It's Good to See Some Outrage

By Mark Trodden | April 18, 2007 9:53 pm

I keep hearing that one shouldn’t, so soon afterwards, speak of the implications of the Virginia Tech tragedy for certain political positions. But shouldn’t we be outraged by this horrific event? And if there’s an elephant in the room, why should we ignore it?

Now, I have no problem with hunting, and don’t want to ban guns entirely. But there is plenty to agree with in Elayne Boosler’s furious rant over at The Huffington Post. You don’t have to buy it all – I don’t – to feel that there is something right about this kind of outrage. Why isn’t the mainstream media, instead of repeating the same grisly facts over and over, exploring the implications of

The number of children under the age of 17 shot by guns in America every year is greater than the gun-related deaths of children in all the industrialized nations of the world COMBINED.

and

3,300 Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last four years. 120,000 Americans have been shot to death in America in the last four years. Where is the outrage? If we can elect a new congress based on its commitment to end the war overseas, we can elect a congress committed to end the war here at home. End both wars.

Boosler ties her piece up by anticipating the associated hypocrisy we might see when the President responds to today’s Supreme Court decision that refuses women a medical procedure even in the case that it may be life-saving.

“Today’s decision affirms that the Constitution does not stand in the way of the people’s representatives enacting laws reflecting the compassion and humanity of America. This affirms the progress my administration has made to defend the “sanctity of life”.

Thanks for the outrage Ms. Boosler – you’re not alone.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: News, Politics
  • http://theeternaluniverse.blogspot.com Joseph Smidt

    I think there needs to be *much* stiffer laws on assault weapons. I don’t know if I would want to completely ban assault wepons, but they need to be *much* harder for the average person to obtain. It sounds like this kid bought them by just being the right age and having good identification. It needs to be much harder.

    Second, since people will still sell them illegally, there needs to be much be greater law enforcement against such things.

    Perhaps it should be as hard to receive an assault weapon as it is to obtain a Q clearance at Los Alamos. Still there for people that need them, but a very stiff process.

  • http://www.iidb.org RBH

    This “kid” did not use assault weapons. He used ordinary semi-automatic hand guns, a 9mm Glock (a common police weapon, though many have gone to .40 cal now) and a .22 cal Walther, according to reports I’ve read. The latter is the smallest caliber available, AFAIK. Hell, I first learned to shoot with a single shot .22 when I was around 10 years old.

    One might add to the outrage the fact that there’s wall to wall coverage of 33 kids killed in Virginia while nearly 200 people were killed in Iraq. The President’s words notwithstanding, in no way, shape, or form is there a culture of life in the U.S.

  • http://anonecon.blogspot.com AnonEcon

    As an outsider I also find the whole US gun culture very strange. But, IMHO, Ms. Boosler’s statistics are not very convincing by themselves, and I am a bit uneasy about how they have been cited so uncritically in what is a science blog. One could always argue against Ms. Boosler’s figures of gun-related deaths that if access to guns were to be restricted then the people who are killed by guns right now would still be killed, but by other means.

    What one really needs is a comparison of violent crime rates between communities which are otherwise similar but have different gun control regimes. Or perhaps before-and-after studies of changes in gun control legislation. Ms. Boosler does not cite any studies of this sort.

    Ms. Boosler’s criticism of “If guns are outlawed then only outlaws would have guns” is also lame. She says that such a stand logically means we could not have any laws at all. The point she misses is that gun advocates believe that guns provide the positive benefit of self-defence while, say, tax fraud, has no benefits at all. So there should be laws against the latter but not against the former.

    In fact, I think that the analogy with cars that she dismisses is a very appropriate one. Cars can take you places and they can also get you killed. Automobile regulation tries to take us to a ‘good’ point on the trade-off, and that is what gun laws should do.

  • Urban Grad Student

    My roommate got mugged outside the front of our apartment by two teenagers with an Uzi. I live in a nice neighborhood in the bay area, and this happened. All of us were robbed that night, of our feeling of security.

    I remember when they lifted the ban on assault weapons, and look, now we have hoodlums out using them to take from others. If they weren’t so accessible, do you think that they would be so ubiquitous? And correct me if I am wrong, but I have heard there are countless studies pointing to a strong correlation between gun access and gun violence, whether we have the journal number here or not.

    As someone who has seen the aftermath of gun violence I can tell you this: nothing would’ve changed the night of the mugging if my roommate had had a gun, except instead of just losing material possessions, someone could be dead.

  • TimG

    I think talk of “assualt weapons” is missing the point. It’s ordinary handguns that do most of the killing, isn’t it? Not that I’m advocating banning all handguns — and anyway, barring a major shift in American culture, it’s never going to happen, so the question is rather moot.

    Upon first hearing the story I thought “well, if he’s a legal resident with no criminal record, they really didn’t have any basis for refusing to sell him a gun, so in this case stricter gun laws (short of a total ban) probably wouldn’t have made a difference.” But now that it’s come out that he was detained at a mental health facility in 2005 (see http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/04/19/vtech.shooting/index.html), I’m not so sure. Would it be so bad to institute a law requiring those with a history of mental illness to receive a psych screening before being cleared to buy a gun? I’d think even the NRA would prefer to keep guns out of the hands of crazy people.

    Of course, to implement this you’d need a national database of everyone with a history of mental illness, which raises huge privacy concerns. Or you could require *every* person to get a psych evaluation before they can buy a gun. (Good luck passing *that* into law, though.)

    Ultimately, I’m not sure there’s any legislative solution to the problem that the American people would be willing to accept.

  • TimG

    “Ultimately, I’m not sure there’s any legislative solution to the problem that the American people would be willing to accept.”

    Perhaps I should amend this, though, to say I’m not so sure there’s a “problem” to begin with. Or rather, there’s a problem (too many gun deaths in the U.S.), but this is hardly a typical example. I don’t mean to minimize the horrible tragedy that happened at Virginia Tech, but in terms of public policy I think we have to recognize that the vast, vast majority of American gun deaths *aren’t* the result of mass murdering rampages like this or Columbine. Modifying the law specifically to try to prevent another tragedy like this one, while ignoring the far greater numbers of deaths resulting from armed robbery, gang violence, domestic violence, etc. just makes no sense. Unfortunately, too often the government seems to be guided by knee jerk reactions to dramatic, headline-grabbing horrors like this (or for that matter, 9-11), while letting problems that kill far more Americans every year slip through the cracks.

