Category Archives: Keep and Bear Arms

Ills That Underlie Violence Go Beyond a Shortage of Gun Control

portrait of schoolboy looking bored

Today I respond to the accusation that, beyond defending their own freedom, gun rights advocates offer only ¯\_(?)_/¯ in response to the problem of violence. In truth, I have deeply-held beliefs about the ills that plague modern society. Addressing some of them might impact the rate violence.

Doing so, however, would be more complicated, more difficult and require more compromise than I think most would-be agents-of-change really want to put forward. This is my challenge to them.

Guns are a tool of violence, not a cause. To find cause, one must look deeper.

Start with the cheap, shallow, one-size-fits all blueprint for life we bequeath sheep-like to our children, most of whom never commit violence, but who suffer in legions from some degree of the same aimless, disaffected, lack of fulfillment reflected in the manifestos left behind by the ones who do.

Eighteen years of artificially prolonged childhood, most of it spent in government run schools. Another four to seven years of delayed adulthood in the university system that is “the new high school.” An 8-to-5 job with a few weeks of vacation per year. Marriage, house, kids, retirement and here’s your gold watch, well done!

Literally, every element of that blue print needs to be re-examined.

Our Public Schools Are All Wrong. Children are meant to move, to explore, to question, test and try. Our schools are designed to enforce the opposite. Sit down, hold still, be quiet, and do as one is told. Learn the subjects and in the ways and at the pace dictated by the enlightened bureaucracy who drew up the blueprint.

National standards make this worse—not because the curriculums are bad, but because they do not light a spark in every child, but force schools to “teach to the test” rather than encourage individual interests.

What we need are young people so filled with spontaneity and wonder and interest and passion and joy that they never have a chance to feel empty or aimless or disaffected or isolated. We want them learning to follow their own directions and find their own projects so that they know how to fill their own spaces inside.

Instead, after eighteen years of conformity and confinement—waiting for permission to speak, to move, to go to the bathroom; memorizing information available in seconds on the phone in their pocket to take tests that don’t matter and learn skills they won’t need for jobs that no longer exist in an economy that has moved on—they no longer even remember what it was to have agency and interests and pursuits and passions that weren’t served up by the faceless social engineers who pre-planned their lives.

And we wonder why they turn their anger outward when they find themselves empty on the inside.

We wonder why so many shootings happen at schools and universities.

More Variety and More Choice. I have always been fascinated by people who focused from a very young age on working toward starting a business. Anecdotally, my observation is that this focus correlates with being a first or second-generation immigrant to the U.S.

Statistics bear this out.

For whatever reason, the U.S. culture does not impart this focus, or the skills necessary to achieve it, to our children. At best we fail to encourage—at worst we actively discourage—young people from doing things like starting businesses, pursuing trades, making movies, starting websites, touring with symphonies or otherwise rocking the boat that is the carefully calibrated public school system designed for an economy that no longer exists.

Instead, after a second period of delayed adulthood in the “new high school” that constitutes our university system, we graduate them into the world as overgrown children, searching for jobs (a new place to sit down, hold still, pay attention and obey) rather than creating them.

We ought to encourage them early to nurture all that messy, disorderly, nonconforming creativity into internal flames to fend off the chill of the inevitable disappointments and hardships of an imperfect world. As it happens the same qualities and pursuits that would nurture that flame are the ones the new economy demands (so convenient!). Creativity. Innovation. Outside-the-box imagination. Experimentation. Risk-taking. Self-motivation.

We don’t need more high school. We need more trade schools, apprenticeships, artists, entrepreneurs, more alternatives and more choice.

More Options for Spirituality. Our culture provides little recognition or support for spirituality outside the mainstream religions. At best, alternative sources of spiritual fulfillment are ignored or denied as a basis for a moral, meaningful life. At worst, they are mocked.

This is wrong. This is yet another area in which people on the fringes are pushed away from the very things that might otherwise gird them against emptiness and alienation, the very connections that might otherwise pull them back from the edge.

We should reconsider forcing the choice between indoctrination into a religion that does not resonate or derision for looking elsewhere. The only correct response to a person seeking spiritual fulfillment outside the major religions is: “That’s great. How can I help?”

The Disastrous Collision of Victorian Prudery and the Aimless Hookup Culture. Our sexual paradigms are as limited and disappointing as our schools and spirituality. We continue to largely limit young people to two seemingly opposite, but both deeply unhealthy, models.

