The violence in Arizona

Many bloggers have weighed in about the horrible attack in Tucson, Arizona that killed 6 people and wounded 19, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  A lot of the blame is being put on the Tea Party for creating a climate of violence in which, to some crazy people, such attacks appear justifiable.

But the perpetrator, one Jared Lee Loughner, appears to be a garden-variety American crazy:  paranoid, alienated, and with schizophrenic tendencies.  While there were political overtones in some of his writings and videos, I don’t see any smoking gun connecting him to the Tea Party; and there’s no evidence yet that he was motivated more by right-wing politics than simple lunacy.

While it does seem that this kind of violence is whipped up more by conservatives than liberals (viz. abortion-doctor killings), conservatives too can be the targets of gun-equipped crazies. (Remember John Hinkley, who tried to kill Ronald Reagan just to get the attention of Jodie Foster?)  So before we start pinning all this on the Tea Party, let’s get the facts.  I hate the Tea Party and their platform as much as anyone, and I despise their “let’s-get-them” rhetoric that uses the language of shooting and targets when referring to liberals. But they may not be much of a causal factor in this case.

What is ineluctably involved, however, is the availability of automatic weapons, one of which Loughlin used to gun down those 25 people.

There is no justification for allowing Americans to buy and use automatic or semi-automatic weapons.  Indeed, I don’t see much justification for Americans to legally buy a firearm of any sort, save for target practice or hunting (and I have severe reservations about hunting for sport rather than food).  Europe gets along fine without guns, and has many fewer murders.  As the American Bar Association points out, “the rate of death from firearms in the United States is eight times higher than that in its economic counterparts in other parts of the world.”

Right-wingers, gun advocates, and the NRA use the Second Amendment as justification for Americans owning all sorts of guns, including automatic and semi-automatic weapons. And that’s the way the courts have interpreted it, too.  That Amendment says this:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Well, we have a militia now—it’s called the military.  How can anyone, even an originalist, say that this Amendment justifies untrammeled access to weapons by everyone? It’s about a militia!  And a “well-regulated” militia, not a bunch of unorganized Americans with rifles.  And if you respond that without guns, ordinary Americans couldn’t overthrow the government and the military like our ancestors overthrew the British, well, I’ll take that risk.

It’s time for America to do what most of our counterparts do: ban guns or put them under the tightest of restrictions.  We may not be able to get rid of crazies, but we can get rid of guns.

There are two embarrassing ways that America differs from what the ABA calls “our economic counterparts” in the rest of the world: we are way more religious, and we have way more guns.  The combination, of course, is toxic.

As the old folk song goes, “When will they ever learn?”


  1. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Perhaps if everybody that owned a gun had to do 4 weekends obligatory militia training a year?

    • Jacobus van Beverningk
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      ?? What for?
      So that they’d become more efficient and effective with their weapons?

      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

        To discourage the lazy
        To teach gun discipline to the keen
        To get an early view of the crazy

        • Posted January 10, 2011 at 6:17 am | Permalink

          Actually, I’d support that.

          As a martial artist (well, hobbyist), I’m not actually anti-weapon. I’m just anti-violence.

          My experience is that the more disciplined and trained people are among the least likely to be violent.

    • Marshall
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Good idea… I do and I would. On the other hand, Mr. Loughner may have been associated with a milita group and that is what they like to do.

      Maybe an even better idea would be to improve mental health/social service so that people with his kind of history could be appropriately supported.

    • strangebeasty
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      I like this idea too. I’m not in favor of banning firearms altogether, but I I’m not altogether adverse to gun control. Some kind of state militia membership requirement sounds like a decent compromise, both in terms of general firearm safety, and keeping them away from crazy people.

  2. Becca Stareyes
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    I do wish the Tea Party would realize that the violent rhetoric just makes them look bad to everyone other than their followers, even if people who are both mentally ill and a danger to others don’t really need the encouragement. Because it comes off in incredibly poor taste when someone does get hurt. Or killed.

    But, I’ve seen no signs that they are going to do anything other than either cover up anything they said about the victims in specific or just entrench themselves more. If I’m wrong, and I’d be delighted to be wrong, please show me.

    Granted, I am quite happy to see the Tea Party dig itself deeper, but there’s always the tiny doubt of ‘what if there was some influence?’

  3. Helen Wise
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    I own a gun. I’ve owned one for many years. I’m shooting and safety proficient, as is my child, whom I have taught and trained.

    Every couple of months, I take myself off to the firing range to maintain my sight picture, and to ensure that the gun is in good working order. I’m doing what I can to be a responsible user and owner. I have zero interest in aiming my gun at any living thing.

    The statements of Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, et. al. are incredibly more dangerous than I and my gun will ever be.

    • Helen Wise
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      I forgot to add that Dr. Coyne is right: no one needs an auto or semi-auto weapon.

      • Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

        Just a bit of clarification.

        The non-automatic alternative to a semiautomatic pistol is a revolver. Only being able to fire a half-dozen rounds before having to reload or switch weapons slows down the pace of a protracted gunfight, but anybody who’s watched a spaghetti western or “Dirty Harry” knows that revolvers are almost equally capable of deadly mayhem as semiautomatic handguns.

        The non-automatic alternative to a semiautomatic rifle is a bolt-action rifle. The standard-issue infantry weapon in WWII was a bolt-action rifle, and it’s still the weapon of choice for snipers.

        With rare exception, shotguns are all manual weapons. If you think the carnage this madman just did with a semiautomatic handgun is bad, it’s nothing compared to what he would have done with a sawed-off shotgun.

        Unless you want to ban cartridge weapons and limit private ownership to muzzle loaders and flintlocks, bans on single-action firearms based on their technology are’t going to make much difference in these types of crimes.

        The problem with gun violence is the violence, not the guns. Even if we got rid of all the guns, a handful of Molotov cocktails at this event would have been just as disastrous. Or two water balloons tied together, one filled with bleach and the other with ammonia. Or a firecracker taped to a can of spray paint. Or a car with a 100-foot head start and a lead foot. Or…well, you get the idea.

        We’re surrounded by deadly weapons, many of them much deadlier or more horrific than guns. Guns are easy and obvious weapons, but the problem with them isn’t that they’re weapons, but that people want to kill each other.



