Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Some specific thoughts on gun safety

Thanks for the comments on the previous post. 


That most of the media and political attention goes to the occasional mass shootings, while the daily toll of smaller scale incidents that account for the vast majority of firearm injuries and deaths is mostly ignored should not be surprising. It's front page news, sometimes for days, when an airliner goes down and a hundred people or more die, but the daily toll of motor vehicle deaths and injuries, which is a couple of orders of magnitude greater over time, is scarcely news at all. This is in part because of the sheer scale of the mass  catastrophe events, and also precisely because of their relative rarity. People tend not to notice events that happen regularly and predictably. 


However, another factor in the case of firearm violence is that it does disproportionately affect Black men, and that may explain some of the disproportionate focus on some of these incidents which have mostly affected white victims. The reasons for that are well understood by sociologists but are apparently difficult to explain to much of the public. It's a very important problem and I do mean to write about it, but the solutions are beyond the scope of this post so I will put that in the parking lot.


I would like to take the analogy with cars a lot farther. First, we don't talk about car control, we talk about traffic safety. And I think it will help if we talk about firearm safety, rather than gun control. We don't want to control guns, we want to affect what people do with them and reduce the toll of injuries and death. I don't think it's at all realistic to talk about banning handguns because a) regardless of what I think about the 2d Amendment the SC isn't going to go along with it in the lifetime of most of us and b) it isn't politically feasible even in states with the most support for firearm regulation. 


But we don't ban cars either. Well, there are moves to create car free zones in cities, and there is far less motor vehicle traffic in Basel or Amsterdam than there is in U.S. cities -- almost none, actually. So people could drive less and fewer people can need to own cars. Those are worthy objectives. But we do, more importantly, make driving and car ownership privileges subject to requirements of proven competence and standards of behavior. There is no reason why you shouldn't need a license to own, store or transport a firearm, that you can only get after you  undergo training and pass an exam; that there can't be legal requirements for how you store weapons and where and when you can take them; that they be registered and that you carry insurance; and that the privileges of ownership can be taken away, or denied if you don't qualify in the first place. I understand that all of this only pertains to operation of motor vehicles on public roads, so it's not a perfect analogy, but it seems close enough.

In fact so-called "red flag"  laws that allow for firearms to be confiscated under some circumstances do show evidence for effectiveness in reducing injuries and deaths. 

And while semi-automatic rifles are not usually the weapon of choice for day-to-day murder, they are the weapon of choice for mass murder and furthermore, there is no legitimate reason I can think of for civilians to own them. They aren't hunting or sporting weapons. Their only purpose, the purpose for which they are designed, is to kill Homo sapiens. The only reason a guy wants to walk into Walmart with a rifle across his back is because he's afraid his dick is too small, and there are more constructive approaches to that problem. I see no reason not to treat them the way we do fully automatic weapons: they must be stored at licensed gun ranges and can't leave the premises except under specific authorization for transportation. If you want to get your rocks off going to the range and shooting at a paper cutout of Michael Bloomberg, okay.


There is more we could do. Pediatricians can advise parents about the risks of firearm ownership and safe storage. Every time we read about kid getting a hold of Daddy's gun and killing his friend or his little sister is one time too many. Physicians should have a mechanism for getting guns away from people who are depressed or suicidal, and people with a legitimate fear of domestic violence should also have recourse. Yes, this should be subject to court review. There can be requirements that weapons have mechanisms so that only their (licensed) owners can fire them. (Yes, you can give your fob to somebody else but at least it can't happen without your knowledge.) 


There are probably additional measures that people can think of. I'm not saying that many or any of these are realistic political possibilities, but I do think they deserve a calm and reasoned discussion. 


Woody Peckerwood said...

"In fact so-called "red flag" laws that allow for firearms to be confiscated under some circumstances do show evidence for effectiveness in reducing injuries and deaths."

Yeah, these remind me of the old mental health laws where two relatives could say that you're a danger and they'd come cart you off to the funny farm.

Cervantes said...

Nope, it never worked that way. You need a court order for civil commitment, always have. A psychiatrist needs to testify before a judge. These laws work similarly, IIRC the norm is that the police can intervene temporarily but you need a judge to approve it. They also can be a component of restraining orders, again these are orders of a judge. If you had a relative who owned a gun, and became dangerously psychotic or was threatening suicide, wouldn't you want to have some recourse?

Woody Peckerwood said...

Are you telling me that you went to a mental institution BEFORE a judge ruled??

'Cause that's what happening here with firearms and yet, you say it's no big deal, just the same. Doesn't seem the same.