    For what it’s worth, I suspect that lowering the poverty rate in America could do more to lessen the number of gun deaths than any new gun control measure. It’s a shame we’re not willing to devote as many resources to that problem as we are to, say, ill-advised pre-emptive wars.

  • spaceman

    It’s quite disturbing how various news programs in the U.S. have called in pyschologists to discuss why people commit such acts of grisly violence and what can be done to prevent them, but there has been no corresponding widespread questioning of why it is okay for a superpower to invade a smaller country that posed no threat to it and kill, mame, and displace thousands upon thousands of that smaller nation’s citizens.

    In a large population in which people have easy access to stupendous firepower, events like the one in Virginia are bound to occur relatively often. This is more a factual statement than a “political” statement. The question then becomes: that there are people disturbed enough to kill is something that cannot easily be changed, but how can their access to the means of commiting horrific acts at least be made much more difficult than it is now.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    AnonEcon – no need for your unease – I said I didn’t buy everything she said, but much of it is right on the money and I’m pleased she’s yelling about it.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Outrage is not enough. Outrage is only meaningful as a prelude to action.

  • Mike

    People don’t seem to understand the history behind or bother to read the US Constitution. The 2nd Ammendment provides citizens with the right to bear arms, not for hunting reasons, but to protect citizens from a tyranical government. Whether you beleive in that possibility or not, it is still a right explicitly stated in the constitution.

    To contrast the Virginia Tech shootings with the ban on partial birth abortion in my opinion makes little sense. Abortion rights are not explicitly provided for in the Constitution, but were inferred by the Supreme Court in Roe v Wade. The ban on partial birth abortion does not take those rights away, but bans a particularly barbaric practice that is practically infanticide. Partial birth abortion is used in the late stages of pregnancy, in the third trimester, when based on current medical technology, an infant could be born and a fair chance at survival provided for. If the life of a mother is at stake, then deliver the baby and provide it with an opportunity to live. The argument that you would need to use this procedure to protect the life of the mother is utterly false and is purely a political one meant to excite people. There would be no practical reason to write such an “out” into the law banning the practice. Partial birth abortion has no basis in 21st century medical facts or technology.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    For the VA Tech case, as per NPR, the VA Tech shooter was at one time involuntarily committed to a institution as a threat to himself and to others. As per other sources, under Virginia law, this made him ineligible to buy a gun. He had to have lied in his declaration when purchasing the gun that he had never been committed.

    The problem is that this is a toothless law. There has to be some way to check the veracity of the gun purchaser, and the check should be mandatory. No doubt it means a big government database; but then unwarranted surveillance of Americans by the government is the least of the Right’s complaints.

    Then there is the illegal route to owning a gun. How is one to plug that?

    But before that, it is not even clear we all live in the same universe, and under those circumstances, there can be no resolution to our problems.

    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/blogs/wolcott/2007/04/how_terribly_ga.html

    “Still love those guns, Virginia?……

    You’ve been shrugging for decades as illegal guns from your state plague our city, killing and maiming and terrorizing New Yorkers by the thousands, at one point comprising 47% of the guns our cops recovered.

    You even yukked it up with a “Bloomberg Gun GiveAway” raffle at a gun shop that sold at least 22 guns used in crimes in New York.

    You went into a tizzy when Mayor Bloomberg sued some of your gun shops after undercover agents made fraudulent “straw purchases.”

    Your idea of gun control has been to pass a law making it illegal for undercover agents like those Bloomberg sent South to make such buys….”

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Mike,

    I have no expertise in the area, but if I was asked to choose between you, your politicians and religious leaders (a pox on all of you!) and members of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists on whether a relative or friend should have a intact dilation and extraction procedure, guess who I’d choose? (In any case, I don’t have the choice, the choice belongs to the woman in question, and her doctor.)

    -Arun

  • http://easygreenatlanta.blogspot.com Lauren

    It’s ridiculous to me that the government allows gun show “loop holes” and immediate background checks to purchase guns quickly when they are actually called LOOP HOLES. This kind of government approval is amazingly immature and wrong-headed. Unlike cars, which cost way more money than guns and are used every day, guns can be cheap. And in what agrarian hunter-gatherer society would you need a gun every day unless you live in Baghdad? There is NO comparison to the US’s lax gun laws and it, very simply, gets people killed every hour.

    After Columbine I started several gun violence prevention groups and spoke at the first Georgia Million Mom March. This is not new outrage. It is another example of urgent action that gets tabled by silly political pleasing of conservatives that are stalwartly against something that couldn’t be more “family values.” How on earth could the “moral” and “ethical” party (which i can’t believe i’m even offering up as an arguement but… i’m using their rhetoric, not mine) support something that so obviously gives unnecesarry employment to rage?

    I’m stunned, horrified, but not surprised.

    Thanks for posting this.

  • Mike

    Arun,

    It has nothing to do with me, and certainly in my viewpoint what any religious leader says. Its simply a moral point. We can go on and on about what the definiton of moral is. But let me ask you this, can you please define for me a time when a “dilation and extraction procedure” is needed when the baby couldn’t at least be delivered alive and at least be given a chance at survival outside of the womb?

    Regards,

    Mike

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Arun – indeed, I don’t know of anyone I’ve ever met who thinks outrage is useful on its own.

    Mike – you’re right – that’s why the 2nd amendment is ridiculous in today’s society.

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    Mike:

    The argument that you would need to use this procedure to protect the life of the mother is utterly false and is purely a political one meant to excite people.

    According to medical experts there are rare cases where this procedure is necessary. And extremely rare cases will occur rather frequently in a country of more than 300,000,000 people.

    And isn’t it strange that the people who most strongly oppose allowing for this procedure against the advice of medical experts were mostly in favor of the Iraq war and would be in favor of a pre-emptive attack on Iran?

