of the rest of the world as an out-group.

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  4. Josh Sacks says:

    One note:
    The Australian buyback did not noticeably reduce the Australian murder rate- at least not beyond the background rate of improvement.

    Vox covered this with the same murder+suicide trick you noted. They also add the “firearm homicide” rate trick- fewer gun murders but little change in overall murder rate. Here’s the Vox article: http://www.vox.com/2015/8/27/9212725/australia-buyback

    I happen to know this because I read the Vox article and was surprised since it seemed to contradict most of the literature I was aware of, so I looked up the Ozzie stats.

    Here are some relevant Australian murder statistics: http://www.aic.gov.au/statistics/homicide.html
    The relevant buyback is 1996-1997.

    The Australian buyback was effective at lowering suicide rate, as the existing literature would indicate.

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  5. John Schilling says:

    This study doesn’t prove causation; while one interpretation is that guns cause homicide, another is that homicide causes guns – for example, by making people feel unsafe so they buy guns to protect themselves.

    Yet another interpretation would be that a third factor causes both homicide and gun ownership. And if we’re having a long discussion where “culture of violence” is being presented as a real and important characteristic of American states, I can think of an obvious suspect for something that would cause both homicide and gun ownership. A member of a violent culture is more likely to anticipate wanting or needing to get violent some time in the future – for reasons including but not limited to self-defense – and prepare for such. And, more likely to actually get violent and kill someone.

    Really, to tease truth out of this messy data with any confidence, I think we need a better way to quantify “culture” of violence. Because this sort of thing:

    And this is murder rate by state correlated with percent black population … This would seem to support the “culture of violence” theory

    is going to get you in trouble, I think beyond its actual utility in predicting cultural inclinations to violence. Unfortunately I can’t think of any better readily measurable proxy than “Southern and/or Black”.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      This is what we’re trying to eliminate by adjusting for lots of confounders including the ones we think are correlated with culture of violence. It’s possible we missed a confounder or adjusted incorrectly, but I was pretty impressed with the study.

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      • John Schilling says:

        The obvious missing element to my eye would be Hispanics on the culture-of-violence side; Hispanic culture (in the US) seems coarsely to be less violent than US “black culture” but comparable to Southerners and much higher than non-Southern whites.

        But more than that, when you try to isolate a small correlation by factoring out order-of-magnitude-larger cofounders, with only a single study and limited dataset, you’re on shaky ground to begin with. When you can’t even measure the cofounder you’re trying to isolate but have to use various correlated proxies for that and hope you’ve got them all, that may be a step too far. And when you then try to assert not just the existence of a correlation but the direction of causality from such a foundation, I think that’s three-strikes-and-you’re-out territory for statistics.

        You’re basically saying “It must be X that’s causing Y because I can’t think of anything else that could cause Y”. You can prove UFOs are flying saucers that way, or mental illnesses the result of demonic possession.

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  6. Geoff Greer says:

    Have you considered doing an analysis of the kinds of guns used in crime? According to FBI stats (https://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/data/table_20.html), handguns are responsible for almost half of all homicides. Long guns such as rifles and shotguns are responsible for ≈6% of killings. For comparison, approximately the same number of homicides are committed with bare hands as are committed with long guns. I don’t have figures on handgun ownership in countries like Canada and Germany, but I bet handguns are much more common in the US. This may help explain some of the difference in homicide rates.

    Lastly: I’m a gun owner, yet I wouldn’t immediately reject a $1,000 tax on firearms. Quality firearms are already expensive. A nice handgun such as a Sig P226 can easily cost $800. Depending on components, an AR-15 can cost anywhere from $700-$2,000. A $1k tax would kill the market for cheap guns (nobody’s going to buy a Hi-Point for $1200), but for many gun enthusiasts, it’d just cut their arsenal in half. In my case, I’d own four guns instead of six.

    To make it politically feasible, the BATFE could tax the manufacture and importation of firearms, not their purchase. Start small, ramp it up faster than inflation… and maybe they could get away with it.

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    • John Schilling says:

      That;s how gun control got its start in the United States, various laws intended to make sure that middle-class white males could readily own the sorts of guns that middle-class white males like to own but Those Other People, You Know Who, The Ones Who Cause Problems, couldn’t afford to own any sort of gun at all.

      I would be very surprised and disappointed if you could actually pull anything like that off today.

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      • Geoff Greer says:

        Even if your statement is true –and I’m not sure it is–, that doesn’t refute the idea that guns should have their negative externalities priced-in. You might as well be against taxes on alcohol because the Anti-Saloon League supported them.

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        • Andrew says:

          There are serious social ills to disarming poor communities that don’t currently have effective policing.

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          • Troy says:

            The morality of pricing guns out of the range of poor people may then turn on whether the only “legitimate” use of guns is hunting (or collecting), or whether it includes self-defense. If the benefits of making guns more expensive are substantial, I don’t think it’s that problematic to make hunting unaffordable less affordable for poor people. On the other hand, it does seem problematic to allow rich people to defend themselves against murderers but disallow poor people this same right. (Not really disallow, of course, but make much more difficult.)

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          • Troy: ” I don’t think it’s that problematic to make hunting unaffordable less affordable for poor people.”

            Part of the urban/rural divide about guns is that for some rural people, hunting makes a significant contribution to their food budget. Perhaps you were thinking of hunting as a hobby.

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          • JBeshir says:

            I’m genuinely curious how this works budget-wise; do they have a lot of free time, or is it much more time efficient in terms of meat caught and made edible than one might think, are transport costs not a problem, etc.

            More than any other artisanal good, I’d expect having a hunter go out and kill you something to be way more expensive in time and transport and supporting supplies than buying some burgers from Walmart or a small food store if much nearer.

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          • The Anonymouse says:

            @ JBeshir

            An elk (a large game animal commonly hunted in my part of the country) might provide between 150-250lbs of boneless, edible meat. Here, also, the cheapest beef currently goes for about $2.98/lb. Even counting in the ancillary costs of hunting (time spent, an elk tag, transport, a freezer in the garage), such an animal can make a substantial benefit to a family’s food budget.

            There are many smaller game animals in the US (as well as some larger), but the smaller take-home in meat is offset by lessened transport/storage/processing costs. Moreover, the time-cost of hunting is generally offset by the fact that hunters tend to see the time spent hunting as not a cost, but a benefit; most hunters find hunting an enjoyable activity.

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          • JBeshir says:

            That makes sense. At $450-$750 in meat it would allow pretty large costs.

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          • The Anonymouse says:

            Happy to help.

            As a side note, when coming up with dollar values, it is worthwhile to consider that the beef comparison-cost is for the cheapest (last Sunday when I was shopping for beef) cuts available; a hunter gets all the good cuts as well as the so-so ones (usually ground up for sausage or burger). My 10s Google search for commercial elk tenderloin prices shows a result of about $30-35/lb.

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          • Troy says:

            Part of the urban/rural divide about guns is that for some rural people, hunting makes a significant contribution to their food budget. Perhaps you were thinking of hunting as a hobby.

            A fair point. I was thinking of hunting as a luxury good, but as you observe it’s more than that for many people.

            On the other hand, hunting can arguably be replaced with other sources of food more easily than guns for self-defense can be replaced with other sources of self-defense.

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          • CatCube says:

            When my father was young, the only meat they might have was whatever he, his father, and his brothers would shoot. Being in a rural, forested area, it was trivial to go back into the treeline and set up a blind, but it also meant that they hunted constantly, in season or not.

            This also means that the only costs were their time and the bullet; they weren’t purchasing licenses or anything.

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          • Is improving policing to the standards enjoyed by other, poorer, countries out of the question?

            Report comment

          • I’m urban/suburban myself, but i believe an important part of the economics of rural hunting is that a lot of it is done by people who aren’t making much money. It’s much easier for them to hunt than for them to get better-paying work.

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          • Richard says:

            @Troy:
            Hunting is also a necessity as it is the only feasible way of controlling wildlife populations. I happen to actively dislike the actual hunting and yet I shoot dozens of animals every year.

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          • “There are serious social ills to disarming poor communities that don’t currently have effective policing.”

            OTOH, there is no reason why improvements ot policing can’t be part of the picture. In some countries it is taken for granted that poor areas have poor policing because they are poor, in other countries it is take for granted that everyone deserves the same standard of policing because everyone is a citizen.

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            @TheAncientGeek:

            Logically, this is quite true, but there are two problems with your assertion.

            1) This is what as known as “linkage.” In modern politics it is usually the sign of someone really, really desperate. Once upon a time, politicians were honest – i.e. they stayed bought – and could be trusted to keep deals, most of the time, more or less. That day is done.

            “Maybe you’re right and poor people do need guns to protect themselves. We’ll improve policing and then they won’t need so many guns… but let’s get rid of the guns first. Because reasons.”

            No. Let’s improve policing first. I mean, turn it around. There’s no reason stricter gun control can’t be part of the package once the improved policing is in effect, right? You trust the gun owners to follow up once you do what you said, right? You really want to actually deal with the problem your opponents have raised, right? You’re sure improved policing will have the effect you claim it will, right?

            2) If we really wanted to have better policing, we’d have it already. I am unaware of anyone, with the partial exception of stop-and-frisk opponents, who opposes “better policing.” I am aware of lots of people who don’t want to pay for it. I don’t see why this would change just because stricter gun control measures were imposed.

            Although if you really want to kill two birds with one stone… How about we take all those BATFE agents who are hassling people about pieces of metal lying in toolboxes and send them to patrol the neighborhoods in need of better policing? Scarce resources and all that.

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          • bluto says:

            @JBeshir

            When I was a kid in the west I recall eating game almost everynight and beef even McDonalds was a rare treat. My family would shoot several antelope deer and perhaps an elk or moose annually (the latter required winning a lottery). We never had a guide. The only ongoing costs was time (my father reloaded bullets and reloading componets come in high quantities). One could do similarly with deer in much of the eastern US today. I recall eating essentially only game meat for 5 years for a family of 4.

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        • Echo says:

          There was actually a lot of discussion about that in the Heller and McDonald cases. One of the first examples was Tennessee’s “Army Navy law” of 1870-something, which banned all handguns types except the very expensive ones fit for army or navy service.
          Interestingly, it was passed only a few years after the law banning black freedmen from owning guns was overturned by the ’75 civil rights act…

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        • Leonard says:

          that doesn’t refute the idea that guns should have their negative externalities priced-in.

          True. Even though gun control is racist as a historical matter, a utilitarian should still do it if the hedons and utils dictate.

          I would note, however, that Scott has not made any attempt to compute the positive externalities of guns. I, for one, am happy that home invasion crimes are very rare in the USA, and I thank all the gun owners around me for that.

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          • This is a very general issue. People who want to make an economic argument against X can do it by listing the negative externalities, making generous estimates of uncertain numbers, adding them up, while ignoring the positive externalities. To take a simple example from the climate controversy, we often see estimates of increased mortality from hotter summers, rarely of decreased mortality from milder winters—although the effect of AGW on winters is stronger than on summers and mortality from cold more common than from heat.

            I first encountered that problem about forty years ago in the context of population. I wrote a piece for the Population Council in which I tried to calculate the net externality from one more child. I concluded that the size of positive and negative effects was too uncertain to know whether the sum was positive or negative.

            http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Laissez-Faire_In_Popn/L_F_in_Population.html

            One of the talks I give is based on that and the current climate controversy, where I believe the same thing is true.

            http://oxlib.org.uk/2013/01/video-of-david-friedmans-lecture/

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          • How much stolen property equates to a life?

            Report comment

          • John Schilling says:

            How much stolen property equates to a life?

            It is usually considered polite to conceal that value and piously pretend it to be infinite. If you really care, there are places you can look to find it at least implicitly presented. Including elsewhere in this discussion, I believe.

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          • Dan says:

            If I shoot somebody for attempting to steal my wallet/car etc, it isn’t because I am equating the value of the property with their life.

            I don’t give a damn about the property. It can be replaced.

            I give a damn about the explicit/implicit threat to my life to seize that property. THAT is why they get shot.

            If a person is stupid enough to place trust for their future existence in the hands of someone that is demonstrating contempt for same…I guess they must learn to accept the roll of the cosmic dice.

            I prefer to load those dice.

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          • roystgnr says:

            Even with no threat to life you can’t talk about property loss without talking about the changed incentives which accompany it. If Altruist Alice steals $0 from her neighbors under all conditions, and Burglar Bob steals everything his neighbors don’t carry on their person or nail down, then Burglar Bob will end up stealing approximately $0 too, but the cost to his neighbors (who will no longer bother to own anything that can’t be carried or nailed down) will be enormous.

            IIRC this is still a major hypothesized contributor to third world poverty – if failures of property protection and even of property records don’t allow you to accumulate wealth, then you’re better off not even trying.

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          • Mark Atwood says:

            hypothesized contributor to third world poverty

            I am firmly convinced that it’s a major cause of developed world poverty as well.

            Poor people living around lots of poor people spend more resources, relatively speaking, in guarding what they do have from being stolen by their neighbor’s idiot meth-head sons. When the meth-head idiot sons do break the windows, steal the tv, wreck the car, the poor victims are more injured, just due to being on the wrong side of the “declining marginal value of each additional dollar” reality.

            The other thing I have noticed, and it’s been mentioned in the past in SSC, is that poor people with families of poor people surrounded by poor people, are not allowed to save money by their own family and their own neighbors. As soon as it is known they have even a few hundred bucks in their savings, everyone shows up needing help, $20 at a time, and how dare they not help out their sister, brother in law, grand-aunt, their nextdoor neighbor, the neighbor’s sister in law, etc with gas money, grocery money, car repairs, new pair of shoes, etc..

            As I write this I am thinking of a specific close friend of mine, who explained this dynamic to me, and that they escaped that world by being ludicrously secretive about their income and their savings, by absolutely refusing to ever spend a cent on the drugs that were readily available and commonly used in those spheres (booze, tobacco, weed, meth), by generally refusing to spend money on unnecessary unproductive crap junkfood or toys, and even to this day maintaining a near sociopathic attitude towards bailing out their family and people from their old neighborhoods.

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          • TrivialGravitas says:

            “although the effect of AGW on winters is stronger than on summers and mortality from cold more common than from heat.”

            Nope. If you only look at straight up direct cause of death numbers cold kills more people but temperature related fatalities com in the form of things like a higher than background rate death by other causes, similar to famine deaths. Cold is still riskier but far more people have inadequate cooling vs heating and there’s rough parity (though I expect the rough parity would persevere even if climate shifted radically globally, people would be less interested in their heat and more interested in their cooling)

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ trivial gravitas
            “Cold is still riskier but far more people have inadequate cooling vs heating and there’s rough parity (though I expect the rough parity would persevere even if climate shifted radically globally, people would be less interested in their heat and more interested in their cooling).”

            Absent recent high-tech, adequate heating is much easier than adequate cooling. It’s only since Mid-20th Century that ‘refrigerated air conditioning’ became a practical alternative to ‘swamp coolers’, and even swamp coolers came not so long previous.

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          • @TrivialGravitas:

            You deny my claim that more people die from cold than from heat. For the U.S., checking it is easy–just look at mortality rates over the year. For example:

            http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/provisional_tables/Provisional_Table01_2014Dec.pdf

            For the world it’s a little harder, but there was a publication in a British journal a couple of years back that estimated mortality from heat and cold. My memory is that the figure from cold was about ten times that for heat, but it would take some effort to go back and find the article.

            But since you are making a positive claim, why don’t you do it?

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          • TrivialGravitas says:

            @houseboatonstx

            I’m not sure what you’re point is given that we’re talking about the 21st century?

            Though pre 20th century heating was neither entirely adequate nor was pre 20th century cooling actually absent, though it was dependent on construction techniques rather than heat pumps.

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          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Looking at the US and Britain doesn’t prove much

            I’d suspect that places where people can’t acquire climate control to literally save their life tend to be places where heat is a larger threat than cold.

            Though this is just argument for fun, the point about cherry-picking externalities stands.

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          • @ADifferentAnonymous:

            The British source I referred to was an article in a British journal which attempted to estimate global mortality from heat and cold. The journal was the Lancet, and here’s a link I found to a summary of its results:

            http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150520193831.htm

            Twenty times as many deaths due to cold as due to heat by their calculations.

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          • Vorkon says:

            The home invasion issue is just as much about personal safety as it is about property, if not more.

            I forgot the exact statistics and would have to look them up again, but in the US, the vast majority (I want to say around 90%) of the home invasions that do occur take place while the owner is not at home, or at least when the invader believes the owner is not home, while in the UK, the majority (I believe it was around 60%, but like I said, all I remember for sure is that it was definitely over 50%) take place while the owner is at home. Further, surveys of prisoners indicate that in both cases this is on purpose; in the US, they do it that way because they fear for their safety, and in the UK they do it that way because they think they are more likely to find items that they don’t need to fence, such as cash in a wallet, when there is someone at home.

            So not only does the prevalence of guns in America reduce the total number of home invasions, but it also makes it much less likely that you will be home for them, and thus reduces the potential for a home invasion to turn violent. I’m not sure how this would effect the total homicide numbers (as such confrontations would be less likely to be lethal, I’m assuming) but it’s still something to consider.

            Again, I apologize for not including my source. I’ll try to look it up again when I have some more time.

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          • Cadie says:

            On cold/heat: I suspect that cold is a much bigger danger in relatively wealthy nations/areas than heat would be; in areas where extreme poverty is widespread, that may not hold up. This is partly based on my own experiences, but I’ve lived without air conditioning, in the US, in the heat of summer in a Southern state. Very unpleasant. I got sick from mild dehydration a couple of times from it but nothing life-threatening, just feeling lousy. The big trick was getting enough fluids/electrolytes to handle the heat especially through sleeping when I wouldn’t be able to replenish them right away because I was asleep. Where clean water is basically free (in a pinch you can usually find a public water fountain or sink to refill containers) and adding a pinch of salt is free or less than a penny’s worth from a canister, this can be done easily with a bit of planning. Not so much where water is hard to get and may not be safe to drink as-is.

            I’m not at all sure that a night of freezing temperatures with no access to heating or even a fire would be survivable without serious health consequences.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ cadie

            As someone mentioned above, we should not count just literally freezing to death, but also deaths by ailments worsened by cold. This should apply to heat also; eg associated air problems (and as long as all this Southern and crime data is handy, doesn’t assault rate go up during hot spells?)

            Heating is low tech if you can find enough firewood and have enough coats. Effective cooling requires pretty high tech. In the US South before common refrigerated a/c, there was no good way to keep cool in summer. Even rich people had little recourse except big power fans, and even those weren’t very helpful.

            The areas in line to get too warm by AGW, are also the ones too poor to rely on air conditioning. So ‘cold causes more deaths than heat’ isn’t a very strong point.

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          • Two points:

            As someone else pointed out, one way of dealing with high temperatures is architecture–buildings designed in one way or another to stay cool. And, of course, another is by behavior–taking a siesta at midday instead of working.

            According to the summary of the Lancet article I mentioned, most of the excess mortality in both directions isn’t from the extremes, it’s from weather moderately hot or moderately cool.

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          • Shouldn’t tropical diseases be figured into the health effects of heat?

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          • William O. B'Livion says:

            TheAncientGeek says:
            > How much stolen property equates to a life?

            We got our house broken into while living in a country that does not allow the use of a weapon for self defense (which is to say if they could prove you had that cricket bat for self defense and you used it on a burglar you’d be in more trouble than them).

            My wife thought the noise was our toddler up in the middle of the night.

            She got a black eye and a broken jaw. If I hadn’t been on my way out of the bed room screaming (there was stuff strewn all down the driveway and out in to the street, they were running scared) who knows if they’d have stuck around to make things worse.

            She will *still* get out of bed sometimes to check the doors (the same ones she always checks right before bed).

            So you break in to my house and that value is less than a stick of gum.

            Tell me about “negative externalities” when YOUR loved one can’t sleep well.

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          • William O. B'Livion says:

            ADifferentAnonymous says:
            > I’d suspect that places where people can’t acquire climate
            > control to literally save their life tend to be places where
            > heat is a larger threat than cold.

            WHAT?

            We’re not talking about being comfortable, we’re talking about *survival*. Do you know what it takes to survive in 130 degree heat?

            Water and shade. You do your work (hunting, food gathering etc.) in the morning or evening when it’s cooler, and you lounge around during the heat.

            You know what it takes to survive in 20 degree temperatures? Water, LOTS of food (because it’s going to be too cold ALL STINKING DAY), clothing, shelter and fire.

            There’s a reason there’s lots of people at the tropics and damn few at the poles.

            In first world nations people die from “the heat” because they live in crap neighborhoods and are afraid to open their windows during the heat of the day for fear that they’ll get burglarized.

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          • Cord Shirt says:

            http://www.srh.noaa.gov/ama/?n=heatindex

            At a heat index of 125 or higher, a human will get heat stroke even in the shade while avoiding activity. One way to reach such a heat index is to have 45% relative humidity at a temperature of 105F (in the shade). Another is to have 12% relative humidity at a temperature of 125F (in the shade).

            The way to survive 130F is to have air conditioning. Or move.

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          • “It is usually considered polite to conceal that value and piously pretend it to be infinite. If you really care, there are places you can look to find it at least implicitly presented. Including elsewhere in this discussion, I believe.”

            I’m aware of that. Try plugging it into the wider argument: it’s very hard to justify trading off more shootings against fewer burglaries, using either the infinite or the very high value of a life.

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          • “Tell me about “negative externalities” when YOUR loved one can’t sleep well.”

            Remember that the worst case of the negative
            externality is schoolchldren killing other schoolchidren.

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        • Anthony says:

          Gun control has been all about keeping guns away from blacks, until it became all about keeping guns away from conservative whites.

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          • Steve Sailer says:

            I think liberal whites still, deep down, want to take guns away from blacks so they can gentrify inner cities, but they don’t have a vocabulary for expressing that not unreasonable desire. So they end up talking all the time as if the Real Menace is rural whites. What urban liberal whites really want is some racial solidarity so that other whites would help them politically disarm urban blacks, but they can’t begin to express such a verboten concept, so they just sputter demonization of other whites.

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      • > That;s how gun control got its start in the United States,

        I’m glad to hear *that* it did.

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    • Echo says:

      Re-open the MG registry and increase the tax stamp to $1000. Nobody on our side would complain.
      Now THAT’S how you make a good “compromise” that isn’t a euphemism for “taking everything from you one slice at a time”.

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      • LtWigglesworth says:

        I’d also suggest removing the restriction on suppressors. I’ve always found that ridiculous (I do live in NZ, where we have a licensing system similar to Canada, but absolutely no restrictions on suppressors.)

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        • Dan says:

          Right. In Europe/UK you can pick up suppressors for around $200. They’re considered a health & safety device. Heck, the UK even has suppressors for air rifles! To acquire a similarly affordable suppressor in the US, you would have to make it yourself (and just pay the $200 tax).

          Here in the US, you can pay almost as much as the cost of the weapon it attaches to, PLUS the $200 tax stamp.

          Hearing loss due to shooting is a serious thing. Suppressors are a very sensible option in addition to ear defenders/plugs.

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      • hlynkacg says:

        Make Suppressors Title III and I’d vote for it.

        Heck I’d even accept some pretty serious handgun restrictions if it meant significant deregulation of long-arms and AOW items.

        Edit: Ninja’d by the Lt.

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      • Garrett says:

        I have a local standing order with my favorite gun store: as soon as he can order me a real FN-P90, he’s to do so and I’ll buy it. I think $1000 is a bit too much for the tax stamp, but as a white male professional, I can afford it, and would do so.

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      • Vorkon says:

        This is a very important point, which I don’t see brought up often enough.

        Why does nobody try to come up with legislation which includes an ACTUAL compromise? I know I would go in for all the background checks you can think of, a complete elimination of gun sales by anyone other than an FFL dealer, all kinds of mandatory training requirements, and a requirement to register every weapon in a federal registry, in exchange for eliminating may-issue states, mandating reciprocity with other states CCW permits, and eliminating federally mandated gun-free zones. (not including specifically designated locations, like the White House, of course, but certainly not the ridiculous “all federal property, parks, schools, etc.” that we have now.)

        The biggest problem with this debate is a lack of trust. When anti-gun people say “we’re not trying to take your guns, we just want some common-sense regulation,” pro-gun people say, “yeah right,” and with good reason. Although there are certainly a few honest people who simply don’t realize that the “common sense” gun laws they are proposing won’t do any actual good, there are also a significant number of people who are simply flat-out lying when they say this, and most of the people actually writing the policies are among them. Some kind of quid-pro-quo, tit for tat bargaining would go a LONG way toward proving their sincerity. That’s what a real compromise would look like.

        You would still need some sort of guarantee that the requirements for getting on the registry/getting your FFL/getting the mandatory training wouldn’t be so restrictive as to become a de facto ban, but unless you throw in some kind of bonuses like the expansion of CCW permits I’m talking about, nobody would have any reason to believe you are being sincere about those guarantees.

        (I wouldn’t complain about removing the restriction on suppressors either, of course. It’s just stupid. They don’t work like the movies make people think!)

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        • William O. B'Livion says:

          The reason we shouldn’t compromise any *more* is that those pushing for gun control are lying when they say they don’t want to ban them all.

          We know this because they keep *saying* it, and because every time “we” compromise they come back asking for more. We “compromised” in 1934 by making it hard to get fully automatic weapons, explosives, silencers and all the other cool toys. That didn’t change much of anything (at the federal level) so they went after mail order sales, required filling out of forms and other restrictions. Then in 1986 they outlawed the sales or purchase of any “new” fully automatic weapons, and in 1994 went after the scary black ones.

          Not one of those had *any* measurable impact on crime.

          Look, I’m ok with banning guns by mail-order to the doorstep (e.g. interstate transfers going through FFLs.) And yeah, making reasonable efforts to keep felons from buying them (but if they’re so dangerous, why are they back out on the street?), and yeah, I get that it’s probably a bad idea to let people with Schizophrenia and other severe mental problems have unrestricted access to firearms[1].

          So I’m willing to “compromise” by demonstrating that I’m not currently in one of those categories. Which means all non-local sales go over the internet, and yes there SHOULD be a way that I can verify you’re not a prohibited person over the internet.

          But this is America, not some country full of knee bending euroweenies. If I want a Browning .30 (or .50 for the insecure among us) machine gun in the garage (Wife disallowed such things in the living room), and I can afford it, then WHY NOT?

          Because some douche-bag criminal would use one for a drive-by?

          Because some-one ELSE wets the bed over it?

          Don Kates asserts:
          “Felons commit over 90 percent of murders, with the remainder carried out primarily by juveniles and the mentally unbalanced.”
          http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=2472

          There are anywhere north of 80 MILLION gun owners in the US. That’s the LOW number.

          There are 11k (roughly, to make my math easier) firearm murders per year. If EVERY SINGLE firearm murder was done by a legal gun owner (they aren’t) then there would be about .000137 percent of gun owners committing murder. If I put the decimal point in the right place.

          But we know from lots of sources that somewhere around 90% of murders are committed by “prohibited persons”, people who *aren’t* allowed to own firearms anyway.

          Which means that less than 1100 murders per year (roughly) are committed by otherwise law abiding gun owners.

          [1] don’t think these folks should be banned from ownership, but the mechanics of only allowing them access when “sane” is problematic.

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          • Harold says:

            We “compromised” in 1934 by making it hard to get fully automatic weapons, explosives, silencers and all the other cool toys.

            And the “compromise” was that the Feds didn’t put handguns under the same strictures, including an inflation adjusted and during the Great Depression “tax” of $3,500. That’s why so many of the categories are strange, they tried to sweep up everything that was somewhat handgun like, including sawed off shotguns and “short barreled rifles”.

            And William O. B’Livion only hit most of the highlights, or rather lowlights of Federal gun control (didn’t include the Brady Act), there were plenty of other “smaller” measures, he didn’t mention the ATF atrocities that were extinguishing American gun culture that resulted in the 1986 Gun Owners Protection Act and the poison pill we were forced to swallow.

            Note that in all those “compromises” we’ve never been offered, let alone obtained anything in return, it’s always been of the “well, we won’t throw this kid off the sleigh to the wolves today” nature. We’re really not inclined to make any more, especially with our betters, including Hillary and Obama, praising or calling for outright confiscation (for those two, Australia’s gun “buyback”).

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    • ShemTealeaf says:

      I agree that it’s very important to differentiate between different types of guns. I’m generally opposed to gun control, but I think the best argument from gun control advocates will center specifically around handguns.

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  7. walpolo says:

    How do non-homicide crimes prevented by self-defense with a gun factor into the costs and benefits of Aussie-style gun control for the US, in your opinion?

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  8. Douglas Knight says:

    Norway’s 2.2

    That’s only because you’re using the 2011 figures. If you take a 10 year average, Norway is just like Sweden.

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  9. Bryan Willman says:

    There’s another fallacy in all of this – which is the presumption that the revealed desire of the body politic is the reduction of all causes of death.
    Yet it is totally clear that this is NOT the revealed desire of the US public in action over time. Otherwise prohibition would have stuck, smoking would have disappeared long ago, there would not be moves to legalize intoxicating substances such as marijuana, the culture around cars would be very different, and so on.
    And in any case, DC and Chicago are stunning examples of places where there has been elaborate gun control and there are still very high rates of violence.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think people think differently about causes of death that kill the user (eg smoking) and causes of death that might kill other people (eg guns). This is why people talk less about gun suicide than gun homicide.

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      • Bryan Willman says:

        Cars? All manner of accidents associated with alcohol? All manner of accidents associated with other intoxicants? Whatever the real effects of second hand smoke are?

        Alcohol, not tobacco, is the most relevent example.

        I assert again, “minimal premature deaths across all all classes of citizens in all places” is NOT the revealed preference of the US polity.

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      • rossry says:

        > This is why people talk less about gun suicide than gun homicide.

        …uh? There are no other reasons worth discussing?

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      • The CDC claims that between 2005 and 2009, about 41,300 adult nonsmokers died in the US each year due to lung cancer or heart disease resulting from lifetime exposure to secondhand smoke (http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/general_facts/). By comparison, they say that a little over ten times that many people (~440,000) die in the US each year from their own smoking (http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fast_facts/).

        In 2005, there were 10,100 firearm homicides in the US (http://web.archive.org/web/20100412084914/http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/05cius/offenses/expanded_information/data/shrtable_07.html), vs. 17,002 firearm suicides (http://www.suicide.org/suicide-statistics.html#2005). So cigarettes kill more innocent third parties than firearms kill total, though there are more homicides relative to suicides than there are second-hand smoke deaths relative to first-hand smoke deaths.

        Of course, death from second-hand smoke isn’t very similar to firearm homicide. It’s more like if 40,000+ people died every year from living near shooting ranges, or from going on hunting trips with friends (while abstaining from hunting themselves).

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        • I tried to trace the claim on mortality due to second-hand smoke to source a few years ago, and was unable to find any support for it–do you know how it was calculated? There was some work that was pretty clearly bogus, in which the researchers compared two cities of their selection, one of which had imposed a restriction on smoking and one of which had not. Someone at the National Bureau estimated the result of applying their method across all cities instead of ones selected to produce the desired result and found that the effect vanished.