        • Helen Wise
          Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

          As clarifications go, yours is a beaut. Nice done.

        • Tulse
          Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

          Unless you want to ban cartridge weapons and limit private ownership to muzzle loaders and flintlocks

          Shouldn’t that be precisely the position of constitutional originalists like Scalia? If the Founding Fathers didn’t intend the 14th Amendment to apply to women, how could they have intended the 2nd to apply to cartridge weapons?

        • Sili
          Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink

          We’re surrounded by deadly weapons, many of them much deadlier or more horrific than guns. Guns are easy and obvious weapons, but the problem with them isn’t that they’re weapons, but that people want to kill each other.

          So Europeans are inherently more peaceful and less murderous than Americans?

          • whyevolutionistrue
            Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:56 am | Permalink

            And Canadians, too, apparently!!!!

          • Microraptor
            Posted January 9, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

            Well, there is some strong correlation between a sudden rise in gun violence (especially among Hispanic and African Americans) and the appearance of crack cocaine, so America’s gun problem might be related to America’s drug problem.

          • Marella
            Posted January 9, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

            And Australians, it’s extremely difficult to get hold of any kind of gun over here and very few people are murdered by them, 47 in 2001 in the whole country. If it’s not access to guns then it must be genetic 😉

            • mistereveready
              Posted January 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

              I’d ask what the murder rate involving other methods is.

              Humans being fleshy creatures are rather easy to snuff and firearms are one of the few ways to do it. Given enough drive I don’t underestimate the ingenuity of people to find ways to kill each other.

        • Posted January 9, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

          Just a small correction– bolt action rifles were used in WWI; most WW II rifles (like the M1 Garand) were semi-automatic.

          • Posted January 10, 2011 at 6:48 am | Permalink

            True, but bolt-action rifles were also used in WW2, e.g. the British Enfield 303. But most rifles used in WW2 were semi-automatic with full-auto capability.

            • Posted January 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

              Er-no. Most rifles in WW2 were bolt action. The US was unusual in having an automatic weapon.

  4. Jeff Chamberlain
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    According to the news reports I’ve read, the gun was not an automatic weapon.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      Yes, I’ve heard both things: it was an automatic, or it was a semi-automatic. I couldn’t find the data so I went with what one news agency said. The principle stands, though, regardless of which it was—or even if it was a normal weapon (which I don’t believe since the guy got off at least 25 shots quickly).

      Is it worth, even with handguns and non-automatic rifles, allowing hunting and target practice if those avocations have the side effect of this kind of stuff?

      Yes, most gun-owners are law-abiding folks and are not crazies, but I still think that all guns should be prohibited, even if it spoils their sport, simply because those guns result in a lot of death and violence.

      • yesmyliege
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:33 am | Permalink

        Well, while we are on the topic of abrogating Constitutional rights in the name of reducing violence, suffering, and injury, can I get an amen for restricting religious expression?

        • Insightful Ape
          Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

          Haven’t we gotten that already, with the noise about mosques from New York to Tenessee?

          • yesmyliege
            Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

            No, Jerry seems to want a serious discussion about challenging the Constitutionality of the Second Amendment in order to reduce violence, suffering and injury. I am wondering if a parallel discussion would be appropriate in regard to the 1st amendment.

            The yahoos shouting about the mosque were in no way advocating a restriction of their own 1st Amendment rights.

            • Sili
              Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:00 am | Permalink

              No, Jerry seems to want a serious discussion about challenging the Constitutionality of the Second Amendment in order to reduce violence, suffering and injury.

              How can part of the Constitution be unconstitutional?

              My impression is that dr Coyne is not challenging any constitutionality of the Second Amendment. What he is challenging is the constitutionality of private gun ownership. He’s disagreeing with the NRA interpretation of the Second Amendment in favour of the interpretation the it’s about national defence.

              Whether that is correct or not is repeatedly being hashed out in the courts. I obviously think private gun ownership is stupid, but it may well be constitutional. Which just goes to show that your constitution can well be crap in places.

              • yesmyliege
                Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

                “What he is challenging is the constitutionality of private gun ownership.”

                That IS the 2nd Amendment, recently found to explicitly protect private ownership. What are we arguing about?

      • chlorion
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        The abolution of guns is a wonderful idea–in a “perfect” world. In the real world, the idea is crazy–as crazy as the abolition of religion or the antics of a madman. Do you know any of these people? Do you know thy non-academic neighbor? Do you know a way of prying their bibles and their AK 47s from their cold blue hands? The extirpation of guns and bibles is merely a practical impossibility. Horses and barns. Peters in dykes.

        Having left academe many years ago to live in the chaos and the cold, I can tell you my neighbor’s credo: “Go ahead. Make my day.” The NRA almost WANT the government to try it. To which we can only reply, verily, the lord works in really, really mysterious ways, striking down enemy and friend alike, while simultaneously turning his back, along with his Other Cheek. I’ve reserved seats on the Big Spaceship to colonize the Fantasy Planet, taking along plenty of guns and bibles, of course, to defend ourselves from the locals and convert their beliefs, and starting a new life.

      • Microraptor
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        One of the problems is that “automatic” doesn’t really mean anything. It’s sometimes used as a shorthand for fully automatic (keeps firing as long as the trigger is held down), and sometimes used as a shorthand for semi automatic (fires once every time the trigger is pulled).

  5. locutus7
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Actually, the pistol he used was a Glock semi-auto with an extended clip. Glocks are used by many police forces.

    Two points:

    1) News now from DHS is that he MAY have ties to the right right and anti-semitic group American Renaisance. Whether he is a member or just interested in their material is yet unknown.

    2) According to a post on the Rational Skepticism website, so many people were posting celebratory messages on the tea-party favorite website Free Republic that the site crashed for a while.

    That would not surprise me as whenever an abortion doctor is murdered, Free Republic posters goe into frenzied jubilation (DailyKos is a good source for following their antics without actually visiting the odious site).

  6. locutus7
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Correct above to Right Wing, not right right.

  7. yesmyliege
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    “It’s about a militia! And a “well-regulated” militia, not a bunch of unorganized Americans with rifles”

    Oh boy! Break out the popcorn!

