Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Three quarters formed thoughts on political violence.

I think I may have overshot yesterday in my desire for a non-wimpy ending. Having thought about it more, I think the essential points I want to make are these:

1) There seems to be absolutely no evidence that the shooter was in any way connected to a vast right-wing conspiracy.
2) I don't really see the evidence that violent political rhetoric makes disturbed individuals more likely to commit these kinds of acts.
3) I do think there are other reasons to object to violent political rhetoric, however, and other reasons why those objections get amplified after an event like this. The history of political violence in this country is a lot darker and more complex than that one time a bunch of Bostonians dressed up as Indians and dumped tea in the harbor. The history of anti-liberal political violence, in particular, has been a lot darker and more complex within living memory. And I don't think we can take it for granted that the fondness for violent political rhetoric on the right is completely unconnected to that.

On the other hand, I'm getting really annoyed with the number of people glibly asserting that no amount of gun control can ever be even borderline effective. If we outlaw guns, only criminals will have them. If we outlawed 30 bullet canisters like the shooter had, clearly he would have just brought more guns. I just don't see how this isn't ridiculous on it's face. The U.K. has tight gun control legislation, and it seems pretty obvious to me that this has resulted in far fewer of their criminals having guns...have you seen Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels? Did you hear about the debates that they might need pointy knife control a few years ago? Would they really be debating that if every criminal still had a handgun?

What would happen if the legal market for the type of guns that are most effective in these kinds of attacks dried up? They aren't as easy to produce as meth and pot...you wouldn't suddenly have a bunch of small scale, black market producers. They also aren't nearly as addictive as meth or cocaine, so I doubt the number of otherwise non-violent people willing to risk jail time to own something shiny and phallic would be anything close to the market for illegal drugs. Presumably the factories where they're made would stay in operation, either because they're located in other countries or because there would still be sufficient demand coming from the military and the police, but I'd like to see the argument for why those factories would be so inefficient at controlling their distribution chain that the cost of a black market weapon wouldn't be significantly higher than legal versions are today. I'd like to see the argument why making these guns illegal wouldn't mean fewer opportunities to buy them, fewer opportunities to transport them, and fewer opportunities to practice shooting them.

And remember, we are talking about keeping guns out of the hands of 22 year old psychopaths...the kind of people who can't hold down jobs, aren't likely to have a vast network of criminal contacts, aren't likely to have much of anything in the way of resources. Keeping guns away from organized crime is a different issue. Organized crime is bad too...but then at least you're dealing with rational people who would rationally prefer to minimize killing innocent bystanders. I don't think there's any way to make a serious argument that it's impossible to make it harder for people like the shooter in Arizona to get a gun. The only reason why people are repeatedly making such an un-serious argument is because they don't want to make their actual argument, which is that it is very important that we not make the kind of changes that that would require. Which, I guess they're welcome to believe...but I'd like them to try to support it.

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