Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Newtown and Old Saws

We can stipulate that what happened in Newtown, Connecticut was horrible. But we really can't change it very much. In a long but very good article, Megan McCardle explains why:

Unlike many libertarians, I am fine with a ban on automatic weapons.  But no need to hop over to Change.org to start a petition to ban them; machine guns have been illegal in the United States since 1934, and since the 1980s, it has been illegal to manufacture and sell any automatic weapon.   Apparently unbeknownst to Twitter, we have also already made it illegal for the mentally ill to buy or have guns, and have background checks aimed at prevented just that.  

But beyond the strange calls to make serial killers pray more and outlaw things that are already illegal, the most interesting thing is how generic they were.  As soon as Newtown happened, people reached into a mental basket already full of "ways to stop school shootings" and pulled out a few of their favorite items.  They did not stop to find out whether those causes had actually obtained in this case.

Obviously, as the automatic weapons arguments show, some of the items in those baskets were not actually at all related to "causes of school shootings"; as far as I can determine, few to none of the mass shootings in recent decades involved automatics.

But even when the cause was correct--Adam Lanza, like many of these shooters, seems to have had some fairly severe mental health problems--the proposed cure didn't have anything to do with the specifics of Lanza's situation.  I've seen calls to punish people who don't secure their guns properly, but no suggestions about how you "properly secure" guns against an adult child who lives in the house, or acknowledgement of the fact that Nancy Lanza is beyond punishment.  Presumably if she's thought her son would do something like this, she'd have gotten rid of the guns long since.

"Make more mental health resources available" or "early identification and treatment of troubled children" is a fine answer to many cases, but Adam Lanza had all that you could wish for in terms of resources.  It didn't stop him from picking up a gun and going to that school.

What Lanza shows us is the limits of the obvious policy responses.  He had all the mental health resources he needed--and he did it anyway.  The law stopped him from buying a gun--and he did it anyway.  The school had an intercom system aimed at stopping unauthorized entry--and he did it anyway.  Any practical, easy-to-implement solution to school shootings that you could propose, along with several that were not at all easy to implement, was already in place.  Somehow, Lanza blew through them all.  

There's a lot more at the link and it's worth your time. One other point that McCardle makes is quite important:

I'll merely point out what Jeffrey Goldberg has already said, better and at greater length, in The Atlantic: the discussion is moot.  You can't ban guns.  That ship has sailed.

You can't ban them because the Supreme Court has now ruled, twice, that you can't.  You also can't ban them because there are hundreds of millions of guns in circulation in the United States--no one knows exactly how many, but we are either approaching, or well past, one gun per adult citizens.  Other countries that banned guns started with a less absolutist attitude towards civil liberties, and also, a lot fewer guns.

We don't know where any of those guns are.  So how would we get them?  House to house searches?  I keep getting these mailers from the ACLU saying that whatever administration is currently in power is "gutting" the fourth amendment, but the old girl still has a little life in her--enough to preclude any such measures.  At best, you would take guns away from the people least likely to use them: the folks law abiding enough to trundle down to the police station and dutifully surrender their weapons.

And that's assuming that you can get to the point of banning guns.  You can't.  Somewhere between 40-60% of American adults own a gun; they will not vote for your gun ban.  Others who do not own guns are nonetheless opposed to banning them.  Even if the events in Newtown changes some of those minds, the structural obstacles are pretty much insurmountable.  Since Heller, a ban would now take a constitutional amendment to implement.  A constitutional amendment would take either a constitutional convention, or 38 states to ratify.  You need only look at a map of the United States to see that you will never get enough votes at the state level. I doubt you would even get to 25.  A constitutional convention is even more unlikely.  

It is well nigh impossible to take the emotion out of the arguments, especially when we are presented with the horrifying reality of nearly two dozen murdered first-grade students. Six and seven year old children should not be meeting their Maker. But we're not going to do anything meaningful because there are no meaningful things we can do, given where we are right now. You can't make 300 million guns disappear. And the sooner we stop the magical thinking, the better.


Anonymous said...