          I traced another estimate to a claim by the California EPA, picked up by the Surgeon General’s report, but couldn’t determine where it came from. I reported my attempts in a blog post:

          http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2013/02/blowing-second-hand-smoke.html

          I can’t say with confidence that there is no good basis for the claims of mortality due to second-hand smoke—I’m not as careful as Scott is in researching such questions—but I couldn’t find any. Can anyone here point at reliable research that supports the claim?

          Also, in the case of second-hand smoke, you need to distinguish between the effect on people exposed involuntarily and those exposed voluntarily, by choosing to live with a smoker or spend time in places where others smoke. For the economic analysis of externalities, only the latter counts. I got into the issue because my university was in the process of banning all smoking on campus, including outside. My guess is that the effect on me of someone else smoking fifty feet away is tiny compared to the effect of living with a smoker, and estimates for the latter were being used as an argument to prevent the former.

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    • David Wong says:

      But the DC and Chicago examples are meaningless because they’re not walled cities or islands — guns just flow in from the places where they are legal, which is usually right outside city limits. Everyone in Chicago knows where to get a gun, and it’s not a long trip. It’s not like having to cross an international border or an ocean to buy one over the counter, as is the case when other countries enact gun control measures.

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      • Has anyone compiled data on black market price of firearms in different countries? Might be hard to get, but it would be interesting to see to what degree legal restrictions actually make it harder for criminals to obtain firearms.

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      • Publius Varinius says:

        The U.S. is not a walled city either. Borders cannot stop adult humans (~80 kg per average instance), much less handguns (~0.8 kg per average instance) or drugs (<0.8 kg per average instance).

        Besides, Wong's example, if true, would prove way too much. Even though both Austria and Slovakia have very lax gun control (e.g. you have 6 weeks to register a rifle after purchase) compared to Hungary; major cities such as Bratislava, Gyor and Vienna are less than an hour’s drive from each other; and there are no borders to cross; guns simply don’t flow in.

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        • LtWigglesworth says:

          One of the things that the recent events in Paris has shown is that it is very hard to control firearms in a continent with porous or non-existent borders, especially when there are a lot of ex-military firearms floating around after the Balkan Wars .

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          • naath says:

            This is certainly true; it is demonstrated that really determined terrorists can get guns into Paris, I doubt there’s a city in the world that a really determined terrorist organization with money and people willing to risk their lives couldn’t get a gun into if they really really wanted to.

            But attacks by determined terrorists are a tiny minority of gun-homicides.

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          • hlynkacg says:

            Granted, attacks by determined terrorists are in fact a tiny portion of gun-homicides.

            However, warfare between rival criminal organizations is a much larger portion and if Terrorists can get guns I think it’s fair to assume that Drug Dealers and Mafiosi can too.

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          • Anthony says:

            However, warfare between rival criminal organizations is a much larger portion and if Terrorists can get guns I think it’s fair to assume that Drug Dealers and Mafiosi can too.

            This probably ties in to the “revealed preferences” discussion above. Lots of people probably don’t care much if one scumbag drug dealer kills another one, and don’t want to inconvenience themselves to keep drug dealers and other mafiosi alive.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anthony:

            Yes, this “all harm to every person counts the same” idea of utilitarianism is very silly.

            You don’t have to believe that people are inherently morally unequal at birth, in order to believe that some people are capable of making better choices and “counting” more, while others “count” less.

            (I was initially prompted of this when I read the suggestion by JBeshir that we should ban large bottles of Tylenol for everyone, so that people won’t commit suicide with them.)

            Utilitarianism admits that we sometimes need to lock up criminals. But it still says they count the same as everyone else, only that total happiness can only be maximized by lowering their individual happiness. Yet why should the happiness of immoral people count the same at all?

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          • @vox Imp:

            I have a published article that looks at the question of whether all lives should be considered equally important in the context of murder victims—whether the punishment of a murderer should depend on, among other things, the characteristics of his victim. You might find it of interest:

            http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Payne/Payne.html

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            Interesting article. I’ve only read section III so far, and I’m still looking through it. (I have a lot of other thoughts about “moral luck” and whether acts or intentions should be punished.)

            However, your paper seems to be totally compatible with utilitarianism. Everyone’s “utilons” count the same; it’s only that vicious murderers are going to cause so many more nega-utilons to exist, and thus the expected value of their lives (in terms of future utilons produced) is far less than the expected value of an innocent mother of two children.

            On the other hand, suppose that there are “high-quality” people who have high-quality utilons and “low-quality” people who have low-quality utilons (I don’t actually think it’s binary, but this is a simplification). And suppose a low-quality utilon is worth half that of a high-quality utilon, and that a vicious murderer is an example of a low-quality person. Our math then changes from the paragraph above, since murderers not only cause high-quality nega-utilons to exist; but their own utilons are merely low quality. So the degree of punishment it is efficient to inflict goes up.

            I don’t think this kind of view is so crazy. Take Hitler. In many people’s minds, he was such a low-quality person that his positive utilons count negative. We don’t say that, yes, it’s very bad he killed six million Jews but at least it’s mitigated a tiny bit by the fact that he got to enjoy the loot he stole from them. The pleasure he got from that loot “counts negative”; it’s worse that he enjoyed it than if he didn’t.

            And this is distinct from saying that other people’s knowledge that Hitler enjoyed that loot caused them grief, which is negative. That’s what utilitarianism would say. Maybe that is an additional negative, but the point is that Hitler’s pleasure was not a positive.

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          • Anthony says:

            @Vox Imp – I’m not sure I would want to justify lives being unequal in a utilitarian framework, but I’m not a utilitarian*, and I suspect most voters aren’t either.

            *Not quite true, but my personal system of morals allows lots of things to trump utilitarian calculations. Only if you’ve managed to avoid all those would I accept a purely utilitarian calculation.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anthony:

            I’m not a utilitarian either. Utilitarianism at one point was often used to refer to any moral system that involves calculating utility in any way. But it’s overwhelmingly used in the 20th and 21st centuries to mean a specifically impartial system that counts each person’s utility as equal.

            As for what I am, I am a consequentialist. “Utility” is a vague term, which is why it is useful. I accept in as a sort of stand-in for “whatever is conducive to that person’s ultimate happiness”. When I say I don’t think all utility ought to be treated the same, I mean I don’t think people ought to value everyone’s ultimate happiness equally. This is to reject utilitarianism’s impartialism.

            The ultimate in “partialism” is egoism, which is the view that each person’s own utility is the only thing that counts to each person. And that other people’s utility is valuable instrumentally in promoting it. That would be the Fitzjames Stephen kind of egoistic “utilitarianism” (as he called it, in the 19th century).

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            So I finished reading your essay, and I wanted to talk a little more about the basis of punishment. Should it be acts or intentions? But first of all a quote from Aristotle relevant to my previous comments:

            Now the man is thought to be proud who thinks himself worthy of great things, being worthy of them; for he who does so beyond his deserts is a fool, but no virtuous man is foolish or silly. […] Now the proud man, since he deserves most, must be good in the highest degree; for the better man always deserves more, and the best man most.

            What is the purpose of judgments of offenders in law? It’s not to weigh people in the cosmic scales and find them wanting. There isn’t (and shouldn’t be) some kind of governmental office which searches every man’s soul and gives him the kind of treatment he has earned by his overall character throughout his life. If it did, it would have to give out rewards as well as punishments (see: “the best man deserves the most”). I think it would be nice, but obviously that’s impossible among human beings.

            In the real world, we know that life is not fair and that people do not always get what they deserve, i.e. the rewards they ought to expect from the character of their free choices. In general, capitalism is not a fair system in this respect (neither is actually existing socialism). As you and Nozick say, it is not based on desert but on entitlement. And that’s better for everyone because the government simply can’t tell what people deserve and allocate things accordingly.

            Now, court cases are properly brought by injured parties on the basis of acts that injured them. So the basis of every case is an act. If there is no act (or negligent failure to perform a required act), there is no crime.

            So it is not the immorality of the person as a whole that the court seeks to determine, but whether he was guilty—acting immorally violation of the rights of another—in committing the act. Therefore, it is a defense to the accusation of guilt to say that one acted morally.

            That’s why even if you kill someone in an accident, you don’t have to pay the “weregild”, so long as you weren’t negligent. You acted morally and therefore within your rights. It was his responsibility to avoid you and preserve his own life, and if he couldn’t, that’s just bad luck.

            Properly, the courts never or should never punish someone for a guiltless act committed solely because of bad luck. We leave “acts of God”—bad luck in reality—to fall on the heads of those whom they naturally fall upon, to be dealt with by market systems like insurance.

            But it is, in a sense, bad luck that some people drive drunk and hit a tree and others drive drunk and hit a pedestrian. Or that some people are born rich and never feel tempted to steal, while others are born poor and feel a greater temptation. These people are properly punished because the purpose of court cases is to address the concerns of parties who were actually injured by acts, not to judge one’s whole character. And it is not a defense to the charge of guilt to say that another person is just as immoral but got luckier—since that is no concern of the injured party. To be guilty is to act immorally in violation of the rights of another.

            Those who drive drunk and don’t hurt anyone can be stopped as public nuisances because to threaten the imminent violation of a right is also to cause an injury because it makes people afraid. (Indeed, in a case the Institute for Justice is prosecuting, Albuquerque is using civil asset forfeiture to sue their cars as nuisances. Which would be fine if there were a higher burden of proof, and that’s the part IJ is challenging.) Yet it is a properly a lesser crime than actually killing someone while driving drunk.

            In the case of temptation, the degree of temptation and the poor quality of one’s upbringing are mitigating factors. A poor man who steals a loaf of bread to eat is less guilty than a rich man who steals it for kicks; the latter should be punished more. Cases of extreme temptation (e.g. you walk in on your wife sleeping with another man and kill him), extremely bad upbringing (e.g. locked in a basement), and so on are not justifications but are excuses. If you’re tempted but it’s your fault (e.g. you steal a loaf of bread to eat, but you have no money because you gambled it all away), it doesn’t count.

            That’s my opinion on the subject.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            Actually, a few final thoughts.

            While I don’t endorse the whole civil/criminal-private/public distinction, I there is is a real distinction for what we may call “crimes of moral turpitude” and acts which infringe upon the rights of another non-maliciously.

            It is possible to a) harm another accidentally in a way that doesn’t violate his rights, b) violate his rights intentionally, and c) violate his rights unintentionally or justifiably in the situation.

            In the first case, there is no wrong act at all. For instance, running over a pedestrian who darts out in front of you. Avoiding you was his responsibility, if he wasn’t in a crosswalk and you weren’t a reasonable stopping distance away.

            In the second case, there is a “crime” (for lack of a better word; it is not necessarily an infringement upon the sovereign) which is immoral and more or less hateful. The purpose of punishment is not only to give compensation to the victim but also (as Fitzjames Stephen says) to express the moral disapprobation of society.

            In the third case, there is a “tort” (for lack of a better word; in real life, torts can certainly be malicious). The purpose here is only to make sure the cost of the act is borne by the right person, so only compensatory damages are awarded. No one is to blame.

            This applies to temptation as a mitigating factor. It only mitigates against the hatefulness of a “crime” to society and can only reduce the punishment inflicted for that purpose. It doesn’t mitigate against the harm to the victim.

            In the case of a perfect excuse (and just assume that killing a man whom you see sleeping with your wife is one for the sake of argument), a “crime” is converted into a “tort”. You didn’t act immorally, but you did violate his rights, and you do have to pay his family for the damages caused by his death.

            Similarly, let’s take the case you give against deontological libertarianism in one part of The Machinery of Freedom. A deranged killer is massacring people, but there is a misanthrope who won’t let you use his gun to stop the killer. You are justified in stealing the gun, even though it violates his legal rights, because it is the morally right thing to do. All you have to do is pay him the (very minor) compensatory damages.

            We could even go so far as to say, what if he resists? If you have to kill him to take the gun and stop the killer—and if you can show this was the only way—you are still justified and still haven’t done anything wrong. Now you have to compensate his family for his death, though. He was entitled to the gun and to his life, even though he didn’t deserve them.

            I think we could extend this even to the draft, if it really were necessary to stop a worse evil.

            Edit: there is no real moral reason why the man should be compensated for the gun, or (in the extreme case) his family compensated for his life. It’s just that those are his entitlements in this system. Things would be exactly as just if the initial legal entitlements had been set up differently.

            However, some systems of entitlements work much better than others. Ultimately, I suppose it is a matter of morality (it would not be just if one man were entitled to everyone else’s life), but there’s a lot of optionality.

            This thought applies to innocent enemy civilians in war, as well. They (sometimes) have to be killed justifiably in self-defense of one’s own freedom from aggression. One system of entitlements would be to say that you are nevertheless responsible for compensatory damages to them after the war. But it is also justifiable and likely simpler to say that this is more like the case of a pedestrian who accidentally walks in front of your car: nobody’s fault, nobody pays. Presumably, the aggressor leaders pay, but you’re very likely to run up against the “blood from a stone” problem.

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          • @Vox Imp:

            (Mentioning my essay doesn’t specify which one–I’ve written a lot, and linked to a number from here. This is guessing that it’s Payne vs Tennessee with the discussion of moral luck.)

            This could be a long conversation.

            In my view, we have two sets of moral intuitions: desert and entitlement. I think of desert as the God’s eye view. An omnipotent and omniscient God can look into the soul of an offender, tell if he acted deliberately, negligently, or was just unlucky. And such a God faces no budget constraint, so if he concludes that you deserve a great reward he can provide it.

            Humans, on the other hand, are dealing with each other as equals. What you did is observable, the state of your soul is not. And humans face a budget constraint. Even if neither party to an accident was negligent, the accident happened and someone has to bear the cost. And humans are biased in judging each other, which is a good reason to make outcomes depend on observables. If we judge you not by whether you actually killed someone but by whether the state of your soul is such that you would have killed someone, then, since we know that Catholics would murder the King if the Pope told them to, we are entitled to execute all Catholics for treason even though they haven’t yet done anything. That’s part of Smith’s point.

            The implication is that humans dealing with humans should go mostly by consequences–a response to the problem of moral luck. Smith adds that a benevolent God has hardwired the inclination to do that into us, to avoid the problems that would arise if we felt entitled to punish people for merely being bad rather than doing bad things.

            Economics adds some complications, including Coase’s double causation problem, observable evidence relevant to elasticity, complications of causation, cost of enforcement, and lots of other stuff that I discuss in Law’s Order.

            http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Laws_Order_draft/laws_order_ToC.htm

            So we don’t treat all crimes and torts as strict liability offenses. But we do punish the man who shot at someone and hit him more severely than the man who missed, even though being a bad shot is not a moral virtue, and similarly for the man who actually ran down a child with his car vs the man who managed to swerve just in time.

            I don’t know if that helps.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            Yes, that essay. The one you told me to check out in the same sub-thread. 🙂

            There’s not much I disagree with in your response to me. I would be interested to know exactly what you disagree with in my two posts (if you do). I’ll just clarify a few things.

            In my view, we have two sets of moral intuitions: desert and entitlement. I think of desert as the God’s eye view. An omnipotent and omniscient God can look into the soul of an offender, tell if he acted deliberately, negligently, or was just unlucky. And such a God faces no budget constraint, so if he concludes that you deserve a great reward he can provide it.

            Exactly. God (if he existed) giving everybody exactly what he deserves would be superior to the market economy. But such a system is unattainable.

            If it were attainable, life would be like an even more “benevolent universe” version of an Ayn Rand novel (or a socialist realist novel; the two would be the same in such a world): the world as it could (in some sense) and should be. Every heroic producer like Roark would win out, every Toohey would fall into disgrace. No one would exercise Superior Virtue and then get hit by a bus. No one would massacre thousands and die in his bed. (Of course, many elements of Rand’s actual books show that this isn’t the case; most importantly, the death of Kira Argounova at the end of We the Living.)

            Humans, on the other hand, are dealing with each other as equals. What you did is observable, the state of your soul is not. And humans face a budget constraint. Even if neither party to an accident was negligent, the accident happened and someone has to bear the cost. And humans are biased in judging each other, which is a good reason to make outcomes depend on observables. If we judge you not by whether you actually killed someone but by whether the state of your soul is such that you would have killed someone, then, since we know that Catholics would murder the King if the Pope told them to, we are entitled to execute all Catholics for treason even though they haven’t yet done anything. That’s part of Smith’s point.

            Yes, those are major reasons why court cases are properly based on injurious acts, not one’s whole character.

            So we don’t treat all crimes and torts as strict liability offenses. But we do punish the man who shot at someone and hit him more severely than the man who missed, even though being a bad shot is not a moral virtue, and similarly for the man who actually ran down a child with his car vs the man who managed to swerve just in time.

            I mostly agree here.

            As I said, there are two elements of “punishment”. One is the amoral element of damages: if you break something which someone else is entitled to, such as a vase in a china shop, you have to pay for it.

            If you break the vase by accident, you did nothing wrong and aren’t really “punished”. You are just made to bear the burden that “fate” laid upon you—upon you because in this kind of situation, the store owner isn’t responsible for your actions, neither is anyone else, and somebody has to bear it. The law could just as easily be the opposite: that store owners are responsible for any accidental damage customers cause to their goods. It just has to be clear.

            If you break the vase on purpose, you have acted immorally and not only have to pay damages for the entitlement, but you are punished because you deserve it. But unlike the case of determining what level of economic goods everyone deserves and allocating it accordingly, it is actually practical to go by desert in such cases.

            I’m not sure you’ll agree with this, but this is a legitimate reason (besides the obvious reason of indoctrination by the state) why the law is held by people to be, in a sense, grander and more majestic than the market. The law (like personal relationships) is an area of life where people can be treated as they deserve.

            Because of budget constraints, the law can hardly award virtue as it deserves. (“At honours that are great and conferred by good men he will be moderately pleased, thinking that he is coming by his own or even less than his own; for there can be no honour that is worthy of perfect virtue, yet he will at any rate accept it since they have nothing greater to bestow on him.”) Nor is there any compelling reason for it to try. This can be taken care of by private charitable organizations, such as those who give scholarships to poor children, or (in the case of anarcho-capitalism, where law itself is private) private organizations which are not associated with the use of force.

            Nor should the law try to punish vice in general. It doesn’t work, and it’s in no one’s interest to fund the prosecution of “victimless crimes”. And as you say, it would lead to persecution and it’s in everyone’s interest to avoid that.

            But when the law punishes guilty acts, this is the one case where it is both right and practical for the law to take desert into account. It is (as Fitzjames Stephen argues) natural and appropriate for people to hate criminals. When the law punishes a criminal who acted intentionally and immorally, it goes beyond compensating the victim (which is not a punishment, just paying the cost of the crime as one would pay for a good sold voluntarily) and imposes an additional punishment to satisfy the demand on the part of society to see justice done.

            And when the law tempers justice with mitigating or aggravating factors, these are certainly “observable”. Such as “rich man stealing bread” vs. “poor man stealing bread”.

            This sense that justice has been done is an additional “public good” which is produced, beyond simple deterrence. That provides one rationale for state-administered justice. Of course, the major drawback is that actually existing states rarely do actual justice.

            I am undecided on the question of whether anarcho-capitalism can work. If it can, people might and I think should be willing to pay as a charitable expense to ensure that those who immorally harm others are punished not only to compensate the victims and to provide deterrence, but to see retribution brought upon them. (And they will want to do so in the most cost-efficient way, unlike the state.)

            (On the other hand, one of the major dangers of anarcho-capitalism, as Michael Huemer has pointed out, is that private law enforcement will punish people too harshly. If you execute anyone who steals from people protected by your agency, no one messes with you anymore. But if everyone else follows suit, the thieves just start killing their victims and everyone’s worse off.)

            For just the sort of reason that people are willing to give scholarships to the poor out of benevolence and love of virtue—not wanting to see it go unrewarded; they ought to be willing to pay to punish the wicked because of their hatred of crime and offense at seeing it go unpunished.

            Anyway, I take this to be a reasonable expansion upon the type of theory you lay out.

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          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            A lot of european criminals avoid guns and murder like the plague because the police investigate gun crimes and deaths a lot harder than is the norm in the US.

            If you are a dope dealer in Stockholm and you kneecap a rival with a baseball bat, your odds of being imprisoned for that crime aren’t actually that high. If you kill that rival, your odds of going to prison are shockingly close to unity. The murder clearance rate being well north of ninety percent.
            This is mostly down to european police dedicating a lot of effort to solving murders, no matter who the victim is. Dead hooker noone cared about when they were alive? Quite willing to spend north of a million tracking down and nailing the perp to the wall once they’re dead.

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          • John Schilling says:

            If you are a dope dealer in Stockholm and you … kill that rival [drug dealer], your odds of going to prison are shockingly close to unity.

            Whereas if you kill the Prime Minister, in front of a couple dozen eyewitnesses, you’ll get away scot free. Apparently killing the PM ranks about even with kneecapping a drug dealer, and well below killing someone really important like a drug dealer.

            Or, possibly, there’s something more going on here than the hyperefficient Swedish police always catching their man if they try and always trying real hard to catch murderers.

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          • JBeshir says:

            Clearance rate of 90% sounds broadly plausible, exceptional dramatic political assassination stories notwithstanding.

            Murder clearance rate is discussed in http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/76156310-fcc6-11dc-961e-000077b07658.html and as of 2008 was about 90% in London, so Stockholm being at or north of that would be unsurprising.

            It isn’t that much lower in American cities, either- 70-80% in New York, it would seem, unless you have better data (and the article authors consider this to be poor, under-resourced performance).

            The general point that murder is in fact something to be avoided because police will usually catch you would seem to hold.

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          • @Vox Imp:

            I’m not up for as long a discussion as your comment requires. Note the Coasian problem of double causation. From an incentive standpoint we not only want to give the customer an incentive to be careful about knocking over valuable vases, we also want to give the owner an incentive not to put valuable vases in places where they are easily knocked over.

            “If you execute anyone who steals from people protected by your agency, no one messes with you anymore.”

            I never read the final chunk of the political authority book, which is where I’m guessing that is from. The obvious response is that it is going to be very difficult to get other rights enforcement agencies to agree to use a private court that gives execution of their customers as the penalty for theft. Does Michael’s passage ignore the idea of pairwise contracts by agencies to get agreement and so avoid violence?

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            I’m not up for as long a discussion as your comment requires. Note the Coasian problem of double causation. From an incentive standpoint we not only want to give the customer an incentive to be careful about knocking over valuable vases, we also want to give the owner an incentive not to put valuable vases in places where they are easily knocked over.

            Fair enough. I suspect that the main difference between us is that you are, as far as I can tell from your writings, a determinist and a legal positivist. (I don’t mean that pejoratively.) I gather that you think the law should be “amoral”.

            I can’t even remember who first pointed me to Fitzjames Stephen (it might very well have been you). I find him really interesting. I certainly don’t agree with everything he says, and there’s more than a little positivism in him, but he certainly doesn’t think the law is amoral. Whether he’s a determinist, it’s really hard to say. At times, he seems to endorse psychological egoism, which implies determinism.

            About the vases, I absolutely agree that there is an incentive to avoid both. Nevertheless, there are several setups that can handle this more or less effectively. And the main point is that when someone accidentally breaks a vase, he is not morally to blame unless he was negligent—regardless of whether the law requires him to pay compensation.

            I never read the final chunk of the political authority book, which is where I’m guessing that is from. The obvious response is that it is going to be very difficult to get other rights enforcement agencies to agree to use a private court that gives execution of their customers as the penalty for theft. Does Michael’s passage ignore the idea of pairwise contracts by agencies to get agreement and so avoid violence?

            I don’t think he regards it as a crippling difficulty. I don’t remember exactly what he suggests to deal with it, but your suggestion is not unreasonable, and it’s what I thought of.

            The problem, especially from the utilitarian perspective, is like this. Suppose that there are two types of people: the basically good ones and the basically bad ones (whether this is deterministic is irrelevant here). And suppose people generally have a good idea of which they are.

            The good ones will want very harsh punishments on crime, since they have a moral aversion to crime and hate it and all that. It doesn’t matter to them if the system is unjust because they’ll never be criminals. The bad ones want very moderate punishments on crime. They don’t want a complete free-for-all because they could be victims too, but crime doesn’t bother them that much morally, and after all they expect they might get caught.

            Moreover, in an anarcho-capitalist society, everyone will want to signal that he is good. One way to do this is by agreeing to face really severe punishments for committing crimes. If you know you will never commit them, this is rational. (The probability of false conviction will temper this, but surely you will agree that punishments can be unjustly high without being based on false convictions?) No one is going to want to join the defense agency notorious for harboring criminals and being lax toward them.

            The bad people then have little choice but to go along and agree to face really severe punishments. Then they commit crime anyway (because they are irrational or because they have unusual preferences; it doesn’t matter) but use deadly force because they know they’ll be horribly tortured or executed if they get caught.

            As I said, this is really bad from a utilitarian perspective that believes everyone has equal “inherent moral worth” no matter what he does. But even if you believe that there are good people who count more and bad people who count less, these punishments are going to be too high and also cause unintended consequences.

            Finally and unrelatedly, you might be interested in checking out this really interesting psychology paper “Why Do We Punish?” It finds, among other things that:

            despite strongly stated preferences for deterrence theory, individual sentencing decisions seemed driven exclusively by just deserts concerns.

            Whenever a factor of a crime would increase the severity of the punishment needed to deter but not increase blameworthiness, people don’t support increasing the punishment. For instance, two crimes of equal severity, but one is harder to detect. Deterrence theory clearly calls for punishing the harder-to-detect crime more. But people find that wrong.

            Also, in the Payne v. Tennessee article, you quote (and seem to agree with) claims that the value of the victim ought not to matter from the retributionist’s perspective. I find this odd. Isn’t it more blameworthy to kill a great man than to kill some con man?

            Moreover, the whole idea of retributionism is “an eye for an eye” and “blood calls out for blood”. You have to balance the scales of justice by making the perpetrator suffer as well as his victim. If there’s no victim, there’s no blood to call out for blood. So when someone drunk-drives into a tree, where is the retributionist motive for giving him the same punishment as when he hits a pedestrian?

            Maybe you are taking the “God judging sinners” analogy too far? Certainly what I laid out above seems like Fitzjames Stephen’s perspective on it.

            After all, the reason God supposedly punishes sinners for “victimless crimes” is that they offend him. A sodomite’s pleasure is an offense against God which calls out for the appropriate amount of pain. And the infinite nature of God means this is an infinite offense, and that is supposed to be the reason why hell is eternal.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            Sorry to go on and on, but Fitzjames Stephen raises a related problem with deterrence.

            If deterrence were our motive, we ought to punish poor people, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those who couldn’t help themselves more severely. After all, they are more strongly tempted or more naturally tended toward crime.

            On the other hand, take a rich politician who murders his wife in cold blood. We can get away with punishing him very lightly, since it’s relatively unusual for rich and powerful people to commit such crimes, since they don’t want to fall from their high position in society and lose their reputations. We can just take away his office (or in an anarchist society, whatever honors he has).

            Poor people don’t have any reputation to lose and therefore have to be punished harder.

            Fitzjames Stephen does not endorse any of this. He regards these notions as evidence for retributivism.

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          • @voximp:

            It’s more complicated than that–take a look at the analysis of optimal punishment in _Law’s Order_, webbed and linked to my site. The fact that poor people are harder to deter might mean higher punishment to deter them, it might mean less punishment because deterring them costs more than it is worth. The rich man may suffer non-pecuniary penalties from conviction—but if he did kill his wife in spite of that, he must have very much wanted to, so there is no presumption that a little extra penalty will deter him.

            You might also want to look at my old “Should the Rich Pay Higher Fines” article if you can find it—I’m afraid I haven’t webbed it.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            It’s more complicated than that–take a look at the analysis of optimal punishment in _Law’s Order_, webbed and linked to my site. The fact that poor people are harder to deter might mean higher punishment to deter them, it might mean less punishment because deterring them costs more than it is worth.

            Why does a stronger deterrent cost more?

            If corporal punishments are allowed, you can impose an arbitrarily high deterrent, moving from flogging to various kinds of torture. These don’t cost society any more than a trial to recover pecuniary damages. (Loss of potential productive output, maybe, but we’re talking about criminals here.)

            Corporal punishments are perhaps not good at incapacitating people, but that’s not the same issue. And even there, you can cut off hands and feet. It’s hard to mug people with no hands or no feet.

            The problem is not that we can’t punish the poor more than the rich for the same crime, committed with a different level of temptation; it’s that it’s immoral.

            The rich man may suffer non-pecuniary penalties from conviction—but if he did kill his wife in spite of that, he must have very much wanted to, so there is no presumption that a little extra penalty will deter him.

            That’s just the point. The little extra penalty the law imposes isn’t going to deter him more, but he should be punished anyway.

            That’s the whole point of retributivism: it’s “inherently good” to punish criminals, regardless of whether it deters them. The suffering of people who deserve it is good in itself. Or rather, in the egoistic Fitzjames Stephen type way, it naturally and properly makes people happy to punish deserving criminals. You might as well ask why it makes people happy to have sex. (He even has a quote saying marriage is to sex as law is to revenge; the purpose is not to get rid of it but to moderate the excesses of it.)

            Probably because of the influence of Christianity (in my opinion) and the idea that such judgment should be left to God, that sounds bloodthirsty to a lot of people. Yet at the same time, retributivism holds that it’s naturally bad to punish innocent people, or to punish guilty people more than they deserve, even if it is an effective deterrent. So it is also gentler than deterrentism to good people, while possibly being harsher to bad people.

            It’s not that I don’t understand what the theory of deterrence says. I just think it neither is nor should be the basis of punishment, though it is often a good side effect.

            In one of your essays, you mention a parallel between the English and Chinese systems: at certain eras (the Bloody Code and the Legalist Qin), they viewed criminals as rational actors and focused on deterrence, while in other eras (the Victorians and the Han), they saw criminals as irrational and at least ostensibly focused on rehabilitation.

            Well, the retributivist view also sees criminals as irrational. It just thinks that rehabilitation is the responsibility of the criminal himself, not the law. The law is concerned with two things: a) making people pay the pecuniary price for violating the legal rights of others, whether voluntarily or not, and b) punishing people who immorally injure others for the sake the observation of justice being done by the victim and by society.

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        • That’s naive. Your luggage gets X-rayed when you cross a national boundary, but not when you cross a state boundary.

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          • John Schilling says:

            I was not aware that luggage was X-rayed when crossing the Franco-Belgian border. When did this start?

            And in any event, luggage X-rays aren’t really meant to prevent determined smugglers, e.g. terrorists.

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          • Creutzer says:

            Nothings gets x-rayed when you cross an intra-EU Schengen border by car or train.

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          • Publius Varinius says:

            Internal border controls have been abolished in most* of the European Union since 1995. Border crossings do not have border control posts or passport checks. Only a state sign displays the name of the country being entered.

            Your luggage is not inspected, nor x-rayed, when you cross an internal EU border.

            * The only exceptions on the continent are Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. In special circumstances, border controls may temporarily be reinstated for no longer than 30 days.

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    • Winter Shaker says:

      Otherwise prohibition would have stuck, smoking would have disappeared long ago, there would not be moves to legalize intoxicating substances such as marijuana

      I thought that a major part of the appeal of ending alcohol prohibition was that the increase in violence from organised crime as a result of handing them the whole alcohol market was perceived to outweigh the decrease in directly alcohol-caused deaths?

      And in our own time, a large part of the cannabis legalisation movement is based on the argument that cannabis has such low toxicity, and such low probability of nudging its users towards violence, that undermining the profits of the violent drug-trafficking organisations will almost certainly save lives on net. In each case, if you can round off the forces in favour of prohibition to a coalition of baptists and bootleggers, you can round off the forces in favour of repeal to a coalition of libertarians and harm reductionists.

      With other intoxicating substances, particularly heroin, it is observed that (on top of the money-fuelling-organised-crime-fuelling-violence arguments) a lot of the risks to users stem from uncalibrated variable dosages leading to overdose, and drugs being cut with even more dangerous toxic contaminants. The idea being that the drugs will be much safer under a legally regulated system that mandates precise doses and purity, and that the increase in users under legalisation will be small enough that the extra lives lost through more people taking the (now safer) drugs will be less than the lives saved as a result of the drugs being less dangerous, at least under a regime that still tries to avoid rampant mass marketing of the drugs. That hypothesis may not be correct for every drug, but it is at least plausible, and consistent with a desire to minimise net premature deaths.

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      • Bryan Willman says:

        @Winter Shaker – I think what you say is probably true. I am aruging something different (but not in conflict.)

        If the *true revealed desire* of American society *as a whole* was for maximum life span for all, then society *as a whole* would have and would make different choices than it does.

        Your example about prohibition of alcohol and drugs being net losers is a very sound. But note what it reveals. There is a *meaningful* segment of society that simply will not abide such prohibitions. That is, there are a lot of people (perhaps 30% to 50% in the case of prohibition of alcohol) who do not care that “if nobody drinks we will literally all live longer.” If the number of people who demanded alcohol during prohibition was truly tiny (say 1000 fold smaller than it apparently was) prohibition would have worked, been a net win, rather than a debacle.

        By the way (not particularly directed to Winter Falk) – firearms are one of the oldest technologies, the need to make them was one of the large driving forces in the evolution of machine tools, and improvised arms which are crude but adequate for creating mayhem are not overly difficult. In other words, it’s not just weapons coming across borders, it’s weapons “boiling up out of the ether”

        And as so soundly noted in the original post – the NON firearm homicide rate in the US is higher than various places in Europe…

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        • Adam says:

          Frankly, I don’t even care if not drinking will cause only me to live longer. Neither my revealed nor self-expressed preference is to maximize my own life span.

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  10. Nicholas Weininger says:

    66% confidence in causality for a relatively weak relationship hardly seems sufficient to rebut the strong presumption, foundational to a free society if not to a utilitarian one, that adults should be able to own whatever gadgets they damn well please.

    Not to mention that any restrictions would be enforced (as indeed current restrictions are enforced, badly) not by some new nice police force, but by the gang of incompetent bigoted thugs we actually have. A USA with less terrible policing would probably be much more likely to make gun restrictions utilitarian-positive– but also would be much safer even without them.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I realize this is going to be controversial, but shouldn’t we treat 66% chance of a 20 billion dollar loss as equivalent to a 13 billion dollar loss with certainty?

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      • Bill says:

        My instinct that says yes is the same as my instinct that tells me that agreeing to Pascal’s Mugging is the correct decision.

        Edit – And for a second point on this topic…

        The options when facing a 66% chance of success, aren’t just “implement” and “don’t implement.” We also have the “try to increase certainty” option.

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        • Sastan says:

          Let me complete the circle. There is a tiny chance that massive Australian gun control scheme imposed on the US sparks insurrection, civil war and millions die. Tiny probability, but let’s estimate the cost at just enough to get us to 14 billion dollars likely loss.

          Now are we justified in opposing on utilitarian grounds?

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          • Nicholas Weininger says:

            Moreover, think rule utilitarian. If most people were as intellectually careful and smart as Scott, they might be worth trusting to impose optimal gun restrictions. As it is, a rule that prevents our idiotic, easily morally-panicked voting majority from making decisions on this issue is a +EV rule.

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          • As you say, the chance of a civil war is low– I’d say low enough to be negligible. Also– and this is just a matter of feel– if the country were actually poised for a civil war, it might be hard to tell what could set it off.

            However, I think there are some high-probability harms from a serious effort to reduce gun ownership in the US. One is more Ruby Ridges, and more generally, people being punished for Not Obeying the Somewhat Arbitrary Rules rather than doing actual harm. The punishments will include doing more to keep people poor and to jail them. Welcome to Ferguson!– I am of course assuming that the justice system doesn’t change.

            There will also be a large black market. I suppose that violence over gun-selling territories won’t be worse than violence over drug-selling territories, but who wants to add that in? Or I might be wrong because people don’t buy guns (or even ammunition) as often as they buy drugs.

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        • meyerkev says:

          FWIW, the last Civil War America had (which was admittedly weird) killed off 2000/100K people in a 4-year span.

          Which is about 500 years worth of murders.

          So if you think a Civil War is more likely than 1 in 500, you probably shouldn’t do it.

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          • The Anonymouse says:

            Not 500 years of murders, but X years of murders-that-would-have-been-committed-IFF-the-murderer-had-the-firearm-you-banned.

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          • NN says:

            True, but a Civil War like the last one America had isn’t possible today. For one thing, any rebel army that tried to fight the US military head on in a conventional war would quickly end up like the Iraqi army during Desert Storm. Perhaps more importantly, the majority of American Civil War 1’s deaths were caused by disease, and medicine is much better nowadays.

            The best available model for an insurgency style civil war in a modern first world country is probably the Troubles in Northern Ireland. 3,530 died people over 30 years in a region that had about 1.5 million people during that time period. That works out to about 78.4 deaths per million people per year. In the modern US, a conflict of similar intensity would be expected to cause about 25,260 deaths per year. To put it another way, it would roughly triple the homicide rate.

            Possible ways that a hypothetical American Civil War 2 might differ from the Northern Ireland conflict: The Troubles was a conflict between two ethno-religious groups living in close proximity, whereas the divide in a conflict like this would mainly be urban vs. rural, which might serve to decrease the intensity of the conflict. On the other hand, the people that would likely form the core of any insurgency have shown themselves to be especially violent even in peace time. The IRA phoned in warnings before most of its bombings, but Timothy McVeigh made no attempt to warn anyone in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The only event during the Troubles that even remotely approached the casualty count of OKC was a car bombing by an IRA splinter group that phoned in a warning with an incorrect location, killing 29 people. Most other bombings killed far fewer people due to the aforementioned warnings.

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          • Echo says:

            >medicine is much better nowadays

            Until the air force starts bombing doctors within borders as much as the other kind.
            Funny how many of the old horrors come creeping back once that thin veneer of civilization gets stripped away.

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          • NN says:

            Another thing that is different between the US and Northern Ireland that I feel incredibly stupid for forgetting about: Northern Ireland (as well as Ireland itself) had very strict gun control laws when the Troubles started, forcing paramilitary groups on both sides to import most of their guns from overseas. Obviously that wouldn’t be the case in American Civil War 2.

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          • John Schilling says:

            True, but a Civil War like the last one America had isn’t possible today.

            Right, and that’s unfortunate.

            The sort of civil war where you have uniformed armies under military discipline fighting along clearly-defined front lines on both sides, is the best kind of civil war. The kinds of civil war we can have now are the kinds they had in Russia in 1917 and the kind they are having in Syria now.

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          • Leit says:

            @NN –

            Something people tend to forget about when they talk about US rebels fighting the US military over guns is that members of the US military – or at least those parts of it with boots on the ground – are disproportionately more likely to come from a culture that enthusiastically supports private gun ownership.

            Best-case scenario you’d have extensive issues with co-ordination and insubordination. Worst case you’d end up with mass defections, and your rebels end up looking suspiciously like US infantry/cav divisions.

            You’d think this would have occurred to more people when the post talks extensively about culture.

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          • NN says:

            @Leit: True, but widespread military disloyalty would end up following one of the following scenarios, depending on how widespread and high-up it was:

            1) A military coup that would either quickly end the war or just inflame things further.

            2) Widespread defections of soldiers and officers to join the guerrillas, bolstering their numbers, expertise, and equipment, as happened in Syria.

            3) Few open defections but instead covert support to pass on intelligence, equipment and the like, as happened with the collusion between Loyalist militias and Loyalist members of security forces during the Troubles.

            You still won’t end up with a conventional war, because even if half of the US military wanted to defect, getting them all to defect simultaneously would be an impossible coordination problem. Considering the forces that the US military would be able to bring to bear in the continental US, there simply would be no way to gather forces out in the open for a conventional assault without them immediately getting smoked by the air force, and no country in the world would be able to enforce a no-fly zone in US territory.

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          • Leit says:

            @NN:

            Hmm, you’re absolutely right, of course. I’m actually responding to a different argument entirely; that rebels will have no chance because “lol military”, in which the arguer tends not to realise that the military is unlikely to be on their side.

            That’s not the argument that you made, and I suspect that I went and responded to a different comment than I intended.

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          • Gbdub says:

            Actually the last American civil war DID involve a sizable fraction of the regular army defecting more-or-less simultaneously to the Confederate side. Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson (among many other CSA officers) were West Point grads and US army officers prior to joining the rebels.

            Of course the American civil war was distinct from a lot of modern conflicts in that there were two distinct sides with well defined territories from the beginning till the end of the conflict.

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          • John Schilling says:

            For the sake of completeness, there are unlikely-but-not-ridiculous scenarios in which a state governor could credibly order that state’s national guard to take the field against the regular army. Almost certainly in hopes that a demonstration of resolve would lead to a peaceful diplomatic resolution, but if SNAFU happens then such a force would then be a nucleus for any individually-defecting regulars (and smaller states’ guard units) to join.

            It still doesn’t lead to a Yankee-v-Confederate or Continental-v-Redcoat style “fair fight” because the state Air National Guards can’t really function without USAF logistical support and that means the Feds get air supremacy fairly early. But closer to a battle of regular armies, and while still a bloody awful mess the presence of military discipline and subordination to civil authority on both sides would make for a slightly less awful conflict than e.g. Syria.

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          • Salem says:

            Well, it depends who the rebels are, and how quickly USG cracks down on them.

            If the rebels themselves were large, co-ordinated groups who were open about their desire to resist, this would serve as a co-ordination point for military defectors. And if the USG waited for a considerable period before using military force against the rebels (due to political disagreements as to how to act, a belief that the matter could be settled by negotiation, or an unwillingness to shed the first blood) then the existing military’s first-mover advantage could be negated. During that period of uncertainty, the rebels and defectors could co-ordinate and build up their forces and defences without getting “smoked.” Then, when the actual fighting started, the loyal military would find themselves faced by their former colleagues in their former hardware, and therefore be unable to “smoke” them.

            After all, that’s how it went down in the actual American Civil War.

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          • xtmar says:

            The other thing to consider is that modern American warfighting is predicated on a large, unattacked, and extremely productive and generous rear to provide the logistical support for the front. Not only is this obvious things like food and small arms ammo, but all sorts of other things. In the event of a civil war, the rear is no longer capable of functioning unprotected, which means a huge commitment of forces to securing the rear, as well as a rapid degradation of fighting capability. In other words, if we had a civil war, I think that the military would be able to run for a few weeks to a few months** on the basis of existing reserves, but after that it would rapidly lose capability to project force. While these shortages would be most obvious in the more technical branches, like the Air Force,* you would also see a degradation of capability in even relatively less complicated MOSs, like the infantry, who would no longer have the batteries and satellite intel that gives them such an advantage over current enemies.

            *Where are you going to get new turbine blades for your jets, or guidance heads for your smart bombs? All of these components have very small industry bases and huge lead times to replicate.

            Obviously you can find ways to hack around these problems, and there is nothing like a war to stimulate human inventiveness, but it will never be as efficient as using what was properly designed to do the job.

            **I tend to think it would be on the shorter side. The US has ~10x the population of Iraq, so the tempo of operations required against a full scale insurgency would be unlike anything that they’ve dealt with in recent history. While the American population doesn’t have as much experience with insurrection as the Iraqis or especially the Afghans, we also have a much more educated and wealthy population to apply their knowledge and skills towards the insurrection.

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          • alexp says:

            @NN

            Also, the modern US military is an incredibly complex and interdependent force and defectors will ave a lot of trouble operating, unless they do so in a very coordinated manner. What use are a bunch of supply clerks or mechanics that defect by themselves. Hell, what are a bunch of infantrymen going to do without artillery and air support. Tanks without infantry and mechanics and refuel and resupply infrastructure? Pilots without everything that planes need? Even if the entire Marine Corps turned traitor at once, it’d still have to rebuild with all the support and infrastructure it just cut itself off from.

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          • Linch says:

            “So if you think a Civil War is more likely than 1 in 500, you probably shouldn’t do it.”

            Shit. Do a significant number of people actually believe this? That the probability of Civil War in 2016 is greater than .2%?

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          • xtmar says:

            @alexp

            On the other hand, it works both ways. The US military is so tightly interconnected, it would be hard for the USG to operate at high efficiency when some of those mechanics and supply clerks defect, even if they could keep all of the pilots and infantry. Most likely you would get something like Syria, except without significant Russian involvement.*

            *Not because the Russians wouldn’t want to influence it, but because the necessary scale would be about 15-20x larger.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Linch:

            The U.S. has been around for 239 years. 4 of those years consisted of civil war.

            Naively, we should expect a 1.67% chance of civil war every year, or one civil war every 59 years.

            You might say the conditions have changed over time so that that civil war is now less probable than it was. But is it ten times less probable? (In my opinion, yes.)

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          • xtmar says:

            @Linch,

            Maybe not Civil War, but certainly the end of the USG as currently constituted. If you look at the world at large, there are perhaps 100 real countries after you throw out the micro-states, and perhaps one or two of them experience a coup or civil war each year. Furthermore, even if you restrict it to “developed” countries, most of them have less than sixty years of governmental continuity due to the Cold War and the Great European Experiment part II. Both Spain and Portugal emerged from military dictatorship comparatively recently, as have the various South American countries like Chile, Argentina, and Brazil.

            The US and the UK are comparatively lucky in that they have had relatively long runs with continuous governance. On the other hand, even the US had a civil war ~150 years ago, and the UK was broken up in 1922 with the secession of Ireland, and may again be broken up in a few years by the Scots.

            While I would have to do a more rigorous look to see how long the average country keeps its government, even in developed countries, I would be surprised if its more than fifty or sixty years. On that basis, I think the background chance of civil war or fall of government in the US is probably on the order of 0.5%-1% per year, even without aggravating factors.

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          • The U.K. has had three civil wars in the last four centuries, the most recent in 1745, not to mention at least two coups (Pride’s purge and the Glorious Revolution). That’s without counting any of the Irish troubles.

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          • keranih says:

            @ lynch –

            Shit. Do a significant number of people actually believe this? That the probability of Civil War in 2016 is greater than .2%?

            How about this – I don’t know what the probability is of a second American Civil War breaking out in 2016, but I am very comfortable saying that whatever the measurement was in 2015, the Oregon revolt means that probability has increased more than 2% for 2016.

            The sense of a state monopoly on the use of force – and more importantly, the sense that the state does not and will not over use that force on a regular basis – is slipping away. While there has always been a degree of this, the last ten years have, imo, seen more dramatic change than previously.

            The BLM has spread the concept that state actors – even leftist state actors – are systemically unjust in their use of force *and* should rightfully be opposed. This is a populous endorsement, from the left, of a similar feeling (from the right/right-fringe) that the state is acting in a tyrannical manner. Thus far, the most disruptive actions have come from unarmed(*) and largely disorganized revolts from the left. Right wing revolts (Tea Party, Bundy, etc) have either been non-disruptive protests, tightly disciplined, or both.

            If there is a shift from the grumbling stage that is the current situation, my feeling is that it will escalate from a organized disruptive protest with an overzealous but ineffective response from the local authorities. Broad, over-reaching emergency actions could easily elicit support for the local community, particularly if the authorities make ill-advised broad-brush comments about the people in revolt. Two or three such incidents may be needed to prime reactions, until there comes a revolt-and-reaction that spreads beyond the ability of the local authorities to control. When other areas start making unwise preemptive precautionary actions, then large portions of the country could explode.

            Less likely to happen, I think, would be opposing groups facing off against each other, rather than one against the feds.

            I don’t *think* this will happen – I don’t think there are enough truely angry, fearful people in the country. But there are a lot of annoyed and disquieted people.

            Re: military action – Between putting down the revolt and actively supporting it there is a third side – a sudden out break of communication and transportation failures, such as untraceable “viruses” in aircraft computers and even in email and other signaling systems that “prevent” the acting units to receive the orders of their higher commands. Orders from civilian command that give the appearance of not being in accordance with constitutional precedence are the thing most likely to lead to this sort of military non-action, and a scrupulous adherence to constitutional principles would prevent it.

            In any case, I put the odds of a military revolt against the federal government as lower than the odds of a widespread civil revolt, and I don’t think the odds of such a revolt to be higher than 5% over the next 2-3 years.

            (*) unarmed in the sense of conventional arms and the use of military tactics to take and hold ground, not ‘unarmed = no gun or no rock or no firebomb’

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          • alexp says:

            The Oregon revolt?

            You mean a bunch of jabronis occupying a cabin in the woods?

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          • DoYouEvenChop says:

            @Linch
            > Shit. Do a significant number of people actually believe this? That the probability of Civil War in 2016 is greater than .2%?

            If there was some kind of forced gun buyback, I’d say the probability would be upwards of 5-10%. Otherwise, I agree with the keranih’s figure of ~2%, just based on BLM and the Oregon protests.

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          • John Schilling says:

            The BLM and Oregon nonsense has no significant impact on the probability of Civil War in the United States. There is no credible path from that sort of local confrontation to a general civil war; too many rungs are now missing on the ladder of escalation. Some of us may recall seeing far worse in the 1980s and 1990s. And the FBI in particular learned from the lessons of Waco and Ruby Ridge; their playbook now says to resolve that sort of situation with a siege plus public relations and negotiations, not an assault. No assault, no “Alamo”, no revolution.

            If there’s a 2%/yr chance of Civil War 2.0, and that sounds about right, it is associated with, first, economic issues unsettled since the 2008 recession, and second, the potential for broadly stupid government policy interventions that directly threaten some significant number of Americans. Confiscatory gun control would be a perfect example of the latter, for what should be obvious reasons.

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          • Jaskologist says:

            Do you really think there’s a 2% chance per year of American Civil War? Because those odds pretty much put it in my “likely to happen in my lifetime” bucket, so I’d best start stockpiling.

            1 – ( ( 1 – .02 ) ^ 50)
            = 63.58% chance of revolution in the next 50 years.

            (Assuming that’s the right formula.)

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          • Looks right. Probability that an event with 1/n probability in any given trial actually occurs in n trials is (1 − (1 − 1/n)). In the limit n → ∞, this approaches (1 − 1/ⅇ) ≈ .63.

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          • Adam says:

            2% per year is pretty ridiculous. It was more like the chance of a civil war given the division between slave and non-slave states was like 10% per year and now that it already happened, it’s pretty close to 0%.

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          • anonymous says:

            The above discussion, along with a couple of other on this post, are a perfect demonstration of why we can’t just adopt a live and let live attitude towards shitty honor cultures. The direct violence is bad enough but the restrictions on perfectly reasonable public policy options because “maybe it’ll cause a civil war” is completely unacceptable.

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          • John Schilling says:

            At current levels of economic inequality and political polarization, a 2% chance per year seems about right. Now I want to think about how to more rigorously quantify that, but we’re in unprecedented territory here.

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          • Mark Atwood says:

            Do a significant number of people actually believe this? That the probability of Civil War in 2016 is greater than .2%?

            Happening specifically in 2016? No.

            The odds being greater than 0.2% of of it happening sometime between 2016 and 2116? Yes.

            The odds of it being greater than 0.2% if the potus and the congress and the scotus all decided it was time to disarm all those annoying Blues “clinging” (Obama’s word, not mine), hell yeah.

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          • xtmar says:

            @Jaskologist

            I think 2% is a bit high in general, but I would ask you what you think a reasonable estimate is, both specifically for a civil war, and also for a broader fall of government/major interruption to the standard of living.

            If you look at the developed world, not just the US, it is only in the past decade that people who hit median life expectancy haven’t seen their government overrun in their lifetime. All of Europe* experienced a change of government during or after WWII, the Iberians lost their military dictatorships in the 1970s, Japan also experienced a change of government after WWII, Korea has the war, as did China (not that China is developed), Mexico had a substantial armed insurrection in the early 1900s and is quasi-failed today.

            Even if you exclude WWII, you still have the collapse of the various Eastern Bloc countries, the Iberians, and the pre-WWII changes in government in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere.

            This is to say nothing of the significantly more fragile governments elsewhere in the world.

            The major exception has been the white Anglophone former British colonies (USA, CAN, AUS, NZ), so we have that in our favor, but the UK lost Ireland in 1922 to an armed rebellion, faced further armed rebellion in Northern Ireland, and stands a middling chance of losing Scotland (peacefully to be sure) in the next decade or two.

            However, the major lesson, in my opinion, is that the US has an historically unique expectation for how rare it is for there to be a major discontinuity in government, be it due to invasion, civil war, or domestic unrest.

            So, what’s your estimate?

            *Except Sweden, Switzerland, and the Iberian peninsula.

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          • NN says:

            The above discussion, along with a couple of other on this post, are a perfect demonstration of why we can’t just adopt a live and let live attitude towards shitty honor cultures. The direct violence is bad enough but the restrictions on perfectly reasonable public policy options because “maybe it’ll cause a civil war” is completely unacceptable.

            So what’s your alternative? The US government tried to reform the violent Southern honor culture after the first Civil War, and they failed. In the last 15 years, they have utterly failed to reform the violent honor cultures of Iraq and Afghanistan. They did have far more success with post-WWII Japan, but that was preceded by the USAF burning most of Japan to the ground. Few people would consider using those methods today.

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          • Evan Þ says:

            “The above discussion, along with a couple of other on this post, are a perfect demonstration of why we can’t just adopt a live and let live attitude towards shitty honor cultures. The direct violence is bad enough but the restrictions on perfectly reasonable public policy options because “maybe it’ll cause a civil war” is completely unacceptable.”

            Suppose that, through some weird combination of events, the Straw Uberconservative Party got into power and started repealing the First Amendment and mandating that everyone go to {{InsertDenominationHere}} churches every Sunday. Would you say a civil war would be justified then? If so, note that a number of people consider gun rights almost as important as religious freedom. If not, when would you consider a civil war justified?

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          • anonymous says:

            If so, note that a number of people consider gun rights almost as important as religious freedom.

            That’s exactly my point. These are the people that I hope don’t exist in 100 years, and that we* should work towards making sure that’s the case.

            *For specific values of we, obviously.

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          • John Schilling says:

            These are the people that I hope don’t exist in 100 years.

            Well, I can certainly see why you are posting anonymously.

            Fortunately, while many of “these people” sincerely reciprocate your feelings on the matter, and have more guns than you do, we mostly do understand that genocide is a Really Bad Thing that ought to be held in reserve against the direst of emergencies.

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          • Anonymous says:

            There are virtually no anarcho-syndicalists today. Does that mean there was a genocide against them sometime over the last hundred years?

            What terrible reasoning.

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          • Evan Þ says:

            @second!Anonymous, well argued. “I wish X-ists would vanish” doesn’t mean “I wish they would be killed.” “I wish they’d change their mind” is a perfectly valid option.

            @first!Anonymous, thanks for clarifying your position! You’re saying the problem isn’t just the threat of a civil war, but the threat of a civil war due to gun control – since, you say, gun rights aren’t important at all. Am I reading you right now? If so, what makes you say that gun rights are so unimportant, given the vast number of well-argued posts in this thread from people defending them?

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          • Tibor says:

            @xtmar: We had this neighbour next to my parents’ house who lived all her live in that same house (or at least since she was an adult), she was born something like 1912 and died 2010 or something (I do not remember exactly). She had lived in 7 different states/regimes – Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Czechoslovakia (first republic), Protektorat Böhmen und Mähren, Czechoslovakia again (second republic) communist Czechoslovakia, Federal Czecho-Slovakia and the Czech republic. Austria-Hungary lasted 51 years (or 114 years if you also count the previous Austrian Empire…for Bohemia not much changed in 1867), the first republic lasted 20 years, Protektorat lasted 6 years, the so called second republic (before the communist coup d’etat) lasted 3 years, communist Czechoslovakia lasted 41 years, the federal republic lasted 4 years and the Czech republic has lasted 23 years so far.

            Countries like Switzerland or the US with 100+ years of the same regime are an exception rather than a rule.

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          • Mark Atwood says:

            These are the people that I hope don’t exist in 100 years, and that we* should work towards making sure that’s the case.

            I so love it whenever the mask slips. What is revealed under is never itself surprising, but sometimes the purity of it is.

            And people always get so upset with me whenever I ask a Blue what their long term (a 100 years, say?) goal or desire for the world actually is.

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          • Echo says:

            Ah, the Stewie Griffin approach.
            “it’s not so much that I want to “kill her”, it’s just… I want her not to be alive, anymore.”

            And I do wonder if you’ve heard of all those 20th century massacres of Anarcho-syndicalists, or just selectively remember them when it’s time to insult, say, Franco and fascism.

            But hey, it’s “specific values of ‘we'”, so at least you won’t be getting your own hands dirty getting rid of us “throwbacks”.
            Gosh, the language of natural selection sure sounds sinister coming from people who intend to direct it…

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Mark Atwood:

            As two people have said, this is silly.

            I wish there were no “progressives” and no followers of both Donald Trump and Jeb Bush. Does that mean I want to kill them all?

            To say “I wish there were no X supporters” doesn’t necessarily mean “I wish to kill them” or even “I wish they weren’t alive”. Sure, it’s somewhat ambiguous, but it can simply mean “I wish people didn’t support X” or “I wish people weren’t the way people are when they support X”.

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          • xtmar says:

            @Tibor

            That’s an amazing story. Thanks for sharing!

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          • Echo says:

            @Tibor
            It’s sad that so many old people with amazing experiences of the 20th century are dying without ever passing on their hard-earned wisdom. Thanks for the intriguing anecdote from a rare and under-appreciated source.

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          • anonymous says:

            Ah, the Stewie Griffin approach.
            “it’s not so much that I want to “kill her”, it’s just… I want her not to be alive, anymore.”

            Jesus Christ on a fucking pogo stick, how dense can you be? Why do you think I said in a hundred years rather than next year. Hint: what percentage of the people alive today and old enough to meaningfully have a culture are going to be alive in one hundred years? No where did I suggest anyone be murdered.

            I get that change is hard for you, and if you have to die at least everything should be exactly the same as it was during that glorious period in history when you were alive. Too fucking bad, you still don’t get to throw around genocide just because someone would like to convince the following generations not to adopt your shitty culture.

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          • anonymous says:

            @Evan Thorn

            If so, what makes you say that gun rights are so unimportant, given the vast number of well-argued posts in this thread from people defending them?

            We obviously disagree as to the quality of those posts, though not at all as to their quantity.

            BTW just one “anonymous” in this sub-thread — a blue-ish box thing with eight boxes around it.

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          • Tibor says:

            @echo: You’re welcome, I guess. But there is nothing all that special about her story. At least anyone born before 1918 and living till at least something like 75 in Bohemia or what is now the eastern part of Germany (in 1918, eastern part of Germany was what is now more or less eastern Poland) would have a similar story (someone born in Thuringia in 1915 and dying in 1995 would experience six different regimes…seven in parts of it since the allies “traded” a bit of a US occupation zone with the Russians for the western half of Berlin, so a US occupation zone turned into a Soviet occupation zone over night for some unlucky Germans). I guess the regime changes in Croatia or Slovenia would be similarly frequent in the 20th century and probably some other countries I am not aware of. In Europe the only two countries I know which had the same regime over the course of the whole 20th century are Switzerland and the United Kingdom (even though it lost almost all of its colonies).

            The moral is just that something that seems as “how things work in general” in your country might not be true everywhere or might even be an exception. One does not need “wisdom of the elders” for that, Wikipedia is usually sufficient.

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          • Cord Shirt says:

            @anonymous:

            I think you might not realize that there are more reasons to consider gun ownership a civil right than membership in an “honor culture,” and more people who see it that way than “honor culture” members, too.

            Abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier:

            Song of the Vermonters, 1779

            Ho—all to the borders! Vermonters, come down,
            With your breeches of deerskin and jackets of brown;
            With your red woollen caps, and your moccasins, come,
            To the gathering summons of trumpet and drum.

            Come down with your rifles! Let gray wolf and fox
            Howl on in the shade of their primitive rocks;
            Let the bear feed securely from pig-pen and stall;
            Here’s two-legged game for your powder and ball….

            [W]e owe no allegiance, we bow to no throne,
            Our ruler is law, and the law is our own;
            Our leaders themselves are our own fellow-men,
            Who can handle the sword, or the scythe, or the pen….

            Come York or come Hampshire, come traitors or knaves.
            If ye rule o’er our land, ye shall rule o’er our graves;
            Our vow is recorded—our banner unfurled,
            In the name of Vermont we defy all the world!

            Again, that’s an abolitionist poet who wrote that.

            Historically, it’s not about honor culture. It’s about the idea that a society made up of armed citizens is better at resisting invasion and/or tyranny. The USA’s founders set it up that way because of their experience resisting the British crown.

            I’ll ask you the same question I asked the Californian: How would you propose to address the founders’ concerns in the modern era without gun rights? If we changed the US Constitution, what would you replace the 2nd with such that the USA was still protected from invasion/tyranny to the same degree? Have times changed such that nobody has to worry about that anymore? If so, how do you know/what’s your evidence?

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ anonymous:

            I get that change is hard for you, and if you have to die at least everything should be exactly the same as it was during that glorious period in history when you were alive. Too fucking bad, you still don’t get to throw around genocide just because someone would like to convince the following generations not to adopt your shitty culture.

            I get that people accusing you of advocating genocide are being absurd, but all you’re doing is trolling with comments like this and the one that sparked off everything.

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          • Mark Atwood says:

            I get that change is hard for you, and if you have to die at least everything should be exactly the same as it was during that glorious period in history when you were alive. Too fucking bad, you still don’t get to throw around genocide just because someone would like to convince the following generations not to adopt your shitty culture.

            You don’t get it. I’m not accusing you of desiring to murder us.

            I’m accusing you deciding that your ilk should be the ones to have a monopoly to successfully educate and enculturate our children, while at the same time enforcing that none of us are able to convince any of the children of your tribe to adopt our values.