  8. palefury
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    I’m with you Jerry,
    I am from New Zealand, but I live in the USA, and in NZ we have much tighter fire arms restrictions than here. Ok I understand why people would need rifles if they are a hunter or farmer. But i guarantee this guy would have been more obvious and done less damage if he had walked in with a rifle.
    As for hand guns. The only real world use for these is to kill people. Now if you are a marksman, and a member of a shooting club or whatever, it see why you need to own a hand gun. But I don’t see why it should be a problem for you to go through a gun safety course and get some sort of approval to own a fire arm. This could include a psyche evaluation to make sure you are in your right mind.

    Now in terms of owning a hand gun for home defense, I find this kind of scary. First of all any responsible gun owner knows not to leave their fire arm lying around loaded, especially if there are kids in the house. This is how people accidentally get shot. Would you have enough time to get your gun out and load it if someone broke into you house, probably not. So what is even the point of having one. Now if you have tighter restrictions on who can own a gun, then the guy breaking into your house is less likely to have one too. So I think it makes more sense to restrict fire arm ownership.

    Surely if you are not intending on using your fire arm for anything illegal, you should have no problem going through a training and screening process in order to be licensed to own one. This way you can maintain your right to bear arms, and keep crazies and militant extremists away from dangerous weapons.

    I can’t help but think that tragedy’s like this one and the Virginia tech massacre could not be prevented by tighter gun control.

    • Microraptor
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      “Would you have enough time to get your gun out and load it if someone broke into you house, probably not. So what is even the point of having one.”

      It only takes a couple of seconds to load a gun.

      • Posted January 9, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

        Loading, sure – takes a second.

        But if you’ve got kids and a functioning brain, you lock your guns up when not using them. No home-invader worth his salt is going to wait patiently while you unlock your cabinet and load your Glock.

        So, unless you live without kids and you keep your guns & ammo next together in an unlocked cabinet or on the coffee table, that home invader is invading the shit out of your home.

        But all this is aside from the fact that this fantasy of stalking a burglar through your darkened house and taking the fucker down like the cold, hard SWAT bastard you are – really is childish in the extreme. And if you do manage to point your loaded gun at the guy and yell ‘freeze’, who’s to say he won’t just pull his trigger anyway? Cops may well be hauling two bodies away.

        I sometimes think people have an over-inflated sense of how badass they are, especially when firearms are mentioned. I think I’m lucky sometimes, having Vietnam/WWII veterans & cops in my family – they’re able to illustrate in graphic detail that a gun isn’t a fucking magic wand, even in the hands of a well-trained marksman.

        • Posted January 9, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

          For the record, Microraptor, the snark was more generalised and not directed at you.

          It’s just that the “takes two seconds to load a gun” line set me off on a bit of a rant. For starters, it takes a total of perhaps 0.1 seconds for a hunter to take a snapshot and have the bullet reach its target. In a closed environment like a house, even less. Even if the shot misses there’s another in the chamber as soon as the first cartridge is ejected. But you got me thinking – how many armed home invasions happen in the US anyway?

          In fact, I’d be curious to see some statistics:

          1. successful armed home invasions (objective of invader accomplished)

          2. armed home invasions thwarted by armed homeowner (fatally or otherwise)

          3. fatal accidental shootings (gun-cleaning mishaps, horseplay, ignorance)

          Surely if 2 outranks 1 and/or 3 there’s a case to be made for packing heat at home.

          • Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:43 am | Permalink

            Maybe you should also look at how many victims of armed home invasions themselves have active criminal records, and how many of the thwarted ones were thwarted by illegally-owned guns.

            I have a feeling that, like a lot of violent crime, most home invasions are carried out by criminals on criminals they know. Most violent crime doesn’t fit the popular image of a criminal perpetrating it on an innocent person previously unknown to them.

        • Microraptor
          Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

          I’m merely used to dealing with anti-gun safety advocates who think that guns should be stored loaded in unlocked containers so that they’re more readily available for when an intruder breaks in.

          I myself don’t even own a gun (I live on a college campus), and in the event that my home was invaded my plan to repulse the intruder consists of imitating Sir Robin and bravely running away. I don’t have any possessions I value strongly enough to be willing to risk death over them.

  9. locutus7
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Not to be a thread hog, but to clarify on the gun for those who care, pistols with clips are called automatics as opposed to revolvers. In actuality, they are semi-automatic (one shot each time you pull the trigger), not fully automatic.

    It is just a quirk with the names, but can be confusing if you are not familiar with firearms.

  10. Mirik
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Here’s a list of crazy conservative, extremist, right wing killers of the last 10 years or so. It’s insanely huge.

    I’d like to see even ONE tree-hugging socialist name that went crazy and killed folks. I really think there is no comparison, you are being far too kind, Jerry!

    Crazy killers shooting people is pretty much the definition of a stunted conservative anti-intellectual.

    Same as the factoid that the biggest conservative homophobes turn out to be gay.

    • Helen Wise
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      “I’d like to see even ONE tree-hugging socialist name that went crazy and killed folks. I really think there is no comparison”.

      I agree. It’s really not helpful or useful to play the equivalencies game now. The media plays this tune every day, meaning that it’s pointless to criticize the violent rhetoric of the right because my goodness, the left does it, too. It does? Really?

    • Tulse
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, was definitely anti-technology, although not a socialist. Various eco-terrorist groups, like Earth First!, have set off bombs. Ditto in the past for “monkeywrenching” extreme socialist groups.

      It may be right-wing crazies doing the killing these days, but it has by no means been limited to them historically.

      • Microraptor
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

        Kaczynski was so far away from the norm that trying to apply a label like “right-wing” or “left-wing” to his beliefs becomes an exercise in futility.

        • Posted January 9, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

          True that. This latest murderous psycho may well be another uncategorisable case.

          Off-topic a bit, but that’s what I notice about extreme libertarians sometimes: elements of both right wing and left wing philosophy, all wrapped up with a “fuck you, I’m ok” mentality.

  11. cnocspeireag
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Many Europeans own guns and different countries have their own restrictions on ownership. What we don’t have is widespread ownership of guns designed to be used on people, such as handguns and military arms.
    Most Europeans keep arms for shooting game. Not that this is without hazard, as anyone walking in the Tuscan countryside at the start of the shooting season will confirm.

    • Scott B
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      Is it not true, too, that most Europeans keep their guns at their gun clubs? There, you can use it as well as admire it. In fact, if you are angry with someone, it might be a step up from the the old “hit a pillow with your fist” routine. Go to the gun club and blast away for an hour, to relieve anger.

      According to almost every report I have seen, the number of people actually successfully fending off an intruder with a handgun is abysmally small compared to the number of un-intended shootings (kids, relative, etc). I have a Samoan war club, some kitchen knives, and a cellphone for defense of the domicle.

      • Posted January 9, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

        I should have read further: in the replies for comment 8 I was wondering about just those stats…

  12. SWH
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    The third major way in which this country varies from other industrialized nations is, of course, in not providing affordable healthcare. As a foreigner moving here, probably the most difficult concept to come to grips with was not the idea of being randomly shot but rather coping with benefits packages and choosing providers who were actually covered by my particular insurance. Now that some progress has been made in this area the current house majority wants to reverse it. Go figure.

    The gun culture is scary, and I personally advocate a position pretty similar to the one that Jerry outlined. I probably have less of an issue with hunting, at least selectively, since deer are a perennial hazard on the roads here and, absent the historic predators which kept their numbers in check, need culling. I don’t think reintroducing wolves into suburban middle Tennessee would be a vote winner!

    Is it too early for that beer from the previous thread?

  13. Juha Savolainen
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    You are quite correct. Unless the authorities come up with an accomplice who would have somehow guided the killer with ideas and the opportunity, I would like to emphasize the many similarities between this atrocity and those of Virginia Tech, Columbine and those in Germany and Finland.

    OK, unlike in these cases, the target was not the school, college or university but included a prominent politician, who had already been threatened. It is here the poisonous atmosphere of Arizona may have had an influence. But otherwise, this is so similar to many other school/college/university massacres.

  14. Chris Slaby
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    I agree with just about everything Professor Coyne has said. The only exception is letting off violent rhetoric. Even if this incident is completely unrelated to the rhetoric of violence found in political discussions, it certainly should be a wake-up call. I don’t want to simply repeat the many others who have by now pointed out Sarah Palin’s crosshairs campaign, but even if that violent allusion (actually using the crosshairs of a gun to mark opponents!) had nothing to do with this incident, it should be clear to everyone that such a campaign is at best an extremely inappropriate way to register disagreement. I don’t care what policy issue or political point you’re trying to make, this country needs to calm it down, stop the violent rhetoric, and be rational. We should revel in our disagreements, but we shouldn’t let disagreement become emotional, or an excuse for violence.

  15. littlejohn
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    As a former law enforcement officer, I go nuts when people who don’t know anything about guns start lecturing me about them.
    There is a world of difference between an automatic and a semi-automatic gun. Virtually every American soldier and police officer carries a semi-auto. Automatic weapons – such as machine guns – are effectively illegal.
    The only real alternative to a semi-auto is a revolver. Whether a Glock or a revolver, you pull the trigger, it fires one round. The mechanism is different, the effect is the same.
    As for the Second Amendment, you, like all gun-haters, point to the militia reference as if it means anything. You didn’t seem to see the words “of the people.” Gun rights are clearly individual rights.
    If you don’t like that, you’ll need a constitutional amendment. Good luck with that.
    By the way, the rounds are not in a “clip,” they’re in a “magazine.”
    You’re completely out of your field here. It’s a bit like preachers opining on biology, which I gather bothers you.

    • Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      littlejohn. From Wikipedia under “Magazine (firearms)”:

      The magazine functions by moving the cartridges stored in the magazine into a position where they may be loaded into the chamber by the action of the firearm. The detachable magazine is often referred to as a clip; such usage is sometimes frowned upon by many authorities on firearms but is nonetheless commonplace.

      Stating on the basis of the use of this commonplace that Jerry is “completely out of your field here” is a bit of an exaggeration.

      Regarding the constitution, I am not expert, and it seems that the Supreme Court has settled this question in favour of individual gun ownership. However, just reading the English of the clause seems to suggest that the point of the right to bear arms is to ensure that the military will be in the people’s hands, and not, as was the case with British colonial rule, a separate institution which could be used against the people. As I say, the Supreme Court has settled the issue in another way, so it is probably not possible to go back to the original meaning of the bearing arms clause, but I suspect that the Supreme Court got it wrong, notwithstanding.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:27 am | Permalink


        Yep. Just because the Constitution has that amendment, and because the courts have interpreted it to allow gun ownership, doesn’t mean that it’s right. Nor do I care much that “it’ll never be changed.” That’s what they say about religion in America, too!

        Whether the gun was automatic or semiautomatic is something I didn’t know about, nor, granted, did I know the technical distinction. But littlejohn’s just being obtuse to claim that because I didn’t know that difference, my opinion about the legality of gun ownership is moot. Personally, I don’t think that any citizens should be allowed to own a firearm, regardless of whether it’s automatic, semiautomatic, or not.

        • Helen Wise
          Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

          Firearm use and ownership can and should be strictly regulated. As you say up thread, no one needs an automatic weapon, but as is noted down thread, automatic weapons are illegal–although, if I’m not mistaken, modifying a semi-auto to auto is a relatively easy matter on the street.

          People of reason can see the need for regulation and support it.

          I disagree with you emphatically, however, about whether or not people should be allowed to own them.

        • palefury
          Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

          I can understand the historical reason why the 2nd amendment was included in the constitution. But I don’t see that original reason as particularly relevant today.

          So OK the 2nd amendment is there, some of us don’t like it, but others do so OK.

          But littlejohn don’t you think that it would be a good idea to prevent people who are mentally unwell and who want to indiscriminately shoot people, from getting their hands of a weapon that allows them to do just that?
          And wouldn’t such a thing require that all people are screened for such tendencies, to identify the bad apples?

          Surely you can’t believe that this kind of tragedy is an acceptable consequence of a law allowing the “right to bear arms.”

          I personally don’t like firearms. I don’t want to own one. I am somewhat of a pacifist and don’t what to own something designed to kill people. My prerogative, right. And maybe this whole firearms restriction thingy for the USA is a bit of shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted.

          But if tragedies are avoidable by a change in law. Is it not ethically required to do just that?

