In conflicts of vision, temperament wins the day

I’m pretty frustrated with my side right now. There’s been an epic blog war brewing between UK gun-controller James Kelly and pro-gun bloggers, many from Kevin Baker’s The Smallest Minority, which I joined. It started normally enough. Here were James’ two fundamental positions:

  1. Regardless of the actual trends in crime or gun violence, less gun control and more guns would have worsened them. Therefore, even if gun crime rises after additional gun control is passed, it is reasonable to assume that it would have risen faster had the laws not been passed.
  2. Handguns (and guns in general) are useless luxury items because of their intended purpose to injure or kill. Banning them hurts nobody and helps everybody.

Argument number 1 is unprovable. For example, if you ban guns and gun crime goes up, how do you measure the effectiveness of the gun ban? It may be true that crime would have risen faster if not for the ban, but that is an unknowable belief, and quite a poor basis for concrete social policy.

Argument 2 is easily disprovable through simple logical examples; e.g. if handguns are useless, why do police officers carry them? And if they’re useful for police officers, what makes them useless the moment they change hands to a private citizen?

I tried my best to engage Mr. Kelly in reasoned arguments such as these, and we had quite a spirited debate going on. I was even complimented:

Nate has been debating with me in a very measured way on the issue of gun control over recent threads,

[…]

Now again, to be fair to Nate, this is a model of impeccably measured debating compared to what I’ve experienced from many (probably the majority) of Kevin’s disciples.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kelly’s blog was pretty quickly enveloped by pro-gun bloggers who behaved, quite frankly, like tools. Rather than arguing in a civil manner, many of them were content to add such debate-advancing tidbits as the following:

Of course I don’t think James was being honest with me when he gave his answer. Just like he isn’t being honest now.

[…]

But hey, feel free to keep denying plain reality. You’ll continue to be proven wrong.

[…]

BTW Whining and crying amuse me, so keep that bit up!

[…]

Wow, you’re dazzling me with your intellect Mr. Kelly! Bravo.

[…]

Just try to stop demanding that we join you in your self-inflicted cess-pool, k?

When you start throwing around things like these, you’ve lost. No matter how disingenuous, offensive, or irritating your opponent may be, you can’t sink to his level. And in this case, Mr. Kelly was a good deal more level-headed than most of the commenters and that means he won.

Those two fundamental arguments James made regarding guns? There was little to be gained in debating them, because this debate isn’t really about guns; it’s about what kind of society we want to live in; one where we’re responsible for ourselves, or everyone around us.

James was being honest when he repeatedly said that statistics wouldn’t faze him. Because the truth is, when it comes to conflicts of visions like individualism vs collectivism, it’s not about the facts. Each of us arrive at our conclusions due to intensely personal and emotional events, and we only later dig up facts to support our views.

For example, I was turned from collectivism to individualism during several years’ worth of disastrous college experiences in communal living and unpleasant but forced interactions with a sociopathic collectivist. My faith in my new beliefs was further reinforced by enrollment in several economics courses, and when I landed a good job that earned me more money than my friends, I was dismayed by their jealousy and resentment. Then I bought my first gun, and things snowballed from there.

You could show me all the facts in the world that individualism and gun ownership make society unsafe and I still wouldn’t be convinced that human freedom is worth curtailing. Just as we tried bombarding Mr. Kelly with facts showing that his favored restrictions were the culprit of the UK’s rising crime wave, it didn’t make a difference to him. I can’t blame him for this because we all do the same.

I did argue with statistics, true. I did engage James on his gun arguments. But I remained civil while doing it. Because in debates of this nature where worldviews collide, facts are pretty irrelevant. Temperament is what wins the day. And by yelling, “No, my facts disprove your worldview, you cowardly fool!”, my side lost, and that’s very sad to me.

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58 responses to “In conflicts of vision, temperament wins the day

  1. Nate, this is outstanding, and I will be referring to it in the upcoming Überpost.

  2. A very interesting post, Nate, and you were right in your prediction – the contents weren’t at all what I was expecting.

    To answer your specific point about arming the police, I think there are important distinctions between that and arming the public – you can ensure that every police officer that handles a gun is thoroughly trained in its use, thus minimising (although certainly not excluding) the possibility that they will put themselves or others in more danger in a defensive situation. It’s also much easier to ensure the guns are stored securely when not being used.

    As you probably know, police officers in the UK are not routinely armed – they only carry guns when there’s a specific need to, and I think that’s a very good principle.

  3. Interesting post, James.

    My only complaint would be your misdirected frustration with people on our side. Now I agree that pejoratives thrown (either in anger or simple frustration) add nothing to the argument, there is something to be said about the harsh reality of an anti like James.

    I say this as a former anti. I believed in gun control for all the reasons James claims to. Then I engaged in debates and did some independent research on the issue. I was exposed to much of the Data that has been presented to James in all these exchanges.

    Now I said “James Claims to support” because I could no longer support gun control AND support the desire for less death and less injury.

    I have engaged dozens of supporters of gun control, and the ones that don’t change their course when presented with data all seem to behave the same as James.

    They simply move the goal posts around, and hand-pick rebuttals to respond do, and rebut straw men arguments rather than actual statements. They seem more interested in confusing and spinning arguments, as well as frustrating their opponents with obtuse behavior to get unbecoming arguments.

    Knowing Jame’s history, I simply gave him a simple question, he gave a very telling (tho questionably honest) answer:
    http://www.weerdworld.com/2010/zealotry/

    I fail to see why he should be further engaged after that answer. As there is no way somebody can give such an answer AND support their claimed tenants.

    You’ll also note that James has not actually addressed any of the points I raised, simply choosing to continue his predictable loop behavior.

    I have no idea what motivates James, but I have zero doubt that it in no way involves concern for human life.

  4. Believe it or not, Weer’d, I used to be an anti too. But no matter how frustrated I get, I can never become hostile to someone like James because I know how emotional this issue is for the other side. Exposure to neutral statistics had a role in my journey too, but I could only be receptive to them once the seeds of doubt had been planted, and James isn’t ready yet.