            I’m pretty sure that doing that is generally considered Bad. Well, except when you do it to us, apparently.

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          • “If we changed the US Constitution, what would you replace the 2nd with such that the USA was still protected from invasion/tyranny to the same degree?”

            I’ve been arguing for a long time that the modern equivalent of the 2d Amendment would be a ban on regulation of encryption.

            I don’t think the 2d Amendment achieves its original purpose very well in the modern world, in part because much of its original purpose, as I read the evidence, was to make a serious professional army unnecessary–and we’ve lost that one. It still serves a different purpose—making ordinary people less dependent on police protection and so more willing to limit the power of the police.

            But I believe the modern equivalent of a civil war is going to be mostly information warfare, and in that context the right to encrypt is the equivalent of the right to bear arms.

            I made that argument long ago in a debate on encryption with Ed Meese. The transcript is webbed at:

            http://web.archive.org/web/20030925021822/http://www.hoover.org/Main/uncommon/winter98/205.html

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Mark Atwood:

            Now you sound like you’re accusing him of so-called “cultural genocide”, which is just as uncalled-for.

            Where do you get the idea that he is advocating anything but peaceful persuasion of the people he doesn’t like—and their children—to change their opinions in the normal way opinions change in a civilized country? Did he propose to drag children away from their families like Indians and teach them to abandon their folkways in government schools?

            Okay, fair cop, it’s called “public school”. 🙂 But in all seriousness, regular public school is bad but nothing as severe as that. And you can hardly act like it’s some shocking act of depravity to advocate public schooling in this country, in this day and age.

            Both of you seem to be overreacting.

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          • Mary says:

            “I wish X-ists would vanish” doesn’t mean “I wish they would be killed.” “I wish they’d change their mind” is a perfectly valid option.

            Which is why virtually every totalitarian regime starts out with sincere “re-education” camps.

            Wishing they would all go away by changing their mind is only marginally less alarming.

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          • Cord Shirt says:

            @David Friedman:

            I think both of those things were part of its original purpose (see: “didn’t want police because thought of police as a standing army”), so…your proposal would only serve one of them.

            But it’s an interesting point. Will read the transcript.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Mary:

            Do you think non-totalitarian societies are justified in such statements as “I wish Islamic fundamentalists would go away”?

            The moral crime is using force to try to “persuade” people instead of using peaceful methods to persuade them.

            “You think certain beliefs are harmful! You know who else thought certain beliefs were harmful? That’s right: the Inquisition!” That’s not a valid argument.

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          • Suppose there’s a second American civil war. What is the rest of the world doing? I”m not sure what, but probably something.

            Also, is it plausible that there are foreign governments who would be secretly promoting an American civil war?

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          • Julie K says:

            Unfortunately, “honor culture,” or something similar, seems to be getting more popular. And it’s not exactly limited to the red tribe.

            http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-09-11/how-grown-ups-deal-with-microaggressions-

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          • Cord Shirt says:

            @Nancy: Isn’t it a pretty normal part of diplomacy to secretly fund people the success of whose goals would, in your opinion, encourage instability and/or civil war in an enemy country? (So…yes?)

            @David:

            …that made me nostalgic.

            First, boring reaction is just that encryption is currently too inconvenient for widespread use. I used to have PGP…now I have gmail, whose algorithms read my e-mail and use it to figure out what to advertise to me. What was that story the sf club discussed? “Gentle Seduction”? Bleah.

            Second:

            “Meese: Government is a dangerous servant and a terrible master and that, but governments were created for one primary purpose and that was to protect the public. That’s the primary reason and to secure the rights that we have and what you want to do is turn over our rights to criminals”

            Ahahahaha.

            Yeah, I’m real convinced that when he says “government is a dangerous servant,” he really means it. :rolleyes:

            Finally…well… The question I kept expecting to be answered that never really seemed to be: *What* will cause future wars to be primarily with words? Are you sticking with the old standard “fear of a nuclear war”? Or what?

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          • “*What* will cause future wars to be primarily with words? ”

            Not future wars in general. Future conflicts between the U.S. government and its populace. You win by persuading almost everyone who matters to your side–no shooting involved. Control over mechanisms for spreading information then becomes the key technology.

            Clearer?

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          • John Schilling says:

            You win by persuading almost everyone who matters to your side–no shooting involved.

            Yes, but in some contexts “almost everyone who matters” simplifies to “the ones with the guns”. And sometimes the method of persuasion involves shooting. Iraq is 85% Shiite and Kurd; how many of them did Saddam Hussein persuade to support his rule, except by shooting them when they can’t shoot back?

            Provided the ability to shoot people is reasonably uniform across the population, the path to victory is through non-violent persuasion. Given a highly asymmetric ability to shoot people, I am not as confident as you are that this will remain the case.

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          • sweeneyrod says:

            @John Schilling
            “I am not as confident as you are that this will remain the case.”
            Then why does everything seem OK in the UK, where there is strict gun control. The few people who have guns mainly use them for sport, not coups.

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          • John Schilling says:

            Then why does everything seem OK in the UK, where there is strict gun control?

            If you look back, the standard I gave was “Provided the ability to shoot people is reasonably uniform across the population”

            In the UK, the ability to shoot people is reasonably uniform across the population. The police have a few handguns and submachine guns. The general public has a somewhat larger number of double-barrel shotguns (and presumably hacksaws if needed, and a few scoped rifles for sniping at ~100kg mammals). The army of course has lots of guns, but I believe would be culturally resistant to orders to shoot British subjects except under extraordinary circumstances.

            This particular stable equilibrium is not plausibly achievable in the United States. We have a different stable equilibrium.

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          • Echo says:

            >Then why does everything seem OK in the UK

            Hohoho…

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          • Cord Shirt says:

            @David:

            Yes, thanks.

            What do you think of the Oregon/Malheur standoff? Is it an outlier? And/or would you call the fact that it’s difficult to find reporting on it an example of your point?

            OTOH there’s this.

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          • @cord shirt

            I haven’t been following the recent standoff with any care. But my view is that its eventual outcome will depend more on how it is perceived by the mass of the population—who “wins” the information battle—than by how well armed those involved are. And one can see the opening shots in the attempt of critics to label those involved terrorists, despite the fact that they haven’t killed anyone.

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          • “This particular stable equilibrium is not plausibly achievable in the United States. We have a different stable equilibrium.”

            I agree with the first statement, but the second is much to pessimistic Every civilisational advance, everything that makes a country more worth living in, is a shift from a Molocohian to an Eluan equilibrium.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ TheAncientGeek:

            I agree with the first statement, but the second is much to pessimistic Every civilisational advance, everything that makes a country more worth living in, is a shift from a Molocohian to an Eluan equilibrium.

            That is not at all true.

            I mean, it works if you define “Molochian” as “bad” and “Eluan” as “good”. But it does not if you (more usefully) define “Molochian” as “exhibiting a lesser degree of coordination” and “Eluan” as “exhibiting a greater degree of coordination”.

            Many times, a higher degree of coordination, given the assumption that perfect coordination is not possible, results in a worse situation. For instance, one of the things Scott describes in his essay is competition among businesses. This is certainly Molochian. But in the context of a capitalist system where individual rights are protected, it results in their being willing to streamline everything down to what best serves the interest of the consumers.

            The Eluan solution for businesses is for each industry to form a cartel, where they get to make the same amount of money while making no improvements. But if every industry tried to do that, the system would collapse. This would be true both if each industry tried to maximize its own selfish interest, and if they all attempted to “build socialism” together.

            With guns, it’s just the same (or at least, you must recognize the theoretical possibility). The Molochian solution is that everyone
            (who feels it necessary) carries a gun to protect himself. The Eluan solution is that the government bans all guns and promises to protect everyone. But if the government is not able to quantum-tunnel the police to everyone who gets attacked, they are not actually able to fulfill this promise.

            So coordination ends up making the law-abiding people weaker against defectors.

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      • John Schilling says:

        Only if you have 100% confidence that there are no other significant consequences on either side of the decision. If you have only 66% confidence on the first-order consequence you are trying to achieve, you probably don’t have a good handle on the unintended consequences, and if your first-order goal is only a small reduction in a much larger problem there’s room for those unintended consequences to be huge.

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        • 27chaos says:

          Interesting framing, thanks for it. Glad you haven’t gotten banned permanently so far.

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        • JadeNekotenshi says:

          Also, I think related – Australia’s gun buyback program targeted mainly long guns. In the US most gun murders use handguns. Does that do anything to diminish the certainty that the first-order consequence that’s desired will actually occur? (Assuming that the putative US buyback would be modeled along the Australian lines, and likewise target mostly rifles and shotguns.)

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      • hlynkacg says:

        In addition to John’s unintended consequences, I think you also need to consider the opportunity costs of gun control.

        How much money are you going to spend on the buy-back? What will it cost to enforce the new restrictions and prosecute those who fail to comply? How much political capital will it take to get a new Amendment passed superseding the 2nd? And how many people currently employed in the firearms industry are going to need new jobs?

        Seems to me that 13 billion dollars might be selling short, and that’s assuming everything works out as planned.

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        • Mark Atwood says:

          How much political capital will it take to get a new Amendment passed superseding the 2nd?

          An amount as close enough to infinite that it makes no difference.

          That is rather clearly spelled out here:
          http://www.nationalreview.com/article/423183/rant-second-amendment-repeal


          Seriously, try it. Start the process. Stop whining about it on Twitter, and on HBO, and at the Daily Kos. … Stop jumping on the news cycle and watching the retweets and viral shares rack up. Go out there and begin the movement in earnest. Don’t fall back on excuses. Don’t play cheap motte-and-bailey games. … Man up. Put together a plan, and take those words out of the Constitution.

          This will involve hard work, of course. You can’t just sit online and preen to those who already agree with you. No siree. Instead, you’ll have to go around the states — traveling and preaching until the soles of your shoes are thin as paper. You’ll have to lobby Congress, over and over and over again. You’ll have to make ads and shake hands and twist arms and cut deals and suffer all the slings and arrows that will be thrown in your direction. You’ll have to tell anybody who will listen to you that they need to support you; that if they disagree, they’re childish and beholden to the “gun lobby”; that they don’t care enough about children; that their reverence for the Founders is mistaken; that they have blood on their goddamn hands; that they want to own firearms only because their penises are small and they’re not “real men.” And remember, you can’t half-ass it this time. You’re not going out there to tell these people that you want “reform” or that “enough is enough.” You’re going there to solicit their support for removing one of the articles within the Bill of Rights. Make no mistake: It’ll be unpleasant strolling into Pittsburgh or Youngstown or Pueblo and telling blue-collar Democrat after blue-collar Democrat that he only has his guns because he’s not as well endowed as he’d like to be. It’ll be tough explaining to suburban families that their established conception of American liberty is wrong. You might even suffer at the polls because of it. But that’s what it’s going to take. So do it. Start now. Off you go.

          And don’t stop there. No, no. There’ll still be a lot of work to be done. As anybody with a passing understanding of America’s constitutional system knows, repealing the Second Amendment won’t in and of itself lead to the end of gun ownership in America. Rather, it will merely free up the federal government to regulate the area, should it wish to do so. Next, you’ll need to craft the laws that bring about change — think of them as modern Volstead Acts — and you’ll need to get them past the opposition. And, if the federal government doesn’t immediately go the whole hog, you’ll need to replicate your efforts in the states, too, 45 of which have their own constitutional protections. Maybe New Jersey and California will go quietly. Maybe. But Idaho won’t. Louisiana won’t. Kentucky won’t. Maine won’t. You’ll need to persuade those sovereignties not to sue and drag their heels, but to do what’s right as defined by you. Unfortunately, that won’t involve vague talk of holding “national conversations” and “doing something” and “fighting back against the NRA.” It’ll mean going to all sorts of groups — unions, churches, PTAs, political meetings, bowling leagues — and telling them not that you want “common-sense reforms,” but that you want their guns, as in Australia or Britain or Japan. Obviously, the Republicans aren’t going to help in this, so you’ll need to commandeer the Democratic party to do it. That means you’ll need their presidential candidates on board. That means you’ll need to make full abolition the stated policy of the Senate and House caucuses. That means you’ll need the state parties to sign pledges promising not to back away if it gets tough. And if they won’t, you’ll need to start a third party and accept all that that entails.

          And when you’ve done all that and your vision is inked onto parchment, you’ll need to enforce it. No, not in the namby-pamby, eh-we-don’t-really-want-to-fund-it way that Prohibition was enforced. I mean enforce it — with force. When Australia took its decision to Do Something, the Australian citizenry owned between 2 and 3 million guns. Despite the compliance of the people and the lack of an entrenched gun culture, the government got maybe three-quarters of a million of them — somewhere between a fifth and a third of the total. That wouldn’t be good enough here, of course. There are around 350 million privately owned guns in America, which means that if you picked up one in three, you’d only be returning the stock to where it was in 1994. Does that sound difficult? Sure! After all, this is a country of 330 million people spread out across 3.8 million square miles, and if we know one thing about the American people, it’s that they do not go quietly into the night. But the government has to have their guns. It has to. The Second Amendment has to go.

          You’re going to need a plan. A state-by-state, county-by-county, street-by-street, door-to door plan. A detailed roadmap to abolition that involves the military and the police and a whole host of informants — and, probably, a hell of a lot of blood, too. Sure, the ACLU won’t like it, especially when you start going around poorer neighborhoods. Sure, there are probably between 20 and 30 million Americans who would rather fight a civil war than let you into their houses. Sure, there is no historical precedent in America for the mass confiscation of a commonly owned item — let alone one that was until recently constitutionally protected. Sure, it’s slightly odd that you think that we can’t deport 11 million people but we can search 123 million homes. But that’s just the price we have to pay. Times have changed. It has to be done: For the children; for America; for the future. Hey hey, ho ho, the Second Amendment has to go. Let’s do this thing.

          When do you get started?

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          • Randy M says:

            OT, but interesting to see the use of “motte-and-Bailey” spread beyond SSC. Didn’t Scott originate that?

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          • Echo says:

            Lots of people read SSC or the places where SSC-terms are discussed. Not sure how much Scott’s managed to affect the quality of public discourse, but he’s certainly influenced the vocabularies of people who are trying to sound Sensible And Important.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Randy M:

            Scott didn’t originate it, but he popularized it.

            The original was in a book criticizing it as one of the main techniques of postmodernism. Like, bailey: “There is no such thing as objective knowledge; thinking the Earth rests on a turtle is just as good as modern science.” Motte: “Well, I’m just saying you shouldn’t be dogmatically certain that you’re right about everything; look where that got the Inquisition.”

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          • Jaskologist says:

            I mean, that sounds nice, but it’s been a long time since we’ve actually needed to pass an amendment to change the constitution. In reality, they just need to flip/replace one Supreme Court justice.

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          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >The original was in a book criticizing it as one of the main techniques of postmodernism.

            Of course, it’s much older than that. The technique is described pretty accurately in The Art of Being Right.

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        • You don’t have to repeal the 2nd Amendment. All you have to do is to shift the composition of the Supreme Court by one or two justices, so as to get a weaker interpretation.

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          • John Schilling says:

            I think it is exceedingly unlikely that one or two new Justices would cause the Supreme Court to overturn a recent, high profile ruling. That sort of thing weakens the reputation of the Court as a whole, and reputation is really all they’ve got. See, e.g., how many new conservative Justices and even conservative majorities Roe v. Wade has withstood, and that one is on much shakier ground.

            Pre-Heller, a few justices one way or another would have made a difference, but not now.

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          • Jordan D. says:

            You don’t really have to get the ruling overturned. Heller isn’t a total bar- all you need are a few Justices willing to chip away at it over a half-decade until it becomes a shadow of itself.

            That’s the usual way of things in the high court. Every ruling has, express or implied, exceptions to the rule which it lays out that go unstated in the opinion. A court which doesn’t like Heller can just say that the Second Amendment doesn’t stop states from enacting broad non-total bans and establish a permissive test. They could even pull a Morse v. Frederick or Korematsu and say ‘We are in the middle of a GUN MURDER CRISIS which justifies the state taking unusual action!’

            It’s no more than has happened a dozen times before.

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          • Harold says:

            You don’t have to wait, it’s already happened. After McDonald, the Supremes have denied cert to every appeal of an anti-gun ruling they’ve been presented with, even in the face of a circuit split on concealed carry licencing with the 7th enforcing shall issue on Illinois. Per a couple of their latest, we have a right to keep the few types of guns the government allows and to bear them inside our homes, but even their, not ready to be used in self-defense.

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        • “How much money are you going to spend on the buy-back? ”

          How much money are you going to put on life?

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          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Apparently somewhere on the order of three thousand dollars according to GiveWell.

            Given that we have more guns than people and about 11 kilomurders, and making the silly but simplifying assumption that every gun is equally likely to cause a murder, we should expect roughly one fewer murder per 30K guns bought. So to be effective it looks like we should pay a maximum of about ten cents a gun.

            Seriously though, posturing about the limitless value of life is annoying enough when the religious right does it. Let’s not drag it in here either.

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          • You don’t need to put infinite value on lives to realise that cost-of-buyback is always going to be a weak argument.

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          • hlynkacg says:

            @AncientGeek

            In what way is it a weak argument?

            The whole pro-gun-control argument seems to hinge on the thesis that gun-control is “low hanging fruit” in reducing overall violence. Whether or not that fruit is as “low hanging” as people claim is a legitimate question, and critical to evaluating the legitimacy of pro-gun control.

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      • Echo says:

        I can guarantee it would cost more than 13 billion dollars to do the whole “prying them from our cold dead hands” thing that leftist twitter keeps ranting about. Just on principle.

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      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        No. You shouldn’t value variance at 0, see also: investing.

        I don’t find a lot to disagree with in your analysis overall. I hope the other Scott A reads it.

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    • Earthly Knight says:

      The bigger problem is that being 66% confident in a causal relationship on the basis of correlational studies + statistical controls in sociology is preposterously optimistic. There are countless variables potentially at work here, more than we could possibly inventory, and controlling for the most relevant-seeming manages the underdetermination only a little.

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      • Scott Alexander says:

        I guess that depends what our prior is. If our prior was 50-50, then moving up to 66% sounds fair.

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        • John Schilling says:

          Except that the prior for the effect of social interventions should not be “50% positive, 50% negative”, but more like “10% positive, 80% insignificant, 10% negative”.

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          • Scott Alexander says:

            I feel like there’s a pretty high prior for “getting rid of things that kill people will cause fewer people to be killed”. I mean, I’ve never checked to see if there are studies showing that making drunk driving illegal helped anything, but I think I’m justified in having a high prior that it did.

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          • Douglas Knight says:

            There are two types of causal claims being mixed up here. The first claim was about basic things in the world: do guns cause homicide; do drunks driving cause crashes? Scott started with a prior of 50% on the first and moved it up to 66%. John brought up the completely different class of causal claims of social interventions. This is much less likely, but Scott doubled down. No, simple laws against drunk driving do not do much. Well, I don’t really know, because it has always been illegal. But it certainly left a big room for improvement, as demonstrated by the carefully targeted propaganda pioneered by MADD which drove the divergence between America and Europe for a couple of decades.

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          • roystgnr says:

            Remember when humanity didn’t have as many things that kill people? This is something we can examine with history, not just tabula rasa priors or correlations in space alone.

            My posterior is “Pyramids of skulls across Asia. Repeatedly.” I think Pinker is the usual citation if you like your data less vivid.

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          • “Remember when humanity didn’t have as many things that kill people?”

            Remember when humanity didn’t have stable, secure societies with police forces?

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          • roystgnr says:

            Yes, TautologyMan, unstable and insecure societies are indeed unstable and insecure.

            But isn’t it notable how the lack of guns didn’t fix that, but instead made it grotesquely worse?

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        • Daniel Speyer says:

          When we see correlation, there are five possibilities:

          * Guns cause murder
          * Murder causes guns
          * Something else (culture of violence?) causes guns and murder
          * Matching gun and murder rates cause inclusion of data in our study
          * The correlation is an artifact of the confounders we controlled for

          We can probably ignore the one about causing inclusion in the study, but the rest all sound plausible, so a 25% prior.

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            Thoughtlessly carving up the space of hypotheses into x parts and slathering 1/x of your credence onto each part is not actually a good way to go about things. I mean, what rationale is there for allotting the hypothesis of a common cause a confidence of only .25? Remember that it’s really the disjunction of indefinitely many sub-hypotheses:

            H1: Factor A causes both guns and murder.
            H2: Factor B causes both guns and murder.
            H3: Factor C causes both guns and murder.
            H4: Factor A causes factor D and factor E, factor D causes guns, and factor E causes murder.

            And so on. If we want to establish that guns cause a socially significant increase in homicide, we really need multiple, independent lines of convincing evidence which all converge on that conclusion, along with no countervailing evidence to speak of. That should be the bare minimum evidentiary requirement for showing causation in sociology. Otherwise we are going to wind up drawing all kinds of spurious causal inferences.

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          • There’s another possibility. Guns dont; cause murder, but not-guns cause unmurder. The thing you adjust to reduce something doesn’t have to to be the thing that increases it. Cancer isn’t caused by lack of cancer drugs. Lung cancer isn’t cured by stopping smoking.

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          • DES3264 says:

            Actually, I was wondering about a variant of (5). The authors control for burglary, as a proxy for general criminality. If potential victims owning guns is much better at deterring burglars than deterring murderers, that would explain their result.

            I don’t think that’s right, because Scott says that the result is robust against swapping burglary out for a bunch of other proxies, but I at least wanted to note it.

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        • Earthly Knight says:

          It’s perilously easy to underestimate the difficulty of drawing conclusions about the hidden causal structure of a complex system from an observed correlation. Here is a fairly precise analogy, which I hope will illustrate this:

          You are given 51 black boxes as a birthday present. Each has two gauges built into it, one which measures the G-quantity, and one which measures the H-quantity. You know the following about the internal mechanism of the boxes:

          1. Each contains at least a thousand moving parts.
          2. Boxes which have a high G-reading tend to have a high H-reading; boxes which have a low G-reading tend to have a low H-reading.
          3. The correlation observed in (2) remains when a dozen of the moving parts in each box are stilled.

          Given this, how confident should you be in the hypothesis that changes in the G-quantity are causing changes in the H-quantity? I am not sure how to answer this question, but I can’t imagine assigning the hypothesis a credence higher than .1. We don’t really have anything to go on– there are just too many different possible mechanisms compatible with the available evidence.

          Now, it may be that the hypothesis of guns causing homicide is different because we find it antecedently quite plausible that guns cause homicide. If this is so, though, it’s our intuitive judgment of plausibility that’s doing almost all of the work, and not the observed correlation.

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          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Yeah, I agree with this. People should be a lot more cautious. I think Scott had a post complaining about people who constantly harp about this as a kind of skepticism strategy.

            But I mean, science is hard. I think people really overestimate what we know outside of domains like physics.

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    • Troy says:

      Not to mention that any restrictions would be enforced (as indeed current restrictions are enforced, badly) not by some new nice police force, but by the gang of incompetent bigoted thugs we actually have. A USA with less terrible policing would probably be much more likely to make gun restrictions utilitarian-positive– but also would be much safer even without them.

      A USA with fewer guns might make police more willing to use nonviolent policing.

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      • BBA says:

        Getting rid of guns isn’t going to fly. I say we get rid of police instead.

        (Tongue only partially in cheek there. Would it be possible to eliminate the things a “peace officer” or “constable” is allowed to do that an ordinary citizen isn’t? More to the point, would it be desirable?)

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        • Troy says:

          “When law enforcement vanishes, all manner of violence breaks out: looting, settling old scores, ethnic cleansing, and petty warfare among gangs, warlords and mafias. This was obvious in the remnants of Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and parts of Africa in the 1990s, but can also happen in countries with a long tradition of civility. As a young teenager in proudly peaceable Canada during the romantic 1960s, I was a true believer in Bakunin’s anarchism. I laughed off my parents’ argument that if the government ever laid down its arms all hell would break loose. Our competing predictions were put to the test at 8:00 A.M. on October 17, 1969, when the Montreal police went on strike. By 11:20 A.M. the first bank was robbed. By noon most downtown stores had closed because of looting. Within a few more hours, taxi drivers burned down the garage of a limousine service that had competed with them for airport customers, a rooftop sniper killed a provincial police officer, rioters broke into several hotels and restaurants, and a doctor slew a burglar in his suburban home. By the end of the day, six banks had been robbed, a hundred shops had been looted, twelve fires had been set, forty carloads of storefront glass had been broken, and three million dollars in property damage had been inflicted, before city authorities had to call in the army and, of course, the Mounties to restore order. This decisive empirical test left my politics in tatters (and offered a foretaste of life as a scientist).” – Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 331

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          • Earthly Knight says:

            This is a bad argument. Pinker’s “empirical test” tells us what happens when people who are accustomed to the presence of law enforcement abruptly find themselves in a situation where all the cops have vanished, when what we want to know is what a modern, western society would look like once people grow accustomed to the absence of police. There is no guarantee that the state of anarchy which sets in when the public first discovers there are no patrolmen on duty will continue indefinitely.

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          • Troy says:

            There is no guarantee that the state of anarchy which sets in when the public first discovers there are no patrolmen on duty will continue indefinitely.

            There’s no guarantee, but it’s evidence that people will be more violent later on without police than they were with police. And historical examples where there are no functioning police that I know of either see continual high levels of violence (e.g., Somalia) or the rise of non-state actors playing policing roles, such as the Mafia. But, granting that police brutality is a problem (as I agree it is), the Mafia don’t seem a better option to me.

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          • Andrew says:

            Ok, so we only demilitarize the police. Take away every weapon they have bigger than a handgun, and every vehicle they have bigger than a sedan. I’d be ok with that.

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          • England didn’t have police in anything close to the modern sense until well into the 19th century. We don’t have good crime statistics that far back, but it isn’t clear that crime rates dropped a lot with their introduction.

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          • “And historical examples where there are no functioning police that I know of either see continual high levels of violence (e.g., Somalia) or the rise of non-state actors playing policing roles, such as the Mafia. ”

            19th c. England?

            Somalia’s high rate of violence came about when a modern democratic state was imposed on a traditionally stateless society. After a while it turned into a military dictatorship, got into a losing war with Ethiopia, the traditional enemy, and the government collapsed.

            Since then the U.S. and U.N., with the assistance mostly of Ethiopian troops, have been trying to reimpose government. Somalis, especially near the capital, have figured out that if there is government it is better to be the rulers than the ruled, so have been fighting over who gets to run things. We have refused to recognize the Republic of Somaliland, the polity set up in northern Somalia (what was the British controlled area), because that would be to admit that Somalia is not a country.

            A brief period of peace in the south was created by an alliance of Islamic courts (the ICU, “Islamic Courts Union”) backed by local clan militias. In late 2006 that period was ended when Ethiopian troops, acting with U.S. and U.N. support in alliance with the U.N., created a “Transitional Federal Government,” invaded Somalia and eventually took Mogadishu. (Lewis 2008 pp. 87-91)

            I may be biased and am not an expert, but the leading expert on the subject is I.M. Lewis, a retired LSE anthropologist who has been studying Somalia since the 1950’s. For his views, on which mine are largely based, see:

            Understanding Somalia and Somaliland: Culture, History, Society, Columbia University Press, N.Y., 2008.

            “As The Kenyan Somali ‘Peace’ Conference Falls Apart In Confusion, Recognition Of Somaliland’s Independence Is Overdue,” http://www.mbali.info/doc41.htm

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          • Daniel Speyer says:

            ISTR Georgia (the country) fired its entire police force in 2005. They created a new one after that, but there was a period without one. It went mostly all right, by the low standards of former-SSRs.

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          • LtWigglesworth says:

            @Daniel Speyer
            Yes, but as a counterpoint, most of Iraq’s security infrastructure was demolished after the 2nd Gulf War, and that hasn’t really gone well.

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          • Troy says:

            England didn’t have police in anything close to the modern sense until well into the 19th century. We don’t have good crime statistics that far back, but it isn’t clear that crime rates dropped a lot with their introduction.

            Fair enough; my earlier statement was too sweeping.

            It seems to me that in most contexts, introducing police, or adding to the number of existing police (up to a certain point) will reduce crime. Perhaps some places have cultures of conformity or nonviolence where this is not the case. The United States is not, at least right now, one of those — although I’m all for moving our culture in a direction where police are less necessary.

            It’s also my understanding that most criminologists agree that policing reduces violent crime, although the extent and nature of the relationship is a matter of dispute.

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          • Anthony says:

            England didn’t have police in anything close to the modern sense until well into the 19th century. We don’t have good crime statistics that far back, but it isn’t clear that crime rates dropped a lot with their introduction.

            “Modern” policing was introduced into England and Wales (and Scotland) piecemeal, so even if it did have a dramatic effect, we might not see it in the national statistics. Statistics for London – that part under the authority of the Metropolitan Police – would be more useful. But there was policing before Peel, both publicly-financed constables, and private police. Also, the Metropolitan Police Service evolved over time – it’s not reasonable to believe that it was instantly fully as effective as its later record.

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          • ” But there was policing before Peel, both publicly-financed constables, and private police. ”

            The rotation offices only got publicly financed constables in 1792. There were a handful of them, in London, and their income was mainly from rewards, not from a salary.

            Your “private police” were thieftakers, private citizens who caught criminals for rewards (public rewards for successful prosecution and private rewards for returning stolen property—then there was Jonathan Wilde, but that’s another story). That was in a system where almost all crimes were privately prosecuted. Thieftakers had no special rights that other citizens didn’t. That’s along the general lines of what I would expect to replace government police in a fully private system.

            I agree that it’s hard to measure the effect of the gradual introduction of professional police—but if it were large, one would expect to see crime falling much faster in the 19th century than in the 18th. As best I can tell, you don’t, although the data aren’t very good.

            For more than you want to know about the subject, see my old article, webbed at:

            http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/England_18thc./England_18thc.html

            I’m currently in the process of revising it for my current book project, but I don’t think it has serious errors, although I probably oversimplified the history.

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          • Anthony says:

            David – easier would (hopefully) be to find useful statistics for London proper – the success of the Metropolitan Police model is evidence that it was at least fairly successful even from the beginning, so there should be some noticeable change in crime around the establishment of the force. Using only national statistics it would be hard to separate out the effect of the spread of professional policing outwards from London from other effects during the same time period.

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          • “This is a bad argument. Pinker’s “empirical test” tells us what happens when people who are accustomed to the presence of law enforcement abruptly find themselves in a situation where all the cops have vanished, when what we want to know is what a modern, western society would look like once people grow accustomed to the absence of police. ”

            They’d reinvent the police. We known this because the police were invented in the modern (250 years or so) era.

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          • Cord Shirt says:

            “historical examples where there are no functioning police that I know of either see continual high levels of violence (e.g., Somalia) or the rise of non-state actors playing policing roles, such as the Mafia.”

            Or “The People,” in the case of the US Constitution.

            Goal: Non-brutal police.
            Framers’ solution: The People.

            Problem: They need training, and the incompetent few need to be identified and excluded.
            Solution: The government trains the militia.