  • http://theeternaluniverse.blogspot.com/index.html Joseph Smidt

    I understand I used the wrong term when I used assault weapon. I am sorry about that. I mean “weapons which are designed to kill humans.” I don’t think they design ed a semi-automatic hand gun, and a 9mm Glock to kill deer, elk etc… for food.

    I was meaning weapons designed with the intent of killing a human.

  • http://deferentialgeometry.org/ Garrett

    Virginia Tech is a “gun-free zone.”

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    It is interesting for some perspective to consider that the worst school *killings* were committed by a guy protesting *taxes* back in 1927, and he used bombs and not guns. More importantly, *he blew himself up*! He was one of our first “suicide bombers”! This is something to throw at arrogant righties complaining about Cho’s gripes against rich kids, or that if everyone there had a gun they could have stopped him (our local ex-marine talk show host at WNIS 790 pointed out that many could die in a cross fire from untrained kids at that time, and in fights before such a tragedy), or Cho’s having an ostensibly Islamic-themed “Ismail Ax” tattoo on his arm, etc.

    One of the questionable thoughts coming from that side is that many “chickenhawk” types are complaining that the students should have rushed the gunman etc. I have to wonder at their ability to judge people in such difficult situations, paralleling their spectator’s view of it being no big deal to ask soldiers to serve so long in Iraq under such danger for questionable reasons now (since when is endangering someone longer a form of “support,” and wanting them out of it “not supporting” them?) Yet, they won’t or would not serve. In any case, I still don’t think the general public should give up basic gun rights. We do need to tighten up on what sort of person can get them.

    http://freepages.history.rootsweb.com/~bauerle/disaster.htm

    On May 18, 1927, 45 people, mostly children, were killed and 58 were injured when disgruntled and demented school board member Andrew Kehoe dynamited the new school building in Bath, Michigan out of revenge over his foreclosed farm due in part to the taxes required to pay for the new school.

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

    The Bath School disaster is the name given to not one but three bombings in Bath Township, Michigan, USA, on May 18, 1927, which killed 45 people and injured 58. Most of the victims were children in second to sixth grades attending the Bath Consolidated School. Their deaths constitute the deadliest act of mass murder in a school in U.S. history. The perpetrator was school board member Andrew Kehoe, who was upset by a property tax that had been levied to fund the construction of the school building. He blamed the additional tax for financial hardships which led to foreclosure proceedings against his farm. These events apparently provoked Kehoe to plan his attack.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Mark,
    There’s been a lot of outrage in the past N years. We still continue to slide downhill. Hence my remark.

    Mike,

    Here is an example of where a IDX would be appropriate:
    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/4/18/164549/255
    5 out of 9 SCOTUS justices say my mom should be dead

    In an ideal world, all conceptions would be planned, all fetuses would be healthy, and pregnancy and delivery would not pose a health or life risk to the mother. We don’t live in that ideal world, and your morality, which certainly does not provide us a means to handle the real world, is no morality at all.

    -Arun

  • http://www.tristram.squarespace.com Tristram Brelstaff

    It is strange that a country that has spent billions of dollars trying to root out weapons of mass destruction in another country should do so little about them at home.

    I find it hard to regard a country as civilized in which children and the mentally ill have access to guns.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Hi Tristram Brelstaff – I don’t think tarring a country as uncivilized because of this is the right thing do to here. As a Brit living in the U.S. I meet many many people with completely sensible views on guns (and they’re not all academics). It might also be that the right level of access to guns for the U.S., with its much larger rural areas, is different than the right level of access in, for example, England. However, there are quite large regions of the country right now where it is, indeed, far too easy to get hold of weapons that are frequently used to commit murder. I’m hoping this changes.

  • John

    Alcohol related fatalities (drunk driving, primarily) kill well over 12,000 people in the US each year. That’s about one VT massacre each day. So tell me, when are we going to start seriously restricting or prohibiting sales of alcohol? Wait, we tried that, and it didn’t work. Why do you think banning guns will be any more successful that prohibition?

    I’ve had friends die at the hands of drunk drivers, but no friends killed by criminals with guns. I seriously suggest that we’d have a better society if we spent as much effort on drunk driving as we spend on gun control, and we’d save a hundred times as many lives.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Do what you like with drunk driving – no problem with me. However, not the point here. The fact is, in countries where access to guns is much more restricted, far fewer people die from guns. It isn’t rocket science.

  • drunk

    What outrage? America is all about guns – it’s deeply ingrained in the culture, protected by the Constitution. Americans not only love guns, many worship them. In fact, guns are so essential for Americans that, if you restrict them, it will create absolute national hell – riots, black market, even a mild insurgency. Every year there are some 12,000 murders from guns, about 33 per day. This is 10 times the per capita average of all other developed nations. A Virginia Tech every day. I don’t see any daily outrage. 12000 lives obviously are far less important than the freedom to own guns. Americans will enjoy the spectacle of Virginia Tech and move on to the next ‘outrage’.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    I can’t really agree with you drunk. Many Americans are outraged about the numbers you quote and I think your blanket statement ignores many regional and other variations in attitudes – some reasonable and others not, in my opinion.

  • Josh

    For all of you that think banning guns is a good thing to do. Why is it that it is not ok for the current Administration to eves drop on phone coversations to protect the people. It seems to me if you ban guns that you would need some reassurance from someone or something to protect you if you are not willing to do it yourself.

  • Haelfix

    A good psych evaluation required for ownership of a gun, strikes me as a semi decent solution. Though I strongly doubt it would make much a difference for the gun related homicide body count.

    The statistics are rather misleading actually. The majority of gun related homicide are commited by individuals who are going through divorce proceedings or having family problems, not by sociopaths/gang members or others. In other countries, this is also the case as well (tho the method to kill tends to be different).

    As for the partial birth abortion ban, well it also strikes me as a rational compromise (the middle of the road solution). What will likely happen is a woman who’s life is at stake who is denied the operation and cannot conceive safely, will sue the government. This will go to the supreme court, and they will clarify it in her favor, and that will be that. The ban will remain intact, but certain ultra rare cases where this is the case will be allowed.