Also seems ripe for abuse. Angry wife or girlfriend decides to get even, tells authorities she was threatened (no evidence needed BTW)and there it goes.

Not a fan. I'm all about process.

Cervantes said...

Well, there's a big difference between having your binky temporarily confiscated and being locked up in the nuthouse. But the exact procedures could certainly be open to debate. Anyway, you have to agree that some people are in no condition to be fondling a Glock.

Woody Peckerwood said...

Attempting to diminish the value of a firearm by calling it "your binky" is childish.

It's private property and your property should not be confiscated without due process.

Due process is not too much to ask.

mojrim said...

Most states allow police to place someone on a 72 hour hold for mental health reasons, just as they can arrest someone on suspicion of a crime. Both must be followed by a cause hearing and (in criminal cases) arraignment. WIth mental health cases, where the issue is "may pose a danger" we enter the realm of prior restraint, where the standard is the higher (in theory) clear and convincing. The problem, as always, comes down to race and class. This is the same standard CPS is held to when removing children and it works exactly as you'd expect in america.

That same freight load of racist shit will come into play the moment you start licensing possession, storage, and insurance. That same pile of racist shit is why so many black men are not permitted to own guns in the first place; anyone else remember when the sentencing for crack was pushed to 100x that of standard cocaine? That same racism comes into play when the ATF hands out the tax stamp required for own a fully automatic weapon.

The problem with comparing "gun safety" to "car safety" is that modern guns are already 100% safe: pull the trigger and a bullet comes out. Anything you add to this equation is a point of failure which makes them less safe. Accidental firearm deaths run ~600 annually, making "safety" a deeply suspicious marketing path. In fact, the things you propose are gun owner regulations, just as licensing and insurance are driver regulations. That rebranding effort has completely failed with gun owners because we know divisionist propaganda when we see it - we'll agree to biometric guns when the army does. If you're interested in safety you don't even need a statutory storage requirement, just get prosecutors to charge people with negligent homicide when some kid finds their gun and tops themself.

Likewise, the "you don't need this" argument has been tried and failed for two decades because it's self-evident nonsense. The price of freedom is living with other people's freedom, and free people don't let others determine what they need. Every single one of us who owns a semi-auto rifle knows what it's for: that's why we bought it in the first place, we consider that to be a need. My HS biology teacher was a ukranian jew who survived the nazi death camps. He buried AR15s throughout the sierra nevadas because he would never be helpless again. As a brown man who grew up in east bay, I find "the police will protect you" a thoroughly unconvincing argument.

NB: Full auto weapons are not required to be stored on a range, or anywhere else for that matter.

Woody Peckerwood said...

I really like your writings when you offer facts, dates, etc. to back up your assertions. Truly, I'm a fan.

It's only when you try to help me jump to a conclusion that really is your opinion, but is presented as fact, that we part ways...particularly the catch-all racism claim that you use to explain reasons for laws when more likely explanations are available.

Just a note: The ATF form 4 and the required fingerprint cards necessary for a tax paid transfer of a class III weapon don't have any race noted on them. The examiners, many, MANY who are black, don't know what race you are when investigating your qualification to own and possess those weapons. And you are correct in that there is no requirement for them to be stored in any particular manner.

Cervantes said...

Woody -- I acknowledged the need for due process. My point is that unless you already intend to shoot someone in the near future, temporary loss of your firearm doesn't seem like a dire event.

Mo, you bring up a lot of classic arguments. I'm not going to give my own response to everything in detail, this doesn't seem like a good format for that, but I do want to offer the gist of my thinking. First, as a factual matter yes, it is possible for a civilian to legally own and store a machine gun in the U.S. if it was manufactured prior to 1986, and subject to registration and stringent regulation. However, because these weapons are therefore scarce and expensive, people who want to shoot one will have to go to a gun range that offers the opportunity.

Now, as you know I am the first to agree that law enforcement in the U.S. is racist, and also that child protective services act in a racist manner. However, the solution obviously can't be that we should not have laws, or child protective services. You surely aren't arguing for abolishing laws against theft, fraud, assault, or most other crimes because of racist enforcement. That logic is backwards.

In the case of laws that otherwise don't have positive social value, or in which the cost of racist enforcement exceeds whatever value they otherwise might have, you have an argument that I fully endorse. The notable example is drug laws. One of the benefits of legalizing marijuana is that it will end the terrible cost of racist enforcement. But as a prospective argument against red flag laws, that doesn't work. If such laws have potential positive social value, the priority should be to work toward just and equitable enforcement, as we need to do with all other laws. Adding one more law to the agenda isn't going to appreciably change the overall problem.

