Doctor Science Knows

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Right to Arm Bears

Hi! Today is a day when, when I'm not worky-work-working, I'm getting involved in discussions of gun control. Dumb or masochistic: you be the judge!

All the lawyer-kids are talking about Heller, and publius at Obsidian Wings has posted twice so far:
Heller, and
Heller's Indictment of Originalism.

My comments on the former:

his reasoning is as patently results-oriented as kennedy's

You know what I'd like to see one of you lawyer-types do in the "post-season analysis"? Show me how many SCOTUS opinions (per Justice) of the season were *not* predictable knowing their political affiliations.

To a first approximation, the IANAL analysis is: none. All of the opinions look as though the Justice decided what ze wanted, and then sought the argument, history, etc., that would support hir desires.

In fact, it looks quite Humean: we choose moral opinions based on emotional factors, but justify them with reason (and rhetoric, cute kittens, blinkenlights, etc. -- whatever we find in the bag).

*Only* Justices who say, "this isn't what *I* want, but it's what the law says" will get any faith or credit toward the idea that they are arguing based on law or facts. Otherwise, I will assume they are arguing like human beings -- it seems like a reasonable default assumption, doesn't it?

hairshirthedonist: Yeah, that's how it look to this non-lawyer, too. I can be talked out of this attitude if the lawyer-types present *evidence* that this is not how it works -- but since our cynical view is based on "how human beings usually work", they're going to have to *prove* that SCOTUS (and lower courts) aren't acting just like other people.

Defense of the self & home is a traditional *rationale* for individual firearms ownership. But it is not, statistically speaking, what firearms are *used for*.

Firearms in the home are used *for* suicide and for killing family members, far more than they are used for defense against strangers.

Firearms outside the home are used *for* "resolving" arguments and protecting oneself when the other man wants to resolve them with a firearm, too.

I'm trying to think of a comparable case, of a device that is ostensibly for purpose A but which is in practice used for other purposes. An off-road vehicle that is used to go to the grocery store?


Do you think that "legitimate" (self-defense rather than assault or suicide) in-home firearm uses represent more than a third of all in-home use? More than half? On what do you base your opinions?

In RL, I know a number of people who have been killed or assaulted with firearms (accident, suicide, strangers, intimates); I don't know that I know anyone who has actually used a firearm in anything approximating self-defense. My observation, then, is that true self-defense by firearm is rare, assault/murder/suicide/accident are not.

However, it is much easier to defend yourself with a M1911 that happens to be on your person than to look around for a steak knife.

I don't understand what that has to do with my observation, frankly. I'm saying that AFAIK the use of firearms for self-defense is rare compared to other uses against humans.

Yes, kitchen knives can be used for self-defense -- but in my experience, they're mostly used to prepare food, which is also what they're sold for. So the *ostensible* reason for having a kitchen knife is the same as the *actual* reason -- it just can also be used for self-defense, just as it can also be used to cut up cardboard boxes.

The situation with guns reminds me of off-label drug use, especially cases where a drug is being *mostly* used off-label.

OCSteve said: I guess you would have to show me studies that prove that violence is more likely to happen just because a handgun is conveniently at hand

Here ya go:

# The risk of suicide or homicide is twice as high for individuals with a family history of registered handgun purchase, than for those without such a history.
[Source: Cummings, P. et al. The Association between the purchase of a handgun and homicide or suicide. AJPH, 87(6) June 1997:974-978.]

# Suicide is nearly 5 times more likely to occur in a household with a gun than in a household without a gun.
[Source: Kellermann, A.L. et al. Suicide in the home in relation to gun ownership. N Engl J Med, 327(7) Aug. 12, 1992:467-472.]

# The presence of a gun in the home triples the risk of homicide in the home.
[Source: Kellermann, A.L. et al. Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home. N Engl J Med 329 (15) October 7, 1993: 1084-1091.

from this article.

So yes, presence of firearms in home = increased risk of suicide and homicide in the home. IIRC -- I can find the stats if you insist -- this is particularly the case for women, because women are usually killed by men who are close to them (lover or family member), while men are more often killed by men they don't know.

Almost all murders and most suicides are by men, so this is overwhelmingly a problem of *male* behavior.