On the one hand, still being taught in the aforementioned public schools, is the idea that all sex before marriage is bad, that young women who do it lack worth and young men who ask for it lack respect. On the other is the hookup culture endemic to our universities in which young people drink themselves into oblivion as a prelude to sexual encounters they otherwise lack the skills or fortitude to effectuate—and in which the point for young women is deeply obscured by the fact that they aren’t achieving either relationships or pleasure.

A recent post at The Harvard Crimson by a student who was raped reflects some of the ways in which the terrain between these two models has yet to be mapped. Let’s consider equipping young people with better tools than getting wasted or just seeing where it goes—tools like straightforward, sober communication about wants and needs and how to ensure they are compatible and met for both parties.

What does sex have to do with violence?

A more sex-positive culture and education might lead to fewer bitter fallouts from failed relationships, fewer unwanted pregnancies, and fewer ill-considered marriages, all of which lead to the broken families and absentee parents that correlate with violent crime.

Beyond that, as Bill Maher is getting some heat for suggesting, sexual frustrations have played a role in the downward spirals of mass killers from Roseburg, Santa Barbara and Oklahoma City, to Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech.

Coincidentally, Scott Shackford had a post at Reason recently covering the importance of sex work to the mental health of the socially disenfranchised. Another change to consider—for those who dare.

Conclusion. We are blessed to live in uncommonly safe and peaceful times. Violence is on a downward trajectory. But there are still dysfunctions to be addressed.

It won’t be as easy as closing the gun show loophole.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Gun Control More Difficult Than Social Media Speechifying

gun debate

On October 1, a gunman killed nine people at a community college in Oregon.

Two days later, a U.S. drone strike killed 22 at an Afghan hospital, including twelve doctors and ten patients—three of whom were children.

On each day before, between and after those two, 1,300 people died in the United States from tobacco. Another 800 died from obesity-related health conditions. Eighty-seven died in motor vehicle accidents—including three children. Thirteen people were murdered with something other than a gun. Ten people drowned—including at least two children.

Five children died of cancer. Almost 1500 adults did as well.

Each day, every day.

There is something uniquely horrifying about death-by-violence, particularly when violence is meted out on a mass scale. But mass killings are not on the rise. Gun homicides are downsteeply—as is violent crime generally.

Well-meaning people with big-faith in big-government are certain we could hasten the speed of that downward trajectory if only people would set aside their political differences and come together in good faith to enact “common sense” gun control legislation.

It is not so simple.

Rhetoric and good intent are no substitute for fact-based cost-benefit analyses of specific, identifiable additional gun control laws (make no mistaken, we already have a lot of them).

Universal background checks? Closing the gun show loophole? A ban on “assault weapons?” Limits on magazine capacity? More gun-free zones?

None of those would have prevented Roseburg.

Or Sandy Hook.

Or Columbine.

Put to the test by those who demand demonstrable benefit in exchange for ceding rights, it is more difficult than the speechifying might suggest to identify specific, practicable regulations that would effectuate reductions in the murder rate.

Internet memes and charts by gun control advocates routinely suggest that stricter gun control laws correlate with fewer gun homicides. But correlation is not causation, and the statistics often reveal more complicated pictures upon further investigation.

There are significant discrepancies in the ways other countries report both private firearm possession and homicide rates. Accounting for those discrepancies (no easy task) alters the way the U.S. compares on both measures.

Some states and countries (Wyoming and New Hampshire, for example) have both permissive gun laws and low homicide rates. Nine U.S. states with permissive gun laws have so few homicides a reliable rate cannot even be calculated.

If suicides are excluded, five of the 10 U.S. states with the lowest gun-death rates are states with less restrictive gun laws. Whether to include suicides is a complex question because, while certain gun restrictions may correlate to lower rates of suicide by gun, they do not correlate with a reduced rate of suicide overall. In any case, there is no logical reason to conclude that repealing concealed-carry and stand-your-ground laws would impact the rate of suicide.

Other states and countries (like Illinois, California and Brazil) have strict gun control laws and high homicide rates.

Some low homicide jurisdictions (Hawaii, for example) have tight gun restrictions but, crucially, already had low homicide rates before implementing their stricter gun laws. They did not get to their reduced homicide rate via their gun laws. They already had it.

In other examples (like with the 1994-2004 assault weapons ban in the U.S.) gun homicides fall in the wake of restrictive legislation but, crucially, were already on a downward trajectory when the legislation was implemented—and stayed on the same trajectory, thus demonstrating no discernible impact on the murder rate.

Sometimes murder rates may even rise temporarily in the wake of gun control legislation, only to fall back to pre-restriction levels.

Finally, it is important to remember we are not trying to stop people from using guns to commit murder. We are trying to stop them from committing murder. On that note, it is not clear any correlation at all exists between U.S. state gun control laws and their homicide rates.