" we'll agree to biometric guns when the army does." Please. You aren't going to agree not to own bazookas, flamethrowers, M1 tanks or nuclear weapons when the army does. This argument is completely feckless.

"The price of freedom is living with other people's freedom, and free people don't let others determine what they need." Sorry, that's the glibertarian argument and it fails instantly. You aren't allowed to decide that you need something that I own, and are therefore free to steal it. You aren't allowed to decide that you need to commit rape, or that you need to pollute the river or drive 100 miles an hour. The price of freedom is giving up the freedom to violate the rights or safety of others. Every question must be answered on a case by case basis, weighing the rights and freedom of some people against that of others. There isn't any easy, glib or blanket answer to that problem.

Finally, you rely on the insurrectionist argument. Your holocaust survivor friend did something that was obviously psychologically comforting for him, but self evidently useless. If Nazis were to take over the U.S. and start a second holocaust, having some AR15 buried in the desert wouldn't make any difference. You might ask Fred Hampton about that, but you can't because he's dead. I'd think about that long and hard.

PS: Without going back to a long ago post, the locally organized militias were subject to call up by the states, and were incorporated into the state militias in times of conflict. They were the basis of the Continental Army. And as for Heller, I don't object to it because it overturned precedent. I make no such argument whatever. As I say, I fully endorse Brown v Board of Education, for example. I object to it because it is illogical and contrary to the public interest, and to democratic rule.

Woody Peckerwood said...


I think what Mo meant about biometric access keys to firearms is there has been no reliable system and the military and police know it.

If there were, certainly the police would be all over it as it would protect them from being shot with their own weapons.

Cervantes said...

Well, the question of how well the technology works currently is separate from the question of whether the idea is desirable. What I understand is that developers have not been able to beta test it because of political opposition. Biometric seems less likely to me than a fob system. That's how most new cars start nowadays, I haven't hear any complaints.

Chucky Peirce said...

If some groups of people need to arm themselves to protect themselves from being dominated by others then the folks who need this most desperately would certainly include people of color, women, muslims, and LBGT's.

We should be encouraging these groups to organize "well regulated militias" so that they can properly defend themselves.

In addition to the Oath Keepers, the 3 Percenters, and the Boogaloos why not the Afrikan Korps, the Deborah Division (Judges 4), the Allahu Akbar Army, and the Rainbow Regiments?

Doing so would be a great litmus test to see how much racist acid is mixed into 2nd Amendment rhetoric.

Cervantes said...

I'll take this as a thought experiment. What say ye?

mojrim said...

My logic is, Estemado Cervantes, exactly as Woody stated. The same goes for RFID key fobs: I'll never have one for my car or a gun because (a) batteries and (b) hackers. You hear no complaints because, if the battery dies, you just call AAA. No such service exists (despite their marketing) for lead-involved situations.

Unfortunately, you are conflating libertardian rhetoric with that of actual liberty. All rights are subject to restriction, but that must serve some public purpose which cannot be accomplished by lesser means. While that argument is couched in US Constitutional terms, it holds up morally just as well. Since there is no material case for restricting black guns in the way you describe, it has no moral underpinning. Frankly, you are reacting from a liberal aesthetic perspective: you find them grotesque and seek an argument to remove them from the public space. While I am sympathetic to your feelings I find your argument uncompelling.

Lastly, I'm old enough to remember MOVE, and that Fred Hampton famously said "Peace, if you're willing to fight for it." As for my bio teacher, he held no illusions: where the alternative was the camps, he quite reasonably chose a fighting death. The racism thought experiment has been asked and answered: The FBI listed "black identity extremists" as a terror threat but not the various nazi-lite groups. Still, cops avoid armed and organized opponents unless they have overwhelming numbers, so that's the way to bet.

Dearest Woody: (1) The form is the starting point; the background investigation turns up race on multiple indices. (2) You should look into the "bicycle thief" experiment. Even black people are more likely to suspect blacks than whites. This is a basic feature of how racism works.

Cervantes said...

I don't want gun safety regulation because guns offend me aesthetically, I want it because guns are dangerous. They hurt and kill people. That would seem a pretty good material case for regulation.

mojrim said...

That's a case for further regulation of handguns, not of the black rifles that are used in ~50 of the 15,000 murders annually. That you gravitate toward the latter can only be explained by aesthetics.

Chucky, see: Pink Pistols and Huey P. Newton Gun Club.