Phil: If I had to make a guess, I'd wager that the vast majority of handguns that are in people's homes are never actually used for anything at all

I agree, where "used" means, you know, "used". What guns are primarily *for*, I will argue, is to make people *feel* more secure -- even while they actually decrease security on both an individual and a collective basis.

link to Tim Lambert.

Thanks, Bruce. I don't know that I want to make a lifestyle of this, though ...

But to get back to the question I have on the table before Brett (and OCSteve and Sebastian, or heck, anybody): in your *personal*, statistically insignificant RL experience, what are non-hunting firearms *actually used* for? "Actual use" in this case includes showing the weapon to someone you want to frighten (whether for defense or rape, robbery, etc.), as well as times the weapon is actually fired at someone.

The fact that most guns are never fired at anyone doesn't matter if their true purpose is safety equipment -- I've owned a number of fire extinguishers in my life, but only actually *used* one once.

But I think guns are very different than fire extinguishers, because my observation is that the pleasure of owning a gun is far more intense and personal than the pleasure of owning a fire extinguisher. Guns make people feel better, in a way that fire extinguishers do not. And of course, off-label use of fire extinguishers is fun *NOT THAT I'D KNOW ABOUT THAT FROM COLLEGE OR ANYTHING* but not actively homicidal.

I'm sorry, Sebastian, I cannot take Megan McArdle in general and that article in specific seriously.

women tend to choose poison everywhere, presumably because of some deep fear of disfigurement

Presumably?!? If that's the kind of thing she "presumes" -- about people with whom she has something in common, too, worse luck for us -- then I "presume" that the rest of her article is a farrago of half-baked nonsense pulled from the nether regions of a goat. Presumably.


I am not dismissing McArdle because I have some "irrational dislike" for her. I am dismissing her because barely 2 sentences into her post she made a sweaping, mean-spirited statement of breathtaking stupidity. Why should I keep reading?

In the case of the simplest sort of violence, suicide (simplest because attacker=victim), there is *no doubt* that access to firearms increases the suicide rate -- because suicide by firearm usually *succeeds*. There are of course lot of other ways to kill yourself, but there are many fewer failed attempts by firearm.

Having firearms in the house increases the suicide rate not because it increases the household violence level, but because it increases the chance that a suicide attempt will be fatal. Mutans mutandis, the same factor should apply to other equations of violence -- firearms up the stakes and increase the likelihood of a fatal outcome.

Sebastian, I actually find it boggling that you've known so few people who have died by guns. This may just mean that you're younger than I thought -- I'm over 50, so it's not as though the few cases I know represent a very high rate.

An old woman, murdered in her home by a young man she knew (motive: robbery); a boy, accidentally killed playing with his father's hunting rifle; a man, suicide; a man, killed by a stranger, probably drug-related.

Dr. Morpheus: yours is not only the wrong question for the circumstances, it doesn't make any sense.

Did I ever say that there would be no violence without guns? No. Did I ever imply it? Again, No.

It is my understanding that one of the "features" of using machetes instead of guns is that it results in a larger number of wounded -- who need to be taken care of -- rather than dead, who can only be avenged. There are other "features", of course, including that machetes don't run out of ammo.

When Dr. Science says this is a male issue rather than an American issue, it invites a review of the numbers to see which males are dangerous.

It is intended, even more, to invite those of you who are probably *not* homicidal to consider whether you are encouraging and supporting violence by other guys. Is there a culture of tolerance and admiration toward men who kill? -- only if they *have* to, of course. Do you think that men who are killers are more manly or masculine than men who forswear violence? Does the idea of giving up firearms seem almost ... castrating?

and on the latter:

A few brief comments, before I go do this thing we call "work":
It's an indictment of Scalia

I agree with Brett! We're talking about guns! bring my smelling salts.

publius, in your post you refer to: the Court’s tedious examination of dueling history books

Did they actually talk about the history of duelling? -- which is not IMHO irrelevant to the history of right to bear arms, not at all.

Otherwise -- what Bruce Baugh said, except that I personally do not know disabled people who've used guns for self-defense. But then, most of the disabled people I know are women.

Note: what Bruce Baugh said was:
I've said this before and will again: the very heart of the "widespread gun ownership checks tyranny" argument has been tested and failed completely.

