Home
Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

----------------------------

School Shootings

Is the rise of school shootings in America a case of too many guns or a simple failure to keep guns away from kids? Gun locks and gun safes exist.

That's not a rhetorical question. I actually wonder about the answer.

I assume 90% of the kids who become school shooters get their weapons from adults who left them unguarded. Correct me in the comments if I'm wrong.

I know you're furiously trying to determine if I am pro-gun or anti-gun so you can decide how much extra to hate me. So let me state my position as clearly as possible:

I am pro-data.

And the data is incomplete.

Obviously there's a strong correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths. But how much of that is causation as opposed to correlation? One can never know if Americans own guns because we're violent people or we're violent because we own guns. Isn't it likely to be some of both?

Common sense says that having guns lying around the house makes gun violence more likely. But we don't know if the accessibility factor is 10% of the story or 90%. Maybe the rate of stabbings would skyrocket if guns disappeared and that would close some of the violence gap. My point is that it's hard to size the problem of gun risk, and that matters because the goal is low risk not zero risk. If we wanted zero risk in all things at the expense of personal freedom we would fill every swimming pool with bubble wrap.

We also can't know if gun ownership will ever protect future citizens from the tyranny of the government. One argument says that the army has the biggest guns and so citizens are effectively defenseless if the government becomes a dictatorship. Therefore, owning a gun doesn't protect you from the government.

The counterargument is that if an American becomes a dictator, every one of his friends and extended family members would be bullet-riddled by the end of the week courtesy of the gun owners. What would be the point of becoming a dictator in a country where you can't leave your enclave and you just killed most of the people you care about with your actions? I think gun ownership does add a thin layer of protection against a risk of a dictatorship by rational leaders, but that risk is of unknown size. How do you value the thing that might happen but doesn't?

We also don't know what would happen if we went hog-wild with gun control. Would we suddenly become Great Britain and prefer slapping each other with open palms instead of shooting? Or would it turn into another Prohibition fiasco? Nothing sells more guns than the threat of gun control in the future.

In the long run, all violent criminals will be caught every time. That's the payoff from our creeping lack of privacy. When that day comes, rational adults such as criminals will be doing less shooting because there is no hope of getting away with it. And if we keep guns away from kids, with mandatory gun locks for example, that helps with the school shooting problem.

Once the rational criminals and the kids are neutered, that leaves only the irrational adults with guns as our remaining problem. And probably the best defense against that bunch of nuts involves owning your own gun. But I can't back that assumption with data.

Anecdotally, I have one friend who gunned down a would-be rapist who broke into her house. And I have another friend who would have been raped by an intruder if her boyfriend hadn't coincidentally spent the night and taken out the intruder by hand. A gun would have worked if he hadn't been there. But those are anecdotes not data.

The only thing I know for sure is that the "It is in the constitution" argument is misplaced. No matter what the founders had in mind at the time, we have the option to change it. So the question is what makes sense today, not what a bunch of hemp-smoking slave-owners thought hundreds of years ago.

I'm curious if you think you have enough data to form an opinion on the topic of American gun control. Gun control qualifies as common sense, but in my experience common sense in the context of insufficient data is irrationality in disguise.

To be fair, both sides of the debate have insufficient data and so they must default to using what they feel is common sense but isn't. (If it were common, both sides would agree.). So I don't think irrationality is limited to one side of the debate.

Scott

 
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +109
  • Print
  • Share

Comments

Sort By:
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 13, 2014
Not surprisingly, it is the same social system that applies massive screening in airports and massive surveillance of phones and e-mails, which are both useless for the same reason.
 
 
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 13, 2014
The problem with massive gun diffusion is exactly the same as with massive screening of rare events: the false positive paradox.

When the incidence of those who have a given condition (criminal behaviour) is lower than the test's false positive rate (the probability of using a gun by mistake on innocent people), the number of false positives (innocent people injured) will exceed the number of true positives (criminals injured).

Suppose that 200 million people own a gun, and 20000 of them are criminals.
Suppose that the probability of using a gun by mistake is 1/1000 in a given time period:
200000 people will be injured.

Even if all the 20000 criminals are in that number, such a social system is obviously dumb.