  5. Nate:

    Unfortunately, Mr. Kelly’s blog was pretty quickly enveloped by pro-gun bloggers who behaved, quite frankly, like tools.

    I understand your concern.

    Of course, some of us started off much more civilly with James Kelly, who was quite overtly civil, while he insulted, slandered, and smeared us in return.

    Yes, there’s something to be said for continuing with the “civil debate” even with that, and I appreciate you saying this.

    But I’ll note that in your quote of James Kelly – you included an insult. I presume without irony.

  6. James, Nate’s Argument 2 is about the usefulness of firearms; safe use and storage are different but related issues.

    So, are firearms useful for police officers or not?

  7. Some of my comments were sarcasm poking fun at the absurdity & irrationality of mr. Kelly’s claims. I did not attack him personally nor do I consider a dose of sarcasm detrimental to our cause, particularly when read in context with the totality of James’s responses.

    I also have to agree with UJ that James has not been especially civil.

  8. I do have to disagree with you a bit, Mike. James has overall been very civil for the most part.

    What he has NOT been is RESPECTFUL. His big tactic that keeps me away is asking a question of gun owners, then disregard their answer and ask another question.

    Then claim “Victory” when somebody doesn’t answer one of his questions.

    This shows ZERO respect for his opponents, and given that he’s smart enough to log into a blog and type out some fairly well structured points, and to act coy when he’s asked a loaded question, I can only assume this tactic is used to induce frustration and create a victory by means of forfeiture.

    Again, his nature is to simply move the goal posts in the game until the other team leaves the field in frustration, then call that “Victory”.

    Sure he does it without making penis jokes, or calling names, but that hardly makes it less rude.

  9. Fabio – “So, are firearms useful for police officers or not?”

    Yes, of course they are in certain circumstances, and with respect I think that question is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the point I made to Nate a few days ago. The reason they’re useful to highly trained police officers is exactly the same reason they’re useful to criminals – they kill and inflict injury very efficiently, which is what they’re designed to do. Sometimes the police have no option but to kill – perhaps on that very limited point we can agree.

    But it simply doesn’t follow that if they’re useful to highly-trained police officers that there must also be more benefit than harm in mass-arming the (considerably less well-trained) public as well. Guns also kill the wrong people very efficiently, whether by accident or because they end up in the wrong hands, which is precisely what happens in the US on a mind-boggling scale.

  10. The reason they’re useful to highly trained police officers is exactly the same reason they’re useful to criminals – they kill and inflict injury very efficiently, which is what they’re designed to do. Sometimes the police have no option but to kill – perhaps on that very limited point we can agree.

    Now we’re getting somewhere! You offered before that individuals possess the right to proportionate self-defense. Now you’ve also agreed that for police officers, if someone is trying to kill them, they can kill first to preserve their own life. Finally, you’ve just admitted that given the first two, it makes sense that an object designed with killing in mind can be suited to the purpose of preventing death to oneself.

    I think you’ve thus crafted a pretty strong argument against the notion that guns are useless!

    Now, on a purely philosophical basis (i.e., disregarding practical concerns such as training and experience), if a gun can be useful for a police officer by enabling him to easily take the life of one who wishes to take his, can you tell me why it isn’t appropriate for a civilian to be able to do the same?

  11. “I think you’ve thus crafted a pretty strong argument against the notion that guns are useless!”

    I really don’t see what that changes, Nate. The whole point we’re arguing here is based on my earlier statement that guns are useless other than for killing and inflicting injury. Nothing either you or I have just said disputes that statement in any way. There may sometimes be very good reasons for police officers to kill or injure (or to threaten to do so) but that doesn’t change the fact that guns have no other utility than that.

    “Now, on a purely philosophical basis (i.e., disregarding practical concerns such as training and experience), if a gun can be useful for a police officer by enabling him to easily take the life of one who wishes to take his, can you tell me why it isn’t appropriate for a civilian to be able to do the same?”

    If I disregard practical reasons like training and experience, does that mean I also have to disregard practical reasons like the inevitability that if you allow mass gun ownership a) some legal gun owners will kill innocent people, b) a mind-boggling number of legal guns will end up in the hands of criminals who will then use them to kill innocent people, and c) people will kill themselves or others accidentally? That’s a great many of my reasons right there, but if you want something more grounded in the purely philosophical, it would be the ‘freedom from fear’ argument I’ve rehearsed many times – I think a highly weaponised society is a fearful, untrusting and atomised one, and also one in which human life is cheapened.

  12. Saying something like “guns are useless other than killing, which I admit may at times be moral and appropriate” seems a lot like “cars are useless other than transportation, which is often important and necessary.” But of course! And what’s wrong with the fact that guns are for killing, if you admit that killing can at times not only be moral, but also the best way to prevent even more violence?

    I don’t really find the freedom from fear argument very convincing. Let’s say I’m afraid of gay, Jewish, or black people. Do I have a right to live in a society that excludes them? If not, then why do I have a right to live in a society without lawfully-owned weapons? It seems to me that the “freedom from fear” argument assumes that all fears are rational and well-grounded; what about irrational fears such as the ones concerning the above-mentioned minorities? Do people have the right to be free from those kinds of fears too?

  13. "Now you’ve also agreed that for police officers, if someone is trying to kill them, they can kill first to preserve their own life."

    I'm glad to see you got Mr. Kelly to admit this. Now we'll just have to get him to admit that it applies to everyone who acts in self-defense.

    that doesn’t change the fact that guns have no other utility than that.

    But guns can (and often do) stop criminal activity and violent attacks without a shot even being fired. Thus, the gun is utilized effectively in a defensive manner without any killing taking place.

    If guns have no other utility than killing then clearly I must be using mine incorrectly.

    Why should it be acceptable for a cop to use a gun in self-defense but unacceptable for anyone else? That is, unless the life of a cop is somehow more worthy of being defended than that of your average citizen / British subject.

