Sunday, October 11, 2015

Ending Gun Violence in the United States

Cynical reasons aside, I still don’t understand why “gun violence” is worse than any other kind of violence. Nevertheless, let’s talk about reducing or even ending “gun violence” in the United States, but let’s also be honest about the means that would be used and the ends that would be achieved.

“Gun violence” has already been declining for about 20 years now, while the supply of firearms has steadily increased, but with each new highly publicized shooting, there is always an outcry for more “reasonable” or “common sense” gun controls. In fact, though, we are beyond this point. All reasonable controls have been in place for many years. Americans have already accepted violations of their Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendment rights in this pursuit.

Frankly, the only real options that remain are prohibition and confiscation. Obviously, if all firearms were removed from the country, there could be no more “gun violence” in the U.S., right? In the long run, this would mean disarming the police and military and closing the borders, but we can ignore those fantasies for this discussion.

So let’s get started!

First, we would have to repeal the Second Amendment. Since the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense and other lawful purposes, we can no longer pretend that “the people” therein were the regular military or even the militia. However, this is a big hurdle to leap.

The Democratic Party has reliably supported stringent gun controls for decades now. Democrats will probably also gain solid control of the federal government in the near future, so passing a proposed Constitutional amendment may not be that hard. Getting it ratified by 38 states would be a much more difficult proposition. Though several of the most populous states are stalwart gun-control bastions, over 40 states have enacted legislation and policies that strongly support the right to arms.

Therefore, repealing or modifying the Second Amendment would likely fail.

Second, even if repeal were successful, additional legislation would be required to actually start prohibiting guns and removing them from society. While less difficult than a Constitutional amendment, federal legislation would face many of the same problems. Pro-gun states would no doubt refuse to go along with prohibition schemes.

This secondary crisis could logically lead to the dissolution of the United States. Assuming the right political processes were followed, such an event needn’t result in civil war or even lesser violence, but a great deal of social and economic disruption would be unavoidable. Populations would be displaced, and North America would likely find itself with several new republics.

Third, assuming that the United States remained intact following federal prohibition, approximately 400 million firearms would still have to be confiscated. (There are about 300 million in circulation right now, but the number would drastically increase during the repeal and prohibition processes.) General confiscation could be eschewed, allowing for a slow attrition process to remove firearms from American society. However, firearms are durable goods, so “gun violence” would persist for centuries without active confiscation efforts.

Of course, confiscation would raise additional Constitutional problems. The Fourth Amendment would have to be repealed or ignored in order to effectively search for and seize firearms from recalcitrant owners. The Fifth Amendment would demand that those who did comply should be justly compensated for their surrendered property—and if everyone complied, this would cost American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. If both were ignored …

Fourth, compliance with any confiscation regime would certainly be incomplete. Historical examples have proven this even in countries without such strong right-to-arms traditions. Nevertheless, even if only a third of American gun owners were actively non-compliant, that would represent over 100 million firearms remaining at large … in the hands of people highly motivated to resist and confound enforcement efforts.

The results would be bloody. With the Second Amendment gone, the Fourth Amendment suspended, and the Fifth Amendment ignored, the previously law-abiding resisters would face death or imprisonment for their non-compliance. With this final violation of their Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment, why wouldn’t they turn to violence? Why shouldn’t they?

The resistance and bloodshed might last generations—decades more of intensified “gun violence,” moved from its former home in the criminal underground into the front yards of polite society. Police would be killed on confiscation missions. Prohibitionist politicians and other political enemies of the resistance would be assassinated. The resistance fighters—now branded domestic terrorists—would themselves be killed or captured. They might be defeated in the long run … or they might not be. Constant, low-grade domestic warfare could be maintained indefinitely. Again, firearms are durable goods capable of lasting for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, and the technology behind them is actually quite simple. How many more technological restrictions could our civilization accept or endure in the crusade to rid it of “gun violence”?

Finally, after many, many years and considerable costs in blood and treasure, we might succeed in removing all firearms from the United States. There would be no more “gun violence.” We would have addressed one of the hows of violence … but still not have touched any of the whys. Therefore, people would still become the victims of murder, rape, robbery, and other crimes of violence—just as the unarmed or disarmed always have.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

On the Tactics of Mass Murder

In a world populated by more than seven billion persons, the tiny minorities formed by the willfully evil and dangerously insane will number in the millions. Therefore, as I’ve noted before, it is not surprising in a concurrent era of global information networks that we will hear of their horrific deeds all too frequently. How we respond to such events is a measure of our own rationality—but that’s not directly what I want to discuss now.

To tell the truth, I’ve avoided this discussion for a while. However, not naming a potential danger does nothing to mitigate it. Furthermore, the evil and insane can benefit from the information revolution just as easily as the rest of us, so they will find no shortage of terminal inspiration or instruction when the time comes. In the end, our best policy prescription may simply be to not make risks of mass murder worse than they already are.

Misery loves company. This aphorism may explain as much as anything else why certain individuals choose to end their own lives while inflicting as much collateral damage as possible. Garnering the wide recognition they feel they deserve but have never received may be another motivation—which is why I refuse to name perpetrators of these atrocious crimes. In the end, though, I can’t answer the why. A very few broken human creatures stare into the abyss of grief or envy or rage and see mass murder as the best course of action toward even the pettiest of goals. Others in the vast majority of semi-rational human beings who may look into that same abyss will reject violence as unjustified no matter how noble the ends might seem—even when they lack the self-awareness to articulate doing so.

The how is what I want to discuss here. The means and methods of mass killers are so often what drives the public-policy debate … at least after the fact. That’s where the prevention efforts are usually focused. Those efforts are misguided at best.

The entertainment media have made a fetish of the personal weapon, be it a gun or a knife or some other type of sidearm. It has been transformed into a talisman of power in the popular imagination, though its actual lethal capabilities are much more modest. In fact, personal weapons are not the most effective choice for mass slaughter, but deranged individuals embrace the mythology and select them anyway, no doubt indulging in cinematic fantasies of the carnage they will cause. There are deadlier and more destructive methods to exact social vengeance, but if these means are presently used with greater frequency, then we certainly don’t hear about that fact from the politically motivated news media.

The typical American arguments for and against the right to bear arms don’t really matter in this case. Even if guns and knives were completely prohibited, the ban would always be incomplete. If all responsible adults were legally authorized to carry defensive weapons at all times and in all locations, the armed citizen would still be the exception rather than the rule. Actually, we could indulge in the fantastical extremes of these positions … and we would still fail.

All weapons more dangerous than a plastic sippy cup could magically vanish from existence, but mass killers would still arise and still carry their crimes to completion. Conversely, all responsible adults could be armed and ready to defend against any and all direct attacks, but this wouldn’t stop mass murder either. Would-be killers would simply change their tactics, and the results would probably be worse.

Personal weapons are essentially precision tools, best suited for defensive purposes against no more than a few discreet targets. A single bullet isn’t terribly lethal. A blade can be much deadlier but has a more limited threat radius. By choosing a personal weapon for his crimes, a would-be mass murderer has already limited the amount of damage he can do.

Impersonal weapons are by far the more dangerous selection. Explosives, fire, poison, these are just a few things that can be used to kill both indiscriminately and on a large scale. Deployed with insidious planning, the results of such attacks can be truly devastating—and they give the killer not bent on suicide or imprisonment much greater opportunities to escape and repeat his crimes again and again.

The will to commit atrocious acts is and has always been the greatest threat. We’ve learned that lesson over and over again throughout history, but as rational, compassionate people, we want to forget that horrific evil can and does exist in the darkest corners of the human heart. When it escapes into the world through willful intent or insane delusion, the innocent will always be its victims. With billions of human souls sharing life today, these incidents will occur with chilling regularity and frequency—and yet they are still vanishingly rare in absolute terms.

We might mitigate the risks posed by certain strains of this social violence, perhaps at great cost to liberty and prosperity, but in so doing we might only clear the way for more virulent strains to manifest themselves. The how that we can see and discuss won’t give us the solution to this problem. That answer—if there is an answer—still lies within the why. If we can find a solution, I do know that it won’t be political or tactical. It will have to be emotional or spiritual … or, dare I say it, moral.

Meanwhile, to make public policy in anguish is … and always will be … folly.