For details, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_positive_paradox
 
 
Jun 13, 2014
Oh, and we'd have to exclude shootings without a victim, such as reckless discharge of a firearm into the air. This seems to have had a statisticly significant increase in (reported) events over the past 2 decades, and alone would skew the statistics in favor of an increase in "school shootings" under the liberal metric used by that wikipedia listing. I wonder how often teens in days prior to cell phones and internet connected cameras would get drunk behind the school's bleachers & shoot some rounds at a coffee can with dad's 22 rifle without getting caught by police. I'd wager that it's much more likely that such activities get discovered in the modern age, and result in a recordable interaction with police.
 
 
Jun 13, 2014
Also, an anctedoctal point to make. The worst school massacre in US history occurred in 1927, and a firearm was not used.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bath_School_disaster

38 fatalities and 58 other injuries, not counting the suicide of the killer. He used arson and a car bomb. He was the school's treasurer.

As a matter of fact, several of the worst massacres on campuses involved arson, explosives or both, and wouldn't even register on your "school shooting" metrics since firearms are not used.
 
 
Jun 13, 2014
I hate your commenting system, Scott. I write a rather lengthy response to your article reference, only to discover that it had logged me out while I was writting.

In summary, the article you referenced was well written and cited by the author, but does not support your root premise found in the first line of your blog post; that there has been a (statisticly significant) rise in school shootings. I also referenced a wikipedia article on school shootings (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_school_shootings_in_the_United_States) that would have done a better job for your position, but also pointed out problems with this very kind of argument. For example, population increases. But also differences in reporting methods that count types of shootings in our modern era, that may or may not have been recorded in prior decades; for example suicides by gun on campus.

In the end, before we can have this kind of discussion, we first must agree on what a "school shooting" actually is, and what it is not. Most people, myself included, think of a murderous random rampaging student when the term "school shooting" is used. If we limit ourselves to that standard; we will have to exclude shootings of suspects by police, suicides, murders that happened to have occured on campus due to known motives (such as the shooting of a teacher by his spouse, for whatever personal reasons she may have had), shootings directly related to other crime (such as gang acrtivity) and shootings that occurred off campus, but still on school property (such as the county bus depot), shooting of people who should not have been on campus (not a student or school employee), and accidental shootings (such as an incompetent school guard, or an accident with the rifle team). Can we agree on this much?
 
 
Jun 13, 2014
I think the question you first need to be asking is "is it ok for humans to (want to) harm other humans?" and from a biological perspective I think this is perfectly healthy.

This desire is hindbrain; everything else you think is "right" on the subject has been distorted by the filter of social norms, civilization, etc.

The gun is just the means by which the hindbrain's desire is fulfilled. Tell me I'm wrong and I'll tell you that it's your forebrain distorting things.
 
 
Jun 13, 2014
[Exclude those who are incapable of engaging in any dialog.]

The problem with doing this, for any issue, is how do you objectively do this?
 
 
Jun 13, 2014
This is one of my favorite posts. I've enjoyed reading the comments even more, both sides are providing reasoned and rational comments. Now my 2 cents. I have never fired, much less ever owned a gun, but believe I should be able to buy one if I choose to (never committed a crime and no history of mental illness). I believe the recent school shootings are a combination of mental illness and disenfranchisement (various reasons). I believe if guns where not available, bombs, knives or some other weapon would have been used. To stop these events in the future I would like people to recognize the warning signs, and get these individuals the help they need, even if it is against their wishes. The hindsight we get after these tragedies often prove that many warning signs go ignored.
 
 
Jun 13, 2014
Yes, there is irrationality on both sides of the debate. But when your preformed biases and your ideology already have dictated all aspects of the debate then there is no debate. Exclude those who are incapable of engaging in any dialog.
 
 
Jun 13, 2014
Mark Naught, there is no regulations on the defensvie choices of an (otherwise) law abiding person that is reasonable. However, it is reasonable to expect such people to certain standards. We expect car manufactures to produce safe cars; and we can reasonably expect someone who desires to own dangerous weaponry to store & transport them is a safe manner. For example, a Class III weapons owner must have a proper armory on the level with a military armory. It must be explosion proof if there are explosive in it, it must have a monitored alarm, and it must have a 2 hour rated safe door. Rated for 2 hours against a thief with a cutting torch, not just a fire. These are reasonable expectations, because anyone who is wealthy enough to outfit a military platoon is wealthy enough to make sure these things are kept safe and away from the general public, in the event that one goes bad and explodes. For the common, middle class adult, a concealed carry license is evidence of this kind of 'reasonable regulations' already in effect. We don't give such permits to felons, nor without proof that such persons have been taught about the laws regarding the legitimate uses of force. Many people cry about 'reasonable regulations' but those already exist, most of you guys just don't know that they exist.
 