This is not that surprising once you consider the following: 1) the rate of people wanting to commit murder is influenced by variables other than the jurisdiction’s gun laws; 2) once becoming bent on murder, a person may not feel any compunction against obtaining a gun illegally; or 3) he may simply switch to a different method of murder that does not require a gun; 4) at least some of the murders that would otherwise have been stopped via defensive gun use may instead succeed; and 5) some criminals will be emboldened by the belief their victims will not be armed.

Perhaps an outright national ban on firearms then?

That would require a Constitutional Amendment. Article Five explains the process. As Charles C.W. Cooke has challenged those who favor this course:

Go on, chaps. Bloody well do it.

Seriously, try it. Start the process. Stop whining about it on Twitter, and on HBO, and at the Daily Kos. Stop playing with some Thomas Jefferson quote you found on Google. Stop jumping on the news cycle and watching the retweets and viral shares rack up. Go out there and begin the movement in earnest. Don’t fall back on excuses. Don’t play cheap motte-and-bailey games. And don’t pretend that you’re okay with the Second Amendment in theory, but you’re just appalled by the Heller decision. You’re not. Heller recognized what was obvious to the amendment’s drafters, to the people who debated it, and to the jurists of their era and beyond: That “right of the people” means “right of the people,” as it does everywhere else in both the Bill of Rights and in the common law that preceded it. A Second Amendment without the supposedly pernicious Heller “interpretation” wouldn’t be any impediment to regulation at all. It would be a dead letter. It would be an effective repeal. It would be the end of the right itself. In other words, it would be exactly what you want! Man up. Put together a plan, and take those words out of the Constitution.

Of course, repealing the Second Amendment will not effectuate any actual gun control. It would just remove one of many inconvenient obstacles to that process.

There are also forty-five state constitutional protections.

Once those problematic constitutional obstacles are removed, we are still left with the difficult task of determining what, exactly, the new legislation should look like.

Let us consider Australia’s approach.

In 1996, a man in Australia killed 35 people with a semi-automatic firearm. In the wake of that tragedy, the country enacted legislation mostly prohibiting automatic and semiautomatic rifles, imposing stricter licensing requirements and ownership rules, and funding a buyback program—which succeeded in removing one-sixth to one-third of the nation’s guns from public circulation.

Now almost twenty years out, researchers have concluded that despite the massive outlay of funding, there is little evidence of any impact on the homicide rate.

The Australia model then (assuming the U.S. even could achieve the same success) would leave 60-80% of our guns in circulation and have no discernible effect on the murder rate.

Maybe Congress will simply authorize the ATF and National Guard to go door-to-door and confiscate weapons. Imagine it, a la Reason’s Austin Bragge:

You’ll need the police, the FBI, the ATF or the National Guard—all known for their nuanced approach to potentially dangerous situations—to go door-to-door, through 3.8 million square miles of this country and take guns, by force, from thousands, if not, millions of well-armed individuals. Many of whom would rather start a civil war than acquiesce.

Or Cooke’s colorful illustration:

You’re going to need a plan. A state-by-state, county-by-county, street-by-street, door-to door plan. A detailed roadmap to abolition that involves the military and the police and a whole host of informants — and, probably, a hell of a lot of blood, too. … [T]here are probably between 20 and 30 million Americans who would rather fight a civil war than let you into their houses.

And after this massive outlay of money, this blood bath between those willing to die to keep their guns and those willing to kill to take them away, how much safer will we be?

Everything you need to manufacture firearms is available at Home Depot. The materials needed to manufacture a 12-gauge shotgun cost about $20. If someone wanted to build a fully automatic Mac-10 style submachine gun, it would probably cost about $60. Every electrician, plumber, and handyman in the country has the materials necessary to manufacture firearms in their shop.

The weapons we are wringing our hands about today already are the muskets of yesteryear. Standing on the precipice of home-built drones with bombs, remote-controlled flying automatic weapons, IEDs, 3-D printed guns, backpack-sized dirty bombs and internet DIY chemical and bio weapons, arguing about the gun show loophole or how to define “assault weapon” grows ever more quaintly provincial and antiquated.

The largest school massacre in U.S. history is still the Bath Massacre in Michigan that killed 38 children and six adults.

It happened in 1927.

The killer used explosives.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Gun Control and Electoral Math – The Scoreboard

Two years ago, I wrote a piece about electoral math and gun control, and how it was unlikely that we would have any serious national level gun control… and we have not (state level is another story unfortunately).