          • littlejohn
            Posted January 9, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

            You have misunderstood me. I would throw out the Second Amendment if I could. But to deliberately misread it just because you can’t politically get rid of it is dodgy. BTW, Madison and Jefferson both wrote in private correspondence that they meant the right to be individual, not governmental. It’s easy enough to Google.
            But of course, we no longer have to worry about shooting our dinner or defending ourselves against marauding Indians.
            I’ve noticed most people’s view of the matter turn on whether they were raised in a rural area, where guns are taken for granted, or an urban area, where guns are associated with crime and gangs.
            I was raised in the hills of West Virginia. Every home had guns; it never occurred to us to use them to commit crimes. I never hated or feared them; I’m puzzled by people who do.

            • Posted January 10, 2011 at 3:31 am | Permalink

              I was raised around guns, too, and unfortuantely I’ve seen a fair amount of their misuse, including a teenage neighbour shot dead by her boyfriend in an argument.

              I suggest that if you aren’t somewhat afraid of guns and their easy availability, you’re not thinking clearly.

        • Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink

          Yes, I agree with your last point. I guess the point I was making is that, since the Supreme Court seems to be one of the most conservative institutions in the nation, it is not likely to be changed any time soon.

          As to the right to gun ownership, I think it is possible to regulate the possession of small arms for hunting and such like, if killing animals is your thing. (I have always found it passing strange to think of this in terms of sport and sportsmanship.) But there should be no right to own and use assault weapons, and handguns, if people want to use them for sport, can be carefully regulated. In Bermuda, for example, the possession of any type of weapon is stricly controlled. They are kept by the police, and can be signed out by their owners for specific uses, such as target practice, etc.

          But to permit automatic and semiautomatic weapons to circulate freely in a society is just asking for trouble. Canada, which has fairly restricted practice regarding gun ownership and use, has far fewer gun related deaths that its neighbour to the south. It only stands to reason that, however well intentioned, where ownership is unregulated, irregular uses will abound.

          • Helen Wise
            Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

            When there is an event like this, there are people who come out in favor of a 100% gun ban. They don’t like guns, and they don’t think that any one else should like them, either. And that’s all fine, except that this kind of talking gets in the way of our being able to properly regulate manufacturing, distribution, sales, and use of firearms.

            The NRA, the loudest and most effective gun lobby in the world militantly battles every single attempt at regulation because they think that any regulation is the thin edge of a wedge of total firearms ban. So to the extent that you’re advocating a 100% ban, well, you’re not helping.

            • Posted January 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

              Oh, hey! I’m not in favour of a 100% ban. That won’t work, I acknowledge, but careful regulation can work. Guns could be proofed before being sold and their signatures recorded. Every gun sold could have a paper trail, and registration could be required. Of course, illegal guns would still no doubt exist, but stolen guns could be immediately identified. There is no reason for an unregulated system of gun ownership, in my view.

            • Posted January 9, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

              I don’t think they “dislike” guns, similarly as atheists don’t “hate” god.
              It is very misleading to use this phrase.

              We hate the effects that gun-ownership (presumably) has on society. Personally, I like guns but – generally – would prefer to see them banned or very tightly regulated.

              And why not advocate for a ban if it is your opinion?! I don’t think Dr. Coyne is on the accomodationist bandwagon…

          • palefury
            Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

            I’m with you on this. NZ is pretty much the same a Bermuda by the sound of things.

            I think this may be too ambitious for the USA though. But I think that steps towards tighter gun regulation are essential, and proposing restrictions this tight would likely meet a large amount opposition.

            Baby steps, baby steps

          • yesmyliege
            Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink

            Eric said:

            “…Canada, which has fairly restricted practice regarding gun ownership and use, has far fewer gun related deaths that its neighbour to the south. “…

            To be fair, though, Canada’s gun restrictions have been pretty recent. And they did not have a problem with gun-related before putting regulations into effect.

            I live in Vermont. We have had no restrictions or licensing for concealed carry of loaded pistols or long gun ownership at any time, as far as I can tell. We also have a very low incidence of gun violence.

            I’m no expert, but it seems to me that gun violence in the U.S. is correlated with population density, poverty, and the drug culture.

            If we wanted to eliminate most gun violence in the U.S. as quickly as possible, I think drug legalization would be pretty darned effective. With the many billions a year we would not squander prosecuting the War On Drugs, maybe we could afford some personnel to go interview YouTube-advertized lunatics like Laughner.

            • Dale
              Posted January 9, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

              I disagree. There is a very strong cultural difference between the Us and other western countries and part of it is the rhetoric that surrounds political issues including the gun issue. If I am a nut case and I hear continually how a particular politician is out to destroy the United States and that in the future we will need to take “second amendment remedies”. And don’t forget about Glenn Beck and his ilk talking about the need for regular revolutions.

              My Paranoid nutcase mind may just start to listen.

              On the other hand this type of rhetoric is unheard of in Canada (where I come from though I now live in the US).

              The notion that a gun is a legitimate solution to problems is a particularly American idea.

            • Posted January 9, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

              This is not altogether true. Police departments across the country have supported the long gun registry, since it gives them the information that can avoid danger to police when entering situations, especially domestic violence situations. Quite a few cops have been killed in such situations. Regarding Vermont, while there is low gun violence in the state, some people are concerned that lax gun laws in Vermont serve to export gun violence to other states. That is the perception, apparently, whether or not it is justified. I agree about the drugs. Like prohibition this is creating not only domestic problems, but reduces other countries, like Mexico, to ungovernability. There must be a better way.

              • palefury
                Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

                I am not sure that I agree with legalizing all drugs. But if we make the argument for legislation of cannabis, that it is no more dangerous or addictive that legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. This would remove drug crime specifically associated with this particular drug which is probably the most widely used one. Then with the money saved prosecuting people for cannabis related crime, and income gained from government taxes on the new legalized product, money could be put into education and rehabilitation for people exposed to more dangerous drugs such as meth.

              • Ichthyic
                Posted January 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

                I was quite surprised to see CA failed to legalize pot in the last referendum vote.

                Hell, even the damn CATO institute supported the idea!

            • Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

              I just wanted to second this comment. Within the US, there isn’t anything approximating a clear relationship between firearm restrictions and firearm related violence. The 10 states with lowest per-capita gun violence tend to have fairly permissive gun laws, with exception of Hawaii. My home state of AK has almost identical per-capita gun violence as New Jersey, where guns are much more tightly regulated. People are barking up the wrong tree going after the guns. Income inequality reduction and drug legalization are what we should really be going after.

        • James Jackson
          Posted January 9, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

          John Lott’s research has shown clearly that crime rates decline after a state approves concealed carry. Lott’s statistical analyses are quite sophisticated. Injuries/death to innocents by gunshot are the risk that we all run to reduce crime, just as highway fatalities are the risk we run for rapid and convenient transport.

          Guns, like drugs, will never be eliminated from this country, even if they are completely banned. Given that fact, a more rational response than a ban is to require every adult to be armed and ready to respond to a crazed individual.

          • Microraptor
            Posted January 10, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

            Lott’s researched ignored a lot of other factors that influence crime rates, though, like economic levels and ethnic makeups of communities. He was blatantly out to prove that gun ownership was a good thing, as well, which should make most people at least somewhat skeptical of his findings until someone else is able to replicate them.

      • yesmyliege
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        Eric said:

        “However, just reading the English of the clause seems to suggest that the point of the right to bear arms is to ensure that the military will be in the people’s hands, and not, as was the case with British colonial rule, a separate institution which could be used against the people.”

        I don’t think that is quite right, Eric. As I understand it, the Forefathers did not want “the military” to be in anyone’s hands – they were against a standing army. Reason being, America at the time was occupied by one owned by the British.

        So, the “militia” was a volunteer citizen’s outfit, “well-regulated” which at the time evidently meant ‘well-outfitted and trained’, and was to be used against a tyrannical standing army or against invaders or bands of criminals or Indians.

        They did have heavy ordinance like cannon at the time, but these was kept under lock and key in barns, separate from personal possession.

        Pistols, rifles and shotguns were regularly used and needed by all folks not in large city centers. The idea that the 2nd Amendment was in any way meant to sequester gun possession out of the hands of ordinary folks and only for use by a “regulated” militia is completely unfounded.

        • Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          Yes, of course, but in this situation, the militia would be the military. I did not want to suggest otherwise. But of course the circumstances of modern warfare have made this ideal of a citizen military impossible for a large modern industrial nation involved in world affairs, although smaller countries like Switzerland seem to have managed it.

          The America of the 18th century was a much smaller, more intimate affair than it was to become. Still, the right to bear arms was aimed at the military, however understood. The idea that a private militia would ever be capable of taking on the armed might of the US military is simply laughable, so the right to bear arms, as a general right, can scarcely occupy the same place that it did originally, if the idea of bearing arms is to protect against oppression by one’s own government. There may have been at the time heavy ordinance that was kept locked away in barns, but musketry could defeat canons, whereas small arms fire cannot do very much against missiles and multibarrelled machine guns firing at 6000 rounds a minute, and this must raise questions about the relevance of the constitutional right to bear arms.

          The origin of the idea probably lies in Locke’s idea that a people have a right to overthrow an unjust government (as England did in the Glorious Revolution), but this is simply inapplicable to the modern situation, which is why not guns, but laws and orderly transitions of power are a much safer bulwark against oppression.

          • Posted January 9, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

            If you think that overwhelming force of arms is what guarantees victory in a war, I have two trivial counterexamples: Vietnam and Afghanistan.

            If your enemy has tanks, missiles, and ICBMs and you don’t, you don’t go toe-to-toe with him. You make bombs from fertilizer and gasoline and destroy the enemy’s roads, hospitals, and water supplies. Or you find a sympathetic camera crew, link arms with your spouses, children, parents, grandchildren, and grandparents, and walk up to the army base, right into those 6,000-round-per-minute machine guns. In the right circumstances it actually doesn’t take all that much; a single young girl doused with napalm can defeat an entire nation.



            • Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

              Doubtless true, but it makes successful insurrection less likely. And the examples are not altogether without problems. The difference here is that Vietnam and Afghanistan were/are both situations where the American military was/is far from home, dealing with indigenous insurgents. This would not be true with a domestic isurrection or insurgency. They might cause some local instability, but it is not likely ever to be much more than that.

              • yesmyliege
                Posted January 10, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

                I think a better way to look at this whole issue, is to see that the 2nd Amendment is not about the rights of citizens to have arms, rather, it is about revoking the right of the government to restrict arms for any reason.

                The right of citizens to own and use guns was assumed self-evident at that time, was double-guaranteed by the 9th Amendment, and was triple-guaranteed by the 2nd.

                The idea, espoused by Scalia as ‘Originalism”, that the Constitution parses out specific rights to citizens is completely belied by the Amendments themselves, and the obvious intentions of the Founders as seen in the Federalist papers, that the rights of citizens are assumed, and that the Constitution exists to explicitly restrict the powers and delineate the responsibilities of the State.

                Like gun ownership or not, a defense of the 2nd Amendment along the above lines is a defense of the true spirit of the Constitution, and a defense of civil liberties in general.

          • Wayne Robinson
            Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

            The Glorious Revolution of 1688 was the last successful foreign invasion of England and also a locally supported coup. It wasn’t a popular uprising, although it did have a lot of local popular (and even foreign) support. King James II should have realized he was in trouble when even Pope Innocent XI was lending William of Orange money for his campaign.

        • Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

          The 2nd amendment was intended to put guns in the hand of the militia. The Supreme Court, as Eric notes, has ruled otherwise (so it may be a while till this interpretation is overturned), but the Supreme Court ruling does not change the plain meaning of the text or its historical context. The militia is neither the regular military nor the right wing amateur groups. The National Guard (state controlled troops) are the historical descendants of the militia. To “bear arms” does not mean to own a gun; it means to be a member of a military force (including a militia). The amendment guarantees the right to “keep and bear arms”, not keep or bear arms. So unless your gun ownership is related to the well-regulated militia, it’s not constitutionally protected. A misunderstanding of what “bear arms” means (and thinking of ‘and’ as ‘or’) is at the heart of what the gun movement (with the agreement of 5 members of the Supreme Court) gets wrong.

          In the late 18th century, many militia members kept their guns at home (the Swiss still do). Indeed, many hunting rifles were superior to the cheaper muskets usually supplied to standing armies, so it made sense to “keep” the arms.