 
Jun 13, 2014
Mark Naught, there is no regulations on the defensvie choices of an (otherwise) law abiding person that is reasonable. However, it is reasonable to expect such people to certain standards. We expect car manufactures to produce safe cars; and we can reasonably expect someone who desires to own dangerous weaponry to store & transport them is a safe manner. For example, a Class III weapons owner must have a proper armory on the level with a military armory. It must be explosion proof if there are explosive in it, it must have a monitored alarm, and it must have a 2 hour rated safe door. Rated for 2 hours against a thief with a cutting torch, not just a fire. These are reasonable expectations, because anyone who is wealthy enough to outfit a military platoon is wealthy enough to make sure these things are kept safe and away from the general public, in the event that one goes bad and explodes. For the common, middle class adult, a concealed carry license is evidence of this kind of 'reasonable regulations' already in effect. We don't give such permits to felons, nor without proof that such persons have been taught about the laws regarding the legitimate uses of force. Many people cry about 'reasonable regulations' but those already exist, most of you guys just don't know that they exist.
 
 
Jun 13, 2014

[Does this prove that licensing drivers and keeping records only penalizes the law-abiding, giving jackbooted thugs the power to issue tickets and ultimately force them onto unsafe (and usually government monopolized) public transit and otherwise depriving them of freedom of movement? Shouldn't the AAA be lobbying to shut down the tyrannical DMV and end all regulation of drivers and vehicles, since freeways full of good drivers will protect us from bad drivers?]

This is a false comparison. While it's true that part of being free is freedom of movement, that can be satified by walking. Defense of self is a basic human right also. Many of you guys complain about firearms, but they are the single most effective form of personal defensive force available to the individual. You never fret about the massive weapons that the US military has, I presume because many of you believe that they are already banned for US citizens.

You would be wrong.

A US citizen over the age of 21, with no criminal record, can get anything not radioactive (and some things that actually are) under a Class III special weapons/destructive device permit within states that permit such. There are more states that permit Class III weapons than those that do not. Kentucky is one such state, and there is a bi-annual shooting event where event-goers can RENT these weapons; including but not limited to, a flame thrower, a GE minigun, a Soviet tank, Uzis of many calibers, rocket propelled grenade launcher. While the user still has to be able to buy the ammo for these things in order to use them, they are available as well. Yes, including the RPGs. The event is called the "Machine Gun Shoot of Knob Creek". Google it if you want to see some videos of normal people using weapons you only see in movies.

So yes, an average citizen can own an anti-aircraft missile, even for the expressed purpose of defending his property from his government. The only catch is that he has to be able to afford it, which is more of the limiting factor than any gun regulations in this catagory. A single RPG can be a couple hundred dollars, and a TOW missle several thousand; and you are responsible for that weapon regardless of who uses it or how. Yes, there are some people, mostly very wealthy, that own some of these (very military) weapons.

The GE minigun is wicked fun, BTW, but costs about $200 for 20 seconds of ammo.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 13, 2014
I believe that the 'average' person who is doing the shootings in a school is a depressed person (probably suicidal) and is looking for attention. They see news reports of a school shooting and the publicity that person received, and they copy it. The news reports are giving these people ideas.

Perhaps instead of the news reports highlighting the killer, the news reports highlight the families of the shooter. Somebody who wishes to get the recognition probably does not think that much today about what they are doing to their own family. If that were the emphasis of the story (the harm it is doing to their own parents and siblings), that might be enough for somebody not to want to do a shooting like this.
 
 
Jun 13, 2014
I think of gun control the same way as speed limit laws. If you drive faster and get into an accident, you are more likely to die or kill someone else. You don't outlaw cars, you try to put reasonable controls into place and enforce them. If guns are available and there is an altercation, you are more likely to die or kill someone else than if the guns were not available. You don't outlaw guns, you try to put reasonable controls into place and enforce them.

The question becomes what is reasonable? The 2nd amendment is ambiguous on this at best. Some say firearms should be limited to state militias and armed forces, while others say any sort of control is unconstitutional.