    Does anyone truly object to the partial birth abortion ban under those circumstances?

  • Josh

    Mark

    In those other developed countries you do not have as many or the same rights you have in the US. If you do take the 2nd amendment away from the people than the gavernment can take many more rights away from the people all for the sake of protection against evil.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Indeed Josh – and some of those “rights” are just plain silly. All societies trade off individual rights against the greater societal good to some degree. The question is what should the degree be. I’m suggesting that many countries do very well indeed without the right to buy whatever crazy-ass gun you want.

  • Josh

    But it is this crazy-ass right that sepperates us from other countries. Indeed maybe it is not perfect but I would not want to be anywhere else. For this one reason and many others that I can choose to protect myself without having to rely on the government to do so.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    So we clearly disagree Josh. I think that if there is something that separates the U.S. from other countries it is not the fact that one can buy high-powered weapons easily.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun
  • http://vacuumenergy.blogspot.com Joseph

    Isn’t attempting to eliminate gun crime by banning guns a lot like trying to eliminate “back-alley” abortions by banning abortion?

    Just asking.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Joseph – no.

    Are you suggesting that restricting access to guns beyond the current level would increase gun crime? That’s were your analogy leads.

    Seriously, we can make all the analogies (even truly awful ones) people like, but nevertheless, in coutries with much stricter gun laws, far fewer things like this happen. This is not a coincidence.

  • drunk

    Mark: Glad you disagree. Of course it’s a blanket statement in a few sentences. Fact is US is the biggest gun-loving country in the world and its got all the blood to prove it. Don’t ask gun lovers if there’s a problem – there isn’t. But for the few who think 150 million hand guns in private hands, and buying guns as easy as buying grocery, just might create a bit of social discomfort, and are open to ideas, perhaps the following suggestion from Argus Zall might worth some consideration. Argus proposed making hand guns fully available not by all kinds of control laws, but by full and strict compliance to the Constitution.

    http://www.argusczall.name/2006/12/07/chapter-5-of-book/#more-25

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Thanks drunk. Zall’s suggestion is funny, but not exactly practical. By the way, it isn’t “a few” in the U.S. who think gun laws need serious tightening. There are millions and millions of people who think this way.

  • Haelfix

    Admit that it is somewhat of an authoritarian stance to take though. Alcohol, McDonalds, Tobacco, and a whole lot of other luxuries kill a tremendous amount more people per year than gun crimes do. Prohibition was the result for alcohol.

    Then consider that a huge portion of the population in the US are enamored with guns, the sport and so on, and feel that the consitution is analogous to the ten commandments and you can quickly see that it would lead to a serious rather counterproductive situation where it legislated against too draconianly..

  • http://quthoughts.blogspot.com Joe Fitzsimons

    I really don’t understand this obsession with guns. Maybe people buy guns for protection, but it turns out that you are far more likely to be killed by a gun if you actually own one than if you don’t.

    Many Americans seem to be under the impression that somehow the US is somehow more free than all other countries, that the US is some haven for personal rights and that no other country matches up. Certainly this is true for, say, North Korea, but most of Europe and Canada have significantly more civil liberties.

    I do see a problem with bringing in tighter gun controls in the US, however. The shear volume of guns in peoples homes means that a full ban could be brought in tomorrow and there would still be millions of guns in circulation. So any restriction would need to be accompanied by some well thoughtout collection scheme.

    A number of commenters have made the claim that in countries with stricter gun controls the murder rate is the same but people are killed in different ways. This is simply absurd. The murder rate in the US is shockingly high when compared to Europe, Australia, Japan, etc.

  • Peter Lustig

    I completely agree with TimG:

    >> For what it’s worth, I suspect that lowering the poverty rate in America could do
    >> more to lessen the number of gun deaths than any new gun control measure.
    >> It’s a shame we’re not willing to devote as many resources to that problem as
    >> we are to, say, ill-advised pre-emptive wars.

    That’s the REAL difference between the US and other developed countries! Fight poverty and come up with a sensible social and educational system!!!

    And has seeing Janet Jackson’s breast has killed anyone??? But the violence on TV, in the movies and in video games is proven to be correlated to violent behavior of its consumers… Hey you, Mr. FCC, have you no advice for me?

  • http://quthoughts.blogspot.com Joe Fitzsimons

    Actually, as regards violence on TV and in video games: Most of the rest of the developed world gets the same movies and video games, but don’t show the same massive murder rate.

    Also, as I’m sure Mark can testify, the censorship level of television in the UK is much lower than in the US.

  • Belizean

    …it turns out that you are far more likely to be killed by a gun if you actually own one than if you don’t.

    False. You’re probably thinking about the Kellerman result in which he claimed that if you have a gun in your home, you’re 43 times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder. After this paper was widely discredited for its faulty methodology, he revised his factor of 43 downward to 2.7. Even his revised number is misleading. His revised method would allow one to conclude that because insulin is more often found in the homes of diabetics, insulin causes diabetes. [i.e. he doesn’t correct for the fact that people in the greatest danger of being shot are more likely to own guns to protect themselves.]

    So any restriction would need to be accompanied by some well thoughtout collection scheme.

    The government’s gun confiscation scheme would have to be well thought out indeed. Such confiscation is one of the few conditions under which a mild-mannered guy like me would resort to armed resistance. The government might get my guns, but it would likely lose a storm trooper or three in the process. Repeating this against numerous like-minded citizens would result in losses that they would deem unacceptable.

    A number of commenters have made the claim that in countries with stricter gun controls the murder rate is the same but people are killed in different ways. This is simply absurd. The murder rate in the US is shockingly high when compared to Europe, Australia, Japan, etc.

    The point is that there a countries with much stricter gun control laws that have higher murder rates. Also, you have to be careful when comparing the U.S. to other countries, as cultural differences complicate the comparisons. If you compare the U.S. to the countries with the most similar cultures — Canada, Australia, and the U.K. — you will find that the murder rate was highest in the United States even in the 19th century, when none of these countries had gun control. If you compare the United States with itself — 19th-century America vs. 20th-century America, you see that the murder rate increased even as gun restrictions increased.

    I think that America has traditionally had higher rates of crime, because it is a society that cherishes individualism to an unusual degree. If the Virginia Tech mass murderer had lived in another country, he would likely have been forcibly integrated into a social network. His wife, his job, his friends, his multi-generational home, his village of residence would have been to a large extent determined for him. He would have been less free, but probably less alienated and more focused on the practical problems of providing for his wife and family. Too busy to nurture his inner angst and cultivate his insanity.

    The degree of social cohesion even in similar industrial societies is higher than it is in the U.S., home of the “rugged individualist”. Margaret Thatcher ignited a firestorm of protests in the 1980s, when she suggested that the unemployed in Britain should simply move to where the jobs are. This is an obvious point to most Americans, but a radical notion to many Brits.

  • Peter Lustig

    Joe Fitzsimons,

    I meant that there is a correlation between violence on TV and violent behavior, and not that it’s the only cause of violence! True that people watch Hollywood movies everywhere, but in Europe for example, you wouldn’t find the same violent scenes on TV at 3 pm on Saturday as you do here in the states. And also the rating system is different for movies etc.
    What I think is ridiculous is that half a million people call the TV station to complain that their kids saw Janet Jackson’s breast for one second on TV… What do babies see when they are born? Or when they are fed (naturally)? So I do criticize the ratio of censorship of nudity and of violence in the USA.

  • Mustafa Mond, FCD

    The number of children under the age of 17 shot by guns in America every year is greater than the gun-related deaths of children in all the industrialized nations of the world COMBINED.

    Restated: M is greater than M + N, where M and N are both positive integers. I don’t think so. Perhaps if you said “in all the OTHER industrialied nations”

  • chemicalscum

    Belizean wrote

    I think that America has traditionally had higher rates of crime, because it is a society that cherishes individualism to an unusual degree.

    Strange it is my observation that Americans have a much higher level of social conformism than Europeans and people from other inudstrialzed nations. It maybe that since there is a greater sense of social cohesion, in these countries than in the US, that it gives people a space to behave in an individual manner. While the social Darwinist ethic of the US drives people in conforming in order to survive.

    In a sense you may be part right, as the the high level of gun crime in the US refelects its social pathology as much as the easy availability of firearms. Still this is not to deny that increased gun control in the US would probably help reduce the carnage. I write this as a former member of a gun club in the UK. I just don’t have time to shoot target at the moment.

  • alienmist

    We if this guy did not have a gun, he would have used a knife or acid or whatever. I am no fan of guns but remember that old cliche about who does the killing….

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    if this guy did not have a gun, he would have used a knife or acid or whatever

    And killed over 30 people? This is precisely the point.

  • Belizean

    chemical scum wrote:

    …increased gun control in the US would probably help reduce the carnage.

    Depends on what you mean by “control”. Carnage minimization would be achieved when we minimize possession of guns by those who would use them to increase carnage and maximize possession by those who would use guns to decrease carnage.

    The common assumption that latter group is negligibly small is simply absurd. It is the overwhelming majority of the population.

  • http://quthoughts.blogspot.com Joe Fitzsimons

    I think that America has traditionally had higher rates of crime, because it is a society that cherishes individualism to an unusual degree. If the Virginia Tech mass murderer had lived in another country, he would likely have been forcibly integrated into a social network. His wife, his job, his friends, his multi-generational home, his village of residence would have been to a large extent determined for him. He would have been less free, but probably less alienated and more focused on the practical problems of providing for his wife and family. Too busy to nurture his inner angst and cultivate his insanity.

    I have to agree with chemicalscum on this. The US is not nearly as accepting of individualism as most of Europe. Just look at the controversy over gay marriage!

    If you realy believe the paragraph quoted above is an accurate reflection of life in Western Europe, Canada, Australia, or Japan (or any one of a number of other countries), then you have a seriously distorted world view.

    I’m going to take myself as an example here, as someone who was not born in the US.

    You seem to claim five specific things should be largely determind for me:
    My wife: I’m 25, unmarried, but my girlfriend is Chinese.
    My job: I’m a physicist.
    My friends: I’ve friends from pretty much every corner of the globe.
    My multi-generational home: I share a house with 3 friends.
    My village of residence: I was born in Dublin but now live in Oxford.

    Now, I may not be a typical example, but then again no-one is, and that is exactly the point. The US isn’t unique in having freedom of movement. It’s not the only country in which people can get high paying jobs, or where there is freedom to move between jobs.

    What is unique about the US is it’s monstrously high murder and gun crime rates.

  • Belizean

    Joe Fitzsimons wrote:

    The US is not nearly as accepting of individualism as most of Europe. Just look at the controversy over gay marriage!

    I mean individualism in the traditional sense of self-reliance, not the embrace of idiosyncratic behavior.

    The US isn’t unique in having freedom of movement.

    It’s all a matter of degree. Americans tend to be less rooted to locations, traditions, and family than are, say, Austrians, Chinese, Indians, or British. The U.S. population is not dominated by the same sort of erstwhile-rooted-peasantry-turned industrial-proletariat as are many other societies. [Our slaves, unlike a peasantry, were a minority of the population and not rooted to place.] U.S. society is unique in having been founded by bourgeois Protestant sects — which remain its dominant influence — and in having no feudal past.

    What is unique about the US is it’s monstrously high murder and gun crime rates.

    It’s not unique. The murder rates in Russia, Mexico and Brazil — all of which have stringent gun control laws — are vastly higher that in the U.S.

  • http://www.free25.org Jay

    Comparing the 3,000 deaths in Iraq to the 120,000 deaths in the US due to guns is what is called “lying with statistics”.

    3,000 dead out of a population of a few hundred thousand (so .0X%) is a lot less than 120,000 dead out of a population of 300 million (.00X%).

  • chemicalscum

    What Belizean is saying is th USians conform and believe that they are self reliant. That they are rootless and believe that this equates to freedom of movement.

    All part of the delusions of a pathological society that has no idea of what freedom really is.

  • http://www.pieterkok.com/index.html PK

    Jay, do you mean to imply that the Iraqi lives don’t count?

  • http://www.pieterkok.com/index.html PK

    More sensible gun laws are a no-brainer. There is absolutely no reason why citizens need assault weapons (unless they want to turn game into mince right in the bush, rather than at home), or hand guns. These are designed for use on people. I have heard the mention of “protection from the government”, which is in the second amendment, but that is clearly outdated (except perhaps for people in remote areas who essentially live a 19th century lifestyle): These days the state has a much more effective tool for subjugating the people. It’s called television.

    The question is how stricter gun laws will be enforced. Obviously, you don’t send the National Guard to every home, because that could end up in a massacre, as the “mild-mannered” Belizian nicely illustrated. You would have several stages of increasing restrictions, and a voluntary no-questions-asked collection programme (with a possible financial incentive). In parallel, you run a large PR campaign.

    If such a policy were implemented, I suspect that accidental deaths at home and high-school shootings will sharply drop in a few years. Of course, this will not happen as long as the NRA has such a strong lobby.

  • http://quthoughts.blogspot.com Joe Fitzsimons

    It’s not unique. The murder rates in Russia, Mexico and Brazil — all of which have stringent gun control laws — are vastly higher that in the U.S.

    The roblem here is that you’re not comparing like with like. Sure the US only has the 24th highest murder rate in the world (http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_mur_percap-crime-murders-per-capita), but when you compare it to countries with similar GDP per capita (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Gdp_per_capita_ppp_world_map_2005.PNG) it becomes clear that the US has a murder rate that is way above average (the highest by almost a factor of two, and ten times that of Japan).

  • http://quthoughts.blogspot.com Joe Fitzsimons

    Actually PKs solution above is exactly the kind of well thought out strategy I was talking about, but couldn’t come up with.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    All this talk of rugged individualism and Americans running the risk of being more disaffected and more violent because this society encourages individualism is both irrelevant and wrong in my opinion.

    In England, where I’m from, I find the chance of random violence much higher than in the U.S. I feel safer in New York or LA or pretty much any other major U.S. city with a high crime rate than I do in most English towns going out for a beer. Of course this is partially because much crime in U.S. cities is confined to particularly poor and drug-trade ridden parts of the city, that I don’t go to. In England one encounters lots of random violence out in pubs, at sporting events, …

    What I’m trying to say is that England is another example of a country with plenty of disaffected people and a lot of violence (doesn’t matter why for the purpose of this argument). However, there are a lot fewer deaths, because it just isn’t as easy to get hold of guns. It is actually not that hard to get hold of one illegally, but most people don’t own one and so when someone loses it, they don’t have a gun to use on a lot of people.

    Again – not rocket science.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun
  • Belizean

    Mark wrote:

    … there are a lot fewer deaths [in England], because it just isn’t as easy to get hold of guns.

    There would be fewer deaths in England even if guns did not exist. The non-gun homicide rate in the U.S. is greater than the total homicide rate for England/Wales. The U.S. is simply a more violent society. I am speculating that this is due to greater social isolation perhaps stemming from an ethic of self-reliance. I believe, for example, that Americans are less likely to know their next-door neighbors than are residents of most other countries.

    Joe Fitzsimons wrote:

    …it becomes clear that the US has a murder rate that is way above average (the highest by almost a factor of two, and ten times that of Japan).

    Yes it is. But this has nothing to do with the absence of gun control laws. 1) Comparing like societies (as you recommend) you see that the in the 19th-century the U.S. murder rate was highest among English-speaking countries at a time when none of them had gun control laws. 2) The non-gun U.S. murder rate exceeds the total murder rate of Japan and that of nearly all European countries. 3) It’s foolish to compare U.S. violence with that in other countries, while assuming that the only one of the myriad sociological variables with relevant explanatory power is the relevant strength of gun control laws.

    PK wrote:

    I have heard the mention of “protection from the government”, which is in the second amendment, but that is clearly outdated (except perhaps for people in remote areas who essentially live a 19th century lifestyle): These days the state has a much more effective tool for subjugating the people. It’s called television.

    Your argument doesn’t make sense. If the government has a superior weapon — state-controlled TV — this lessens the need for gun control laws. [If, incidentally, the Bush administration is controlling American TV, it must be suicidal.]

    [The well thought-out gun confiscation program] would have several stages of increasing restrictions, and a voluntary no-questions-asked collection programme (with a possible financial incentive). In parallel, you run a large PR campaign. If such a policy were implemented, I suspect that accidental deaths at home and high-school shootings will sharply drop in a few years.

    You do realize, of course, that such efforts have been underway for decades. The restrictions began in 1934, were increased in 1968, then again in 1986 and 1994. The PR program occurs in schools (when its targets are young and maximally susceptible). So-called “gun buy back programs” are common. These efforts have been ineffective, however. Gun ownership has increased. [And, contrary to your supposition, violent crime and accidental in-home gun deaths have declined (the latter likely due to the N.R.A.’s stepped-up gun-safety campaigns, including one aimed specifically at children.)] In short, your scheme is unlikely to work, because the American population isn’t as docile as you assume (and the facts don’t seem to be on your side). This population did, after all, elect George W. Bush, despite his being opposed by virtually every major media outlet, celebrity, and academic authority.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    A proud Manhattanite wrote to the New York Times:

    “I was born in Manhattan. Other than a forced 17-year detour to suburbia (for the children, my parents said), I have lived here my entire life. Like many Manhattanites I have a certain, shall we say, disdain for the tourists. So imagine my shock when, on my way to jury duty last month, I was greeted by the young barista at the Canal and Centre Street Starbucks with this friendly question: “Where are you visiting from?”

    He could tell from the look of horror on my face that he had said something very wrong. “Oh, you’re from here,” he said nervously. “I’m so sorry.”

    Pulling myself up to my full 5 feet 4 inches, I asked, with vast Manhattanista hauteur, “What makes you think I’m a tourist?”

    He looked at me apologetically and said, quietly, “You smiled at me.””