    I’m sure James agrees that killing is sometimes a good thing. Killing Bird early on in the Cumbria incident would have been preferrable to chasing him with unarmed cops for 3+ hours while he gunned down unarmed, defenseless victims.

    A gun would have been a useful tool for protective violence in this instance, as it would have ended the predatory violence of Mr. Bird and saved lives.

    “Freedom from fear” is impossible. It is not a right and cannot be realized. Let’s say that you fear even the mere sight of a firearm and gun owners fear that they will be disarmed because of the fears of someone like yourself. How do you square the two competing fears?

    It becomes logically necessary to violate the freedom of one group for the sake of the other. If “freedom from fear” is a right (as FDR claimed) then who decides which rights will be upheld and which will be violated?

  14. All right, I’ve seen a lot of references to the car analogy over the last few days, so let me try to at least set the record straight about my own views on that. The good point about cars is the amazing ease of transport. The bad thing about cars is death and injury (and environmental damage). Trying to weigh up whether the benefits outweigh the harm is therefore extremely complex, as they are so different in nature – like trying to subtract four tractors from seventeen ocean waves. It’s almost a question that doesn’t have an answer, other than an acceptance that quite clearly no modern society is going to give up on ease of transport, so all we can do is minimise the ill-effects as best we can.

    By contrast, the ‘good’ thing about guns is that they kill (ie. the right people at the right time). The ‘bad’ thing about guns is also that they kill. They just kill. That’s what they do. Therefore coming to a personal view (or indeed a collective view in the case of countries that have legal restrictions) about whether the harm outweighs the benefits is nowhere near as tricky.

    “Do people have the right to be free from those kinds of fears too?”

    There are two answers to that – the first is that the fear of guns in a weaponised society is rational, not irrational. That’s based not on a fear of what any given individual might do, but on the fear of what’s bound to happen if society is collectively irresponsible enough to create a legal framework in which millions upon millions of guns are sloshing around in a way you simply cannot control. That’s one very important qualitative difference from the strictly controlled basis on which police officers can carry and use guns (at least in this country).

    The second answer will perhaps sound more trite – in a liberal democracy with appropriate safeguards for minority and individual rights, if a democratic majority wills itself collectively to be free of a particular kind of weapon to reduce fear for the majority, then yes, it is legitimate to expect the minority of individuals who are unhappy with that law to comply for those reasons. Clearly it would not be possible in any liberal democracy for a law to be passed to ‘free’ people from an irrational or prejudiced fear of a particular ethnic group (in Britain, for instance, it would contravene the European Convention on Human Rights). This goes back to the exchange we had about the fundamental freedoms of an individual that must be protected – I simply don’t accept that the right to own a deadly weapon is one of them, not least because it infringes the quality of life of other individuals by causing unnecessary (and perfectly rational) fear.

  15. By contrast, the ‘good’ thing about guns is that they kill (ie. the right people at the right time). The ‘bad’ thing about guns is also that they kill. They just kill. That’s what they do.

    So the primary purpose has both positive and negative effects. Would you be willing to accept guns if it could be hypothetically demonstrated that the positive effects outweighed the negative effects (i.e. privately-owned guns killed more ‘bad’ people or prevented them from doing their ‘bad’ things then they killed ‘good’ people?

    Clearly it would not be possible in any liberal democracy for a law to be passed to ‘free’ people from an irrational or prejudiced fear of a particular ethnic group

    So you do distinguish between rational and irrational fears. Again, how would a legislative or parliamentary body go about determining which fears are irrational from a policy perspective? And to return to the first part of this comment, if it could be demonstrated that the benefit from privately owned guns (crimes prevented and ‘bad’ people killed) outweighed the drawbacks (‘good’ people killed, injured, or terrorized), would the fear of guns become irrational?

  16. “I’m glad to see you got Mr. Kelly to admit this. Now we’ll just have to get him to admit that it applies to everyone who acts in self-defense.”

    Again, that is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what I’ve said in the past. In Britain, it is permissible for any citizen to use any means necessary to defend themselves, as long as it is proportionate to the threat. That means you can kill, and it also means if by some chance a gun happens to be lying around, you can kill with the gun. But whether the gun should be lying around in every home in preparation for an incident that will probably never happen is a completely different matter. It’s much more likely to be stolen and used to kill, or to cause an accidental death, or to be used to commit suicide, than it ever is to be used to fend off a murderous intruder. (And indeed without training, even if the latter scenario materialised the gun might not be much help.) That’s why the theoretical benefits don’t even come close to outweighing the harm.

  17. Would you be willing to accept guns if it could be hypothetically demonstrated that the positive effects outweighed the negative effects (i.e. privately-owned guns killed more ‘bad’ people or prevented them from doing their ‘bad’ things then they killed ‘good’ people?

    Clearly I think that’s a totally false hypothesis, but no, even that wouldn’t be sufficient. There’s still the questions of the impairment of quality of life due to a more atomised society in which people have to be so guarded with each other, and the cheapening of human life.

    “Again, how would a legislative or parliamentary body go about determining which fears are irrational from a policy perspective?”

    How do they ever do it on any issue? Clearly they would take masses of evidence – the post-Dunblane ban wasn’t done on a whim, it followed the Cullen inquiry which produced a clear recommendation that banning handguns was rational. But ultimately this is always a judgement call for the parliamentarians concerned – there are no “absolute truths” to be found in the statistical evidence, despite what some people pretend.

  18. Clearly I think that’s a totally false hypothesis, but no, even that wouldn’t be sufficient. There’s still the questions of the impairment of quality of life due to a more atomised society in which people have to be so guarded with each other, and the cheapening of human life.

    […]

    It’s almost a question that doesn’t have an answer, other than an acceptance that quite clearly no modern society is going to give up on ease of transport, so all we can do is minimise the ill-effects as best we can.