For twenty years or more, political discourse in a whole lot of online forums was swamped by people telling the rest of us how the US was getting ever more tyrannical, and that the day would come when on some flimsy pretext the government would abandon habeaus corpus, engage in unlimited surveillance of everyone it felt like spying on, arrest people on arbitrary grounds and then abuse them any way the captors felt like, and so on.

It turns out they were right about that part.

They also told the rest of us that when this happened, they would rise up en masse. They would free unjustly held prisoners, put terror into the hearts of agents of tyranny, maybe even overthrow the tyrant him/herself. (As the '90s went on, the hypothetical tyrant was increasingly likely to be portrayed as a woman.) And did they? Did they hell.

There are no martyrs from the RKBA crowd. Their organizations sometimes join in efforts mostly initiated and staffed by others, but apart from objections to a handful of specific proposed restrictions on gun sales and such, one hears of no RKBA leadership on any of the rest. To the contrary, one hears a great deal of cheerleading for warmaking abroad and tyranny at home as long as all the right people get it, and one hears silence. Where are those freed prisoners? Nowhere. Where are those terrified agents? Nowhere. It was all the purest bloviation.

The reason I wondered if the dueling histories involved histories of dueling is that I have no doubt -- as someone who has studied that history -- that the Founders in general thought: citizens have a right to bear arms. It was a mark of invidious distinction to limit the bearing of arms to the aristocracy, and we as Englishmen are proud such was never our custom. [n.b.: not necessarily historically true, but they would have *said* it was.]

But also: women cannot and should not bear arms. Women cannot and should not be full citizens.

There is IMHO a connection between the well-known Swiss insistence that every male be in the Army, and the fact that Swiss women didn't get the vote until *1972*.

If you're going to go dragging in the original intentions of the Founders, then you have to acknowledge that for them the Right to Bear Arms was woven tightly into the idea of Male Citizenship and Male Honor. *Everyone* is cherry-picking, pulling out the parts of the Founders' original intention that you-all feel comfortable with -- but not all the other baggage it was wrapped up with. And IMHO still is.

It seems inarguable that prior to the 20th century, the right to bear arms was simply understood on its face to mean anyone could have a gun and the government couldn't say they can't

Well, I'm arguing against that.

I'm arguing that it was taken to mean that every *white male* could have a gun. It wasn't usually articulated so clearly, because it was generally understood that everyone who was anyone was a white male. For blacks and women to be generally armed was literally unthinkable.

The ostensible purpose of the RTBA, for the Founders down the line to Brett, is for self-defense and for a check on government power -- and they are not distinct functions, one is thought to flow out of the other. Free men who can defend themselves and their property (including their women) will naturally resist and if necessary overthrow tyranny -- that's the theory, that's what the Founders thought they had seen in the Revolution.

But as Bruce Baugh pointed out, the RTBA is an empirical failure as a check on tyranny. *It doesn't work*. I'm arguing that it also doesn't work for personal security: men with guns are not safer, nor are "their" women.

It is possible that if the RTBA were restricted to women, it *would* make people -- regardless of chromosome count -- safer. But that's even more implausible than Golda Meier's suggestion that the solution for a rape epidemic should be a curfew for men, not for women..

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

FISA and Capitulation

Last week was really bad, politically speaking. Hunter at DailyKos kind of sums it up for me:
We are against the torture of innocents, and that is enough to disqualify us from being serious about the fate of our nation. We believe illegal acts should be investigated and punished, and that makes us too naive to be proper guardians of discourse. We once thought even a president was required to follow the law; we have been disabused of that notion not only by the President, but by Congress as well.

Glenn Greenwald righteously sums up my wrath and disappointment with Obama:
Whatever the motives -- and I don't know (or much care) what they are -- Obama has embraced a bill that is not only redolent of many of the excesses of Bush's executive power theories and surveillance state expansions, but worse, has done so by embracing the underlying rationale of "Be-scared-and-give-up-your-rights."

Hilzoy's post was succinctly titled Bleccchh.

At Unfogged, Apostropher asked What do you call an opposition party that refuses to oppose?. Very good discussion ensued. My comment:

I'm starting to think it's actually Liberal vs Authoritarian vs gutless Authoritarian.

I think there are two intersecting problems:

1. the voters are statistically less authoritarian & sheeplike than Congress, as seen e.g. in the public's opposition to the war or telcom immunity, which are much stronger than anything Congress has been able to express.