I hope the U.S. will eventually get past its congressional deadlock and will be willing to discuss some sort of compromise. Until then this is an emotional and political topic, so your data-based approach won't have an impact one way or the other - no matter what the data says.
 
 
Jun 13, 2014
If you show me the source for your first line, Scott, I'll be happy to spend the time to look up my sources.

[ Here you go: http://kirbysandersbiz.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/weapons-used-in-contemporary-american-mass-shootings/ -- Scott]
 
 
Jun 13, 2014
Recently saw an article about a guy sent to prison for causing a fatal auto accident. It seemed eminently justified as the guy in question had a long history of seizures while driving to the point where he'd caused several accidents already; had his license revoked; and had been consequently nailed for driving without a license.

I suspect a lot of traffic fatalities are caused by lawbreakers: revoked or suspended licenses, dangerously defective vehicles, violations of laws related to trucks and other commercial vehicles, etc. The truck driver in the Tracy Morgan case is evidently going to be charged for driving a big rig for 24 hours straight.

Does this prove that licensing drivers and keeping records only penalizes the law-abiding, giving jackbooted thugs the power to issue tickets and ultimately force them onto unsafe (and usually government monopolized) public transit and otherwise depriving them of freedom of movement? Shouldn't the AAA be lobbying to shut down the tyrannical DMV and end all regulation of drivers and vehicles, since freeways full of good drivers will protect us from bad drivers?
 
 
+29 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 13, 2014
Per the FBI, Homicide rates are "per 100,000" population.

Homicide rate in 1994: 9.0

Homicide rate in 2006: 5.8
Homicide rate in 2007: 5.7
Homicide rate in 2008: 5.4
Homicide rate in 2009: 5.0
Homicide rate in 2010: 5.0
Homicide rate in 2011: 4.7
Homicide rate in 2012: 4.7

2013 stats aren't out yet, but according to the FBI, 1st-half 2013:
"In the violent crime category, forcible rape was down 10.6 percent, murder was down 6.9 percent, aggravated assault decreased 6.6 percent, and robbery was down 1.8 percent."

Of course... as the quote indicates it's not just homicide that's decreasing over time. Crime of every sort has been on the decline for decades. We're living in one of the least dangerous times in the USA's history. The only reasons we think it's more violent is because our media is telling us so and politicians find it convenient and easy to make claims that are readily debunked with available data.
 
 
Jun 13, 2014
I didn't get past the first line, Scott, because your starting premise is false. School shootings have not increased over the past couple decades, and may have actually decreased. Our efficiency of (press, not police) reporting on school shootings has improved, and has created the illusion of such an increase in events. The truely huge events have always made the national news, but the smaller (1 to 4 victim events) shootings have often not even made the front page of local newspapers in the past. Please fix your data before you proceed.

[Source? -- Scott]
 
 
Jun 13, 2014
The topic of gun control is bogged down by all sorts of strongly polarizing and emotional issues.
It must be possible to somehow divide and conquer and break it down.

It would appear that 'everybody' wants to be able to protect themselves from assault, but nobody wants the risks of gun violence, gun accidents or gun crimes associated with it.

Instead of trying to solve it all at once, we should go for low hanging fruit.
At the very least, keep the guns out of the hands of unstable people, careless people and irresponsible people (thats low-hanging in the sense that it should be relatively common sense).
But to do that, you'd need to define how unstable/careless/irresponsible you can be allowed to be and still be worthy of owning or handling a gun.
E.g should a very careless person be allowed to own a gun for protection, even if he puts everybody in his vicinity at risk 99% of the time? What if he's only careless 70% of the time?
It should be possible to find a reasonable threshold (and all similar questions), just like you have to have a minimum quality of eyesight in order to drive a car.

If you don't attempt to answer these sort of questions first, it will gum up the entire topic.
 
 
Jun 13, 2014
You are correct, it doesn't matter what the Constitution says, we have the option to change it. Luckily those who wrote the Constitution made provisions for editing it. Unfortunately, that's not what the government does... They don't get an amendment, they just legislate or act by executive order. That's not what America is about. If we want to take the right to bear arms out of the Constitution, then we need to follow the provisions to change it. No laws, no bans, no emotional arguments. Just an amendment that has to be voted on by the states.

[You left out the reason. -- Scott]
 
 
 
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog