Friday, November 27, 2009

Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem

Now, thinking back on my last post, I want to make one thing clear: this highfalutin' religious analogy probably isn't true for all gun control advocates. I honestly think most of them are just stubbornly mistaken.

Think about it. Gun control makes an enormous amount of sense to the hindbrain. 30,000 Americans a year are killed with guns. Obviously if you remove the guns and you save 30,000 lives per year. Humans are built to make snap associations between objects and events--it's how all animals learn about the world. What makes humans wonderfully unique is our ability to look so far beyond our instinctive associations and to discover where the obvious is wrong. The idea that removing the guns saves the lives is demonstrably false, but it comes so naturally that it has a chance to take root before higher thought kicks in.

We've all met that guy. The guy who takes a strong stand for something, invests himself in it inwardly and publicly, invests his ego in it... And when that something's proven wrong, he digs in and fights even harder, reaching ever farther for elaborate arguments that justify his belief. It's just a part of the human condition that some people respond this way to core beliefs being threatened with better evidence. Maybe it's the gun banner insisting that even as statistics show increasing gun ownership and decreasing rates of violent death, the death rate would be decreasing faster without all the guns. Maybe it's an outdated biologist insisting that, even though the boiled broth doesn't cloud, it's because air circulation is an active principle in spontaneous generation. The principle is identical; it's been with us forever, and it ain't going anywhere soon.

In short, people aren't always rational. And many, many irrational people really do value reason, and think they're drawing conclusions from the evidence, even as they draw out more and more tenuous lines of reasoning to rationalize a discredited belief. Trying to reason with these people is generally fruitless. Every time you disprove their latest argument, they want even more transitional fossils between the ones you've just provided. And their sincerity can show clearly, because they really aren't lying. But fortunately, they can be beaten in the long run. Ultimately their arguments will get so long winded and elaborate that they'll either make third parties skeptical or fail the attention span test.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Fence Around Murder

I've often wondered: we know that gun control doesn't work. It's been tried over and over, and it doesn't affect violent crime rates. Often after its failure the same folks try doing the same thing harder, and it _still_ doesn't work. Why, then--if we take the "they're just idiots" handwave off the table--do a small but meaningful number of people devote their lives to pushing it? It's not like they don't have access to the same statistics we do. Why do they spend so much mental energy finding ways to dismiss the facts?

We talk sometimes in the gun-rights community about gun control being a religion; it has its central tenets (guns cause crime by making crime easier; guns cause suicide by making suicide easier; your gun is more likely to be used against you than to defend you...) from which all conclusions are drawn, and those tenets are impervious to evidence. The US and Britain have the same slow decline in violent crime, despite polar opposite trends on gun restrictions? Obviously the US would be doing even _better_ without all the guns. Japan and Switzerland both have atrocious suicide rates, even though one has almost no privately-owned guns (legal or no) while the other issues assault rifles to most male citizens? Obviously Japan would have an even _higher_ suicide rate if her subjects were permitted arms. We could put a .380 Kel-Tec in the hands of every man, woman, and child in the US, see violent crime drop to almost nothing, and the true believers would still crow "the four people murdered last year were murdered with guns! We need a common-sense ban on these devices designed to kill!"

Obviously, every community of any size has its true believers and its revealed dogma ("Glocks melt in a hot car!" "1911s need a thousand bucks of gunsmithing to work at all!" "HK slides are milled from the thighbones of seraphim!"); the difference is in how central the dogma is to the movement, and how much meat there is elsewhere in the movement's position. In the case of gun controllers, it's pretty much all dogma and no meat.

Which is why a discussion at Sebastian's about Brady's brief in the McDonald case got me to thinking. And the connection between gun control and religion finally clicked.

In Judaism, there's the concept of gezeirah:

"A gezeirah is a law instituted by the rabbis to prevent people from accidentally violating a Torah mitzvah. We commonly speak of a gezeirah as a "fence" around the Torah. For example, the Torah commands us not to work on Shabbat, but a gezeirah commands us not to even handle an implement that you would use to perform prohibited work (such as a pencil, money, a hammer), because someone holding the implement might forget that it was Shabbat and perform prohibited work. The word is derived from the root Gimel-Zayin-Reish, meaning to cut off or to separate."

This is also, if I understand correctly, the reason for separate plates in an orthodox household: you're forbidden to mix meat and dairy, so an additional rule--the requirement to keep one whole set of kitchen implements and plates for preparing and serving meat and another set for preparing dairy foods--is instituted to take you one step further away from that infraction.

This is exactly the motivation of gun controllers: murder is illegal, but that isn't enough! It's intolerable to them that a person could go through life a mere finger-twitch away from committing that crime. They see the capacity and proximity to the sin as a sin in itself. The ability to sin becomes the sin.

This may be all well and good for religious folks. If you want to devote yourself to a life of such rigorous adherence to the law that you won't flip on a light switch on Saturday lest you forget that you're technically kindling a flame which is similar to doing work, mazel tov for you. And if you draw satisfaction from so distancing yourself from murder that you banish all weapons from your home, again, you can live your life as you please.

But do the rest of us really want to have the force of law constantly placing more and more draconian restrictions on things less and less directly related to bona fide crimes?

Fort Hood Tightens Security

According to CNN. Among the usual security theater of armed guards, checkpoints, and "random inspections of containers", there's an interesting little detail:

"Soldiers assigned to Fort Hood will have to register their personal firearms with the director of emergency services, [Col. Bill Hill, garrison commander] added."

This is so amazingly useless, paternalistic, and insulting it's a bit difficult to put together a response.

Gun control didn't work last time, so what we really need is more of it. If it isn't working, do it harder. Gun control is basically like abstinence education.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

He got a .32 gun in his pocket for fun...

So I mentioned yesterday that we're doing some preliminaries for the Maine trip...

While doing some research for the trip, I remembered something: Maine is a shall-issue state, meaning that authorities can't arbitrarily deny a firearms carry permit to a qualified citizen. I'll actually be spending a week in one of the 39 states that don't consider the Second Amendment just a friendly suggestion. For somebody who grew up in New Jersey, this is a hell of a novelty.

I played around a bit with the reciprocity maps at*, and decided my best bet was to just take the direct approach and apply to the state of Maine for a nonresident concealed carry permit.

This involves a few steps, most of which are pretty easy: they need a copy of my birth certificate, several release forms (to enable their criminal and mental health background checks), a passport photo, and a $60 check. They'd also need copies of my other carry permits and my discharge papers, if I'd ever had another permit or served in the military. I also have to fill out a long questionnaire certifying that, among other things, I'm not being charged with a violent crime by the tribal courts of the Penobscot or Passamaquoddy indians.

But, like most shall-issue states, Maine also requires me to prove that I know how to handle a firearm safely. And that means a recognized safety class, complete with its own $100 fee. And that's why, this weekend, Danielle and I are getting up early and heading for a nondescript commercial building in Branchburg with two handguns and 200 rounds of ammunition for a Basic Pistol course from the NRA--the gold standard of firearms safety training.

We're vacationing for one week in a place with a crime rate significantly lower than where I live, which is already safer than most of suburban New Jersey. Realistically, the chances Danielle or I will need our guns handy in that week are practically nonexistent. Is it worth an eight-hour class and almost $175 (not to mention the new gun and holsters, which are pretty expensive) to get a permit that'll be mostly useless in my everyday life?**

Well, let's put it this way: if your state freely ignored the _First_ Amendment, arbitrarily denying you the right to speak your mind on political matters under threat of imprisonment, would you pay two hundred bucks to enjoy free speech for a week, even if it was purely symbolic?

[* - Unlike driver's licenses and marriages (at least the ones that don't have gay cooties), there's no interstate standard for recognizing concealed carry licenses. If you have a CCW in your home state, it'll be recognized only by those states that have specifically signed reciprocity agreements with your state. This means carefully planning trips to make sure you're covered while travelling. Getting nonresident permits from widely-honored states is common practice, with Florida and Utah being the "best buys". Maine recognizes neither.]

[** - To be fair, the Maine permit is all I need to get a New Hampshire nonresident permit, which is honored in Pennsylvania. On the very rare occasions that I go to Philadelphia, this insurance policy will be much more valuable than it was in Maine.]

Friday, November 13, 2009

On Filthy Mohammedans

There's been a bit of a tiff over at Roberta's about Muslims and America, in which quite a few smart people have been defending the opinion that Islam is inherently evil, that Muslims are inherently dangerous (at least enough so that a Muslim should be assumed dangerous until he proves himself trustworthy), and that a "good Muslim" is a rarity because of the religion's inherent incompatibility with western values.

One semirepresentative comment from Mr.B says:

Have [your good and decent Muslim friends] explain to you (and if possible, to me) how they can exist in both worlds, and how they can be a good muslim, and follow the words of Mohammed, yet be a good citizen in the US.

One or the other has to fail.

On the drive to work today, it occurred to me exactly what was bothering me so much about these arguments: the people making them sound just like militant atheists. I know the tone and argments very well from my angry-atheist days. "The Bible says you must not suffer a witch to live, so if you call yourself a Christian you're condoning the murder of pagans." "The Bible says a father can sell his daughter into slavery, so if you call yourself a Christian you're condoning the exploitation of children." Repeat for less destructive but sillier things, like bothering yourself with others' sex lives or wearing clothes made with more than one fabric. The bottom line was that, because the religion's source material contains some intolerant, violent, and simply antiquated stuff incompatible with our western values, that fundamentally tainted anybody who professed to follow the religion. Sound familiar?

The problem with all these arguments is that they don't take into account the real-world complexity of human beings, and how those people integrate very old traditions and values into their modern lives. In the end, all religions with any time under their belts will have embarassing, outdated cultural mandates that believers either interpret in ways consistent with modern standards or simply downplay and ignore. In my experience, because of the amount of personalization and interpretation that all people do, a person's religion is a very poor indicator of what kind of person he'll be.

[* - I'm speaking factually, not playing the bigotry card.]