In that, I included a list of democratic senators who were up for re-election this year, their position on gun control, and how “at risk” their seat was:

Stupidity, Politics, and Electoral Math

So, now that we have the results of all of their elections, let’s see what the last two years hath wrought among them:

XX = Unelected (or resigned and replaced by Republican)

  1. XX – Alaska – Mark Begich – Very Pro Gun – very unsafe seat
  2. XX – Arkansas – Mark Pryor – neutral – very unsafe seat
  3. XX – Colorado – Mark Udall – neutral – not a safe seat
  4. Delaware – Chris Coons – Very anti-gun – safe seat
  5. Hawaii – UNKNOWN (special election to replace Daniel Inouye) – safe seat
  6. Illinois – Dick Durbin – Very anti-gun – safe seat
  7. XX – Iowa – Tom Harkin – Very anti-gun – iffy, can’t afford to screw up
  8. XX – Louisiana – Mary Landrieu – neutral – very unsafe seat
  9. Massachusetts – UNKNOWN (special election to replace John Kerry) – safe seat
  10. Michigan – Carl Levin – very anti-gun – safe seat
  11. Minnesota – Al Franken – very anti-gun – not a safe seat
  12. XX – Montana – Max Baucus – very pro-gun – iffy, can’t afford to screw up
  13. New Hampshire – Jeanne Shaheen – very anti-gun – not a safe seat
  14. New Jersey – Frank Lautenberg – very anti-gun – safe seat
  15. New Mexico – Tom Udall – slightly anti-gun – safe seat
  16. XX – North Carolina – Kay Hagan – very anti-gun – not a safe seat
  17. Oregon – Jeff Merkley – very anti-gun – safe seat
  18. Rhode Island – Jack Reed – very anti-gun – safe seat
  19. XX – South Dakota – Tim Johnson – very pro-gun – very unsafe seat
  20. Virginia – Mark Warner – very pro-gun – not a safe seat
  21. XX – West Virginia – Jay Rockefeller – moderately anti-gun – very unsafe seat

Lotta XX’s there… 9 actually, out of 21 (10 of those 21 were considered safe seats, barely challenged by Republicans). Pretty much every anti-gun democrat that wasn’t in a safe seat, except Shaheen and Franken (and they’re kinda weird cases).

And THAT folks, is why we will not have any significant gun control on the national level any time soon.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Book Review: Hearts of Darkness

I recently read* Hearts of Darkness: Why Kids Are Becoming Mass Murderers and How We Can Stop It

This is obviously setting up to be a slightly controversial book from the start. Trying to delve into the psychology of mass killings is fraught with peril.
Hearts of Darkness
This book, however, seems to deliver on its theme.

At its core, the book makes two arguments. Both have merit, but both also lead to questions. At its core, the arguments boil down to this:

  1. Mass killings have become an epidemic, and are a serious issue in their own right that need to be addressed by society.
  2. Mass killings are fundamentally an intersection between the forces of society and severe mental health issues.

I have my issues with both arguments.

First, essentially all statistics on violent crime show that it’s in the decline. So while I’m not going to argue whether or not mass shootings in the dramatic and newsworthy sense are increasing or decreasing [as I haven’t looked at the stats], I’m concerned that the authors didn’t even address the fact that violent crime is decreasing in the aggregate. If you want to make the case that this particular problem is worth addressing, you’d think that including overall crime stats and explaining why this trend increasing in the face of declining crime is worth of a societal response is really necessary.

Second, the argument of the book is quite clear. Essentially all of the killers profiled showed evidence of paranoid schizophrenia. We’re not talking about normal people who went over the edge. We’re talking about crazy people who decided to manifest their version of crazy in a way that causes extreme casualties. But if you assume that these events are increasing, that means we either are seeing an increase in the number of crazy people or we’re seeing something in society that is making crazy people more prone to these events. Unfortunately, the authors don’t seem to justify either argument.

That said, I like the book for its deep investigation into the history of several of these high-profile killers. What they show, with intense research, is that every one of the profiled killers were showing evidence of severe mental schisms. And we’re not talking about depression, or anxiety. We’re talking about hardcore paranoid schizophrenia. Depressed people take their own lives. People who hear voices, or have other similar breaks with reality, are the ones who try to take a bunch of people with them.

The Good:

First and foremost, the book extensively focuses on mental health issues. It essentially states that not all paranoid schizophrenics will become mass shooters. In fact, only a small number will. But it looks into the history of several of these killers and severe mental instability is a pretty darn clear thread woven through their history.