A lot of this IMHO is economic: wealth leads to complacency leads to the Dark Side, and Congresspeeps are *much* wealthier and more economically secure than the people as a whole.

2. We need better stories. Republicans are using a Macho Sue template for leadership (and masculinity), which comes with a complete set of inspiring cultural icons and exciting movies. I think the gutless division of the Democratic Party is saying "mythic figures are unnecessary and tacky" -- but human beings don't work that way, so emotionally they're still in thrall to Macho Sue and will lick his boots reflexively.

The spine-enabled Democratic Congresspeeps (including my own, you wish you had one) *do* have cultural icons and role models -- Atticus Finch, for instance -- but not as many, and frankly they don't come with as many shiny accessories (whether Glocks or Manolos, a distinction without a difference) and explosions, which are apparently necessary if we're going to switch the allegiance of the gutless.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Dear Obama supporters; also, Dear Clinton supporters

-- especially any of you who might be actually working on the campaign, or whose donation pockets are deeper than mine (please imagine a wallet with a moth flying out).

Glenn Greenwald has been documenting the yearning of some Congressional Democrats to pass a FISA bill giving telecoms amnesty for lawbreaking they did at the Administration's request -- amnesty that would, by an *amazing coincidence*, remove the evidence for this lawbreaking from public view. This battle is also being documented over at Daily Kos.

A lot of us feel that it's time for Senator Obama step up to the plate and *lead* on this issue. He's said that he's opposed to telcom amnesty -- encourage him make a serious speech about it. Encourage him to "encourage" other Congressional Dems to "encourage" Hoyer & the other Telecom Congresspeeps to reconsider. Make "Rule of Law" and "Respect for the Constitution" serious rallying points. Please, if any of you have any good offices to use, *use them*.

And to those of you who supported Senator Clinton's campaign: she has a great Leadership-with-a-capital-L opportunity here, as well. Encourage her to prove that she can be just as great a Majority Leader as she was a campaigner. The opportunity is here, begging to be used.

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Monday, June 02, 2008


Is this the smartest person in the world?. The youngest college professor ever: a 19-year-old Muslim Iranian-American woman, Alia Sabur. Taught herself to read at the age of 8 *months*. High-school grad at 10, college grad at 14. Now going to Konkuk University, S.Korea, to work in materials science (nanotubes). Also a concert-level clarinetist who has studied at Julliard.

Meanwhile, it turns out that boys aren't necessarily better at math, when you start to compare test results in different countries:
In countries where women occupy an equal position to men in society, such as Sweden, there was virtually no gender gap in maths ability. However, in countries with lower levels of gender equality, such as Turkey, the boys performed better in maths tests than the girls.

"The gender gap in mathematics doesn't seem to be a feature of every society," says Sapienza.

What's more, the girls produced better reading scores than the boys in all the countries looked at, but did even better in countries with higher levels of gender equality.

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The War of South Carolina Aggression

More from comments at Slacktivist, in a discussion that touched on the fact that Southerns are a disproportionate number of US military:

The miliarism behind what James McPherson has called The War of Southern Aggression -- or, even more specifically, The War of South Carolina Aggression -- has roots much older and deeper than that War or even the slave system.

I always start with Albion's Seed and the British roots of American culture.

In England, the military is a traditional career for the *second* son -- because in the central & southern counties of the English "heartland", inheritance is by primogeniture and the first son gets the lot. The original English settlers in Virginia and points South were from this part of England, and though they themselves were mostly younger sons they reproduced the inheritance structures they were familiar with. So in addition to being a culture that tolerated a lot of individual violence, they also tended to have a lot of men interested in joining the military for lack of other inheritance.

In contrast, the Puritan settlers of New England came from East Anglia, where inheritance was traditionally partible. Every son got *something* and was expected to make that into more (by trade, etc.), so there was no automatic pipeline into military careers. East Anglian culture also stressed restraint of individual violence, turning people away from the idea that fighting was the way to solve problems.

The later groups of settlers -- Quakers from the North Midlands who settled in the Delaware Valley and were even more anti-military than New Englanders, immigrants from the English-Scottish Border who moved to the American backcountry and were even more violence-tolerant than the Virginian Cavaliers -- only emphasized the original division between the more military South and less military North.

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