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Is private gun ownership harmful? How harmful?

Silent Cal          24 July 2015 04:08 PM

As far as I can tell, the statistical arguments over the effects of guns have gotten nowhere due to the enormous level of confounding. (Sure, the US has lots of guns and a really high murder rate, but Switzerland also has a ton of guns, and their murder rate is among the lowest in the world). On the other hand, guns make killing someone really easy. People do things more often when they're easy. I find this moderately convincing, as far as intuitive arguments go. Which isn't really all that far. My current stance is that it's more likely harmful than not, but without clearer evidence it doesn't make much sense to be impassioned about the issue. PS mass shootings are a tiny fraction of homicides. If you're mainly optimizing your gun policy to prevent mass shootings, then in my book you're wrong whether you're proposing fewer guns or more. PPS I'd prefer not to discuss the qualities and motivations of American gun owners, if we can avoid it.

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melian 26 July 2015 04:29 AM

Sure, the US has lots of guns and a really high murder rate, but Switzerland also has a ton of guns, and their murder rate is among the lowest in the world

In the US, the local homicide rates are determined primarily by demographics. The homicide rates in the North Western states that are right next to Canada are actually lower than across the border.

In general, the effect of restricting private gun ownership depends on the local situation. In the US, there are already millions of guns in private possession. Restricting new sales may deny access to guns to law-abiding citizens but not to criminals.


Silent Cal 28 July 2015 07:22 AM

There's an argument that having "murder at your fingertips" can make a law-abiding citizen more likely to become a killer in a fit of rage.


melian 28 July 2015 09:12 AM

If this theoretical argument is by itself sufficient to justify the ban on firearms, then it can also justify banning kitchen knives. To take this argument seriously, we need statistical evidence that gun ownership by law-abiding citizens significantly increases the number of such killings. Your example of Switzerland suggests that this may not be the case.


haltingthoughts 1 November 2015 07:55 PM

Replace murder with suicide. Gun ownership significantly increases suicide rates. Most suicides are impulsive.

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Fwiffo 28 July 2015 10:18 AM

I don't like the standard framing that good of a way handling the issue. On the usual points I don't have much to say.

If you just own a gun and keep it in a place where it is never retrieved like in a bank safety deposit then clearly it isn't going to do anything. So gun ownership in itself isn't doing that much. Off course if you didn't make it yourself you probably bought from a weapons manufacturer which might have made you financially support pro-gun lobbyist.

If you keep it at a locked door at a shooting range it is likely to be used in a very narrow sense. If you keep it under your pillow or in the closet there is significant risk that your children will accidentally use it to shoot themselfs.

If you keep it on your person your children are still a relevant threat. You might actually end up using it. If you wear it openly that might be an attempt at some kind of communicating. So does carrying it concealed.

I am listing my actual points as seperate posts to experiment on posting styles.


Fwiffo 28 July 2015 10:32 AM

What I don't get is that US persons have a very interesting relationship to guns. When I went throught the details of a recent shooting there were the obvious things that everybody talks about. But those were kind of pro and con things and I wouldn't have rised those issues as being pivotal if other people wouldn't have done so. But what happened on the incident that should not have happened? There was a troubled kid and was known to have problems and had several troubles relating to them. Why is this not an error state?

We just kind of have these young people being extreme and nobody cares. Where is the availability and reachability of mental health serivice? These were the kind of troubles where a person would want help for their own benefit or atleast their parent or close family. They woudln't even have to be coerced into treatment and you could almost say that these people do not receive treatment as a violation of their rights. I guess this has something to do that the health care system is not that when you have a condition that needs medical attention that you just walk in and have it fixed. You need to use private money for that if not explicitly for indiviudal treatments then for insurance payments. Then if you don't have the infrastructure already in place when you have a health issue you are pretty much screwed. Then there is the stigma, that seeing yourself as someone who needs to recover from something can make you an outcast in the possibly reduced social circles. And btw why is picking up on mental patients something that doesn't need addressing? This person could also been caught by social services but apparently being hobo like or outcast is the expected norm for some class of people.

Off course once a person does something people are willing to lock him up for good or have them stay in medical facility indefinetely if they survive to be handled. But it remains that looking out which members of your society go berserk is a really bad way of taking note on who needs the most extreme handling. It would be nice to detect the berserkers before they go berserk so it can be prevented. However if being singled as "high chance of berserking" means all your liberties are stripped away that doesn't make anyone come out on their own accord. On the other hand if you rely on people ratting the suspects out you are risking of instilling a big amount of distrust and people minding in to each others business. The DDR style surveilance isn't that fun and the NSA is already uncomfortably close to it. Adverse attitudes to those that are the most messed up makes people less emphathetic and less likely to spend resources to help them. It is much easier to imagine that berserkers are something that can be kept in check with force than taking responcibility for the societal phenomena that create them. In a individualistic society it can be tempting to assume that "some people just are bad" and that the game can never be at fault but you should blame the player. So there is kind of an implict assumtion that "some fraction of people are just going to go berserk, what can we do to mitigate their effects?". Fighting evil becomes fighting evil people instead of making the dark side less tempting.