    You are very certain that guns ought to be banned no matter how safe they could hypothetically be determined to be, but you are equally certain that cars ought to be legal no matter how dangerous they are. Although you charge that it is not, if it were possible to concretely measure the advantages vs the drawbacks of cars and it came out the cars were in fact a net societal liability (again, hypothetically—bear with me here), would you want to ban them?

    How do they ever do it on any issue? Clearly they would take masses of evidence – the post-Dunblane ban wasn’t done on a whim, it followed the Cullen inquiry which produced a clear recommendation that banning handguns was rational.

    How can these policies be shown to have had the desired effects, though? You’ve said several times that even if gun crime rises following a ban such as this one, it is rational to assume that it would have risen even higher in the absence of the ban. Since this is by nature unprovable, how can the effect of the ban be measured? How is the legislative body to determine whether its law is worth keeping on the books?

  19. “You are very certain that guns ought to be banned no matter how safe they could hypothetically be determined to be”

    Well, one reason for my certainty is of course that I’m equally convinced of the falseness of that hypothesis, but I’d invite you to consider how profound the cheapening of life, and the impairment of the quality of life we’re talking about is. A society in which you can’t risk knocking on a back door, or moving towards a car door in a slightly unexpected way in case you’re shot dead on the spot? That isn’t a ‘society’ at all, that’s a world in which individuals are in a perpetual state of cold war with each other, with the hand on the trigger in case a false move is made at any moment. Even if there were a trade-off of greater ‘safety’ (which there isn’t) I personally don’t think that would be sufficient. An analogy would be that I wouldn’t choose to live in a prison even if I knew for certain it would make me safer.

    “if it were possible to concretely measure the advantages vs the drawbacks of cars and it came out the cars were in fact a net societal liability (again, hypothetically—bear with me here), would you want to ban them?”

    Yes – BUT a) it’s not possible to even begin to measure that so it’s an academic point, and b) if it was measurable I think the opposite conclusion would be reached. Although of course I certainly think alternatives to car use should be strongly encouraged, road safety should be improved wherever possible, cars should be made more environmentally friendly, etc, etc.

    “Since this is by nature unprovable, how can the effect of the ban be measured? How is the legislative body to determine whether its law is worth keeping on the books?”

    As I’ve observed before, these things may not be literally provable, but a comparison between gun crime rates and general homicide rates in our two countries means that it beggars belief that our gun laws are actually making us less safe, and the burden of proof has to be on those making that case.

  20. It’s much more likely to be stolen and used to kill, or to cause an accidental death, or to be used to commit suicide, than it ever is to be used to fend off a murderous intruder. (And indeed without training, even if the latter scenario materialised the gun might not be much help.) That’s why the theoretical benefits don’t even come close to outweighing the harm.

    Proof please. Actual evidence James. I see quite a few wild claims here, yet nothing to back them up.

    Also, you’re using this balancing test. Will you apply that test to any and all objects that one could potentially use to do harm, or does it for some illogical reason only apply to guns?

    Knives for example have tremendous utilitarian benefit in daily life, yet you folks in the UK have taken steps to ban them as well because, despite their usefulness, some people (criminals) use them to harm others.

    At what point does the banning of objects because some people use them for evil become an exercize in absurdity?

  21. The ‘bad’ thing about guns is also that they kill. They just kill. That’s what they do.

    Guns don’t DO anything. They are tools, inanimate objects, incapable of anything without malicious intent and conscious manipulation by a human being (just like any other object used to harm someone….or save their life) The relevant variable is the intent of the user.

    You are very certain that guns ought to be banned no matter how safe they could hypothetically be determined to be, but you are equally certain that cars ought to be legal no matter how dangerous they are.

    Nate, this is because James has an irrational, emotionally based opinion on guns but not cars. This is why he focuses on guns but not other objects. The “risks” are acceptable when you consider cars and other objects that you’re OK with, but unacceptable when considering guns. This is why we don’t see you applying the same rationale you espouse for guns to a plethora of other objects. This glaring inconsistency is not unusual among anti-gun folks.

  22. As I’ve observed before, these things may not be literally provable, but a comparison between gun crime rates and general homicide rates in our two countries means that it beggars belief that our gun laws are actually making us less safe, and the burden of proof has to be on those making that case.

    Operating from this perspective, comparing the U.S. and the UK does indeed show more gun laws being correlated with lower gun crime. But
    if inter-country comparisons such as this one are valid, how do you explain countries like Switzerland with weak gun laws and low gun homicide rates (0.58), or Brazil or Mexico with strong gun laws but high gun homicide rates (10.58 and 9.88, respectively)?

    Comparing the UK and Switzerland for example would seem to show that gun homicide can be at similar levels independent of the amount of gun control or number of guns. And a comparison between the UK and Brazil shows an example of a country that has extremely harsh gun laws that produce dramatically more gun homicide than even the U.S.—almost three times as much, in fact.

    (Figures from here.)

    You would really ban cars? Would you entirely ban knives too if it could be (hypothetically of course) proven that they were a net social negative—even kitchen knives? What about fire? Would you ban matches given similar figures? Computers? Books? Would you ban anything if it were possible to demonstrate that the object in question represented a net social liability?

  23. First of all, I’m very confused by the link you’ve provided and how it relates to the observation you’ve made about Switzerland. Maybe I’m missing something, but that table seems to clearly show a significantly higher overall death rate from guns in Switzerland than in both England & Wales and Scotland, and also a significantly higher homicide-by-gun rate. And Switzerland is a country with a low general crime rate, remember, and nothing like the same social problems we have in the UK. The western European country that’s most notorious for its lax gun laws is of course Finland, and the figures there show absolutely sky high rates of gun death and homicide compared to the UK. If we’re looking at comparisons between like-for-like western European countries, what is that table telling us? On the face of it, it looks to me like a correlation between legal gun availability and a higher gun death rate. I’m the first to say that correlation is not causation, but it seems to me the western European figures in that table are on the whole clearly strengthening, not weakening the case I’m putting forward.