            Problem: If the government is who trains them then they are still vulnerable to being controlled by a tyrannical government like King George’s.
            Solution: Make it a different government. The states rather than the feds.

            “Problem”: But when some of the states were doing evil things, their militias were what let them resist when we told them to stop.
            “Solution”: We caucus with racists to reinterpret the constitution to enable gun control (since overturned by DC v Heller).

            …something might’ve gone wrong somewhere.

            …I’m OK with going back to the people being the police. I don’t think it would lead to another civil war. Anyone have a reason I’m wrong?

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          • vV_Vv says:

            England didn’t have police in anything close to the modern sense until well into the 19th century.

            Because the concept of a police force separated from the military is relatively modern (I think that some ancient partial examples exist, but they are uncharacteristic). Nevertheless, sovereign states always used their monopoly on coercion to enforce the law.

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          • “Because the concept of a police force separated from the military is relatively modern”

            Contemporary France had police and public prosecution. Through much of the 18th century there were people arguing for (and against) having police in England. Until the early 19th century, the people arguing against were winning.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            They did send the hussars out on protesters and that kind of thing, though, in the same way modern police would use riot squads. Except riot squads usually don’t ride people down with swords.

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    • sweeneyrod says:

      “Adults should be able to own whatever gadgets they damn well please.”

      That clearly isn’t true (unless you think there should be no restrictions on private ownership of nuclear bombs).

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  11. Earthly Knight says:

    Unless guns are exerting some kind of malign pro-murder influence that makes people commit more knife murders, some sort of confounding influence has remained.

    It doesn’t seem completely crazy to me that (1) increased gun possession and (2) increased gun homicides might also contribute to non-gun killings. Fear and revenge are common motivations for murder, and it’s plausible both that people might be more fearful and therefore quicker to strike pre-emptively when everyone and their mother is waving a piece around, and that more gun homicides leads to more grudges which leads in turn to more revenge stabbings.

    [Edited for clarity]

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    • meyerkev says:

      Western Europe’s violent crime rate is about double ours.

      OK, technically it’s 5x our rate, but that’s because their definition is weird and most of the “Let’s try to reconcile these 2 numbers” ends up with about double, maybe a little less.

      In other words, a perfectly cost-free policy that managed to transform our crime profile into Western Europe’s would be one in which we traded 3 murders/100K for 3-400 extra violent crimes per/100K.

      On the one hand, murder is bad.
      On the other hand, that’s a lot of muggings.

      So I’m not really sure whether I have an opinion on if that’s a good idea or not.

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      • JBeshir says:

        Remember that Western Europe is really, really urbanised, to the point that a lot of things common in US rural living are culturally non-existent, and urban living seems to cause crimes of all types across the board.

        While there’s confounders (cultural stuff, etc) which could well predict a reduced crime rate, there’s also those which would predict a much higher one. This doesn’t materialise for murder (could well just be being overwhelmed) but would definitely make sense as an explanation of mugging.

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        • Chris H says:

          I have some doubts about this. If you look at the urban population percentage by country the US actually seems well within Western European norms (a little below the Netherlands, a little above the UK, and significantly above Germany https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urbanization_by_country). Yeah America has a lot of open rural country, but hardly anyone lives there compared to the cities. Maybe this has to do with differing definitions of “urban” life? But I think more likely the differences just aren’t as large as people think. In the US, there’s just more room in between cities rather than more people living outside cities.

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          • JBeshir says:

            Hmm. This would include suburbs as urban, right?

            By more urban, I mean in the “dense city centre” sense of the word it is often used in in the US. In the UK virtually all construction is of that type- you have dense cities or dense towns with gaps rather than sprawl, and I am not sure but I get the impression Western Europe tends towards that.

            On the other hand you raise a good point; I know urban areas are more violent than rural, but I’m not sure how they directly compare to suburban areas. If suburban areas behave the same as urban areas then it’d not be an explanation.

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    • AlexC says:

      I agree. I wouldn’t say it’s “suspicious” that “higher gun ownership rates are correlated with higher non-gun homicide rates (eg the rates at which people are murdered by knives or crowbars or whatever)”.

      It seems fairly natural to me that the US states where citizens are more in favour of owning guns would be the states where the citizens are the most generally aggressive and belligerent, which would also correlate with non-gun homicide.

      Maybe that’s just my naive attitude as a Brit though, where we do have a moderate amount of violence, but thankfully extremely little gun violence.

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      • Julie K says:

        > we do have a moderate amount of violence, but thankfully extremely little gun violence.

        Shouldn’t the overall level of violence worry you more than the level of gun violence?

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        • Gbdub says:

          I don’t know, don’t guns make you double-secret super dead, as opposed to knives or bludgeoning that only make you regular dead?

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          • sweeneyrod says:

            Would you rather be shot or punched?

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          • Gbdub says:

            Gunshots are actually remarkably survivable. And a single strong blow to the head can easily render you permanently brain damaged, or at a minimum too incapacitated to resist further beating by someone who really wants you dead.

            In the US, murder by unarmed beating is actually somewhat more common than murder by rifle of any type (including “assault rifles”). And that’s before you start counting knives, clubs, etc.

            So while I’d rather face a knife or fist than a gun, I’m probably equally screwed if unarmed against someone with homicidal intent.

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          • sweeneyrod says:

            One important difference is that it is easier to outrun a person than a bullet. Another important difference is that presuming you are of average fighting ability, you have better than even odds of surviving an encounter with an unarmed person who wants to kill you. Your odds against pretty much anyone with a gun are considerably lower.

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          • Gbdub says:

            Fine, but if the choice is to go live somewhere with above average gun violence but below average total violence (let’s say “serious violence”), I’d still prefer that to a higher rate of total serious violence with a lower rate of gun violence.

            That is, we aren’t arguing about 1 shooting vs. 1 beating, we’re arguing about 1 shooting vs. multiple beatings.

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      • onyomi says:

        I don’t know if it’s accurate, but I’ve read that home invasion robberies which occur while the victims are at home are much more common in the UK, presumably because criminals are less afraid they’ll get shot as they try to make off with your TV.

        I would rather live in a place where criminals are afraid to break into my house at night because they think they’ll get shot, but where there is a slightly higher probability of me being mugged at gun point (rather than knife point), than in a place where the probability of my house being broken into at night while I’m in it is higher.

        Maybe it’s a particular phobia of mine, but the latter to me is scarier.

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        • sweeneyrod says:

          Home invasions (as I understand the term) certainly aren’t common – I’ve never known anyone to have a confrontation with a burglar in their house. If they are much more common in than in the US, they must be extremely rare indeed over there.

          On the other hand, burglaries where someone forces a window, sneaks into your house at 3 am and runs off with a TV are quite common – I expect a very high proportion of people have been burgled like that (and not realised till the morning). Most people don’t worry that much about these kinds of burglaries – only property damage occurs, in comparison to a mugging where you might be physically hurt.

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          • onyomi says:

            See I wasn’t really distinguishing between “home invasion” and just plain burglary (someone opens your window, comes into your house without your permission and takes your tv–they are “invading” your home), but that is still very frightening to me.

            I don’t think most people in the US have had the experience of having something stolen from their house, and of those people I know who have had the experience, it was, in every case, at a time when they weren’t at home–often on vacation, etc.

            To me, someone forcing open a window at 3 am and stealing my tv is terrifying. Because there’s no guarantee I won’t encounter them in the act just because I’m usually asleep then. And also it feels a very strong invasion on my person for my things not to be safe in my own home.

            I think there may be a difference in cultural attitudes: in the US there is a very strong culture of “a man’s home is his castle” (and therefore any invasions of it are rightly met with a much higher level of force than would be justifiable if encountering hostility on the street). The fact that the burglar is less likely to be armed and only after my TV is not a lot of consolation to me. It’s still disturbing and upsetting enough to me that if the trade off is “slightly higher probability of being mugged at gun point while on the street, but much lower probability of burglar taking your TV at 3 am,” I’d still take the deal.

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          • JBeshir says:

            I’m in the UK and I have never been burgled. I’ve heard of some stuff happening to garages and sheds and stuff by friends of family and youths messing around in my grandmother’s garden, etc, but nothing involving entering a house. The usual talk is that people think of it as a crime that happens to people while they’re on holiday or away still, because it’s pointless to try to commit it while someone is in- you won’t get away with anything and they might get pictures of you/forensic evidence/of your vehicle. A burglary while someone is actually there is a fuck up.

            I’d need to see actual effect on frequencies, but I have a really strong preference for “not getting killed”, so I’d generally take “home invasions happen X times more often but the invader runs away” over “home invasions involve them (and potentially me) being armed and them trying to shoot me before I (potentially) shoot them” unless the value of X is truly huge.

            Reduction in rate of breaking and entering while I’m not there and of other crime might still be of value, but if I’m present, substantially reduced lethality of the crime tends to matter more than rate unless the rate gap is enough to compensate or the difference in lost property is really big.

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          • Anthony says:

            I was burgled once while still in my “house” (bottom flat of a divided house), about 9am. I was living in Berkeley while attending UC, and I think the burglar thought I’d be in class or working (and I should have been…)

            The burglar had forced the window to my bathroom, noisily. I grabbed a piece of metal which could double as a dull sword, and yelled at him – I heard some rustling of the shower curtain, but by the time I opened the bathroom door, he was gone.

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          • “To me, someone forcing open a window at 3 am and stealing my tv is terrifying. ”

            So it’s 3am, you;re groggilly trying to find your gun in your nightstand…does the invader a) run, or b) go on the offensive?

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          • onyomi says:

            “So it’s 3am, you;re groggilly trying to find your gun in your nightstand…does the invader a) run, or b) go on the offensive?”

            I’m not sure what you’re getting at, exactly, but first of all, there will be no grogginess. If I think the situation is serious enough that I’m looking for my gun, I’m wide awake right away.

            Secondly, an intruder who thinks I have a gun is much more likely to run away than otherwise. Simply realizing that someone is in the house and awake is enough to send most burglars running. Realizing someone is in the house, awake, and armed with a gun will send all but the most PCP-addled running. And if you are dealing with someone in a violent state of mind due to drugs or homicidal mania or whatever, then it’s hard to imagine you wouldn’t rather have the gun than not.

            Note, I don’t even own a gun. But I’m glad any would-be burglars know there’s a high probability I do.

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  12. Jeremy Jaffe says:

    “This relationship is likely causal (~66% confidence).”
    Does that mean %66 that there exists a causal relationship or
    Given that there is a relationship, the chance that it’s causal is .66?

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  13. Douglas Knight says:

    Last time anyone checked, which was 1995, about 618,000 people died young

    You can extract statistics like that from wonder.cdc.gov. In 2014, 703,984 people died young (plus 163 people of unknown age). The death rate in the early 30s is 1/852. (Did you really mean 1850?) Such numbers are more often reported as decimals, not fractions: 117 per 100,000.

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  14. ilkarnal says:

    To put it in a race-neutral way, the problem isn’t mid to high IQ people with guns, it is low IQ people with guns. IQ and the correlated FTO isn’t the only important factor, but it is the primary one.

    The cheaper guns are, the more low IQ people will have them. This is an absolutely ironclad case for bringing US gun policy within the first world norms. You don’t have to seize all or any of the guns to keep them out of low IQ people’s hands. You just have to make them more expensive. This is trivial. Making things more expensive is what governments are best at.

    Knowledge of HBD often leads inexorably to support for some left-wing positions. It is very annoying that this is seldom recognized by those who are more than willing to trumpet to the skies any way that HBD supports right-wing positions.

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    • Troy says:

      Steve Sailer has suggested a minimum credit score rating for purchasing guns. But just making them more expensive is definitely more politically feasible.

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      • Donny Anonny says:

        The existence of 3d printers, CNC machines, drill presses and the knowledge to use those tools would likely significantly blunt any attempts to raise the cost of guns, to say nothing of the approximately 330,000,000 firearms already in the wild.

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        • LtWigglesworth says:

          Meh, If you have the knowledge to use that equipment and access to it then I’d say that you would be well off enough to afford a more expensive firearm.

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          • rossry says:

            You would also probably also be well-off enough to open a black market gun shop, if you felt that that were your true career calling.

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          • Donny Anonny says:

            Tax evasion is a time-honored American past time with a history extending back to prior to the Revolutionary War.

            Furthermore, even if the tax is something that isn’t a burden, the accompanying bureaucratic requirements in order to make it function would be considered completely anathema to a large portion of those who consider gun ownership to be a civil right on equal footing with freedom of expression, worship, the need for cops to get a warrant, or to be judged by a jury of one’s peers.

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          • Cord Shirt says:

            @Donny Anonny:

            “those who consider gun ownership to be a civil right on equal footing with freedom of expression, worship, the need for cops to get a warrant, or to be judged by a jury of one’s peers.”

            Thank you for pointing this out.

            This was what my previously-mentioned-on-earlier-open-thread discussion with the online “Californian gun-control advocate” (who may have been a troll) could never get past.

            He just…couldn’t grasp the idea of someone sincerely considering gun ownership to be a civil right. So he just…

            …kept “stepping on the kitten.”

            All he wound up convincing *me* of was that he couldn’t be trusted to respect (let alone defend) *any* civil rights.

            Now, he clearly was obsessively terrified of guns. I’m sure there’s something real behind it, real experiences he may have had, some kind of real reason for his terror. Not sure what though–the discussion never got that far. He was very focused on mass shootings, which are very rare.

            Also, one time while high he reached for a cop’s gun. I’m afraid that in my Yankee mind, one doesn’t go about high in public (or at all, see other comment, but if one *were* to get high), one just doesn’t; meaning that if one does, one accepts all possible consequences of such action. Sorry not sorry. (People think Yankees are prim and decorous. Maybe so. People think this makes us meek and harmless…maybe not. ;))

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            Americans, particuarly those of the Yankee type, are much more likely, IMO and IM limited E, to practice a philosophy along the lines of, “I will be polite, friendly and respectful right up until the point where I decide you are no longer worthy of such treatment. At that point things will go bad for you very, very quickly.”

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          • Cord Shirt says:

            @Marc Whipple: Indeed you are correct. 🙂

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          • @Donny Anonny

            “Tax evasion is a time-honored American past time with a history extending back to prior to the Revolutionary War.”

            Are you calling for the repeal of all taxes on everything? Do you think “not entirely effective” means “entirely ineffective”.

            “even if the tax is something that isn’t a burden, the accompanying bureaucratic requirements in order to make it function would be considered completely anathema to a large portion of those who consider gun ownership to be a civil right on equal footing with freedom of expression, worship, the need for cops to get a warrant, or to be judged by a jury of one’s peers.”

            What? all of those rights require bureacracy, and some of them just are bureacracy. What???

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          • ..does “bureaucracy” stand for “subtle racial discrimination” in some way?

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I assume that part of the reason that background checks and so on work (if they do) is that higher-IQ people are more likely to be able to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops.

      Do you think there’s an important relationship between Southern-ness and IQ, independent of race?

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      • Donny Anonny says:

        I doubt there’s much correlation between intelligence and passing a NICS check.

        The way they work is that a prospective buyer picks out the firearm of her choosing. She then fills out an ATF form 4473.

        See here for an example of said form:
        https://www.atf.gov/file/61446/download

        Once the form is filled out, the gun dealer contacts the FBI either via an internet portal or phone, and relays basic information such as name, race, age, Social Security Number, etc. which the FBI uses to conduct the background check. They then give the dealer a Yes/No on whether the buyer is a prohibited person and the sale can be completed.

        It’s worth noting that lying on the Form 4473 is actually a felony, and one that would be a slam-dunk conviction in pretty much any court. Furthermore, it’s also worth noting that for whatever reason the DOJ has habitually declined to prosecute prohibited persons who are caught red-handed lying about their status.

        Here’s a document from 2010 examining what happens when a NICS check comes back negative:

        https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/bjs/grants/239272.pdf

        The TL;DR takeaway is that in 2010, there were 72,659 gun purchases denied via the NICS system, of which DOJ only referred 62 cases for prosecution.

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        • Scott Alexander says:

          I’m not saying they can’t pass it, I’m saying they won’t do it.

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          • Donny Anonny says:

            I’m not sure why, when the process is pretty easy.

            I suppose you could argue that some people may have some sort of anxiety about the bureaucratic process and therefore avoid going through with it, but that’s different than being too dumb to fill out the form.

            If fear of the hoops is the issue, then, yes, there’s precedent in several states for trying to dissuade people by forcing them to do things like acquire a permit to purchase a gun, acquire and hold a Firearms Owner ID Card, etc. but I doubt you’ll find much political will for making gun laws more byzantine or stupid than they already are.

            On an unrelated note, I stumbled across your website for the first time about three weeks ago, and while I suspect we probably disagree on some things, your posts are some of the most thought-provoking I’ve found in a very long time.

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          • Troy says:

            I’m not sure why, when the process is pretty easy.

            I think you may overestimate how easy the process is for lower IQ people. Robin Hanson writes:

            “A common bias among the smart is to overestimate how smart everyone else is. This was certainly my experience in moving from top rank universities as a student to a mid rank university as a teacher. A better intuition for common abilities can be found by browsing the US National Assesment of Adult Literacy sample questions.

            For example, in 1992 out of a random sample of US adults, 7% could not do item SCOR300, which is to find the expiration date on a driver’s license. 26% could not do item AB60303, which is to check the “Please Call” box on a phone message slip when they’ve been told:

            James Davidson phones and asks to speak with Ann Jones, who is at a meeting. He needs to know if the contracts he sent are satisfactory and requests that she call before 2:00 p.m. His number is 259-3860. Fill in the message slip below.”

            http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/07/stupider-than-you-realize.html

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        • Furslid says:

          I can’t access that doc. However, your post seems to confound two things. Lying on the form, and having it turned down. It’s a felony to lie on the form, is it a felony to fill it out accurately as a person ineligible to own guns?

          Also, a turned down application doesn’t mean that someone is ineligible. An acquaintance of mine got turned down because of some paperwork mixup.

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            No, but it’s a crime to try to buy a gun when you know you’re not eligible, so it is a distinction without a difference since filling out the form correctly would be pretty strong evidence – maybe not a winner, but worth prosecuting – that you were trying to do exactly that.

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          • HlynkaCG says:

            >Is it a felony to fill it out accurately as a person ineligible to own guns?

            No, the reason being that it is possible to appeal the decision.

            For instance one of the questions is “have you ever been convicted of a felony?” If you have, you are obligated to answer yes, and failure to do so would be a crime. Ordinarily answering “yes” would be a deal breaker, but a judge may be willing to grant an exemption to the “no felons” rule because your crime was not violent or because your conviction was later commuted or overturned.

            Of course you’d still have to convince a judge and local law enforcement and make the case that you deserve such consideration, but my point is that it does happen.

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      • Troy says:

        Do you think there’s an important relationship between Southern-ness and IQ, independent of race?

        Audacious Epigone has a post on white IQ scores by state too. There does seem to be a negative correlation, although I’m not sure how strong: http://anepigone.blogspot.com/2015/02/state-iq-estimates-whites-only-2013.html

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        • Wency says:

          Places that tend to attract college graduates will tend to have higher white IQs. Places that people live in because they were born there and don’t care to leave will have a lower average IQ.

          Southern states tend disproportionately to be in the latter category (with the exception of dubiously southern Texas, which attracts many college graduates).

          As Scott seems to have alluded to, I’ve long wondered if there is a Scotch-Irish effect on intelligence and propensity to violence, and whether this is genetic or purely cultural. Notably, from what I have seen, the “anglo” population of Texas is traditionally much less Scotch-Irish in character than the southeast, as you can observe from the local popularity of kolaches, or the distinctly German character of Shiner Beer. Contrast with Tennessee’s Jack Daniels. And Texas scores much higher than the southeast on the test in this link.

          I’d have to think the greater effect is from more recent career-related migration, however.

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    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      “HBD” consistently leads to collectivism.

      “Identity politics”, extensive state control, extensive restrictions on liberties, “us vs. them”, autarky, censorship, etc. are associated both with the far left and far right.

      Marxism doesn’t believe in genetic “biodiversity”, but it does believe that everyone’s behavior is determined inexorably by his social class. So it’s just that you’ve got to give all power to the proletariat (or rather, the proletariat ought to give all power to the proletariat under “proletarian logic”, and the bourgeoisie ought to give all power to bourgeoisie under “bourgeois logic”, but the latter is inevitably destined to lose out) instead of the high-IQ people or the Aryans or whatever.

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      • Julie K says:

        Is “HBD” identical with “politicized HBD?” Is there no faction of people who believe that human biodiversity exists, but not that we should take collective action based on this? Or do such people reject the HBD label?

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        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          My statement was a little too broad, I suppose.

          I believe that there are statistical differences among groups. And I don’t believe that the difference in height between pygmies and Norwegians is just a matter of what they eat. Neither do I see why statistical differences in measured intelligence among groups couldn’t be attributable to genetics. So that’s the motte.

          The bailey is complete social determinism, primarily by means of genetics. The reason crime is higher among blacks in the U.S. is that they’re low IQ and can’t help it. Or Western civilization merely reflects the natural temperamental prejudices of European people, which happen to be more adaptive than the natural temperamental prejudices of Native Americans. Etc., etc.

          I associate people talking about “HBD” with the bailey. And it gets “politicized” because, ostensibly, political judgments are supposed to be based on facts.

          If social determinism is a fact, there are many reasons it would tend to lead to a collectivist way of thinking. For one, it undermines the objectivity of knowledge and therefore turns everything into group conflict. If Western civilization is a product of European genetics, it just reflects “European logic” and thus can’t really refute “Chinese logic”. There is no real reason to think that there is one truth which everyone can know and in principle agree upon.

          Westerners just have to hope that “European logic” is compatible enough with “Chinese logic” for their conclusions not to lead to mutually exclusive ways of life. But if they are mutually exclusive, all they can do is fight each other. Might makes right.

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    • sabril says:

      “This is an absolutely ironclad case for bringing US gun policy within the first world norms. You don’t have to seize all or any of the guns to keep them out of low IQ people’s hands. You just have to make them more expensive.”

      The problem I see with this is that anti-gun types would likely use such a tax as a tool to push for a back-door gun ban by pushing the tax higher and higher and higher. That said, I would support such a measure if (1) it were deliberately designed to make it difficult to increase the tax, so for example it would require a new act of congress to increase it; and (2) it were combined with measures supported by pro-gun types but unlikely to increase crime rates such as national concealed carry for people with clean criminal records.

      It may seem like this would be a win/win situation but I suspect the anti-gun types would never support it. Most likely because their real goal is not to reduce crime but instead the usual tribal signalling.

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  15. Alsadius says:

    I’ve heard a comment made that the US is statistically a mixture of Switzerland and Swaziland, and that the vast majority of the crime comes from the latter. These stats seem to bear that out.

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    • sweeneyrod says:

      Do you mean that black people (like those who live in Swaziland) commit lots of crime, but white people (like those who live in Switzerland) don’t?

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      • I originated the “Switzerland and Swaziland” analogy on my blog.

        It refers partly to the black-white distinction; the 12.5% of the American population that is black commits over 50% of murders and related index crimes.

        It refers partly to the fact that high-violence areas in the U.S. are tiny islands in a surrounding sea of low violence rates.

        It refers partly to the fact that these high-violence Bantustans are extremely dysfunctional by many other measures as well, including the partial collapse of civil order and economies dominated by welfare and the drug trade.

        Gun-rights people are fond of pointing out that gun-control laws were, historically, a form of of institutional racism primarily aimed at blacks. (This remained true into the 1970s, when they became an instrument of Blue Tribe kulturkampf against the Red Tribe.) What they gloss over, because nobody wants to be tagged as a racist these days, is that if selective enforcement of gun control against blacks were possible it would address most of the actual (as opposed to imagined) negative externalities.

        Note that I am not advocating this – I am a gun rights advocate and those rights pertain to black people too. Blacks who aren’t part of the high-deviant criminal minority have self-defense uses for guns as strong and legitimate as anyone’s. But you asked where “Switzerland and Swaziland” comes from; I’m answering.

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        • Anthony says:

          Blacks who aren’t part of the high-deviant criminal minority have self-defense uses for guns as strong and legitimate as anyone’s.

          Or more so, as they’re the primary victims of the high-deviant criminal minority. While the rates of interracial murders are not symmetric, it’s mostly true that black offenders kill black victims and white offenders kill white victims. There are areas with high concentrations of highly criminal whites, but outside those areas (and similar black areas), most white people’s biggest murder risk is domestic violence. This is much less true for black people. So while the relative murder rate is 4x higher for blacks, the odds of needing a gun for self defense is likely even higher than that for black people. (I’m too lazy to look up actual numbers right now.)

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  16. hlynkacg says:

    While I am firmly on the “anti” side of the gun control debate and I have to say that this is probably one of the best write-up I’ve seen on the topic that I have read in a very long time.

    Leaving aside the deontological and constitional arguments I think that the next step is to look at the nations/states/cities that have recently instituted or repealed gun control measures and see what the effect on murder rates was.

    Australia was cited as an example did the murder rate go up, down or stay the same after they instituted their buy-back. Did a rising trend reverse itself? I honestly don’t know.
    There is also the question of detterance, which sadly is really hard to get good statistics on. I seem to remember reading in the Guardian that the UK saw a spike in other violent crime such as rapes, assaults, and break-ins (but not murder) after their own gun ban.

    In any case, thank you Scott for doing the leg work. Well done.

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    • Echo says:

      Czechoslovakia would make an interesting test for studying liberalization in gun laws after the fall of communism. They have concealed carry and a murder rate of 1/100k, so that’s definitely something to look in to.

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      • Tibor says:

        I wrote something about Czech gun laws in detail here in another post , Slovak laws are more restrictive, concealed carry is only allowed in Slovakia if you get a special permit from the police (but their murder rate is 1.4 while the Czech is 0.9…Slovakia is also slightly poorer, although not by much and more rural than the Czech republic).

        The homicide rate in the Czech republic has declined steadily since the Velvet Revolution in 89 and the subsequent separation of Czechoslovakia in 93 while the number of legally owned firearms has increased. However, I would not draw any strong conclusions from this particular fact since the much more important factor was probably the transition from communism followed by a great increase in wealth, so this particular
        graph from Wikipedia is pretty manipulative I think (even though I am generally opposed to restrictive gun laws, this is just a bad argument).

        It is necessary to find a country which liberalized its gun laws significantly without changing anything substantial at the same time. Unfortunately, the Czech republic cannot possibly qualify here even though the gun laws were extremely restrictive under communism (basically, guns were illegal for civilians with no exceptions) and are as liberal as those in more pro-gun US states today…Switching from communism to capitalism while also dividing the country in two separate countries is about as big a change as you can have.

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    • Nathan says:

      Australia: murders were trending down anyway, the buyback did not appear to meaningfully affect that trend. I’ve heard conflicting claims about whether it caused a statistically significant reduction in suicides, but would expect that it probably did. We had one mass shooting that prompted the buyback and none since, but we DID have a mass stabbing recently where a woman killed eight children.

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      • LtWigglesworth says:

        Then again, in most nations mass shootings are basically an infrequent random event, which makes it difficult to tell if the current mass-killing free period is due to the increased gun control, or simply a reversion to a natural state of affairs.

        Aussie gun control didn’t stop the Sydney hostages however.

        I would expect a drop in suicide rates though. Its fairly well established that people often decide not to commit suicide when faced with a trivial inconvenience. That is what occurred in the 50s and 60s in the UK when they moved away from coal gas stoves.
        Gas stoves accounted for almost 50% of suicides. However, once committing suicide became more difficult than opening the oven door and shoving one’s head inside, the suicide rate dropped by 30%

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      • enoriverbend says:

        Just in the interests of completeness, post-NFA Australia had an oddly high number of mass murders by other techniques:

        Childers Palace arson — 15 dead
        Churchill fires — 10 dead
        Quakers Hill arson – 11 dead

        But it’s not all arson, of course. Eight children dead by stabbing in the Cairns case that Nathan mentioned. Five dead by hammer in the Lin family murders. Gonzales killed 3 with a baseball bat.

        And even some shooting, despite the new strict laws. The Hectorville shooting, the Monash shootings, the Strathfield massacre.

        Considering the smaller population of Australia, this is a surprising list.

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    • Marc Whipple says:

      The best recent-historical example is Florida, which greatly “liberalized,” so to speak, its firearms carry laws and saw at worst no significant change and at best a significant benefit (depends as always on who measures and how.)

      Illinois was recently forced kicking and screaming to institute statewide concealed carry. It’s too soon for any really reliable data, but I can assure you that the incidence of gunfights at high noon has not noticeably increased around these here parts.

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      • Tibor says:

        It is funny that in some US states it is the concealed carry that causes panic, whereas in the Czech republic it is the open carry which is illegal (unless you are a policeman or some such). It also makes me feel a bit uneasy to see someone visibly carrying a gun but I have no problem with concealed carry – it also comes with a benefit for me – a potential mugger or assailant does not know who (of the law abiding citizens) has a gun and who does not that way, so even though I don’t even own a gun, I am a bit protected by those who do…with open carry, it works the other way around – if I don’t visibly have the gun on me the assailant can be sure I don’t have it (unless I don’t care about the law).

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      • Echo says:

        Yes, there doesn’t seem to be a rush to study liberalized carry laws, despite A) CCPs providing an exact number of the people newly allowed to carry firearms in public, and B) the perfectly random nature of the policy change.
        It’s an ideal statistical experiment that’s lasted… 30 years or so? And yet…

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  17. Nomghost says:

    Re: cultures of violence.

    I’d just like to add some Australian perspective. I’ve grown up in Australia, and I’m too young to remember the time before gun control. I don’t think American readers have any intuitive understanding of how Australians think about guns. I’ve lived in the biggest city in the country, in pretty rough suburbs with a lot of drug trade. I’ve spent time staying in houses with dealers, and in towns with high crime rates. I literally never think or thought about guns in anything but an abstract sense. Cops don’t really think about guns when they pull people over. When you answer your door, you’re not thinking about what to do if the person has a gun. In farming towns it’s different, but in the cities, they’re just not a day-to-day fact of life, even in the poorest suburbs. It’s a far stronger effect than the statistics on ownership alone can convey. There’s almost no semi-automatic rifles. Unless you grew up in an organised crime family, chances are that ‘guns’ are something from the TV.

    It seems the U.S has a ‘culture of guns’. A whole lot of daily situations, like road rage, domestic arguments, burglaries &c. take on this lethal potentiality when it’s actually likely that one or more of the participants is concealing a gun. It’s fiendishly difficult to demonstrate empirically, but I honestly think it’s plausible that when guns reach a certain salience in a country, a whole lot of violent situations escalate far further than they would have otherwise.

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    • David Wong says:

      Well and look at the controversial police shootings recently; a big issue is that the police are trained to assume everyone is about to pull a gun, and to shoot first. They have to assume that, because it’s extremely plausible. The mere concept of “everyone may very well have a gun” changes everything, in ways that are difficult to quantify.

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    • Mark Atwood says:

      a whole lot of violent situations escalate far further than they would have otherwise.

      Yeah, so much better to have home invasions instead of burglaries and muggings.