          That 2nd amendment rights are associated with militias (and the legislature could take a pretty broad view of what that association might be) does not mean that weapons unassociated with militias are or should be illegal, only that laws pertaining to them would be subject to the usual political and legislative processes without any specifically constitutional questions arising.

          • Posted January 9, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

            Nearly 100% disagreement. I recommend Stephen Halbrooke’s __That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right__ and Clayton Cramer’s __Armed America: The Remarkable Story of How and Why Guns Became as American as Apple Pie__.

            The militia is not the Army or the National Guard. The Second Amendment is in the Constitution because Americans had just defeated their own government. The Second Amendment applies (via the 14th) to States because the North won the Civil War and the Southern States in the post-war era used their organized State militia to disarm the freedmen. This was one argument in Congress for the 14th Amendment.
            “People” means “citizens”. “Keep” means “own and have at hand” (consider restrictions on “keeping” livestock in a residential area). “Bear” means “carry”.

            US Constitution
            Article I, Section 8
            Section. 8.
            The Congress shall have Power…
            To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water…

            A letter of Marque is authorization from a government to the owner of a warship to make war in the name of a government. It makes the difference between a privateer and a pirate. Sir Frances Drake operated under a letter of marque from the British government. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention expected private citizens (more likely corporations) to own warships.

            Full auto? Hell, where’s my Aegis cruiser?

            • Ichthyic
              Posted January 9, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

              near 100% irrelevant and wrong, but hey, have fun with your guided missile cruiser.

              sounds like a hoot!

              • Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

                Why is historical research into the origins of the Second Amendment “irrelevant” to the “intended” purpose of the right to keep and bear arms? How could a refutation of “The National Guard (state controlled troops) are the historical descendants of the militia” be “irrelevant” to this assertion?

            • Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

              “Bear arms” does not mean “carry arms”; “bear arms” is a term of art, with a specific meaning derived from its historical and legal context, and it means to be a soldier or member of a military organization (including a militia). Check the OED.

              To understand the meaning of the Constitution, you must understand its words and phrases as they would have been understood in the late 18th century. It’s like the word “establish” in reference to religion. If you only go by current usage, the prohibition against legislating regarding an “establishment of religion” seems puzzling– does it mean something about church buildings? or the founders of a religion?– because that’s not what establish or establishment usually mean today. This change in apparent meaning is in large part due to the Constitution itself. Not having had an established religion for over 200 years, Americans tend not to know or use the word “establishment” in this religious sense. (The meaning may be more evident to Britons, who do have an established church.)

              • Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

                (Mayer): ” ‘Bear arms’ does not mean ‘carry arms’; ‘bear arms’ is a term of art, with a specific meaning derived from its historical and legal context, and it means to be a soldier or member of a military organization (including a militia). Check the OED.”

                No. Check Justice Taney’s opinion for the majority in the Dredd Scott case. It is an individual right. Check Justice Storey’s Commentaries on the Constitution: ” “§ 1890. The importance of this article will scarcely be doubted by any persons, who have duly reflected upon the subject. The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time ofanding armies in time of peace, both from the enormous expenses, with which they are attended, and the facilee means, which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers, to subvert the government, or trample upon the rights of the people. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.”

              • Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

                OED: “to bear arms: to serve as a soldier, do military service, fight.” In the late 18th century, the states had militias, and the Bill of Rights were (mostly) about constraining Federal power; the sovereignty of the states, with their militias, were a check upon the Federal government.

                The fear of a standing army goes back before the US, to English history (with which the Founders were, of course, intimately familiar), and England did not have American style colonial militias. The 3rd amendment is more addressed to this issue.

                You might also have picked someone and something other than Taney and the infamous Dred Scott decision to bolster your view. Taney is, in any event, two generations removed from the Founders.

    • Kyle
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      “As for the Second Amendment, you, like all gun-haters, point to the militia reference as if it means anything. You didn’t seem to see the words “of the people.” Gun rights are clearly individual rights”

      Ya, because the militia part occupies the entire preamble for no reason. “The people” must be understood within the context of republican collectivism, which meant that Americans had an obligation (not a right) to be armed in order to rise to the defence of the state when necessary. Now that militias have been replaced by the National Guard, the Second Amendment is anachronistic and entirely irrelevant. Those who argue otherwise have a grave misunderstanding of the historical evidence.

      • yesmyliege
        Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink

        “The people”… meant that Americans had an obligation (not a right) to be armed in order to rise to the defence of the state when necessary”

        So, you agree with Scalia, then, that rights must be specifically enumerated or they don’t exist?

        People would have the right to own guns, even if it was NOT specifically enumerated in the 2nd according to the 9th Amendment.

        Do you really think the 2nd Amendment is there to deny the Constitutional right of citizens to nonmilitia use of firearms? That’s preposterous! There was NO such issue back in the day. Abrogation of the rights of an individual to have and bear arms outside of any militia use was assumed outside of ANY discussion. The Founders quite obviously put in the 2nd to provide an eternal justification to prohibit the government from banning citizen ownership of weapons because of a political basis.

        • Kyle
          Posted January 11, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

          “So, you agree with Scalia, then, that rights must be specifically enumerated or they don’t exist?”

          I never said that. I simply reminded people that in order to understand original intent you need to understand the historical context, which was republicanism, not invidividual rights.

          You raise a good point though, and the framers of the constitution had that debate. Do we really even need a Bill of Rights? Or is it possibly dangerous to enumerate inheret rights?

          I never argued that guns should not be a right, but that people who use the Second Amendment and original intent are misguided and wrong. I am a historian, and am not making a political statement but a historical one. The Second Amendment was about ensuring armed militias, since the framers feared a national army for the same reason they feared the British.

          If you’re interested in the subject and want a good look at the historical evidence I suggest Saul Cornell’s A Well Regulated Militia.

  16. Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    I’ll admit that the Second is my least-favorite Amendment. I don’t own a gun, never have. I’ve been to the range with friends a few times and enjoyed it. The rate of violence, including gun violence, horrifies me.

    Yet, at a time when the only Amendment that’s not under full assault is the Third, I can hardly advocate against any of the others, the Second included.