Second, I do like the fact that they don’t fall on the trope of “the kid was autistic, therefore he’s an unfeeling monster” garbage. Yes, autistic people tend to have difficulty relating to others in a “normal” way. No, they don’t lack empathy or concern for others. Autistic people tend to be much less violent than in general. But every time you get into one of these mass killings, the speculation is that the killer is autistic. And in the case of Adam Lanza, it pretty well seems to line up. But the key is that while autistic people tend not to be violent, people who are both autistic and paranoid schizophrenics or have borderline personality disorder just might be violent. Clearly this is an important distinction to me.

Third, this is most certainly NOT an anti-gun book. Despite the fact that the authors are pretty well in favor of gun control, they’re cognizant of the fact that this is not central to the thesis of the book. They do indulge for about 2 pages in the waning portions of the text to suggest that maybe if getting a gun is harder than it is now, that you might see a decrease in these killings. Given the restraint they show throughout the rest of the book, I’ll indulge them 2 pages towards the end.

The Bad:

The “epidemic” claim is not well supported. They throw out a statistic on multiple-death shootings having gone up over the years, but I think to call these “mass” killings in the same vein as a Sandy Hook or Columbine is a stretch. As mentioned before, overall violent crime is in decline over the last several decades, so it’s hard to square this with an epidemic of mass murder. I think if you’re trying to prove an epidemic, the best answer is that with modern communication, we not only know more about these events, and sooner, than we did before, and that in some of the cases the perpetrators were–if not “copycats”–inspired by previous killers. This is made clear in the book, but still I find “epidemic” to be a stretch.

They do a good job of profiling certain killers. But there are many mass killers that are NOT covered here. A skeptical reader is left wondering why not. Now, it could be simple. The authors may simply not have had access to enough medical records or personal history of these other killers to draw a conclusion. It may have been that family and friends or family of the killers were just non-cooperative with the authors. Or, of course, it could be that the authors cherry-picked the ones who supported their premise and left those who did not out. It wasn’t addressed either way, and I think it should have been.

But where the book really fails is to draw a significant conclusion. They clearly have identified a problem and a diagnosis, but when it comes to serious mental disorders, it’s very easy to overreach between acting in the interests of public safety, and trampling the rights of the disabled. After all, a very small proportion even of the mentally ill are likely to go on shooting sprees. How far are we really willing to go to stop this? At best, raising awareness of the issue to identify potential “cries for help” might be the best option, as in a number of these cases, the killers really did need, and express their want of, help to get better.

In their close, the authors point to a number of possible factors leading to this rise. He’re we’re exposed to a litany of the usual suspects. Easy access to guns (and high capacity magazines) is one. Violent video games is another. Leaning left, as they do, they throw out a few more, such as economic issues, globalization, and free speech on the internet. All of these seem to be a bit of a stretch. Hell, they might even want to throw “overpopulation” in there, because more people equals more targets, right? The problem with each of these is that under the right conditions, one can find a study suggesting that these are contributory factors, but it’s never clear just how much of this issue will go away by “solving” any given one of these issues. Nor can we typically agree on the solutions.


I’m sure this is not an easy book to write. It’s a deeply troubling issue, and one where it’s almost bound to be politicized. Every time one of these events happens, the left and right tend to immediately look for any signs that the killer numbers among the other party. And every time we libertarians see something like Jared Loughner, we immediately worry that someone will assume that all libertarians are going to “go postal” on the Post Office.

This book does a great job to highlight that crazy doesn’t choose a party. And that for the most part, while violent people may kill people, it’s the crazies who are responsible for mass murder. It really is a useful book purely on that point alone. We do have a mental health issue in this country (and other countries do as well), and this is something that should be addressed so that we can help the people at risk of perpetrating these acts.

But the byline of the book includes “and How We Can Stop It.” I think the book fails to deliver on that claim. Now, that isn’t necessarily the authors’ fault. I’m not sure there is an easily-packaged solution that they could put together for us. And much like terrorism, you can win 99 battles out of 100, but that 100th is going to dominate the news cycle. In a country of 300M people, and a world of 7B, the law of large numbers states that perhaps this is simply a problem the world must endure.

At best, they say that these battles are won on the margins, and that with some small changes, like reduced capacity magazines or better control over the sale of violent video games, we might save “some” lives, and that’s better than none. However, I think their politics cause them to minimize the cost to liberty of infringing on our rights to make these improvements at the margins.

In short, the book was a worthwhile read, especially since I see it at Amazon in hardcover for $2.43 right now. At the original print price, though, probably not worth it.
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Just NOT at the Same Time Please

Sharing, as a service to our readers…

From Reason:

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

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