    Anticipating your next question – why isn’t the problem even worse in Switzerland (although it’s clearly bad enough)? I answered that on my blog the other day – apparently ammunition is no longer routinely provided to reservists, and even when it used to be provided it was sealed. Those kind of safeguards, and a pattern of widespread gun ownership based mainly on conscription just doesn’t bear comparison with the US free-for-all (or indeed Finland).

    Why do the Latin American countries stand out? The honest answer is I don’t know (my guess is that extreme poverty is the first place to look for the culprit), but those figures for Finland and Switzerland in comparison to similar countries like the UK tell such a compelling story that frankly I’m more inclined than ever to be sceptical about suggestions that gun restrictions must be somehow to blame for the high death rates in Brazil and Mexico.

    “Would you ban anything if it were possible to demonstrate that the object in question represented a net social liability?”

    Yes, of course. You wouldn’t? Perhaps we simply mean very different things by “net social liability”, because there isn’t a single one of those items you mentioned that could conceivably be a net liability – they’re all far too useful.

    (The only partial exception is that I certainly support a ban on carrying dangerous knives on the streets.)

  24. Well, I was only looking at gun homicide from that chart, but if you want we can look at total gun deaths. I’ll play ball. From that perspective, I agree that perhaps Switzerland wasn’t the best example, but I stand by Brazil and Mexico—countries with strict gun control and substantially higher rates of general gun death than the U.S.

    But in any event my point still stands, which is that you can’t cherry pick countries that support your hypothesis and ignore the rest. By only comparing the U.S. and the UK you’ve essentially based your hypothesis on a sample size of two. Let’s at least look at all the data on that web page.

    Go back to that link and sort by “Total firearm-related death rate” (click on the arrow-in-a-box next to those words). The top five are, in order, Brazil (14.10), Estonia (12.74), Mexico (12.07), United States (11.66), and Argentina (9.19). According to your theory that stricter gun control should result in a nation having lower rates of gun deaths than those with looser gun control, we should expect these five nations to be free-for-all legal gun paradises. Instead we see one nation that could be described thusly (mine) and four that have extremely strict controls.

    Also notice France which has much stricter gun control than Switzerland yet nearly identical gun death rates (6.35 and 6.40, respectively). The same goes for Australia and New Zealand (2.94 and 2.66, respectively).

    Again, I’m not trying to prove the opposite; all I want to do is disprove your theory that more gun control results in lower absolute rates of gun death, which is what you claim is evidenced by a comparison between the U.S. and the UK. If you only look at those two countries, then sure. But if you look at all of them, a very different picture is painted.

    And no, I would not ban an object even if it could be demonstrated that it represented a net social ill. That’s not a rabbit hole I’m willing to go down, because as our debates ably demonstrate, there can often be quite a disagreement on just what does represent a net social ill! I would hate to do something as drastic as attempt deprive an entire population of their objects for reasons that perhaps may turn out to be spurious.

    In addition, as our drug ban here in the U.S. shows, when the government attempts to control an object for which there exists substantial demand, other liberties won’t last long. The general effect has that our police have become militarized, our right to privacy is hanging on by a thread, and purchasing too much cough syrup or possessing plastic bags and small scales are considered justification for at least questioning. The dream of banning politically unpopular objects carries with it too many process costs for me.

  25. I’m from the UK and we a have quite a few people like James Kelly. You will never convince him about guns. You will spend your life in reasonable discourse because to be honest he is probably a nice guy at heart. But like all of his type He doesn’t like something because of a belief he has and even if you had a simple equation like x+y=z that proved your case, and you don’t, he would just ignore it or explain it away via some mystical technique.

    The only way he will change his mind is if he is put in the situation where he needs a gun to defend himself or his loved ones. He would change his views then but it would still leave millions like him to go. Guns, like the NHS and the social state, have been sold to the gullible as fact. No debate, no reasonable discourse, just fact which must not be questioned in our socialist nightmare.

    I don’t know how you guys have the patience to do this on a regular basis. I’d be topping myself. Oh wait, I wouldn’t because I can’t get a gun. One life saved. Whew!

  26. But in any event my point still stands, which is that you can’t cherry pick countries that support your hypothesis and ignore the rest.

    Well, quite. I’m afraid that’s exactly what you’re doing yourself, Nate – for starters, Finland. That country’s place in the table sticks out like a sore thumb that has gone septic. What else is there about that small, inoffensive nation of five million that makes it so different from other western European countries, other than it’s lax gun laws? I can only use the same phrase again – it beggars belief to suggest that tightening the gun restrictions would make Finns less safe. And my original use of that phrase gives the lie to your characterisation of my ‘theory’ in these terms –

    “that more gun control results in lower absolute rates of gun death”

    I’m not suggesting any such thing is “proved” by a comparison between the UK and the USA. I’m suggesting that the comparison (and indeed, perhaps even better, a comparison with nearer-to-home Finland) means that it is quite simply incredible to suggest that loosening our gun laws would not merely be neutral in terms of public safety, but would somehow help matters, which is your proposition. Such an incredible claim does require – in my view, and I’m pretty sure in the view of the vast majority in this country – significantly more compelling evidence than a chart which in western European terms actually shows a positive correlation between lax gun laws and a high gun death rate.

    “I would hate to do something as drastic as attempt deprive an entire population of their objects for reasons that perhaps may turn out to be spurious.”

    Asbestos? Thalidomide for pregnant women? These are the only sorts of things that could ever really have a “net social liability”, because only that sort of rate of death and misery could possibly outweigh the benefit of an object (benefit measured either in terms of practical usefulness or even simply pleasure).

    Are you seriously arguing asbestos should not be banned? That’s actually quite a good analogy for guns – asbestos can be useful, there are all sorts of reasons why an individual might ‘freely’ want to use it. But the surrounding community can hardly be said to have nothing at stake in that decision, can they?

    “I’m from the UK and we a have quite a few people like James Kelly.”