I just read McArdle's article. It is one of the dumbest things I have encouterd in a long time. She rails against the impracticality of any schemes to curtail gun violence (and focuses a lot on gun bans, which almost no one is suggesting), and then, we get her suggestion on how to address the issue: Train children from an early age to gang rush the shooters! Freaking brilliant! And this is what you are advocating? Seroiously? Are you trainning your kids yet? Or is it too late for them?

So my and Brian's proposals are unworkable...but hers isn't.

Wow! And it's the left that is saying stupid stuff in the wake of this horrible incident? Riiiight!


W.B. Picklesworth said...


Your solution, as presented in the previous thread, and offered with the same fairness as you offer above:

Let's pretend we still have freedom by not actually changing the 2nd Amendment, but let's give the gov't power to do whatever it wants through its taxing and regulating power. Hooray for de facto bans on guns, exact for those who can afford them! Yay for equal protection! Three cheers for pretend liberty!

Brian said...

I used to link McArdle and read her regularly. That post is a fine example of why I no longer do. After 5000 words or so of libertarian boilerplate, she suggests training our children to be kamikazes.

But I'm unreasonable. Whatever.

Mr. D said...

You didn't read the article very carefully. The point she was making is that there's really nothing that can be done, unless you're willing to use overwhelming force against your fellow citizens.

And this is what you are advocating?

No, actually. I thought you could recommend an article without having to accept every single premise in it. I would say this -- if your choice is to stay still and be killed, which is what happened in Connecticut, or try to fight and probably be killed, but maybe succeed, what's the better choice?

Are you trainning your kids yet? Or is it too late for them?

I'd really suggest leaving my kids out of the conversation. Capisce?

Mr. D said...

But I'm unreasonable. Whatever.

Didn't say you were unreasonable, Brian. I'm just highly skeptical that your suggestions will work.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

I actually have a solution that is available to those who choose it. If you want to protect your kids from school shootings, don't send them to school. It isn't a solution that most people want, but it's an available option that doesn't take a Constitutional amendment, doesn't need an unreasonable expansion of the government's taxing and regulating power and doesn't necessitate training your kids to rush towards a murderer.

Not everyone is willing to or capable of teaching their kids at home. That's a given. But it's a solution that in many ways strengthens what is good about this country (liberty and personal accountability for one's family) without impinging on anyone else.

Trying to buy the unsubstantiated promise of more safety with the coin of liberty is a very pricey transaction as we've learned before. Why make the mistake again? Look for other solutions.

Bike Bubba said...

Maybe it's time to wake up and realize that our national experiment with unilateral disarmament in the schools hasn't worked. Not every teacher needs to carry--I don't when I know kids will be climbing all over me when I work in AWANA--but certainly counselors and school administrators might.

Anonymous said...

at least two adults did try to rush the shooter, and they got put down quickly. But as far as I know, some of the 6 and 7 year olds who were killed chose to "stay still and be killed." But, from accounts I have read, many also ran and hid. And some of them are still alive.

You linked to and endorsed an article that you describe as "very good", that builds to the conclusion that the best we can do is train our children to be kamikazes, and I am supposed to know that you didn't like that part. It was kinda hard to miss. But you accuse me of failing to read the article very carefully. Yah. OK.

Lastly, your crack about leaving your kids out of the conversation is BS. I am not being critical of your children in any way, and you know that. My criticism is aimed directly at you. You linked to and endorsed an article with one of the dumbest recommendations in the history of journalism. Why is it out of bounds to ask if you are embracing its core recommendation?


Mr. D said...

Lastly, your crack about leaving your kids out of the conversation is BS.

Thanks for respecting my wishes.

Mr. D said...

You linked to and endorsed an article that you describe as "very good", that builds to the conclusion that the best we can do is train our children to be kamikazes, and I am supposed to know that you didn't like that part.

Look -- if you're facing an armed killer, you can try to hide. If he's got you cornered, you can fight (and likely die) or you can die. When your odds are that bad, you might as well try to fight. It's not being a "kamikaze." Jesus.

Mr. D said...

You linked to and endorsed an article with one of the dumbest recommendations in the history of journalism. Why is it out of bounds to ask if you are embracing its core recommendation?

It's not her "core recommendation," and for you to state otherwise is ridiculous. It's the slightly better of two horrible options.

Mr. D said...

By the way -- how are the gun control measures working out for you in Chicago?

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