      And someone getting shot while breaking into someone’s home is probably deplored an example of a “violent situations escalate far further than they would have otherwise” by the people who think along those lines.

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      • hlynkacg says:

        Easy there mate, lets not race to be uncharitable too quickly.

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      • Nomghost says:

        You might be surprised that I actually don’t think a burglar being shot and killed is a good outcome, nor is a burglar bringing a gun because he’s worried the homeowner might have one.

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        • John Schilling says:

          The actual outcome, for which we have empirical evidence, is that in places where guns are common, burglars check carefully to see if anyone is home and break in only when they are confident there will be no potentially violent confrontation with the residents, and where guns are not common burglars break in whenever is most convenient to them and trust that they will come out of any violent confrontation with the residents in good shape.

          In this particular corner of the criminal tradespace, more guns actually does lead to less violence.

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          • Slow Learner says:

            Not the experience in the UK, where in most cases burglars who hear/see occupants in a house they’ve broken into run like fuck rather than engage in a violent confrontation.
            Even if they come out of the violent confrontation in good shape, that tends to leave behind one or more witnesses who can describe them, there’s a greater chance of leaving behind usable forensic evidence, and it adds charges to any eventual rap sheet, without adding much if anything to the haul from the job.

            I must admit I can’t really see why the calculus would be very different in the US, unless US police are (compared with UK police) incompetent at follow-up.

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          • JBeshir says:

            I’d be interested in seeing this empirical evidence.

            I’d believe some shift due to the reduction in incentive to avoid inhabited houses, increased willingness to risk, etc, but a straight up “almost all avoid inhabited houses” to “almost all don’t care about inhabitants” shift would be remarkable.

            The gap between robbing an empty house, where you have all the time you need to load up all the stuff you like, probably no one sees you, and the police are going to find out way later and have to hope for witness testimony weeks after the fact, vs robbing an inhabited house, where you’re lucky to grab a spoon before getting into a confrontation, people are going to be trying to take photos of you, and the police are going to be called right now with fresh forensic evidence and fresh memories from anyone who might have seen your vehicle, is still pretty huge, even with the gun threat removed.

            Humans respond to incentives and their removal, but if there’s other incentives already around it isn’t essentially going to be much of a response.

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          • John Schilling says:

            Running like fuck and getting away, counts as coming out of the confrontation in good shape from the burglar’s perspective.

            Getting shot in the back while running away, is exceedingly rare (and generally illegal) in the US, but the fear of it is not. Burglars getting shot in the face before they have time to turn and run is less rare, as is getting chased down and captured by a homeowner who, having a gun, is confident he can deal with the burglar when he catches him.

            Your burglars break into occupied homes, scare the crap out of the residents, then usually run away but sometimes don’t.

            Our burglars usually don’t break into occupied homes in the first place. Our way is better.

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          • JBeshir says:

            Breaking into an occupied home is a failure; it means coming away with nothing. Nowhere will people do that on purpose.

            It’s entirely plausible that people are more willing to risk that failure where they’re more able to at least get away alive. But there’s going to be screwups- events where people break into an inhabited home by accident- in either place.

            I prefer to live where this happens more often, but when I make my presence known they run away, rather than have them (and potentially me) armed and they try to shoot me before I (potentially) shoot them, unless the difference in rate is *really* huge.

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            Breaking into an occupied home does not mean getting away with nothing. If the burglar decides that an actual robbery is economically beneficial and of low risk, they may well decide to convert their crime type accordingly. Or even add some bonus levels like assault, battery, rape, or murder.

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          • Nate says:

            Breaking into an occupied home is a failure; it means coming away with nothing. Nowhere will people do that on purpose.

            I feel like this is telling. Maybe the U.S. and the UK simply have different types of criminals, because there are absolutely burglars in the USA who would break into an occupied house where they knew the residents were defenseless, and then terrorize and traumatize them, sometimes escalating to committing truly unspeakable acts. It seems like you’re operating from the assumption that this kind of thing will never happen, and if that is true in the UK then I say hats off to you! But unfortunately it is definitely not true in the USA, and female victims of these kinds of crimes tend to come off especially badly. A high-profile example that immediately pops to mind is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_v._District_of_Columbia#Background

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          • John Schilling says:

            The point is, barring the prospect of effective retaliation(*) from the residents, breaking into an occupied home has a net positive value to a burglar. The worst case is he runs away empty-handed. More likely, he has less time to search for prime loot but gets something. Best case, he can intimidate the residents into offering up some valuables, tangible or otherwise, that wouldn’t have been available or wouldn’t have been found if he had to loot an empty house.

            Cancelling the burglary because there are some lights on and the burglar heard a noise, that has zero expected ROI and he’s already invested the time in casing a target. Sunk cost fallacy, but even so. If you want him to not burgle your house, or even if you’d prefer he go away and come back to burgle your house when you’re not present to be frightened or injured, you need to offer an incentive beyond “maybe you’ll have to run away empty-handed”

            * “Effective retaliation” need not involve a gun, but unless you live in an extremely low-crime area the police are not likely to pursue a burglar who got away and so that isn’t a useful threat.

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          • JBeshir says:

            What you’re saying amounts to a claim that the risks and costs involved with burgling a home are negligible if there’s no guns involved (at least when you’re already lower class and don’t have a career to ruin) and thus the loss of disincentive from gun threat would indeed cause an absolutely massive increase in total rate of burglaries, to the point that the decreased risk of death from armed confrontations is offset by the huge increase in property loss/upset caused by home invasions.

            I simply don’t agree that the risks and costs involved in home invasions are that low, and rate at which burglaries occur are that high. An increase, yes, but surely nothing *that* dramatic. The existence of law-enforcement is a threat; they’re unlikely to catch you after a single incident, but reports add up, vehicles get noticed, you only need to get caught once, a 5% risk per crime of being caught (average) would still wind up with you in prison within the year, and getting police called out directly after the burglary is a good way to speed up that process. Do you have any kind of source on it? Low gun ownership countries do not seem to be in the state of collapse that this would predict.

            We already have the rate at which they’re inclined to add murder factored into the reduction in homicide rate stuff, so any extent to which it’s above zero is matched by an extent that reduction effects are larger elsewhere. It’s probably pretty low because it’d be incredibly stupid; you get the same stuff you’d get just burgling somewhere else, but now with a murder investigation attached, which gets serious follow up and forensics effort. Murdering someone is not a cost-free act in any civilised country.

            Assault or similar things leave witnesses able to give way more detailed descriptions than the usual “person running away” descriptions or even “shower rustled, and then no one was there” stuff. And it, again, is a really good way to get the police to move you up a lot in their priority list. You might get away with it a few times, but if you pursue it as a strategy you’ll end up in prison. Benefits don’t justify the risks, compared to the alternative of leaving and then just burgling somewhere else another night. Does it happen, probably. Does it happen enough to offset the conversion of all encounters from mutually armed sudden death events to mutually without firearm events? Probably not.

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        • Gbdub says:

          I actually don’t think a burglar being shot and killed is a good outcome

          Well, I don’t think that’s a good outcome either, but I prefer it strongly to “burglar breaks into home with impunity, scares shit out of family and/or kills them to avoid witnesses, and gets away”.

          That does seem to be one place where your Australian culture differs from American red tribe culture. You find it tragic that a poor innocent felon gets shot, while many Americans think that “Don’t break into houses if you don’t want to get shot” is a reasonable limit on human behavior.

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    • eccdogg says:

      I think it works both ways though. When there is a potential gun on the other side a whole lot of things DON’T escalate further because there might be real consequences.

      Think about a robber in in Texas, how much does he have to weigh the chances that if he breaks into a house he might be shot dead.

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      • That is correct, and criminology backs it up. If you ask actual criminals you quickly find out that they fear armed homeowners more than they feart the police.

        Source: Gary Kleck, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America (1992). Victimization studies back it up.

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    • Anonymous` says:

      As Scott’s post touches on, a large fraction of the U.S. is just like this. Except for muggings (but a knife seems pretty equivalent there, and besides, these have become really rare in most parts of the country in the last decade or two), Americans generally don’t live in constant fear or even any conscious awareness of guns, because the only people you deal with who have them will be concealed carry enthusiasts, and these people will never actually draw their gun in your presence so you will never know they have one. Road rage/domestic violence gun incidents are not things that really happen in the real world.

      Please remember that news media’s sensationalism bias is large enough that you should never really update your world-model significantly based on the news.

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      • meyerkev says:

        “Please remember that news media’s sensationalism bias is large enough that you should never really update your world-model significantly based on the news.”

        That one.

        I get home for Christmas, turn on the news, and the first story is about a church getting robbed.
        I flip to another station, and it’s a story about a kid who killed a guy to steal his car. They caught him because he parked the stolen car in his driveway. Next door*.
        So I turn off the TV because I’m getting depressed, get a Merry Christmas call from my uncle, and it turns out someone pulled the tires off his car on Christmas Eve.

        But you know what.

        There’s 4 Million people in the Metro Area, and if only one of them got shot and 2 got robbed, we’re doing pretty good.

        * Which OK, gotta be honest, made me laugh.

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    • Echo says:

      “When you answer your door, you’re not thinking about what to do if the person has a gun”
      Uhh, neither am I? I don’t think Australians have any intuitive understanding of how we think about guns either…

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      The problem I have with this is that I think something like 20% of Australian households own guns vs. 32% of US households. I don’t understand how such a small difference in reality creates such a big difference in perception. Unless perhaps Australians all own big rifles that they can’t carry around with them and Americans mostly own little handguns that they can?

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      • nimim. k.m. says:

        Small handguns vs rifles might be part of it, but on the other hand, it doesn’t seem very unlikely that the cultural perceptions just maybe don’t reflect reality in a linear fashion. Maybe small initial difference is able to create self-perpetuating loops (news media, word of mouth, etc) of trust (“nobody has a gun here in Australia”) or fear (“this is US, that guy might have a gun!”).

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      • Yrro says:

        It’s because guns are highly concentrated in 3 places in the US:

        Gun nuts (myself included)
        Criminals
        Police officers

        Nearly everyone else never thinks about them. Cops are *constantly* thinking about them because some of them deal with armed criminals on a daily or weekly basis, and all cops want to think that they’re like those cops.

        Honestly, even most gun nuts don’t use their Concealed Carry licenses as much as they say they should. Maybe 5% of people in the US have a CCW permit. Offhand estimates I’ve heard from trainers (no one’s ever actually done a survey) is that maybe 10% of those people carry on a regular basis.

        Guns are part of the culture much more than they are part of every day life, in terms of self defense, *unless* you are regularly dealing with the urban criminal element. And even then, the vast, vast majority of police officers never fire their guns.

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      • kfix says:

        There are very few handguns, and those that do exist are mostly locked up separate from ammunition or stored at the licenced range which is pretty much the only place you can carry or use them unless in a very small range of professions.

        The vast majority of weapons in circulation are shotguns for killing snakes and maybe rabbits or foxes, and rifles for euthanising livestock and pest control/sport shooting of pigs and kangaroos. There are mostly in small towns and on properties.

        In cities it’s reasonably socially acceptable in most circles to participate in sport shooting of some kind (less so if shooting cute animals and definitely no Cecils), but I don’t know anyone who would even think of owning a gun for “self defense”. No way you’d get it out of the (mandatory) safe and locate the separately stored ammunition in time to do any good anyway.

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      • mr roboto says:

        I’d say this is probably one of those social bubble things. He mentions he lived in the biggest city in Australia which is Sydney. Which while no Melbourne isn’t exactly gun owning bogan central. Up in Queensland it’s not that rare for someone to own a gun. However, I will concede that the idea of being shot never really enters anyone’s mind. Though I feel like that’s more because of how peaceful aus is in general. Even if you’re in an area with guns you don’t really fear being shot because that doesn’t really happen.

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    • “There’s almost no semi-automatic rifles.”

      What kind of firearms are there? Are there people who hunt? If so, with what sort of weapons?

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      • keranih says:

        WP’s article is not bad – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_laws_in_Australia

        It appears that farmers have shotguns and that the rifles are largely rimfire, with limited “self-loading” capability. If the OP’s not at all familiar with guns, they might be thinking that semi-automatics means scary black AR models, and so a scoped rifle without a sling and with a nice walnut stock would not be recognized as a semi-auto.

        I was most impressed with the uncertainty range of illegal weapons in Australia – the illegal weapons number somewhere around 15% of the number of legal weapons, up to, oh, over 100% of the number of legal weapons. So I’m not sure just how well that’s working.

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        • Nomghost says:

          I’m not an expert, in fact I know almost nothing about guns, but I was under the impression that a rifle that loads itself automatically using energy from the last round fired, rather than some input from the shooter, was a semi-automatic, but happy to be corrected.

          I know a bunch of farmers, including some in my family, and I’ve been out shooting with them a few times. I’ve never seen a rifle that wasn’t bolt action.

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          • Yrro says:

            Yes, a semi-auto is anything that loads itself, but still fires one bullet per trigger press. Can be in any caliber of round, in any form factor (rifle/pistol/shotgun)

            Many hunting rifles are bolt-action because it’s cheaper and easier to make a really accurate bolt action rifle, and most hunting laws only allow you one or two follow up shots anyway (not that you’re likely to get a chance for more).

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          • Leit says:

            Other reasons for bolt-action include, but are not limited to:
            – Easier user maintenance and repair
            – Better reliability itv jams etc.
            – A stronger action allowing higher-power rounds
            (although if you want *real* power and reliability you can always go with a break-action, provided yo don’t mind only getting ~2 shots per reload and a slow reload besides)

            My favourite reason, though, is simply that operating a well-tuned bolt-action rifle is mechanically satisfying in the same way that a good manual gearbox is.

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          • Marc Whipple says:

            All true, but this discussion always makes me think of the seminar I took on the JFK assassination. One of the primary oppositions to the “main” theory (Oswald, alone, from the TBD fired all shots) was that there was no way he could have fired that many shots that quickly from a bolt-action rifle.

            Well, the year I took the class one of my classmates was a retired Marine sharpshooter. The professor brought the rifle to class (this was in the 80’s when you could do that) and the Marine dry-fired it while the professor timed him. Most of my classmates were astonished to find that he could fire three shots (and say he felt they would have been reasonably well-placed) faster than Oswald would have had to.

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          • Psmith says:

            Marc, check out the mad minute: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mad_minute

            Made the Germans think that the British were fielding individual machine guns. Tommy Atkins was a bad man.

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        • Anon.. says:

          The uncertainty rate doesn’t surprise me, for two reasons. One, when I used to go rabbit shooting on friend’s farms as a teen, all of the rifles we used were older than anyone present, and had never been registered. That was not unusual, hence any figures on gun ownership prior to the bans were always going to be missing a lot of old rifles.
          Two, when it was became clear that gun control laws were going to get a lot stricter, some people were convinced all firearms were going to be banned. Which led to Bunnings (the biggest hardware chain store) being unable to keep up with the demand for several inch diameter PVC pipe end caps for months.
          So most of the illegal guns out there will be rifles buried in someones back paddock. As for how many, I doubt anyone has anything more than a wild guess.

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    • lunatic says:

      I’m Australian and if I’m riding or driving in the middle of woop woop and I see a fence or private property sign, angry people with guns is definitely a possibility I consider.

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    • onyomi says:

      I don’t know how much time you’ve spent in the US, but I think you might have a mistaken impression about how prominently guns feature in US daily life, perhaps because of sensational news, movies, TV, etc.

      I have lived almost all my life in the US, most of it in the South, some of it in the rural south, some of it in the very urban south, some of it in poor neighborhoods, and in no case have I experienced concern that I’ll answer a knock at the door and face a gun or that I’ll get in a car wreck and be faced with a gun… or really that I’ll encounter a gun at all in my daily life except as it sits on the hip of a police officer or security guard. I have not, thus far, been proven wrong.

      Not that guns don’t exist in my world–my father owns a gun, I’m sure many of my neighbors own guns (and it makes me feel safer, not less safe to know that), I heard a gunshot once or twice living in a poorer, urban neighborhood, and I see guns for sale periodically here in the rural south where I live now. But they don’t feature prominently in my daily life or awareness in any significant way. To the extent I feared for my safety living in the neighborhood where I heard the gun shots, it was fear of mugging (which might just as well happen at knife point, or by being surrounded by a group) and robbery more than being caught in a crossfire, and while I know that some people in this area love deer hunting, that also doesn’t really affect me at all, insofar as I have no interest in it.

      Not denying there exists a “gun culture” in the US in which one may participate if one wishes, but I think it features a lot less prominently in the daily life and mind of the average American than TV, movies, news, etc. would lead one to believe.

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    • rminnema says:

      I am a gun owner and a former concealed-permit holder living in the United States. I have found the opposite of your experience to be true. (I have let my concealed carry permit lapse because of laziness, and not because of any change in my convictions.)

      I used to carry, and carry often. When I’d head to the local game store to play miniatures games until 3 in the morning in my younger days, I liked to be armed. There’s a certain security that comes from knowing that you can deal with threats.

      One night, I came home and made a mistake parallel parking my car. I bumped one of the neighbor’s cars, and he was sitting on his front porch and saw it. He came running down his porch, screaming at me. He was confrontational and aggressive.

      I knew I was at fault, and I also knew I had a gun strapped under my coat. I was confident that I could deal with the situation. However, I knew that disproportionate response would mean that I was the one at fault. I had a strong incentive to defuse the situation: I have the upper hand (even if the other guy doesn’t know it!), which means that if I don’t do everything in my power to keep it under control then I will get the blame.

      Carrying a gun around doesn’t make you feel all-powerful and omnipotent. It makes you acutely aware of your responsibilities*.

      * This probably doesn’t hold for people carrying guns illegally. However, for people carrying legally, it does. One should note that legal concealed carry permit holders commit crimes at lower rates than police officers do.

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      • TrivialGravitas says:

        “One should note that legal concealed carry permit holders commit crimes at lower rates than police officers do.”

        Can you source that? I know a guy who likes to bring it up every single time a legal carrier does something illegal and makes the news and it’d be great to see the look on his face.

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    • CatCube says:

      When I was at the National Pistol Matches at Camp Perry about 14 or so years ago, there was a vendor there from Australia. While I was browsing, I heard him talking to a coworker, where he said “My family back in Australia asks if I’m afraid of getting shot in the U.S. I tell them that since I’m not muscling in on a drug dealer’s territory, it’s not a big concern.”

      That always stuck with me as probably the most compact and reasonable answer possible about Americans worrying about violence.

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    • I’m American. I don’t worry about being shot. It could be that I’m ignoring real dangers, but it could also be that I’m being reasonable. I live in South Philadelphia– probably neither the safest nor the most dangerous place in America.

      Americans reading this, how personally worried are you about gun violence?

      (I hate the term “gun violence”– it’s as though there’s some huge difference about being attacked with a gun rather than some other way– but I think it’s a handy and appropriate phrase to use in my question.)

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      • I have lived for almost 25 years in an affluent Midwestern university town of over 100,000 people, which has very little crime by US standards. My town recently had a five-year period with zero homicides; other years there might be one or two.

        We also have a monthly magazine which publishes a map of the city every month, with different color dots indicating specific crimes, based on police reports. The most common dot is for burglary, but it’s a rare month to see one within a mile of where we live. I should say there are probably about three or four thousand households within that one mile radius.

        So, in my everyday life, I don’t really think much about being the victim of any kind of violence, or worry about guns, or people being armed.

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      • Anthony says:

        I’ve lived in middling areas of Oakland (California) – stolen cars would turn up in front of my house occasionally. CatCube’s coworker’s attitude is essentially what I thought of it. I *would* hear gunshots pretty much every weekend, but not that close to me.

        If you look up Oakland’s murder statistics, one of the riskiest things a white person can do in Oakland is to marry a filesystem developer.

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      • Adam says:

        I’ve lived in the suburbs of Los Angeles, mostly the crappy suburbs, northern California wine country, north New Jersey, rural North Carolina, rural Kentucky, suburban central Texas, and now in downtown Dallas. About the only cause of death I’ve ever worried about is driving in bad weather, though the closest I ever got was swimming in a rip tide.

        I actually grew up in a bad enough place that they banned us from wearing gang colors and Raiders jerseys and my middle school had multiple drive-bys. I still never actually worried about it. I’ve personally known two murder victims. One was shot and the other smothered in her sleep with a pillow. I don’t particularly worry about either of those things. They’re still rare even though they once happened. I know of an exceeding crap ton of people who died in vehicle crashes.

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        • I’ve personally known two murder victims.

          Now that you mention it, I can think of two murder victims I knew. Neither was around here. One of them I knew pretty well in high school. She was murdered by her boyfriend, who went on to kill several other young women. The other was a guy who was trying to protect an abused wife; he was killed by the vengeful husband, who shot him and then burned down his house.

          I’m 60 years old, and I’ve known a lot of people over the years, so there might be others.

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          • I knew one murder victim– he was a bus driver in NYC, probably in the 80s. Everything that follows is second-hand. There was a rule that bus drivers could only sell transfers when people were getting on the bus, and this was enforced with people pretending to be passengers. Bus drivers could be fired for breaking the rule.

            So the guy I knew refused to sell a transfer, and was killed by the passenger.

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          • Adam says:

            The shooting victim was my girlfriend’s brother-in-law and the police never figured out who did it or why. The smother victim was my sister’s best friend and murdered by her mom’s boyfriend seemingly just because he was insane when we were all in high school.

            Another friend in high school shot himself, so gun death I guess, but not a murder. A soldier in my unit in Iraq shot himself right before coming home, too, but I’m not sure something like that even gets counted in the statistics.

            Come to think of it, I technically know a murderer, too, but that was kind of unfair. A soldier in my ex-wife’s unit shot his neighbor in the face because he was beating his wife. An overblown response, but probably not an evil person.

            If we move to justified legal shootings, then I kind of know a lot from the war, including a guy who had to shoot an 8 year-old kid in the face point blank (trust me, it was justified). Outside of combat zones, just the ex-wife’s uncle who had to shoot a few people working security at the gold refinery.

            Outside of combat zones, I’ve only once had a gun pulled on me, by a rent-a-cop. I laughed at him and drove away. Well, my ex-wife once pulled a gun on me when I came home a day early in the middle of the night and didn’t call her. I laughed even harder at her.

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          • Another friend in high school shot himself, so gun death I guess, but not a murder.

            I’m sorry to say that I have lost a number of friends and acquaintances to suicide. At least two of them were definitely by gunshot.

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Adam:
            “Well, my ex-wife once pulled a gun on me when I came home a day early in the middle of the night and didn’t call her. I laughed even harder at her.”

            This is the kind of the thing that really mystifies me. I’m assuming she pulled a gun on you because either a) she was worried you were an intruder, or b) she was mad at you.

            If it is (a) then in what way is it laughable? That should be her reaction (if you are the kind of person who believes in owning a gun for self-defense against an unknown assailant).

            If it is (b) it seems even less laughable, even if laughing at her may have been the right response to minimize the chance of the gun being used.

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          • Adam says:

            Still the only thing I feel is a personal threat to me is the highway, though. The personal notes there are 1) there was a period of six consecutive years after high school during which I lived away from where I grew up, but came home to visit at least twice a year, and every single time, someone else I had known in school died in a traffic accident, and 2) when I first signed in to Fort Hood, it took nearly two years before the ‘x days since the last fatal traffic accident’ counter hit double digits. When they said driving on Texas highways is deadlier than combat, they weren’t remotely kidding. During the same period in which something like 7 Fort Hood soldiers died in combat (including the one who shot himself), hundreds died on the road.

            Oh yeah, I don’t know how I forgot, but a guy I worked with in college, who was also named Adam, that I mostly just played ping pong with in the lounge because we had no actual work to do once the activities budget dried up, died in basketball practice by tripping and breaking his neck. That may be the single most out-of-the-blue death.

            Apparently my dad’s friend in high school climbed a 200 foot electrical tower on a dare, got electrocuted, and then fell onto the concrete below for good measure, so he probably has better stories than I do.

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          • Adam says:

            @HeelBear

            (a) I mentioned this elsewhere in the thread, but she keeps two loaded pistols in the house for close access in vulnerable spots, one under her pillow and one on a shelf next to the toilet. She’s the most paranoid person I’ve ever known. That’s why I laughed at her, in spite of my support of her inherent right to self-defense. If I’d actually been an intruder, the dogs would have torn to me to shreds.

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      • keranih says:

        Americans reading this, how personally worried are you about gun violence?

        Not very, and I don’t really separate out “gun violence” from “non-gun violence” – I’m female, and not a spring chicken any more, and while I would hurt the bastard, I’m very unlikely to win a physical altercation.

        The only person I know of personally who died of gunshot wounds (domestically) was shot after (needlessly) threatening another person with a rifle. My across-the-street neighbor had her home invaded and was beaten and tied up last spring. I’ve had my home broken into twice while I was not there.

        (American South, low-rent neighborhood, high degree of larceny and petty theft in my area.)

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      • @Nancy:

        South Philadelphia, 48th and Chester if I remember correctly, is the one place I have had a gun pointed at me by a criminal. That would be more than forty years ago.

        But I don’t normally worry about being shot.

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      • Marc Whipple says:

        Not even a little, little bit. However, I live in a prosperous suburb and work in a prosperous area of downtown.

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      • Nate says:

        American here, living in a U.S. state with a statistically high crime rate. The crime rate in my own neighborhood is near-zero because I don’t live near where all the criminals and drug dealers live. I have a CCW permit and carry every day but realistically I have no fear of attack. I do it because I get a psychological kick out of preparedness and responsibility. Virtually all of my neighbors have guns (we talk about gun stuff from time to time) and several regularly carry firearms. I would estimate that there are at least four dozen loaded firearms–and probably a lot more than that–within a 500-foot radius of my home where I’m sitting right now. I have absolutely no fear of any of these firearms because I know and trust their owners.

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      • Troy says:

        I’m American. I don’t worry about being shot. It could be that I’m ignoring real dangers, but it could also be that I’m being reasonable. I live in South Philadelphia– probably neither the safest nor the most dangerous place in America.

        Americans reading this, how personally worried are you about gun violence?

        I live in a 50% black/50% white urban area. I don’t worry about getting shot. People have been murdered (by guns) in our neighborhood, but as far as I know the victims have always been black, and I suspect they are mostly domestic disputes or drug related. I don’t feel in much danger myself, at least if I’m not walking out alone at night far from my house.

        I do worry about getting burgled. I haven’t been, but several friends have.

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      • vV_Vv says:

        I’m not American.

        During my first time in the US, I was waiting at a light rail stop to catch the train for the airport at 3 am or something. Next to me, a middle-aged, unkempt drunk guy. In the building on the other side of the road there was some kind of party with college-aged people. The drunk guy was making loud obscene remarks on the girls who went through the door. An angry young man leaned from the terrace and started yelling at the drunk guy and threatening violence. The drunk guy dared him to come and face him. I looked around trying to estimate how fast I could run to the nearest corner. Fortunately, the other guy didn’t come and nothing happened.

        Was I overly worried because of stereotypes about Americans? I don’t know, but I can’t help but thinking that if the other guy came it could have ended badly.

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        • Tibor says:

          Umm, I would not want to get involved in a “dispute” of two drunks even if all they had on them were their fists. I think what you did would be reasonable in any country.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Tibor
            “I would not want to get involved in a “dispute” of two drunks even if all they had on them were their fists.”

            In deciding how far away to move, I would find the odds of one or more of the drunks having a gun, somewhat relevant.

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        • Echo says:

          I used to see this all the time living in the UK. Thought Americans just didn’t do it, but that was only because I hadn’t visited an American city at the right time of night.
          Cities make people crazy degenerates, apparently.

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          • Tibor says:

            From the stories I heard, the British are almost as bad drinkers as the Scandinavians in that the usual course of the night is to drink a lot, get completely smashed and barf in the alley. What makes it less a problem is that the cultural drink is not vodka like in Scandinavia but beer. My former English teacher who comes from London (forgot which part, but I think he was a Westham fan form which football fans could probably tell 🙂 ) told me that this attitude to drinking is caused by that there used to be a mandatory closing hour for pubs in Britain and quite an early one, so people would drink more to have a few drinks before they close down. But then that was abolished, yet the drinking habits stayed the same…I don’t know how true that story is though.

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          • sweeneyrod says:

            In Britain, we consider ourselves to have a bad drinking culture in comparison to continental Europe – binge drinking and alcoholism are common. Interesting story, no idea if it is true.

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          • Echo says:

            I think I left before the pub hours reforms, but considering how I used to see our lot act on vacations in France and the Netherlands… yeah, I can believe it.
            Used to be embarrassed enough I’d pretend to be American.

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          • vV_Vv says:

            I wasn’t particularly surpised to see this kind of behavior, I was worried that they may had had guns, something I wouldn’t have considered as much as likely if I was in an European city, except in a very bad neighborhood.

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    • anon says:

      Believe it or not, we don’t think about what to do if the person has a gun every time we open our doors. I suggest you learn about life in America from somewhere other than /int/

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    • Ralph says:

      Other people have made this point, but I think you are pretty off base about what the gun culture in America is like.

      I’ve lived in 3 major US cities, including some particularly violent ones (Chicago, Memphis) and I can’t really remember ever seeing a gun in public (other than on a cop’s hip). Granted, I’ve lived in middle class neighborhoods, but still in the city proper.

      Sane Americans (who don’t live in the ghetto) don’t actually think about getting murdered at gun point in their daily interactions. Most gun deaths are suicides, the rest are mostly targeted gang/drug murders and domestic disputes.

      The idea that Americans are all walking around in fear of being caught in some crossfire or murdered for bumping into someone on the sidewalk or getting in a car accident is just plain wrong.

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    • AnObfuscator says:

      I’d just like to add some Australian perspective. I’ve grown up in Australia, and I’m too young to remember the time before gun control. I don’t think American readers have any intuitive understanding of how Australians think about guns.

      I’m an American. Thanks for your perspective. To be fair, I don’t think Australians have an intuitive understanding of how guns actually impact American daily life or thinking either.

      Cops never asked me if I had a gun before I got a carry permit. After I got one, I merely showed the permit to the officer and told them if I had a weapon or not. Not one even cared. When people come to my door, I don’t start panicking and thinking about if they have a gun or not. I don’t think about getting shot every time I step foot out of my door.

      I once had an Australian roommate. He mentioned that he found the US very different from what he expected. He actually thought he’d see more violence, or hear gunshots, or see police carting off dead bodies. He then admitted that perhaps his perspective on the US was deeply distorted by the emphasis on violence in the media, both news and movies.

      Being attacked by someone with a gun, while more common than in Australia, is still very rare in the US on an objective scale. While it is something thought about and discussed on an abstract level, most Americans will not actually directly experience gun violence in their lives.