    Quite a few? Well, that’s an understatement and a half. Did you see the latest opinion poll? Just 4% wanted our existing laws to be loosened. Four per cent.

    “he would just ignore it or explain it away via some mystical technique.”

    And that isn’t what you’re doing with the UK’s strikingly low gun death/homicide rate as compared to similar countries with laxer laws? Nate originally (although he later changed his mind) thought Switzerland was a good example, on the basis that it has broadly “similar” gun homicide rates to the UK. According to that table, the rate is actually four times higher, in a country that has an otherwise relatively low crime rate. Is that the kind of progress you want to see for your own country – a quadrupled gun homicide rate in the name of “greater public safety”? That’s verging on the Orwellian.

    “The only way he will change his mind is if he is put in the situation where he needs a gun to defend himself or his loved ones.”

    That’s getting to be a very tired jibe. If I was in the US and faced with someone threatening me with a gun, the first thought that would enter my head (and I suspect most Britons) is “if only I’d stayed in the UK with our strict gun laws, this would have been so much less likely to happen”.

  27. it is quite simply incredible to suggest that loosening our gun laws would not merely be neutral in terms of public safety, but would somehow help matters.

    And yet that’s precisely what’s happening in the U.S.

    You might find it “incredible” based on your flawed ideology, but it’s reality.

  28. Is that the kind of progress you want to see for your own country – a quadrupled gun homicide rate in the name of “greater public safety”

    what the hell is this fascination with only the “GUN homicide rate? dead is dead. regardless of the tool used.

    In case you haven’t noticed our homicide rates AND violent crime rates have been dropping consistently in the wake of unprecedented firearms purchases and liberalized ownership & carry laws.

    Given the reality of what’s actually occuring, on what rational basis do you suggest that our “gun homicide rate” quadruple?

    You can’t just say “I think homicides / crime would go up if X occurred.” There has to be some rational basis to such claims for them to be considered even remotely credible. Otherwise they sound a lot like “the sky is falling! the sky is falling!”. In other words, like baseless, hysterical fearmongering.

  29. And yet that’s precisely what’s happening in the U.S…it’s reality.

    Tell you what, Mike – get back to me when you have a gun homicide rate of 0.15 per 100,00 (as in “helpless” England and Wales) rather than one of 3.72 per 100,000 (as in the “safer through individual self-defence” USA). That disparity certainly does warrant the label “incredible”.

  30. “what the hell is this fascination with only the “GUN homicide rate? dead is dead. regardless of the tool used.”

    But fortunately other tools do not enable people to kill with such efficiency, which probably goes some way towards explaining why the USA also has a general homicide rate more than two-and-a-half times greater than the UK.

  31. And yet folks in Africa manage to kill eachother with alarming efficiency with machetes.

    The worst school massacre in US history was committed without the use of guns.

    Hell, as has already been pointed out to you, in 2002 only ~1.2 % of total UK homicides were committed with firearms.

    Our homicide rates AND violent crime rates have been dropping consistently in the wake of unprecedented firearms purchases and liberalized ownership & carry laws.

    That’s precisely the reality of what’s happening in the U.S. More guns are NOT leading to more crime. We’re certainly not seeing “gun homicide rates” “quadruple” as a result. The same is true of overall homicide as well as violent crime rates.

    As for your stats – Still focusing on only “gun homicide rates” eh? Funny, you have to be dishonest when citing stats.

  32. I think it is methodologically unsound to consider the overall homicide rate of the USA as though the gun laws in the USA were uniform, when in fact they are anything but. Would it not be more useful to pick a state which has a similar population size and density to that of the UK, but has e.g. shall-issue concealed carry?

    (I ask the above in ignorance of the relevant figures.)

  33. And yet that’s precisely what’s happening in the U.S…it’s reality.

    Tell you what, Mike – get back to me when you have a gun homicide rate of 0.15 per 100,00 (as in “helpless” England and Wales) rather than one of 3.72 per 100,000 (as in the “safer through individual self-defence” USA). That disparity certainly does warrant the label “incredible”.

    Here we have a perfect example of Mr. Kelly’s debate tactics.

    He’s moving the goalposts. I’m talking about the reality of what is happening in the U.S. A reality that in point of fact directly disproves his assertion. His response is to move the goalposts and bring up a UK to US comparision in order to evade discussion of the original point.

  34. “Hell, as has already been pointed out to you, in 2002 only ~1.2 % of total UK homicides were committed with firearms.”

    Which ought to give you a very strong clue as to why the overall homicide rate is so much lower in the UK.

  35. James demonstrates yet again how he moves the goalposts and constantly evades inconvenient facts. Good job James! Keep it up buddy!

  36. Mike, it doesn’t seem to matter where I place the goalposts, because you reliably keep kicking the ball in the opposite direction. No comment on the inconvenient truth I’ve just pointed it out to you?

  37. I wanted to continue discussing the usefulness of firearms but it seems pointless now.

    James, fractions are fractions and totals are totals. If in the UK the total homicide rate were to remain the same, but with a higher fraction of homicides by gun, would the place be less safe, or the same?

    Also – Those who want to commit suicide by gun usually are not a threat for others. On the other hand, in Italy there have been cases of people who brought down entire apartment blocks while trying to kill themselves via cooking-gas asphyxiation.

  38. Also – Those who want to commit suicide by gun usually are not a threat for others.

    Not only that, but there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that placing tight controls on firearms reduces suicide rates. That doesn’t even get into the question of whether or not it’s any of the governments business. As a Libertarian I tend to believe it’s not. How can people be in any true form “free” if they are not free to choose to end their own life?

    Not only that, but if they want to go out there are a million ways to do it that are highly effective. You can’t ban all objects, nor can you ban death.

    Rope can be used for murder AND suicide. In Mr. Kelly’s reality it would follow that rope should be banned. And of course heavy twine, power cord, etc. which could be substituted to serve the same purpose.