ChristianKl 8 August 2015 11:36 AM

Most people who go on shooting sprees in the US actually got mental health services.
The problem is just that the services didn't help.

Bad mental health treatment might even be a course of some rampages where drugs get people acting more crazy.

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Fwiffo 28 July 2015 11:29 AM

There is also a very weird hands on approach on Americans about personal security. What are you going to do when a criminal is about to crime you? An american will either say that give chance for the crime to happen in the first place or that they have the means to adequately use force to prevent the crim efrom happening. But I am more like "Dude criminal, you did a crime against me, that means you are going to face legal trouble". That is instead of me punching the criminal in the face I have public servants do it for me. To me if life isn't on the line it is quite adequate to not violently resist a crime.

Seems americans are not really content on having criminal sentences be an adequate consequence for crimes. Many states want to keep the death penalty. Their legal matters are of huge monetary amounts. Their prisons swell in record rates. Victims are left for craving more that the confines of the legal consequences are not enough. They rather want to keep things informal and immidiet. They think that the proper place to deal justice against a breaking and entering is their door step, the man-o-man of one stepping over the boundaries of another. A conflict between indviduals as opposed to a faceless society against a lone criminal.

There is also a sharp separation of fortunes. Just because someone is worse off than me doesn't detract from my right to live an undisturbed unique snowflake life. If the existence of other people dare make a wringle to it is an unforgiveable violation of freedom. There might be an implicit understanding that it is understandable why others covet what you have. Part of the reason you work so hard is to have things that other do not have or can not have. Thus there is an understanding that those that can not climb the ladder will misbehave and those that have the power are obliged to keep their misbehaviour from affecting those that agree to climb the ladder.

I am more used to crime being just downrigth embarrasing for the perpetrator. That to fault at your fellow citizen is to crumble the society that we all use in our differnt ways to live. Keep those less fortunate on a good path so that we do not turn on one another. In exchange for them to allow me have somewhat more my existence allows them to live a more empowered life than they would have alone. When there are disagreement we will use the police and courts to solve and make as working solution as possible for all.

One theory of the state is monopolization of violence. In order for it to be sensible the police has to show up and be effective and use fair means to deal out the violence. If violence was not monopolized it would potentially be a free-for-all danger all the time. But if everybody is ready to draw at a moments notice there isn't much difference to a lawless wild west. We shake hands to show that we don't carry weapons. We argue in court because we think that the violence user is interested in using the violence entrusted in them in a consistent manner. I do not need to personally carry arms because if I have something to complain about I can have my complaints heard and the approriate action be taken on behalf of me with force if neccesary. Things are civil because conflicts can be verbal and usage of weapons doesn't further anyones cause.

A american doesn't want to have crimes committed against them but they dont' want to empowerd the police with the proper rights to effectively prevent them cheaply or give them the budjet to prevent them in a way that doesn't violate their freedom. They are left as individual private citizens to fight crime. One could also interpret it as a lack of peace stability. There isn't a budjet to keep the whole city safe so only central areas are kept. People don't want to enlarge the budjets because that means taxes and that means less individual authority to use their income. They want peace but they don't want to pay for it or atleast they want to be able to personally provide their own peace.


Fwiffo 28 July 2015 10:42 AM

The person had extremist views and ended up taking action on those. If their theorethical musing could have been met in discussion they would not have felt that actions would speak louder than words. Their experience wasn't being heard and they thought they would somehow communicate something with their actions. There is an attention economy and people do questionable things to get it. There is a culture where just having the attention empowers you no matter how poorly it is used. It is just a matter on which side repeats their point of view the most times. Meaningful dialogue doesn't happen so people do not get any conversation skill nor are they expected. This makes it seem that doing publicity stunts accomplishes something. It is mostly harmless when political debate just runs around in circles accomplishing nothing but when it empowers a fantasy of "showing everybody" the results are worse than nothing. And in fact the actions didn't convey any great messages. For most people it was just "another mass shooting". Many people make a big point on downplaying on listening to the motives and downplaying them where ever possible. The semantics of the event where largely predermined and were not that sensitive to the actual details of the event. For Stalin "a single death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic". Well on this issue people are already conditioned on the deaths countable on digits of 2 hands to be statistics. "N shot on mass shooting in Place". The offical word was just essentially "Well this happened again and I think it is time we do something about the thing that is commonly associated with these". Everybody already knows what are the sides. What happens doesn't influence the sides support that much. Every media outlet just gets updated that "we are running the gun thingy again". How routine it is is amazing.

To me it seems like a massive trainwreck of lots of words being let out of mouths with little to no communication going on. It doesn't help that the media likes to amp up the emotions. So everybody gets riled up and all communication channels are spammed for a while. Until the next media trigger happens. Just so we can do this again when a similar thing happens again.