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  18. duckofdeath says:

    Canadians also have a boatload of limitations on gun ownership that likely reduce the gun homicide and suicide rates in ways that aren’t apparent solely by comparing the number of guns. Canadians need to complete a very extensive background check taking several weeks followed by a mandatory training course in gun safety before being approved for a firearms license and even once you have gotten the license there are limitations on the types of weapons that can be legally owned that are not present in the states (handguns, which tend to be disproportionately represented in homicides, are strictly controlled for example) and there are rules about how guns and ammunition have to be secured in the home. It’s possible that a good portion of the ~5% difference in household gun ownership rate between the US and Canada represents people who would not be able to get a firearms license in Canada because they have obvious warning signs and commit a disproportionate number of the gun murders that occur in the states. Speaking as someone who knows a good number of Canadian gun lovers I doubt that we are any less likely than Americans to like to purchase multiple weapons.

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    • Troy says:

      Speaking as someone who knows a good number of Canadian gun lovers I doubt that we are any less likely than Americans to like to purchase multiple weapons.

      I don’t have any stats, but the American gun lovers I know don’t just have multiple weapons, i.e., more than 1. They have, I would guess, more than 20.

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      • duckofdeath says:

        Oh, I may be wrong then, the people I know are more on the order of 5 or 6 guns.

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      • The Anonymouse says:

        The problem is, if you are a felon, adjudicated mentally incompetent, or otherwise already prohibited from owning a firearm, I really don’t care about your sixth firearm. I worry about your first one.

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      • Randy M says:

        If I go by my childhood friend’s facebook page, he owns… let’s see, carry the one… approximately all the guns.

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      • Adam says:

        My ex-wife’s uncle had over 200. One of my old gunners from when I was a tank platoon leader ended up with over 6,000 by the time he medically discharged, but he was inheriting a family arsenal that was at least a century old.

        Edit: Also, my ex-wife’s uncle did kill someone with a gun more than once, but legally. He was chief of security at a gold refinery for 20 years.

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        • Agronomous says:

          Six thousand guns? There’s no way he’s taking care of all of them properly: even if he cleaned three every weekday, it would take him eight years to work his way back around to the first!

          They should be confiscated, and sent to a no-shoot shelter for guns until they’re adopted by someone more responsible. He should have to attend therapy for gun-hoarding before he gets a reasonable number of them (say, 500) back.

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    • Selerax says:

      A related possibility is that the problem with the US is not “more guns”, it’s “more guns in the hands of the Wrong People” (due to lack of regulation).

      Since all the graphs in this post use total gun ownership as variables, they wouldn’t pick up any such effect (especially considering that the Wring People, i.e. those likely to misuse guns, are presumably a small minority).

      SUGGESTION: Compare the ratio of gun homicides to non-gun homicides, across countries with similar gun ownership rate to the US (e.g. Canada). If this ratio is higher in the US, then it would suggest that there really is a specific gun problem, above and beyond the general American violence problem.

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  19. Troy says:

    Although I’m personally friendly to the claim that a “culture of violence” is a large part of what explains America’s high murder rate, it seems to me that you’ve ignored several other potential explanations of the higher murder rate among blacks and southerners. IQ and poverty are perhaps the most obvious. Another factor to test for would be single motherhood, which as I recall correlates strongly with crime rates even after race is controlled for. This would correlate highly with any reasonable operationalization of culture of violence, although whether single motherhood causes culture, culture causes single motherhood, or they have a common cause is perhaps unclear.

    Also, it wasn’t clear to me why we were assuming that non-southern American whites don’t have more of a culture of violence than European or Canadian whites. Is this just supposed to be obvious? I suspect, although I don’t know, that the media non-southern American whites consume is more violent than the media Europeans/Canadians consume.

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    • duckofdeath says:

      There is very little difference between the media consumed by Americans and Canadians. When it comes to pop culture the border might as well not exist. I grew up in one of the more affluent neighbourhoods of one of the most affluent cities in Canada where the populations was something like 60% white/ 30% East Asian/ 10% other and kids there listened to the same rap music and watched literally the same movies as kids south of the border.

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    • Douglas Knight says:

      Scott did not assume that northern whites had a Canadian cultural of violence, he proved it (under extremely dubious assumptions on regressions). He did a regression and found that guns predicted a certain number of homicides. They predicted all the difference between Canada and northern whites, leaving none to be explained by a culture of violence. But there was a residual in southern whites, explained as a culture of violence. (I phrased the two steps in the opposite order in the post.)

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      • Troy says:

        He did a regression and found that guns predicted a certain number of homicides. They predicted all the difference between Canada and northern whites, leaving none to be explained by a culture of violence.

        Perhaps culture causes guns — i.e., the more culturally violent non-southerner whites are more likely to buy guns.

        It would be strange, though, if culture only caused more violence through more guns among non-southerner whites, while among southerners and blacks it caused more violence in other ways too.

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    • Wrong Species says:

      How does the iq of white southerners compare to the places where their ancestors came from? Because places like England and Scotland have lower crime rates than the southern states so I don’t think you can blame genetics.

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      • NN says:

        Apparently, white Southerners are mostly Scotts-Irish. That is, they came from Ulster, which is now called Northern Ireland, which was pretty violent from the late 1960s to the late 1990s.

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        • John Schilling says:

          More precisely, they came originally from the Scots/English border region, where being Not Quite Scottish and Not Quite English meant they could rob both countries blind like a bunch of bloody Vikings. Then both Scotland and England got tired of that and kicked them out, so they moved over to Ireland for a while until the Irish got tired of that and they moved on to Appalachia or thereabouts.

          Which has worked out much better than anyone could have expected, but even so.

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          • vV_Vv says:

            More precisely, they came originally from the Scots/English border region, where being Not Quite Scottish and Not Quite English meant they could rob both countries blind like a bunch of bloody Vikings.

            But the actual descendants of the bloody Vikings, who, given their average height, are perhaps even biologically adapted to the raider lifestyle, have low violent crime rates.

            I don’t buy these ancestral culture of violence or genetic disposition to violence hypotheses.

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        • Wrong Species says:

          But Northern Ireland is not so violent now so we’re back to the original point.

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        • houseboatonstyx says:

          As a white Southerner of Scotch*-Irish ancestry, I wish I had a comment.

          * That’s how my mother spelled it.

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        • onyomi says:

          What about the general Cavalier culture on which Southern US culture was based? Seems inherently more violent than Puritans and Quakers.

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          • The Unloginable says:

            The so-called Cavalier culture never got more than 100 miles or so from the Atlantic coast. It was just much more visible to non-southern elites than the far more dominant Appalachian culture was. Both, to be fair, were from notably violent roots.

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      • Troy says:

        How does the iq of white southerners compare to the places where their ancestors came from? Because places like England and Scotland have lower crime rates than the southern states so I don’t think you can blame genetics.

        I wasn’t blaming genetics; I was blaming IQ (well, raising it as a possible thing that should be blamed). Genetics is not the only cause of IQ. I don’t know how close white southerners are genetically to current English and Scottish people, but they could be very close and still be different in IQ for non-genetic reasons, such as nutrition.

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    • Randy M says:

      “Another factor to test for would be single motherhood, which as I recall correlates strongly with crime rates even after race is controlled for.”

      Impulsivity seems like the trait to look for to link single motherhood and violence.
      Though this might be another name for, or at least closely correlated with IQ.

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      • Anthony says:

        Yup. People whose parents couldn’t stand each other long enough to provide a two-parent family for the kids are more likely to do the same, but that behavior pattern is, like so many others, significantly genetic.

        There are cultural changes – those people’s ancestors didn’t actually get divorced back in the 20s and 30s, but they probably had higher rates of abandonment, domestic violence, rapid job turnover, etc.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      When I use politically correct explanations that exactly coincides with politically incorrect explanations, I usually am aware of the politically incorrect explanation but don’t think that costing myself credibility by bringing it up would be an effective use of limited credibility resources given that the politically correct explanation suffices to do whatever needs doing.

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      • Troy says:

        Okay, fair enough, I kind of suspected as much — and I suppose you’re right that it doesn’t affect your broader argument much. Although poverty is not a politically incorrect explanation — indeed, it’s one of the most politically correct explanations for greater black crime — and so I was a bit surprised you jumped straight to “culture of violence.”

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      • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

        When I read it I assumed that the relevant genetic and socioeconomic factors were a part of what you called “culture of violence”.

        Basically like that when we hate “Muslims”, we don’t hate the religion as much as the associated social-genetic (this needs to be a word) correlates – that at least appears to be the situation in Israel (telling the social and genetic influences apart is not that trivial).

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    • Ahilan Nagendram says:

      I imagine that increased gun violence could reinforce the “culture of violence”, among other things. There’s also the factor of IQ, definitely. But I argue that culture of violence and IQ could be separated, considering there are low IQ populations without any real culture of violence. There’s also the fact that most people in general, despite IQ, are not gun criminals.

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  20. eccdogg says:

    Scott did you do any comparisons that controlled for both Southernness and Blackness? Because Southern States are also Black states. Is Southerness robust to controlling for Blackness? My guess is it still holds but just curious,

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      If you look at Epigone’s white data and mentally factor out the states that are obviously confounded by Latino whites, then it looks like Southernness and murder still have a pretty high correlation.

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      • Steve Sailer says:

        A useful resource of detail on homicides is the L.A. Times Homicide Report launched by crime reporter Jill Leovy, author of last year’s book “Ghettoside.”

        It features information on every homicide victim since 2007 in Los Angeles County, which has about 3% of America’s population.

        http://homicide.latimes.com/

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      • Tom Scharf says:

        There’s probably a pretty good correlation between pickup truck ownership and the white murder rate. A proxy for culture.

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        • The Anonymouse says:

          There’s probably a pretty good correlation between pickup truck ownership and the number of persons performing skilled and unskilled manual labor.

          The highest gun-ownership state in the nation is Wyoming, where 59.7% of households have a gun (really!). But Wyoming has a murder rate of only 1.4 – the same as right across the border in more gun-controlled Canada, and only about a third of that of the nation as a whole.

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      • Robert VerBruggen says:

        Btw, you can use the CDC WONDER system to get numbers for non-Hispanic whites. Victims, not perpetrators though. http://wonder.cdc.gov/mcd-icd10.html

        Also a good data source to be aware of — the BRFSS actually asked the gun question three different years. You can crunch it manually if you’re feeling ambitious but I did find all the numbers here: http://crimeresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Firearm-Ownership-and-Violent-Crime.pdf

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      • onyomi says:

        I wonder if dueling deaths were more frequent in the antebellum south than the antebellum north. My gut tells me they would be. Because Southerners had, and to some extent still have, more of an honor-based culture than Northerners. Though explicit duels are seemingly non-existent nowadays, one imagines the underlying impulse may still be behind the occasional deadly argument.

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        • eccdogg says:

          It really amazed me seeing how Northerners talked to each other after having grown up in the South.

          I would sometimes see two Northerners yelling and cursing at each other. In my home town if two people were talking that way to each other you were about to see punches thrown.

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      • eccdogg says:

        Ok I am probably misunderstanding the data or missed something but this is what I get when I dump your CSV file into R and regress Murder2002 on Percent of households with guns, Southerness, Percent Black and Percent Urban.

        Coefficients:
        Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)
        (Intercept) -5.15042 5.78716 -0.890 0.3781
        PGun 0.05392 0.06038 0.893 0.3765
        Southernness -0.99917 0.54690 -1.827 0.0742 .
        PBlack 0.46855 0.07034 6.661 2.94e-08 ***
        PUrban 0.06654 0.05298 1.256 0.2155

        Signif. codes: 0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05 ‘.’ 0.1 ‘ ’ 1

        Residual standard error: 3.582 on 46 degrees of freedom
        Multiple R-squared: 0.6222, Adjusted R-squared: 0.5894
        F-statistic: 18.94 on 4 and 46 DF, p-value: 2.896e-09

        The only significant factor I get is Blackness and Southerness has a negative sign! What am I missing? If I leave out blackness (like the authors of the study did) and do the estimates, southerness is correlated with murder rate but it disapears when you include blackness and actually becomes negative. And I don’t see PGun as a significant factor.

        I am probably missing a key piece here somewhere.

        Here are the same numbers using the varibale “Murder” instea of “Murder2002”

        Coefficients:
        Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)
        (Intercept) -1.324236 3.054312 -0.434 0.667
        PGun 0.008917 0.031865 0.280 0.781
        Southernness -0.378816 0.288639 -1.312 0.196
        PBlack 0.248672 0.037126 6.698 2.59e-08 ***
        PUrban 0.037647 0.027959 1.346 0.185

        Signif. codes: 0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05 ‘.’ 0.1 ‘ ’ 1

        Residual standard error: 1.891 on 46 degrees of freedom
        Multiple R-squared: 0.6642, Adjusted R-squared: 0.6351
        F-statistic: 22.75 on 4 and 46 DF, p-value: 2.042e-10

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        • eccdogg says:

          This is what I get when i include Hispanic population as well.

          Call:
          lm(formula = Murder ~ PBlack + Southernness + PUrban + PHispanic,
          data = state_factors)

          Residuals:
          Min 1Q Median 3Q Max
          -3.6396 -0.8610 -0.2888 0.6914 7.2013

          Coefficients:
          Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)
          (Intercept) 0.9700814 1.7185329 0.564 0.5752
          PBlack 0.2724402 0.0372702 7.310 3.13e-09 ***
          Southernness -0.5247405 0.2820405 -1.861 0.0692 .
          PUrban 0.0005561 0.0267336 0.021 0.9835
          PHispanic 0.0618112 0.0356929 1.732 0.0900 .

          Signif. codes: 0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05 ‘.’ 0.1 ‘ ’ 1

          Residual standard error: 1.834 on 46 degrees of freedom
          Multiple R-squared: 0.6843, Adjusted R-squared: 0.6568
          F-statistic: 24.92 on 4 and 46 DF, p-value: 5.109e-11

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          • Robert VerBruggen says:

            Not sure if you’re still checking this thread, but one issue might be that you’re using linear regression with highly skewed data. I’m not an expert on the technical stuff (journalism major), but I’ve read a lot of gun-control studies, and most either take a logarithm of the murder rate (and sometimes other variables as well) to address the skew, or use a different regression technique. (The study SA likes used negative binomial on the count data.)

            That said, I found a similar thing with the model I was messing with (linear with Murder2002 and Robbery logged). I treated the Southernness variable as a factor (so it looks at each category independently), and oddly enough the highest result is category 1, with progressively lower results as you get to the most Southern states (category 4). So, that’s weird.

            (Here’s my formula. I removed two observations because there’s no test-score data for them and that variable survived when I tried doing a stepwise technique to pair down the model. lm() will do that automatically but I was also looking at some other stuff with the residuals.)

            https://twitter.com/RAVerBruggen/status/685550198425255937

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  21. Troy says:

    This study doesn’t prove causation; while one interpretation is that guns cause homicide, another is that homicide causes guns – for example, by making people feel unsafe so they buy guns to protect themselves. However, I doubt the reverse causation aspect in this case. The study controlled for robbery rate; ie it was looking at whether guns predicted homicides above and beyond those that could be expected given the level of non-homicide crime. My guess is that people feeling unsafe is based more on the general crime rate than on the homicide rate per se, which would make it hard for the homicide rate to cause increased gun ownership independently of the crime rate.

    As a homeowner in a roughly 50% black urban area (albeit one with a lower crime rate than is typical for our demographics), I think your guess is probably right. I do not really fear being killed; I am not likely to be a homicide target. I do fear being robbed, however.

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  22. Mogden says:

    A decline in the murder rate by 2k is about 1/15 of the number of automobile fatalities in the U.S. in 2013. Wouldn’t it be a better use of political energy to save that many lives by improving automobile safety by 1/15 rather than trying to repeal a hot-button constitutional amendment?

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    • duckofdeath says:

      You don’t need to repeal the second amendment to pass gun control. It has long been established constitutional law in the US that gun control is constitutional, that’s why so many states are able to have it.

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      • Donny Anonny says:

        The sort of gun control Scott is kicking around as being effective at reducing violent crime, e.g. Australian-style mandatory gun buy-ups on a national level, would likely not pass out of Congress, and even if they did, they would face constitutional challenges that would likely end up in the Supreme Court.

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      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        If by “gun control” you mean “ban guns”, no. This was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in McDonald v. Chicago in 2010.

        If by “gun control” you mean “tax or restrict guns”, yes. But in that case, almost (?) every state has “gun control”.

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        • duckofdeath says:

          Banning semi-automatics or just hand-guns for private ownership would pass constitutional muster, it’s already illegal to own fully automatics and it has previously been illegal to own semi-automatic rifles under the assault weapons ban so in principle there’s nothing unconstitutional about banning certain kinds of weapons.

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          • keranih says:

            If you’re calling “semi-automatics” “a certain kind of weapon” you’re treading very close to expressing your thoughts in terms which match well with ignorant people who don’t understand the basic mechanics of the tools they are trying to restrict. This has, historically, been met with unhelpful mockery by people who do understand firearms.

            You might want to look at revising what you’re trying to say.

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          • Echo says:

            >Banning semi-automatics or just hand-guns for private ownership would pass constitutional muster

            That is literally what Heller and McDonald said was not constitutional. Like fifteen seconds of googling would save so many wasted “Here’s My Opinion” comments…
            Not trying to be rude here, but seriously bro.

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          • Mark Atwood says:

            in terms which match well with ignorant people who don’t understand the basic mechanics of the tools they are trying to restrictThis has, historically, been met with unhelpful mockery by people who do understand firearms.

            You mean like this one?:


            Simplicio: I don’t want to take away dog owners’ rights, but we need to do something about pit bulls. We need restrictions on owning an attack dog.

            Salviati: Wait. What’s an “attack dog”?

            Simplicio: You know what I mean. Like military dogs.

            Salviati: Huh? Pit bulls aren’t military dogs. In fact “military dogs” isn’t a thing. You mean like German Shepherds?

            Simplicio: Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody’s trying to take away your German Shepherds. But civilians shouldn’t own fighting dogs.

            Salviati: I have no idea what dogs you’re talking about now.

            Simplicio: You’re being both picky and obtuse. You know I mean hounds.

            Salviati: Hounds? Seriously?

            Simplicio: OK, maybe not actually “hounds.” Maybe I have the terminology wrong. I’m not obsessed with violent dogs the way you are. But we can identify breeds that civilians just don’t need to own.

            Salviati: Apparently not.

            I, for one, find that sort of “mockery” rather “helpful”. This specific one I just posted has been noticeably effective.

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          • Harold says:

            it’s already illegal to own fully automatics

            Not true, around 200,000 are registered with the BATF are in civilian hands; the general lawfulness of this can be confirmed in 10 with Google.

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          • enoriverbend says:

            duck, you may want to learn more before embarrassing yourself further. I am trying to say this in the gentlest possible fashion. Your short post set a record today for the most factual errors per sentence; I count at least three but that’s only because I am in a kind and generous frame of mind.

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          • hlynkacg says:

            @Harold

            Pretty much all 200,000 of those are “grandfather” items from before the 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act was passed.

            As a civilian you can not legally buy a machine-gun from the manufacturer or a dealer. You’ have to find another civilian who owned that specific gun prior to 1986 and buy it from them. This is what people are referring to when you hear them talk about “transferable” NFA items.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Atwood

            Context: Party No-Cats wants to ban all cats from cities. Party All-Cats wants to allow all cats, including tigers, in cities.

            Mr. Middleton says, “I don’t want to penalize cat lovers, but I don’t think anyone should have a 50-pound lynx.” So the All-Cats Party takes him apart about diffferent kinds of lynx, is a bobcat any cat with a bobbed tail, lions vs mountan lions, etc. So he and onlookers decide the All-Cats Party is rude and impossible to deal with, and probably shouldn’t have any cats at all.

            This is not helpful for cats. This was an opening for negotiation about what the factors are and where a reasonable limit might fall … since it would be experts who would work out the details anyway.

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          • hlynkacg says:

            @houseboatonstyx

            Context is actually a large part of the problem. To continue your analogy…

            Party-All-Cats had in past supported various restrictions on cat ownership. After all, If you really care about cats you’d agree that those who wish to own a cat should demonstrate that they will be responsible cat-owners, and that they are not animal abusers.

            In 1994 Party-All-Cats agrees to support a bill banning “dangerous cats” on the understanding that “dangerous” refers to big game cats such as lions and tigers. After securing Party-All-Cats support, Party No-Cats manages to get an amendment added to the bill to the bill redefining “dangerous” as any cat who has spots, stripes, or more than three shades of fur. Many cat-lovers are incensed by this and make a commitment to never again make such a comprise without sizeable concessions from the opposing side.

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          • The Anonymouse says:

            @houseboatonstyx

            When, say, a Republican state legislator from Alabama wants to “open a negotiation” about the proper limits of a woman’s right to choose an abortion, about “what the factors are and where a reasonable limit might fall, since it would be experts who would work out the details anyway,” do you take him at his word?

            If you can see why such a “negotiation” screams bad faith and creeping incrementalism, you will be able to see why Second Amendment supporters become so very wary upon every new call for “common sense” gun control.

            In other words, just as Republican end-runs around Roe have destroyed the prospect of cross-party trust in the discussion of abortion rights, so have Democratic end-runs around the Second Amendment destroyed the prospect of cross-party trust in the discussion of gun rights. (It’s amazing how analogous, if party-flipped, the debates, tactics, and misinformation on the two issues are.)

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ hlynkacg
            Party-All-Cats had in past supported various restrictions on cat ownership. […] In 1994 Party-All-Cats agrees to support a bill banning “dangerous cats” on the understanding that “dangerous” refers to big game cats such as lions and tigers. After securing Party-All-Cats support, Party No-Cats manages to get an amendment added to the bill to the bill redefining “dangerous” as any cat who has spots, stripes, or more than three shades of fur.

            Thank you. This is where I was hoping to go with the analogy. We should figure out what the important factors are. Rather than color, spots, etc, with cats it should be size, weight, etc; with guns, imo (re NECARs) some important factors would be how many projectiles can go out before reloading (for victim count), how long a constant barrage can be kept up before reloading (to prevent interference), etc.

            The All-Cats’ version of 1994 would have happened in Congress. Middleton is posting on some forum such as ssc, where it’s possible to have a civil, good faith discussion that would sort out where in the general neibhborhood of his opening “50-pound lynx” would be good places to draw the lines, set up objective specs, etc. The more of this agreed out in public, unhurried, the harder it would be for Congress to redefine away from the intent.

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          • Lupis42 says:

            Thank you. This is where I was hoping to go with the analogy. We should figure out what the important factors are. Rather than color, spots, etc, with cats it should be size, weight, etc; with guns, imo (re NECARs) some important factors would be how many projectiles can go out before reloading (for victim count), how long a constant barrage can be kept up before reloading (to prevent interference), etc.

            re: NECARs, if we stopped publicizing them, in particular if we stopped publicizing details about the perpetrators, we could probably make a dent.
            Beyond that, the primary determinant of the effectiveness of that type of attack is the willingness of people nearby to resist effectively, not the ability of the attacker to keep firing without reloading per se. If the primary goal is prevent that type of incident, or at least limit the lethality of them, encourage the skills and the mindset needed for effective self defense. Make self defense and firearms part of the common educational pipeline. Eliminate gun-free zones completely.
            In terms of what makes a firearm more effective in that type of incident, it’s basically the same things that make it effective as a tool for self defense. Given the relative frequencies of those events, I don’t see this as practical or useful option.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ lupis42
            “In terms of what makes a firearm more effective in that type of incident, it’s basically the same things that make it effective as a tool for self defense.”

            Thanks for a relevant point. But how so? Against multiple attackers?

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          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HouseBoatOnStyx – Practical self defense requires a weapon powerful enough to incapacitate (read: kill) a large man with a single good hit, and the ability to fire multiple times without reloading, because shots often miss. A weapon that can reliably protect you from one aggressor is almost by definition capable of killing multiple helpless victims.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ FacelessCraven
            Practical self defense requires a weapon powerful enough to incapacitate (read: kill) a large man with a single good hit, and the ability to fire multiple times without reloading, because shots often miss.

            How many shots before reloading would you consider reasonable for that purpose? Is there a capacity you would consider excessive?

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ The Anonymouse
            When, say, a Republican state legislator from Alabama wants to “open a negotiation” about the proper limits of a woman’s right to choose an abortion, about “what the factors are and where a reasonable limit might fall, since it would be experts who would work out the details anyway,” do you take him at his word?

            You make a very legitimate point. On the full size issues of guns and abortion and national strategy of the proponents on both sides of both, certainly there is a very good and obvious resemblance.

            Sorry my term ‘negotiation’ caused conflation here. My Mr. Middleton, and Atwoods’ Simplicito, are not legislators making a formal ‘call for opening a negotiation [presumably in some official committee of politicians]’. Middleton and Simplicito are somewhat clueless ordinary sincere people commenting on a casual forum, at a sincere common sense level. Using personal ridicule to silence them is counter-productive to the cause of those using it, and to civility in general.

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          • hlynkacg says:

            houseboatonstyx says:
            Is there a capacity you would consider excessive?

            This is a tough question, as it is quite situational. Against a single target I’m inclined to say that 5 – 10 shots is reasonable, and if you need more than that you probably need training more than you need the extra bullets. However that’s coming from a guy who did 2 tours in Iraq and shoots competitively so my idea of what constitutes “acceptable” shooting probably differs from the general population’s. Multiple attackers are a different story of course.

            Personally I would be willing to entertain some restrictions on Handguns / magazine capacities in exchange for loosening of restrictions else-where. Tit-for-tat if you will.

            Using personal ridicule to silence them is counter-productive to the cause of those using it, and to civility in general.

            You’re absolutely correct, and I am trying to avoid it even if it does raise my blood pressure a bit. 😉

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          • FacelessCraven says:

            @houseboatonstyx – “How many shots before reloading would you consider reasonable for that purpose?”

            For legitimate purposes, more are almost always better. For spree killing, I’m not sure there’s any evidence it actually makes a difference one way or the other.

            “Is there a capacity you would consider excessive?”

            No, I don’t think there is. The idea implicit in your question seems to be that weapons with a lethality score of x are good enough for self-defense, but weapons with a lethality score of 5x or more are excessively lethal, and removing them from circulation would therefore make us safer.

            Near as I can tell, this is a false model. Self defense and spree killing are fundamentally dissimilar tactical objectives, and of the two self-defense is the much harder problem. That means to defend yourself successfully, you need weapons *more* capable than the weapons needed for spree killing, not less. Additional weapon capability benefits the defender more than it does the spree killer, and constraining capability hurts the defender more than the killer. The defender has very limited control over the tactical situation they have to deal with, while the killer has near-complete control.

            If you’re defending yourself, all else being equal, more ammo is almost always better, and more lethality is almost always better. In spree killing, my examination of the evidence leads me to conclude that neither are especially significant factors in the lethality of the attack. Compare Holmes (AR15 w/ 100-round-drum, 12-gauge shotgun, .40 handgun, 12 killed, 70 wounded, 76 rounds fired) and Cho (9mm handgun, .22 target handgun, 30 killed, 17 wounded, 170 shots fired).

            If you could wave a magic wand and force all spree killers from here on out to use .22 revolvers exclusively, I’m not convinced there’d be a detectable change in the casualty rates of spree killings.

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          • Echo says:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cumbria_shootings

            12 dead, 11 wounded with a 5 rd. bolt action 22LR and a double barrel shotgun.

            The reason we oppose limits is that they’ll just keep getting stricter the less effective they are.
            New York went from any, to 30, to 10, to 7. Why should we ever expect it to stop at the “compromise” we were already forced to accept?

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          • Lupis42 says:

            Thanks for a relevant point. But how so? Against multiple attackers?

            Both against multiple attackers, and single attackers not stopped by the first hit(s). While I tend to think the police place a bit too little emphasis on safe, accurate deployment of firearms, the pattern of high round counts in police shootings is worth pointing to. Defensive use of firearms means shooting until the threat ceases, and since the human body can ignore quite astounding amounts of trauma for anywhere from seconds to minutes – more than enough time to do a hell of a lot of damage.
            Police shootings are sometimes called out for >30 rounds fired, and >17 hitting the target, implying that that’s excessive force, but there are plenty of accounts of people with seventeen bullets in them accomplishing quite a lot afterwards – in fact, the list of Medal of Honor awards, and Victoria Cross awards both provide a fascinating list of acounts of human beings, many subject to a multitude of GSWs, ignoring enourmous amounts of physical trauma and going on to kill people, blow up tanks/builings, pilot aircraft in for safe landings, and otherwise accomplish a hell of a lot.

            Self defense and spree killing are fundamentally dissimilar tactical objectives, and of the two self-defense is the much harder problem. That means to defend yourself successfully, you need weapons *more* capable than the weapons needed for spree killing, not less.

            This is the core of it – the spree killer selects the time, place, and manner to maximise the effectiveness of the tools/skills they have. The defender needs to prepare for whatever happens.
            On the subject of magazine capacity in particular, I’ll add three points.
            1) Magazines are staggeringly simple to manufacture. While 3d printing isn’t going to be making the manufacture of gun barrels trivial any time soon, reliable magazines are another matter, as a magazine is slighly less complex than a pez dispenser, and doesn’t need to handle much in the way force.
            2) As long as police are exempt from magazine capacity limits, police capacity magazines are going to be all over the place anyway – hence easier to steal, copy, etc. And to the extent that LEOs are more likely to have reliable body armor, backup on call, and a utility belt full of spare magazines, they will suffer less than the average citizen from a magazine capacity limit.
            3) The one place where magazine limits might help (I do know of one mass shooter who actually was tackled while reloading, in AZ) is with the type of shooter most likely to prepare, and hence most likely to obtain, through theft, black market, or home manufacture, whatever capacity magazine they need.

            There’s one other argument against magazine capacity restrictions, which relates to the structure of the law – the actual capacity of a magazine is not fixed, but depends on the type of cartridge loaded in it, and the type of firearm it feeds. For example, a NATO standard rifle magazine holds 30 rounds of 5.56. In an AR-15 chambered in .458, however (a caliber intended for hunting boar/hogs and growing in popularity) that magazine holds 10 rounds of .458, and works quite well. So is it’s capacity 10, or 30? If the owner has a .458 AR, and is using it as a 10 round magazine, does it become a 30 round magazine when the owner buys a 5.56 rifle?
            It gets worse – some firearms use tube-magazines. Several of those firearms, such as .22s and shotguns, will work with several different cartridge lengths, but cartridge length determines capacity. So a lever action .22 rifle, with a tube magazine holding 10 rounds of .22LR, will also hold (and function reliably) with ~14 rounds of .22Short. I have a 12 gauge, chambered to work with 3.5 inch ‘magnum’ shells. It’s magazine holds 4 rounds, or 5 rounds if I load 2.75 inch ‘standard’ shells. Aguila came out with ‘minishells’ a few years back – 1.75 inches long. That shotgun holds 8 of them, and works with them fine. So is it’s magazine capacity 4 (in the cartridge that it’s chambered for), 5 (in the cartridge that worked in it when it was designed/made/sold) or 8 (in a cartridge that came out after I bought it)? I live in MA, where possession of a shotgun magazine with a capacity of more than 5 rounds is a felony if that magazine was made after 1994. The question of whether or not I am a felon under current MA law is unanswered, but if I am, it’s not because of anything I did, but rather because a product came into existence later that retroactively made my shotgun magazine too large.