    ———————

    In such a city, gun control has worked and gun related violence is down, when when the national trend is the other way.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Belizean, you continue to bring up things that are barely relevant. Even if everything you say is correct, would you not agree that there would be far fewer needless deaths in the U.S. every year if we had stricter gun control measures? This is the main point and everything else is a distraction.

  • Sourav

    We need to be careful about what we’re talking about here.

    Scotland, Germany and Australia have far stricter gun laws than the US, yet they’ve had incidents comparable to the Virginia Tech shooting. The US has had several of such incidents, but it also has 300 million people. It seem fallacious to draw conclusions relevant to gun policy from these events — these lunatics just as easily could have made a bomb. Moreover, the single most deadly acts of terrorism in the United States were effected by bombs (OK city) and planes (9/11), not guns.

    On the other hand, the US has the highest rate of gun violence among industrialized countries. Yet, there are at least two countries with higher rates of firearm ownership, Switzerland and Israel, with almost no crime. There are regions within the United States (New England, Mountain West) that are similarly gun-friendly and peaceful.

    Finally, South Africa has found out the hard way that gun interdiction doesn’t solve violence if there is a large stockpile of weapons for the black market to exploit.

    The US needs does have a gun problem, but it’s contingent on the general violence problem. Simply banning guns will drive the huge supply underground, and the violence problem will continue.

  • macho

    I’m all for gun control, mainly to add another barrier to obtaining guns, but Sourav raises an interesting point — the huge number already floating around. In theory, making it harder to (legally) obtain guns will decrease the number of guns owned by anyone, which will make it harder (and more expensive) to purchase or otherwise obtain one illegally. I live on the south side of Chicago where gun violence is a very real problem every day. Fewer guns in the hands of 14 year-olds would be a good thing. Illegal gun possession would not disappear, of course, but — if the supply were limited and shrinking — fewer kids (and others who shouldn’t have them) would be able to get their hands on one. Problem is, as Sourav points out, there are so many guns out there already that the benefits of limiting the supply at this point may not be as significant as we’d like. (Which isn’t an argument against gun control, just a cautionary note about the benefits, especially in the short term).

    I’m also not the least bit swayed by second amendment arguments. The original intent was to give citizens some security against an overzealous government. The world has changed, and gun ownership won’t help you much if you do feel the need to defend yourself from the government.

    There seem to be two common threads in all of these shootings: the shooters are furious at society and they are determined to let the world know — to make society at large or some group in particular sorry. Crazy, evil, immature, and/or wacked out psychos are nothing new, but what has changed is their ability to achieve instant fame. To know that word of their actions will spread, almost instantaneously, across the globe.
    Over the same time period (the last 40-50 years) that these events have increased, television (and more recently the internet) has come to dominate many aspects of our culture. The appeal of instant fame within our society (whether positive or negative) is evidenced by the appalling number and popularity of reality and talk shows, some of whose main purpose seems to be to degrade and humilate the participants.
    I’m not suggesting that these media are a root cause of the shootings, but their content certainly reflects an aspect of our culture today that may contribute to the problem — and their existence offers a new ‘medium’ in which the psychotic anger of certain individuals can grow.

  • Sourav

    macho,

    * The best model against gov’t tyranny and waste, guns or not, is the citizen army. The professional army is the tool of oppression by dictators. Of course, the professional army may more finely hone its craft.

    The US attempts to straddle the line by maintaining a doctrine of military and police personnel living amongst the general community. But this is merely a doctrine, not in the Constitution. As such, I would counter than the 2nd Amendment is a safeguard.

    (To those who think the 2nd Amendment is useless in this day and age, consider what is occurring in Iraq right now, or what happened to the Soviets in Afghanistan. Guerilla warfare is powerful when attrition is a viable strategy.)

    * I agree wholeheartedly that the US culture has a deep thread of venality and narcissism that only encourages lunatics to express, rather than restrain, themselves. Is it a necessary byproduct of the individualism that makes the US so interesting in the first place, or can it be abated by education?

  • Belizean

    Mark wrote:

    …would you not agree that there would be far fewer needless deaths in the U.S. every year if we had stricter gun control measures?

    No. The way to minimize needless death is to minimize gun possession by those who would use them to increase needless death and to maximize gun possession by those who would use them to prevent needless death.

    Gun control advocates incorrectly assume that needless death minimization is achieved by criminalizing gun possession by everyone. This results in reduced gun possession by those that would use them to decrease needless death (the law-abiding) and has little affect on gun possession by those who would use guns to increase needless death (law breakers).

    Case 1: When I’m in my home state, I carry a gun every day. Were I to use my gun to prevent my death, simply by displaying it as an attacker approached, you would not hear of it. The Department of Justice estimates that this sort defensive use of a firearm happens at least a million times per year (DOJ).

    Case 2: This semester I’m living in an anti-gun state, and — because I am (foolishly) law-abiding — I go about unarmed. Were I killed by an attacker, I would become another crime statistic. This sort of death happens no more than 15,000 times per year (the 30K figure often cited includes suicides).

    Incidents of Case 2 make news. By contrast, those of Case 1 are seldom if ever reported by the intrinsically sensationalist news media. As a result many people — even intelligent ones — fail to understand that widespread gun possession by the law-abiding saves lives, and that disarming the law-abiding will needlessly increase the number of dead crime victims.

  • Belizean

    Macho wrote:

    The world has changed, and gun ownership won’t help you much if you do feel the need to defend yourself from the government.

    Sourav is correct. It is extremely difficult to conquer an armed civilian population. Observe, as another example, the hard time the Russians are having with tiny Chechnya. Pacifying Idaho would hardly be easier. The U.S. government with an armed forces of fewer than 2 million men, would die a death of a thousand cuts (snipers and the like) if it tried to take on 200 million armed citizens.

  • http://www.pieterkok.com/index.html PK

    Is it a necessary byproduct of the individualism that makes the US so interesting in the first place, or can it be abated by education?