  39. “Rope can be used for murder AND suicide. In Mr. Kelly’s reality it would follow that rope should be banned. And of course heavy twine, power cord, etc. which could be substituted to serve the same purpose.”

    But that won’t be a compelling argument because….the goal posts are OVER HERE!!!!

  40. “If in the UK the total homicide rate were to remain the same, but with a higher fraction of homicides by gun, would the place be less safe, or the same?”

    The same. And your point is? Whatever it is, it can’t relate to the point I’m making, which is that the remarkably minimal (in relative terms) UK gun homicide rate illustrated by the table Nate linked to is highly likely to be suppressing the overall murder rate. The idea that the ‘tool’ in the hand of a man with murderous or violent intent doesn’t affect the outcome of an attack is risible. After all, if you genuinely thought every tool was equally efficient, why would you ‘need’ a gun to defend yourself with? A hammer would be just as good.

    “Those who want to commit suicide by gun usually are not a threat for others.”

    And does that mean that we shouldn’t care less about their own waste of life? I’d suggest a suicidal person who was having to rely on a messy method like an overdose or hanging would be far more likely to think twice before killing themselves.

  41. “the remarkably minimal (in relative terms) UK gun homicide rate illustrated by the table Nate linked to is highly likely to be suppressing the overall murder rate.”

    Thanks for clearing up just how intellectually bankrupt your position is Mr. Kelly.

    You’ve just said “I have no evidence, but I BELIEVE things would be even worse if not for our strict gun control. It’s an unprovable belief, which is convenient for you given that you lack empirical support for your positions.

    if you genuinely thought every tool was equally efficient, why would you ‘need’ a gun to defend yourself with? A hammer would be just as good.

    The fact that the gun is the most effective tool of self-defense is simply a reaction to the reality that it is also the most effective tool criminals employ to take and threaten lives.

    A little light reading for you James.

    http://anothergunblog.blogspot.com/2008/02/fighting-back-and-culture-of-sheep_21.html

  42. “the reality that it is also the most effective tool criminals employ to take and threaten lives.”

    Thankyou for accepting a point I have made many, many times, in response to those who claim that guns are no more dangerous in the hands of a man with violent intent than knives, cobblestones, personal organisers, church newsletters, etc, etc…

    And I’ll return the compliment with a little light reading for you –

    http://scotgoespop.blogspot.com/2010/06/brazilian-ballistics.html

  43. The same. And your point is?
    My point is the one you just agreed with: that the overall “safety” of a country is not determined only by the rate of homicide-by-gun.

    Whatever it is, it can’t relate to the point I’m making, which is that the remarkably minimal (in relative terms) UK gun homicide rate illustrated by the table Nate linked to is highly likely to be suppressing the overall murder rate.
    I am not sure what this sentence is supposed to mean. Maybe because English is not my native language, who knows.
    An I find it even harder to reconcile it with your previous statement:

    “Hell, as has already been pointed out to you, in 2002 only ~1.2 % of total UK homicides were committed with firearms.”

    Which ought to give you a very strong clue as to why the overall homicide rate is so much lower in the UK.

    Are we supposed to accept the idea that 1.2% is suppressing the remaining 98.8%

    Another thing: if guns are such terribly efficient instruments of death and can corrupt a whole society, the fraction of homicide-by-gun should always be very high. Or not?

  44. My point is the one you just agreed with: that the overall “safety” of a country is not determined only by the rate of homicide-by-gun.

    There’s a reason James doesn’t mention his country’s skyrocketing violent crime rates……

    Remember, gun control is sold as a “public safety” measure and James can’t allow himself to admit that gun control has been an abject failure from that standpoint.

  45. “Are we supposed to accept the idea that 1.2% is suppressing the remaining 98.8%”

    No, I’m saying that the fact that the gun homicide rate is so low is highly likely to be suppressing the overall murder rate. If more guns are involved in violent incidents, more people will die. What do you think would happen? That the proportion of murders committed with a gun would increase, but that the overall murder rate would magically remain completely static? Given that we know (and Mike has very tellingly conceded) that guns are the most effective tool for killing, that notion simply isn’t credible.

  46. No, I’m saying that the fact that the gun homicide rate is so low is highly likely to be suppressing the overall murder rate.

    So you’re claiming, on nothing more than wild speculation I might add, that it’s the gun control that’s keeping those rates low and it would be eleventy billion times worse without those controls.

    Ah anti-gunners, instead of empirical evidence they have wild speculation that “It’d be sooo much worse without strict gun control!” Never mind that the exact opposite has been the case in the U.S. We’re removing restrictions, buying up arms, carrying them in records numbers and the crime rates are falling….

  47. Given that we know (and Mike has very tellingly conceded) that guns are the most effective tool for killing.

    Interesting that you omit half of my statement. The half that you steadfastly refuse to accept.

    You also ignore the tremendous egalitarian utility of personal firearms. Handheld arms are tools that allows me, an individual with cerebral palsy, an effective defense if I’m outnumbered, or if my attacker has the upper hand physically. (or has any type of weapon)

    It allows a 110 lb. female amputee or an elderly man in a wheelchair, both of whom would otherwise not be able to run away or fight back, the most effective means of self defense that technology currently allows.

  48. That the proportion of murders committed with a gun would increase, but that the overall murder rate would magically remain completely static?

    When gun control is implemented we don’t see overal murder rates drop. What we do see is some level of tool substitution, but no actual increase in public safety.

    See NYC. Gun homicides dropped, but did that increase public safety? No. Did it reduce overall homicides? No. In fact homicides increased, they just occurred with a different tool.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/28/nyregion/28knives.html

  49. That the proportion of murders committed with a gun would increase, but that the overall murder rate would magically remain completely static? Given that we know (and Mike has very tellingly conceded) that guns are the most effective tool for killing, that notion simply isn’t credible.

    Roughly as credible as the idea that gun crime in the UK would increase even faster without the strict gun laws, I say.

    We can talk hard numbers, but you have dismissed all those that do not seem to support your point of view as voodoo statistics.