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          • John Schilling says:

            How many shots before reloading would you consider reasonable for that purpose? Is there a capacity you would consider excessive?

            Whatever the local police issue to their rank-and-file officers, almost by definition cannot be considered (by the state) excessive for defense against common criminals. In the United States, and most of Europe, that’s 15-20 shot pistols often backed by 30-shot carbines in the patrol car.

            Actually, for all the talk of the “militarization” of police in the US, I’ve seen European police carrying 30-shot military carbines on routine duty more often than American – though that may be due to different styles of policing. If it is deemed necessary to have a carbine available on say five minutes’ notice and you are walking a city beat without a patrol car…

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          • Tibor says:

            John: Where in Europe have you seen policemen armed with submachine guns? I think this only happens if there is either threat of a terrorist attack or a few days-weeks after a terrorist attack. I would not be surprised if the French police carried automatic weapons around nowadays (at least in bigger cities) but I don’t think it is common in Europe for police to carry such weapons. Maybe in the capitals next to parliaments or something like that.

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          • Echo says:

            I saw my first MP5s at a UK airport. The guys were just standing around with really sloppy form.
            Only seen one more of those in all the years I’ve been in the US.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ FacelessCraven
            >> “Is there a capacity you would consider excessive?”

            > No, I don’t think there is.

            I’m thinking in terms of the defender’s encumbrance. How much weight in bullets is it worth carrying around? Hm, and the message of pictures of ‘scary looking ‘military style’ armament may be that anyone who wants to dedicate that much pocket and belt space, or even convenient space in the car, may have some dangerous expectations. (Even if he keeps it at home to guard against invasion, that’s still an abnormal money and opportunity cost, raising doubts about the judgment, and/or motives, of the potential buyers.)

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          • FacelessCraven says:

            @houseboatonstyx – “I’m thinking in terms of the defender’s encumbrance. How much weight in bullets is it worth carrying around?”

            My Cz-85b has a fifteen-round magazine, which is fairly typical for self-defense handguns. The Steyr GB, also in 9mm, has a twenty-round magazine, and the Kel-Tec P30, chambered in .22 magnum, is no larger and has a thirty-round capacity. Thirty-round magazines are the standard for all modern carbines, and some go considerably higher. All of these weapons use detachable magazines; I own four for my Cz, and could buy a dozen for the cost of my last ammo purchase. Regardless, the amount of ammo needed for practical defense is more than sufficient for any harm a killer wants to cause.

            There is no such thing as a “dangerously high” magazine capacity. There is no evidence that magazine capacity has any perceptible effect on the lethality of spree killings. Guns and gun tactics simply do not work that way.

            “Hm, and the message of pictures of ‘scary looking ‘military style’ armament may be that anyone who wants to dedicate that much pocket and belt space, or even convenient space in the car, may have some dangerous expectations. (Even if he keeps it at home to guard against invasion, that’s still an abnormal money and opportunity cost, raising doubts about the judgment, and/or motives, of the potential buyers.)”

            Concealed carry permit holders have a better safety record and a lower incidence of crime than the general population. “Scary looking ‘military style'” longarms, meanwhile, kill fewer people per year than hammers. Given these two well-established facts, why exactly do you feel justified in questioning the motives or sanity of those who choose to own or use them? What is your actual argument?

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          • John Schilling says:

            @Tibor: Mostly in airports, which I necessarily spend a fair deal of time in when I’m visiting Europe. Occasionally policemen with carbines or submachine guns standing on sidewalks; they may be guarding high-value targets I didn’t recognize.

            But never, ever in the United States. It just isn’t done unless there is a reported crime in progress or other threat that specifically calls for it.

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          • Lupis42 says:

            @housboatonstyx

            I’m thinking in terms of the defender’s encumbrance. How much weight in bullets is it worth carrying around?
            Depends how much the defender weighs, how much each bullet weighs, where the defender is and for how long before they could obtain more. Unless it’s interfering with your ability to do the things you would be doing other than defending yourself, it’s definitely not excessive.
            Beyond that, all I can say is that I know it when I see it, and that’s a shitty legal standard.

            Even if he keeps it at home to guard against invasion, that’s still an abnormal money and opportunity cost, raising doubts about the judgment, and/or motives, of the potential buyers.
            Depends on your perspective. Being a collector, I have enough money in firearms I find interesting for historical or mechanical reasons to cover the cost of a couple cars.
            I also have a few thousand rounds of ammo, or as I think of it – enough to give a few classes, and keep myself in practice for a few months, plus whatever I can find of the historical calibers practically nobody sells anymore. It’s certainly way more than I can carry. But any competitive shooter goes through at least a couple cases a month, just staying in practice, and therefore probably has a substantial buffer. I certainly don’t think owning on the order of hundreds of thousands of rounds need be excessive. Hell, as an instructor I run intro rifle classes where people go through a thousand+ rounds in a weekend.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ John Schilling
            Whatever the local police issue to their rank-and-file officers, almost by definition cannot be considered (by the state) excessive for defense against common criminals. In the United States, and most of Europe, that’s 15-20 shot pistols often backed by 30-shot carbines in the patrol car.

            Thank you for a very sensible approach to finding an objective benchmark for an upper limit to what a citizen might reasonably need for self-defense. (Well, plus taser, mace, whatever.)

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          • @HouseboatOnStyx, surely John Schilling’s observation is a lower bound on what must be allowed as reasonable for self-defense.

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          • Tibor says:

            @John: Oh yeah, I forgot about airports. I don’t fly much and when I do it is usually from Prague to somewhere outside of Europe (I also flew from Nürnberg a few times but I cannot recall what the police had there). The police do carry carbines at the airport in Prague. IIRC that practice started after the September 11 attacks in NYC. I guess this is common in Europe. I am actually surprised that the US police is not armed with them at airports.

            Still, I think the militarization of the police refers more to the excessive equipment of SWAT teams in the US. I don’t think there is anything like that (there are special police strike forces but they are not as heavily armed as the SWAT and they seem to be deployed way less often…no SWAT teams knocking down your door because your neighbour told the police you might be making crack or even just selling marijuana).

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          • “Mostly in airports, which I necessarily spend a fair deal of time in when I’m visiting Europe. Occasionally policemen with carbines or submachine guns standing on sidewalks; they may be guarding high-value targets I didn’t recognize.

            But never, ever in the United States. It just isn’t done unless there is a reported crime in progress or other threat that specifically calls for it.”

            Well, gosh, other US conservatives are always telling me that Europe is completely supine to terrorist threat. Maybe they are the ones who don’t go there.

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          • Harold says:

            Well, gosh, other US conservatives are always telling me that Europe is completely supine to terrorist threat. Maybe they are the ones who don’t go there.

            As long as they admit to the concept of security theater they’re not being inconsistent. And by American standards they are all but “supine”, even France with its fierce internal security forces was very slow to respond to the latest assault, allowing the jihadists hours to murder their victims in, yes, a theater. Post-Columbine active shooter doctrine has an answer to that, along with the police carbines, one of the few complaints about the militarization of our police that’s off the mark.

            One other note: American English is filled with shooting metaphors like “off (or wide of) the mark”.

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        • John Schilling says:

          surely John Schilling’s observation is a lower bound on what must be allowed as reasonable for self-defense.

          If there’s evidence that the police have been asking for more but turned down by e.g. hoplophobic politicians, yes – and I believe that was the case in NYC a generation back, haven’t checked lately.

          Otherwise, I would consider police usage to constitute expert opinion as to both the upper and lower ground as to what is reasonable for self-defense against common criminals. If private citizens can generally carry whatever plainclothes detectives or off-duty officers can carry, and keep readily available whatever patrol officers carry and/or keep in their vehicles, I think there would be relatively few complaints.

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      • John Schilling says:

        It has long been established constitutional law in the US that gun control is constitutional

        Have you been living in a cave the past eight years?

        It has long been the case that the courts have danced around the core question of whether or not it is constitutional to pass laws whose intent or effect is to seriously hinder law-abiding citizens in their quest for ordinary rifles, shotguns, and handguns, while upholding marginal restrictions in other areas. In 2008, the Supreme Court finally settled the question by saying that no, that’s actually unconstitutional and you can’t do that, and in 2010 clarified that you can’t do it even if you are a state government.

        You may be able to continue “controlling” extra-super-duper-evil guns like sawed-off shotguns (go figure), or require some modest level of paperwork when an average citizen buys an average pistol, or whatnot, but do you really think that is going to make much difference?

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        • Tibor says:

          In what way is a sawed-off shotgun more dangerous than a regular shotgun except that it is easier to hide it under a coat…or is that the point?

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          • Echo says:

            When the barrel goes from 18″ to 17.5″, it suddenly becomes an illegal Destructive Device that the ATF needs to murder your pregnant wife to get rid of.
            Something about the weapon’s chi becoming focused in its wicked Shoulder Thing That Goes Up, according to undoubtedly well-informed media sources.

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    • The Anonymouse says:

      There are precious few primary votes to be had in advocating for (or against, for that matter) more-stringent automobile safety standards.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yes. Certainly gun control is not the most effective way to do anything.

      (although other than pushing along self-driving cars faster, what low-hanging fruit do you think there is in accident prevention?)

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      • Daniel Speyer says:

        24/7 subways or light rail between dense residential districts and their favorite bars.

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        • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

          This may be the first time I’ve encountered “subways” and “low hanging fruit” together.

          Take, for instance, the NY 2nd Avenue subway, which was first proposed in 1919. Various administrations attempted to build in the 1940s and 50s, again in the late 60s and early 70s, and finally got off the ground again in the mid-2000s. It’s been under construction since 2007 and if (!) all goes according to plan will open in December 2016, a few months short of a decade of construction time… for Phase I of the project. Which is only two miles long. Which cost $4.5 billion. The whole thing is projected to cost $18bn (so almost certainly >$20bn) for 8 miles of track.

          (Building in Manhattan is atypically expensive for a bunch of reasons, but still.)

          But to get an apples-to-apples cost comparison, the price tag for building a functional rapid transit system (connecting the biggest residential and commercial centers) in every major US city (let’s define as the biggest 50, which coincidentally contain a little over half the US population) that doesn’t currently have one (there are, depending on how you count, about 15 metros that currently have one) might pencil out to about $0.5bn/mile * 50 miles/system * 35 systems = $875bn.

          On the other hand: if a US gun buyback program aims to collect 50% of the ~357m guns in circulation, pays on average $1000 per gun, and direct costs are a third of the program costs (including getting the damn thing passed through massive grand bargains/wholesale purchase of the levers of US governmental power), we’re looking at 357m * 0.5 * $3333 = $594bn.

          My conclusion from all of this: maybe consider putting the bars closer to where people live.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            My conclusion from all of this: maybe consider putting the bars closer to where people live.

            Why aren’t bars closer to where people live? You think it’s because they don’t want to build them closer?

            No, it’s because of residential-commercial zoning laws. Save lives: abolish zoning laws! That cuts down not only on drunk driving but driving and urban sprawl in general.

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          • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

            Vox–agree 100%.

            Of course, the reason for the resilience of exclusionary zoning is that people like them, or rather dislike inconveniences such as ‘no bars I can walk to’ less than they appreciate effects such as ‘reduces the riskiness of my primary financial asset’. On the bright side, zoning can be productively changed one town or neighborhood at a time, as opposed to in billion-dollar chunks.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ disciplinaryarbitrage:

            Of course there are purported benefits of exclusionary zoning. But we know that people aren’t very good at weighing the costs and benefits of things when it comes to an election, since even in an election of 100 people, they are unlikely to affect the outcome.

            If, in the voting booth, it is more salient to them to maintain property values, they may not realize the downsides. Or accurately judge the decline in property values.

            And it’s also commonly argued that even when people are deciding solely for themselves, they often choose irrationally when it comes to making a one-time decision that has ongoing effects. For instance, they choose to spend $50,000 extra to get a house with a pool because it seems nice to have one. Then they never use it and have to spend a lot of time cleaning it.

            A similar dynamic might apply to deciding “do I want some nasty bar or ethnic restaurant to be able to set up right next to my house?” The choice and the negative side is upfront. The benefits may be less obvious.

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          • Psmith says:

            There’s a sleepy suburb in Seattle that has a great little neighborhood dive bar more or less right in the middle of it, within walking distance of quite a lot of houses. Can’t remember what it was called, but I left the place thinking every neighborhood should have one.

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          • Whether a bar is an asset to a quiet neighborhood has a lot to do with how people behave when they leave it.

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      • The Anonymouse says:

        Raising the age requirement to get a license?

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        • Mark Atwood says:

          Raising the age requirement to get a license?

          It is effectively ALREADY 18 or 21. There are so many restrictions placed on drivers under those ages, that more and more kids are no longer bothering.

          Besides, they no longer need to drive to hang out together away from their parents gaze, that’s what their smartphones are for.

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      • JayT says:

        How about mandatory breathalyzers installed in all cars? What about regulators stopping cars from going over 25 mph? These things wouldn’t have any constitutional issues and would save thousands of lives.

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        • Adam says:

          On all cars? That would end interstate trucking, hell even intercity trucking. It would also turn average commutes in certain places into five hour commutes.

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          • The Anonymouse says:

            I suspect what JayT is getting at is less a serious policy proposal than an emphasizing that “preventing all forms of premature death” is not the foremost terminal value of most Americans, nor likely even a secondary or tertiary value.

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          • JayT says:

            Yeah, that’s basically what I’m getting at. People are very concerned about public safety up to the point that it inconveniences them.

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      • Richard says:

        Norway has done some rather extensive experimenting on road safety and has cut road deaths by some 75% over the last 25 years. I remember reading that the single most effective measure was putting in rumble strips on just about every road so that people would wake up when drifting across lanes.

        This is a ridiculously cheap measure

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        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Rumble strips are pretty common in America. I know because my wife keeps on driving over them.

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          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            They are rarely in the middle of the road but very common on the side of the road. However, if you drift into the wrong lane, you’ll typically hit those bumpy reflectors. That doesn’t stop you from drifting into the lanes going the same direction, but you can’t very well put rumble strips there.

            And of course on the interstate, there’s always a ditch between the two opposite directions of travel.

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          • CatCube says:

            In Michigan, they’re pretty common in the middle of the road. They started showing up about 5 years ago.

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          • keranih says:

            Bumpy reflectors are (in my experience) far more common in the South where snow plows are not typically used. I do wonder if the lane separation rumble strips are on municipal roads or just highways.

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        • Are the rumble strips between the lanes as well as on the edges of the roads?

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        • You can get more or less the same effect on an individual level via modern technology. My current car beeps at me if I start drifting out of the lane.

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          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            Which one is more guaranteed to wake one up / get their attention, rumble or beep, though?

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          • Leit says:

            Because everyone can afford a new car, and no-one wants to drive classics. David pls.

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          • @Leit:

            What claim did you think I was making to which your post was a response?

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          • Leit says:

            @David:

            In a subthread about low-hanging fruit, you noted an individual solution that gives more or less the same result as the generally applicable idea proposed by Richard.

            Unfortunately, this solution (as opposed to Richard’s, which is cheap) relies on purchasing a vehicle with this lane assist technology, which is presently not common and not inexpensive, making it – to my mind – a poor fit for ‘low-hanging fruit’. If you didn’t mean to claim that it was such, I completely understand, but as such it reads (to me) as a tiny bit of a non-sequitur.

            I also somewhat doubt that lane assist would have entirely the same effect, as even if you’re in a vehicle so equipped, it does nothing to mitigate the consequences of someone in the opposite lane who doesn’t dozing off and wandering into yours. That wasn’t in my original response.

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          • @Leit:

            It isn’t low hanging fruit if the objective is to solve the problem for everyone soon. It is low hanging fruit if the objective is to solve the problem for some people–the people who are buying new cars. From the standpoint of the individual, the cost to him of getting his state to modify every road is prohibitive. He has a straightforward way of getting most of the same benefit for himself.

            As to total cost of doing the whole thing, I don’t know if the cost of putting suitable strips on every highway is less than the long term cost of installing the gadget in all new cars. The latter will, of course, take quite a while for full effect–but the process is already started.

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          • Leit says:

            But now we’re back to my original objection, which is that the citizen has a straightforward way of getting the benefit if the cost of a new vehicle is not prohibitive and if the citizen is willing to constrain their choice of vehicle.

            The cost of this relatively new technology will come down, certainly, and the system will become more common. The individual solution does have the benefit that it’s a natural evolution that requires no lobbying, and so is less vulnerable to the inertia issues involved in dealing with the state.

            Meanwhile, though, rumble strips are cheap, easy to install, robust enough to last for many years, and will work for every car regardless of hardware or software.

            Your solution is likely to be the realistic one, but it’d be nice if that was because it was objectively better rather than because it’s a mission convincing public servants to actually do anything in the public interest.

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      • xtmar says:

        Tougher inspections of vehicle roadworthiness/crash worthiness features. Stricter enforcement of DUI laws, especially towards repeat offenders.

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        • keranih says:

          The several states who had vehicle inspection programs in the 1970’s and 80’s discontinued them because the inspections had no impact on accident rates/fatalities. I believe the primary reason they are done now is for vehicle exhaust, not operational safety.

          The average first time DUI offender admits to driving under the influence some scores (100+?) times prior to being arrested. What sort of state should we live in, that we can cut this number in half or less?

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          • xtmar says:

            You could raise the inspection standards so that it essentially outlaws older vehicles without airbags and ABS, though that might be a taking from a legal standpoint. Also, tire tread depth and so on. Somewhat more controversially, they should have more advanced seat belt interlocks that prevent the vehicle from being shifted into drive if the seat belt isn’t strong the occupant(s). I know they tried this in the 80s and it just resulted in people permanently fastening the seat belt behind them, thus defeating the purpose, but current technology should allow this to be done more effectively.

            The other possibility would be to increase the standards for driver licensing/training, so that people had to demonstrate their skills every ten years, or if they’ve been involved in an accident.

            Finally, I think there is more to be done in terms of distracted driving, from the angles of enforcement, culture, and also technology.

            As far as DUIs, I think that we should raise the punishment for being caught. While I generally favor less punishment for many crimes, in the case of a DUI you’re basically driving around in a deadly weapon while not in possession of your senses, so the punishment should match that of somebody who brandishes a weapon or threatens aggravated assault.

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          • Adam says:

            Which states? Texas only does safety inspections. When I lived in California, the state inspection was only an emissions inspection. Actually, the Texas one varies by county, but the counties I’ve lived in only do safety.

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      • Scott: “Certainly gun control is not the most effective way to do anything.”

        Those of us in the gun culture think it is a disturbingly effective way to do one particular thing – extinguish the spirit of liberty by slow, progressive strangulation. The process was already well understood two hundred years ago by historians with many precedents to examine:

        [The disarming of citizens] has a double effect, it palsies the hand and brutalizes the mind: a habitual disuse of physical forces totally destroys the moral [force]; and men lose at once the power of protecting themselves, and of discerning the cause of their oppression.
        — Joel Barlow, “Advice to the Privileged Orders”, 1792-93

        That is, many of us believe that the actual intent of gun control advocates is to not just the obvious one of reducing individuals to a condition of helplessness against state power, but a more subtle program of psychological warfare against the free mind. They want us to be disarmed in spirit, to internalize helplessness, to become incapable of even imaging autonomy and rebellion.

        If you think this is far-fetched, consider the weird kabuki quality of a lot of gun-control measures, advocated by people who often understand at some level that they cannot achieve their ostensible objectives but insist on the need to “make a statement”, to perform gestures. Consider also the utter irrationality of selective bans on “assault” weapons based on superficial visual features that make them scary-looking. Consider the extent to which the politics of gun control has taken on the aspect of a class war of elites against proles.

        When you are oppressed but armed, freedom is not dead. Even if your weapons are objectively inadequate to the forces you face, you can think like an armed person; you imagine a sequence in which small victories lead to greater ones and eventually the tyrants are unable to impose their will.

        That is what the gun-grabbers seem to really want to abolish – not just the physical instruments of resistance but the resistant mindset. And that is a far greater threat than the physical disarmament.

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        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Eric S. Raymond:
          This seems like a very good description of your fears.

          It also seems like a very poor model for those who advocate gun control. My initial impression is that this model is useful for propaganda, and not much else.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            More counter-productive than useful, I’d say. If he seriously thinks that he can read my mind, and that that is what is in it … then perhaps I should feel safer if he didn’t have a gun.

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          • Echo says:

            He’s quoting the people whose literature and political theory formed the foundation our constitution, and there’s a lot more where that came from.

            I know they don’t teach that kind of Dead White Guy stuff in the trendy majors these days, but I’m surprised you haven’t come across any of it.
            Although I suspect smelling salts would be required if you read too much of it in one go…

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          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “This seems like a very good description of your fears. It also seems like a very poor model for those who advocate gun control. My initial impression is that this model is useful for propaganda, and not much else.”

            Do you believe that self-defense is a legitimate and valuable human right? Do you believe that the citizen’s ability to resist or deter government force, in the abstract, is a legitimate and valuable thing?

            [EDIT] – it may not be a useful model to stop gun control advocates from advocating gun control, but it seems to me to be a reasonably accurate assessment of the mindset underlying the opposition. Uncharitably phrased, I’ll grant you, but it seems to me that the gun control debate ultimately comes down to fundamentally incompatible values, not questions about fact. There are too many obvious facts pointedly ignored for too long by the anti-gun side for me to conclude otherwise.

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Faceless Craven:
            You really think the “actual intent of gun control advocates is to not just the obvious one of reducing individuals to a condition of helplessness against state power, but a more subtle program of psychological warfare against the free mind.”?

            Really?

            That’s not uncharitably put. It’s so far off base that it’s … well, it’s not even playing baseball anymore.

            I really can’t honestly square that in any way with what I know or see out of pro gun control advocates.

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          • Adam says:

            I think the reasonable intermediate position here is the modal gun control advocate almost certainly does not want that and it is a poor model of their mentality. Nonetheless, it’s at least a somewhat plausible worst-case scenario of what might actually happen and that makes it a path a minimax player does not want to go down.

            Edit: Yes, preemptively, I know this is a stochastic game and Scott is formulating an expectimax strategy, not a minimax. Maybe that’s actually a meaningful difference in how different people approach certain policy decisions.

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          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “You really think the “actual intent of gun control advocates is to not just the obvious one of reducing individuals to a condition of helplessness against state power, but a more subtle program of psychological warfare against the free mind.”?”

            I think that what I consider a “free mind”, the average gun control advocate would consider “dangerously antisocial”. Certainly a very great many gun control advocates have claimed as much, loudly and at length, for the two decades plus that I’ve been following the issue.

            Again I ask, Do you believe that self-defense is a legitimate and valuable human right? Do you believe that the citizen’s ability to resist or deter government force, in the abstract, is a legitimate and valuable thing?

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          • Echo says:

            >Certainly a very great many gun control advocates have claimed as much
            in this very comment section.

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Faceless Craven:
            The right to self-defense is just and good. The right of a citizen to resist their government is just and good.

            Neither of these rights is an unalloyed good. Neither end necessarily entails engaging in or threatening violence.

            As always, their are trade-offs and tensions.

            I would hope none of the above is controversial to you. Perhaps that is naive, I don’t know.

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          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Technically you can resist your government without employing or threatening violence, although you’re relying a lot on the good will of your oppressors (how well did passive resistance work for the protesters in Tiananmen Square?). But I am completely at a loss for how you plan to defend yourself without violence. It sounds good in the abstract bit doesn’t make much sense if you think about it.

            The mindset here reminds me a lot of the “zero tolerance” policies I saw in middle school. If some punk hits you then it’s no big deal, he gets to leave class and maybe talk to the school shrink, but if you hit back then it’s A Fight and both of you get suspended. Bullies are generally not the most forward thinking kids and could care less but their victims have to suck it up because they actually have something to lose. Punnishing violence employed in self defense, even supposedly disproportionate violence, only compounds the injustice.

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          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “Neither of these rights is an unalloyed good.”

            I would say the right to self defense is a good deal less alloyed than the right to oppose the government. I see self defense as an extremely fundamental human right.

            “Neither end necessarily entails engaging in or threatening violence.”

            …And that’s where we part ways, I imagine. A right to self defense necessarily implies a right to threaten and commit violence, within a context of legitimately defending oneself from an aggressor. I’m not sure what the right would even mean without violence.

            Likewise, I believe that the threat of violent resistance against government is sometimes both morally and practically a good thing, and that includes the Federal government.
            http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/trowbridge2_1.0/trowbridge2_1.0-fig11_017.jpg

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Faceless Craven:
            Every martial arts studio I have ever taken classes in had roughly the same 5 rules of self-defense:
            1) Be aware.
            2) Avoid the situation.
            3) Remove yourself from the situation.
            4) Submit.
            5) Fight as a last resort.

            I take that you don’t think 1 through 4 are part of self-defense? To me that just means you want to use your preferred definition.

            Edit:
            As to the unalloyed good part, the right of self-defense is only as good as one’s perception of threat is accurate. So, the guy who shot a stranded motorist in cold blood because she was on his front porch at night? That would seem to be a case of mis-perceiving threat.

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          • keranih says:

            @ HBC –

            Every martial arts studio I have ever taken classes in had roughly the same 5 rules of self-defense:
            1) Be aware.
            2) Avoid the situation.
            3) Remove yourself from the situation.
            4) Submit.
            5) Fight as a last resort.

            None of the people I ever studied under included #4. None of them.

            And I was taught aikido by a gentleman who put the whole back section of class through a quarter hour of punching drills because a couple of us were stupid enough to snicker loudly at a pair of newbie girls who couldn’t punch. (Literally, they had no concept of how to hold their fist, put their feet, swing their arms, nada.) At the end of it, he told us that there was nothing wrong with not being conversant with how to physically hurt other humans,(*) and if we thought otherwise we were welcome to never darken his doorstep again.

            Having said that, the directions of my firearms instructors in avoiding conflict pretty much matched that of my unarmed combat instructors – don’t go places where there might be a fight, and if you’re in a place like that, leave, and take the rest of your group with you.

            Submit to violence done upon you, or to others – that was taught to me by a different Teacher, and I’m still mightily struggling with that one.

            (*) There are people on the gunrights side of the house who disagree with me on this. I hold that so long as one is willing to deal with the effects of not being an effective fighter – and not just outsourcing violence to someone else – there is nothing wrong with being a pacifist, and it might be the more morally correct life path. (But it’s also generally a shorter path.)

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            @kerinah:
            #4 was always taught to me in a similar manner to the following:
            If a mugger asks you for your wallet, give them your wallet, unless you believe that giving them your wallet won’t end the situation peacefully.

            It’s not “submit to being beaten” it’s “submit to the demand so as to avoid the fight. Fight if fighting cannot be avoided”.

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          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “I take that you don’t think 1 through 4 are part of self-defense? To me that just means you want to use your preferred definition.”

            My understanding of your position was that you didn’t think #5 was.

            I would prefer Paul’s formulation of #1: “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men.”

            As for #4, I see it as falling under tactical rather than moral concerns. If a police officer sees a probable threat incoming, they put their hand on their sidearm in preparation to draw, and begin shouting commands. If they see a definite threat incoming, they draw and aim and begin shouting commands. If they are outright attacked, they draw and begin firing back. If they are threatened without warning, they may comply or fight as they judge the situation dictates. So it is for armed citizens.

            In my experience, the Gun Control movement has historically attacked the right of self-defense along three lines:

            a> Self-defense is ineffective and/or counter-productively dangerous. This claim directly contradicts the available evidence, which shows that self-defense via firearms is safer for the citizen than any other form, and considerably safer than compliance with criminal demands.

            b> Self-defense is unnecessary, because protection is provided by the police. This directly contradicts well-established legal decisions and principles across the entire world, which have consistently held that the police exist to enforce the law, not to provide protection to individual citizens.

            c> self-defense is immoral, because the harm caused by thieves does not justify killing them. This ignores the reality that thieves are more or less indistinguishable from murderers, certianly in the moment and to a lesser extent statistically. It also is wrong in and of itself. If someone chooses to threaten me with harm, their safety is no longer my primary concern. That does not mean that killing them becomes my primary goal, but it is an acceptable outcome.

            The stubborn insistence on these three ideas, in the face of all available evidence showing the contrary, is why I do not believe the average gun control advocate respects the right of self defense, and why I find Eric’s formulation credible.

            “As to the unalloyed good part, the right of self-defense is only as good as one’s perception of threat is accurate.”

            I would say that the right only applies to legitimate threats, so yes. [EDIT] – I would also say that this assumption is baked into the original statement. Self defense from legitimate threats is an unalienable human right, and an unalloyed good.

            “So, the guy who shot a stranded motorist in cold blood because she was on his front porch at night? That would seem to be a case of mis-perceiving threat.”

            That sounds like criminal error on the part of the homeowner.

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          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Faceless Craven:
            I think we can agree that no one is perfect. Given that, it’s tautological to say that you will mis-perceive threat some of the time. Given that, it’s not unwarranted for me to claim that the right is not an unalloyed good.

            That is why I think it is important to formulate self-defense as all five of the elements I named.

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          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “I think we can agree that no one is perfect. Given that, it’s tautological to say that you will mis-perceive threat some of the time. Given that, it’s not unwarranted for me to claim that the right is not an unalloyed good.”

            People have the right to speak as they please, and to think as they please, which means sometimes people speak and think in harmful ways. Misuse of a right does not make the right a few degrees more evil. By your definition, there are no unalloyed goods, at which point our disagreement is merely semantic. My point is that the right to self-defense is as precious to me as my right to think and speak as I please. It is a fundamental part of my autonomy as a human being, and neither laws nor popular disapproval may strip me of it. To the extent that they try, they become forces of evil.

            “That is why I think it is important to formulate self-defense as all five of the elements I named.”

            If you stated #4 as “de-escalate if possible”, I would have no argument. But you phrased it as “submit”, when your subsequent statements make it seem like what you actually mean is “submit if you think it will improve the outcome”. Even the latter, I have no real disagreement with, but “if you think it will improve the outcome” is a judgement call. I think a person seeing the attack coming, preparing to draw, and in so doing causing the attacker to walk away is a better outcome than the same person being mugged, but that appears to violate your #4.

            …Its also possible that the difference comes from martial arts self-defense, versus firearms self-defense. The latter gives you a very large advantage for minimal cost if you have the initiative, the former does not. Defending yourself with a gun can end a fight before it starts, without firing a shot. There is no way I know to reliably do that with any martial art.

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          • Harold says:

            Defending yourself with a gun can end a fight before it starts, without firing a shot.

            A very good point, and confirmed by the survey data, which says the majority of gun self-defense incidents entail no shots being fired. Shots that miss will also be less harmful that proving kinetically that, yes, indeed, you have the martial arts to back up your carriage.

            Although I’ll note the latter can also prevent specific incidents, as I’m pretty sure happened 3 or so times in the dozen years I was in the Boston area. Weasel word specific used because with essentially nothing happening it’s likely that the likely criminals just found easier marks later, whereas being faced with a gun might put them off their game for a while.

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