    I would say give education a shot, because it also has other benefits ;-)

  • Sourav

    PK,

    I think these “other benefits” beyond simply job training are why education is important. It potentially gives people something to look forward to other than the rat race of money and status.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    The New York Times had status for 2004:

    29,569 people were kiled in 2004 by gunfire, 64,389 injured.
    Of the 81 deaths a day (I’m aggregating the NYT graphic here)

    5 were accidents or legal police action
    15 black men were murdered
    36 were white men suicides

  • macho

    Sourav,

    Disagree completely that best model is citizen army. Examples you cite are not models of a culture/society I would want to emulate. Bascially everyone loses.

    Much better is active involvement of citizens in a democracy in the government combined with a vigilant and free press. Part of this involvement should be to work to equalize access to (good) education and employment opportunities.

    One of the advantages of civilization is that each individual no longer has to defend him/herself and family — that we combine forces and build a community of trust. This element of trust has very real social and economic benefits. Do you want to spend (limited) resources on buidling gated communities, arming and training civilians, more prisons — or on education and health?

    Not suggesting a naive worldview — those in power will always want more and safeguards are essential. Which is why the dismantling of federal government checks and balances (and taming of the press) are among the most dangerous recent developments.

  • Sourav

    macho,

    You are correct that the time-tested democratic institutions of federalism, education, etc. provide important checks on the accumulation of power by political means. This, unfortunately, has no effect on the antisocial types with firepower when the democrats don’t, as so many 3rd world juntas have demonstrated. The firepower must be federalized as well.

    Also, I am unsure why an armed populace leads to not trusting one’s neighbor. If anything, the threat of retaliation obviates any siege defenses (tangible or social) and encourages consensus and cooperation. This is indeed rather distasteful, for cooperation to be founded partly upon the latent threat of mutual destruction, but the alternative is suicide.

  • a conrellian

    “Case 1: When I’m in my home state, I carry a gun every day. Were I to use my gun to prevent my death, simply by displaying it as an attacker approached, you would not hear of it. The Department of Justice estimates that this sort defensive use of a firearm happens at least a million times per year (DOJ).”

    The question is, how many of these unreported, unprovable but indisputably known to have happened crimes are in fact that product of paranoia and the other sides story goes something like “I was walking down the street and this crazy guy pulled a gun and started screaming at me so i ran….”

  • Belizean

    a conrellian wrote,

    The question is, how many of these unreported, unprovable but indisputably known to have happened crimes are in fact that product of paranoia and the other sides story goes something like “I was walking down the street and this crazy guy pulled a gun and started screaming at me so i ran….”

    In most states it’s a crime to brandish a weapon. Were I to simply to point my gun whenever I feel slightly threatened, I would be in a world of legal hurt.

    In order to obtain a concealed weapons permit, one must take a training course that emphasizes that your gun is essentially an emergency life-preservation device to use only in the event of imminent death or grievous injury. Personally, I wouldn’t even use my gun were I caught in a convenience store or bank robbery unless I thought that people were about to die otherwise.

    If you’ve ever lived in a rough neighborhood in which murder, robbery, assault, and home invasion are common, it’s very easy to believe the DOJ’s number is valid sans paranoia.

    By the way, 1.5 million defensive uses of a gun seems to have come from the DOJ during the Clinton administration.

  • http://www.huperborea.blogspot.com/ Robert O’Brien

    I think profs* should be armed. That way, if a homicidal crazy bursts into the class with a gun the prof can just turn over a table and return fire.

    *Except Peezee Myers. I think he should be armed with a red-and-white target.

  • drunk

    I see that this ‘outrage’ thread has descended into yet another stupid intellectual debate of no consequence. The madness of the gun in America is all consuming, even in blog like CV. May I then present the following animation for your enjoyment:

    http://www.markfiore.com/animation/guncrazy.html

  • alienmist

    Mark wrote:

    And killed over 30 people? This is precisely the point.

    Killing thirty people this days, sadly , is not so hard.. fashioning a bomb in the kitchen using ordinary chemicals would cause a lot carnage and suffering

    As I said before the modern word always seems to blame something else other than the person who commited the crime..

    The list is long.. and it include burgers and alcohol

    Personal responsibility is the keyword here

  • drunk

    Oops, you may skip my previous link for gun madness entertainment. The following live action in Kansas City, where the most sacred God-blessed intelligent design replacement for the scientific theory of evolution originates, is so much more exciting:

    http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/04/29/mall.shooter/index.html

    Sorry, only 3 shot dead.

  • Robert Jones

    Banning guns will not work. Its really not getting at the root. Guns do not get up and shoot people. I saw much on this on the news but they really did not talk much on motive. just that “he was a troubled person”. hmm thats an understatement.

    This society is a pressure cooker. Get ready for more “Movie – Falling down” type scenarios to play out. If we take the guns away it will be a meat cleaver, sticks or even fists. The source of the problem is not guns but the person and what might have caused this person to snap. Not many seem to care about that.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    People do care about it Robert, but it is just plain false to say that sensible gun control won’t work. It will reduce the number of deaths dramatically – that is what “working” means. Much as the discussion above has been about this.

    I don’t know anyone who is saying that the availability of guns is the root problem here, and indeed people may use other weapons, but as a practical issue fewer people will die. This would be a good thing, to me at least.

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    Also, the people who are most strongly opposed to gun control tend to be right wing people who think that the US can make Iraq a safe and secure weapons free country :)

  • drunk

    The root cause is both people and guns, feeding on each other. It was people who took the Constitutional protection of militia and transform it into the popular culture of guns. The gun culture grew and in turn demands ever greater access to arms, and using them to ‘solve’ everyday problems. Don’t like your teacher, boss or spouse? Bang. This cancer of American society, now reached self-sustaining size, will continue to grow until the patient is on the death bed. Unlike just about all other sane developed countries, deeper gun control can no longer work in the US. Only radical high dosage gamma radiation treatment stands a chance.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Mark Trodden

Mark Trodden holds the Fay R. and Eugene L. Langberg Endowed Chair in Physics and is co-director of the Center for Particle Cosmology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a theoretical physicist working on particle physics and gravity— in particular on the roles they play in the evolution and structure of the universe. When asked for a short phrase to describe his research area, he says he is a particle cosmologist.

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