    Or we can talk hypotheticals, but at that point my axioms are as valid as yours.

    Geez, it feels more and more like those interminable and pointles discussions: “theists vs. atheists” or “evolution vs. creationism”.

  50. And so, realizing that I have come full circle and restated the very title of the post in different terms, I bid you goodnight.

  51. Here’s the intrinsic difference between the likes of Mr. Kelly and others like myself, and it has to do with the basic nature of our respective societies.

    In America, we still believe that it is the citizens’ duty to protect themselves, their community and their property. Now, we may have DEPUTIZED that duty to an outside agency (i.e., the police), but at all times, we reserve the right to resume that duty if the police are not present, or refuse to do their duty for whatever reason.

    So if a malefactor threatens me or mine (persons or property) and the police are not there — and most of the time they can’t be, in a timely manner — then I have the right to defend myself with whatever tool I deem appropriate.

    We frequently hear wails from Brits about gun-happy Americans “taking the law into our own hands” when we shoot some maniac and spare society the cost of the trial. The simple fact of the matter is that the law NEVER LEFT our hands: we simply deputized its enforcement to the police, with the implicit understanding that ultimately, we ourselves are responsible for our own safety and protection.

    The same is NOT true in Britain, where “leave it to the authorities” is not only entrenched in law, but has become part of the national character.

    I’ll address the handgun/safety/training and relative homicide issues in another response, because .

  52. Mr. Kelly’s basic premise appears to be that handguns are a suitable tool for the police, because they can be trained in the use thereof.

    (I’ll leave aside Mr. Kelly’s acknowledgement that handguns are a good self-defense tool, for the moment.)

    I have to respectfully disagree with the “training” canard. While many gun owners are admittedly not well-trained in handgun use, the incidence of accidental discharges among the various police entities are high enough to make the “training” mantra worthless.

    Actually, private citizens have more incentive to be well-trained in handgun usage than do the police, for the simple reason that we are in greater danger than the average policeman.

    And institutions do a woeful job of weapons- and safety training: it’s the reason why soldiers are not permitted to carry loaded weapons unless they are in a combat zone — to the point where guards are sometimes compelled to push beat with unloaded firearms (e.g. those on board the ill-fated U.S.S. Cole).

    I’ll put myself and a few friendly gun owners up against a like number of average policemen any day of the week, in terms of both proficiency and safety. We may not win, but we would certainly not be disgraced in such a competition. (And I’m no more than an average shot with a handgun, although I’m VERY well-trained in its use and safety.)

    To say that only deputized police officers are capable of being properly trained in fireams usage is actually quite insulting.

    The critical part of all of this is that We The People don’t have to subject ourselves to firearms training to “prove” to some entity (or to concerned citizens like Mr. Kelly) that we are “worthy” of being entrusted to bear arms, for the simple reason that our Constitution doesn’t mandate it. In simple Constitutional language, the term “well-regulated” has to do with training (not actual regulation, as some mistakenly think), and even that training is solely for the purposes of militia duty, and not for any other.

    I would suggest that the death toll by accidental gunfire in the United States is horribly regrettable, and if I could do anything legal to lessen or eliminate such, I’d do so — but the plain fact of the matter is that it’s a tiny sacrifice we pay in order that our society remains free.

    To put it about as bluntly as I can: a few hundred accidental deaths from gunfire each year are infinitely preferable to the cattle cars of Auschwitz or the killing fields of Cambodia, both of which not only CAN occur as a result of an unarmed society, but WILL occur, forever, as long as such disarmament is allowed to be enforced.

    But they will never happen in the United States, because of our Second Amendment. And spare me the cant about how such atrocities are no longer possible in today’s civilized societies: the Final Solution occurred at the hands of a nation which had given the world Schiller, Beethoven and Goethe. It’s ALWAYS possible, without an armed and vigilant society.

  53. Finally: I’m sick of the relativist nonsense about how we Americans have a higher homicide rate than other civilized societies.

    We’ve always been more violent than other societies, because our citizens have more freedom than those of other countries. More freedom = more chances to screw up.

    Other countries have preferred to sacrifice freedom for order; we choose not to, even though that freedom, and the cost thereof, may offend the tender sensibilities of our nation’s friends.

    I’m more interested in the fact that firearm-related violence in Britain is higher now, with massive gun control, than in, say, 1890, when there was no gun control whatsoever. I don’t have the numbers handy, but I suspect that the same situation, more or less, has occurred in EVERY Western nation over the past century or so.

    We can look for all sorts of reasons for the increased lawlessness of our various societies: but the higher incidence of gun ownership is more a symptom than the cause thereof.

    Over the past twenty-odd years, America has become the most heavily-armed private citizenry in the world. Yet our homicide- and violent crime rates have either fallen or remained constant. What possible conclusions can we draw from THAT? Certainly, not an argument supporting gun control; and yet that is precisely what people like Mr. Kelly would have us believe.

  54. Very well said, Kim. I agree on all counts.

    Yet our homicide- and violent crime rates have either fallen or remained constant. What possible conclusions can we draw from THAT? Certainly, not an argument supporting gun control; and yet that is precisely what people like Mr. Kelly would have us believe.

    If you’re James Kelly, you argue that it’s reasonable to assume that it would have dropped even faster if we’d all been disarmed.

  55. Since James Kelly thinks it appropriate to compare between countries, rather than the same country over time, perhaps he can explain why Scotland’s homicide rate is so much higher than England and Wales, in spite of the “benefit” of the same “gun control” laws.

    He might also note the report in “The Guardian” that suggested that 25% of the UK public would carry a gun for self defence:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2003/apr/27/ukcrime13

    Kelly is typical of a British (eurotrash) pseudo-intellectual who confuses his belief in the perfectability of society and humanity for actual facts and observations in the real world – and is therefore entirely immune to rational argument and empirical fact.

    In Kelly’s bizarro world-view, the failure of “gun control” becomes confirmation of its efficacy.

    War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

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