    Jerry, the standard interpretation is that a militia is an ad-hoc assembly of citizen soldiers, whereas an army is a standing body of full-time professionals. We have a few militias in the States, but they’re almost exclusively right-wing wacko racist fundamentalist nutjobs. What Switzerland has is closer to the Founder’s vision of a militia. The Founders, as I understand, never wanted the States to have a standing army but instead thought we should rely upon militias whenever the need arose. You can’t have an empire with a militia, only with an army. If the citizenry can’t be bothered to step forward to fight of their own volition, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the cause isn’t worth killing for.

    And history is rife with examples of successful civil uprisings against overwhelmingly more powerful armies. Even today, our soldiers in Afghanistan are getting their asses handed to them despite the fact that we’ve got, on paper, the most destructive fighting force in the history of the planet by a vast margin. Never mind the nukes; just using conventional arms, we could trivially “bomb them back into the Stone Age.” And keep in mind that they themselves aren’t that far out of the Iron Age.

    It’s a complicated matter. I don’t think the right solution is to repeal the Second Amendment, and I’m certain that no attempt to do so would have any chance of success.

    I think the real problems at the root of it all are the same ones we’re all too familiar with — poverty in the face of plenty combined with prohibition.

    First, get the fuck out of Afghanistan. It’s an open chest wound bleeding both countries dry. Second, return taxes to the rates favored by Reagan; use the revenues to retire the crippling debt we face and to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. The investment in infrastructure will pay off immediately in jobs and over the long term in the exact same way that the original investment did. Third, repeal prohibition and, in so doing, rip the rug out from underneath the black market and the gangs of smugglers that run it.

    The general peace and prosperity that would result would make guns not much more of a concern than kitchen knives.

    Of course, none of that is politically possible right now. The owners of the Military-Industrial Complex are profiteering at unbelievable rates off of the foreign wars, and they don’t just own the weapons factories but the media. And, because they own the media, they can also convince the middle class that it’s in their best interests to funnel even more money to the ultra-rich. And the War on Some Drugs is insanely profitable to our militarized police. It’s the tragedy of the commons, but you and I are the commons.



  17. Dianne Saichek
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    “Europe gets along fine without guns…”
    OOps, Switzerland has a civilian miltary. Every citizen has at least one gun, engages in target practice (for sport) and perhaps because it’s a more homogeneous society, defends itself using this citizen militia. These folks, however, do not tote AK47s, or automatic weapons, to my knowledge. Every citizen is trained in gun use, cleaning and maintenance,—part of the high school curriculum.

    • Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      My Norwegian colleagues have told me on an occasion that while they’re fairly picky about what sort of guns people can own, a staggering number of people have things such as machine guns left over in attics from World War 2.

  18. Pete UK
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink


    A third difference: in some states you still execute people, too.

    Don’t know if there is any correlation between the level of gun ownership and the prevailing legislation for capital punishment in a state, but I have this feeling…

  19. Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Loughner may be a garden-variety American crazy: paranoid, alienated, and with schizophrenic tendencies, but that doesn’t exclude the possibility or probability that his choice of target was shaped by violent right-wing rhetoric. As Giffords herself said, words have consequences.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      AGREED! All I’m saying is that we just don’t know at this point, yet all over the web I’m seeing the Tea Party and other conservative organizations indicted for these murders.

      • palefury
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

        And really the blame has to lie with this guy that did the shooting.

      • Barry
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:14 am | Permalink

        That’s because their websites are celebrating the murders. I understand, Jerry, why you want to avoid the knee-jerk condemnation of Tea-Party association on scant evidence. However, a Democrat politician was his first and intended target, so he’s either a derranged lunatic whose actions were random, or he had intent. If he had intent then how can you sit on the fence regarding political motivation?

      • Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        AGREED that we don’t know…but I think it’s fair to condemn bloodthirsty rhetoric now anyway, provided we manage not to say we do know. I think the bloodthirsty rhetoric is horribly dangerous and should stop, and now seems like a good time to say so.

        I’m framing…

  20. Larry Delaney
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I would not be too hasty in letting the American Right off the hook in this case. I understand that the alleged perp was enamored with the gold standard.

    It seems to me that I recall Glenn Beck extolling the virtues of returning to the gold standard.

    • Microraptor
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Whether he believed in the gold standard or not is irrelevant, it’s like the common Christian claim that Hitler and Stalin were atheists.

      Correlation is not causation.

  21. Thanny
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I rather like guns myself (though I don’t own any), though I’m all for making it more challenging to get one. However, our society’s problem with gun violence is not really due to guns themselves.

    You can’t compare our situation with that of European nations, because that conflates variables. A more suitable comparison is with Canada. They have lots of guns in Canada, too, but very little gun violence. What’s the difference? Social safety nets. That’s what most European nations have as well. If guns were more prevalent in those European nations, it would not lead to more gun violence.

    If everyone had health care, period, and never had to worry about where the next meal was coming from or under what roof it would be eaten, our violence problem in general would all but disappear.

    • Tulse
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      A more suitable comparison is with Canada. They have lots of guns in Canada, too

      This is a common canard that is simply not true. Per capita, the US has 3 times as many guns per citizen as Canada, and 7 times as many handguns. Guns in Canada are primarily long guns, and used in the large rural areas of the country. Handguns in cities are far rarer than in the US, and handgun ownership is highly restricted.

    • Phil65
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      The other reason you can’t compare our situation with that of other nations is the culture. It’s all very well to say, for example, “Japan has very strict gun laws and almost no gun violence”, which is true, but one must also acknowledge that the Japanese people by and large do not desire guns and therefore don’t miss having them. The same cannot be said, obviously, of the United States.

      I don’t love guns, but I’ve long since accommodated myself to the fact that we are a culture with a strong independent streak that is closely tied to firearms. This isn’t going away, and any attempt to ban or confiscate guns would lead to massive resistance, much of it violent. In other words, we are stuck with being a gun culture.

  22. Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    At least limit the *number* of guns people can own. Improve registration protocol, decrease accessibility, and clarify stipulations of use (e.g., one gun per one registered owner of one household for court determined self-defense use on private property).

  23. Adam M.
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Without giving my opinion on the necessity or usefulness of the 2nd amendment, I’ll just note that militia doesn’t equal military, and “well-regulated” in that context means “kept in good order” (i.e. well-trained, drilled, etc) not “subject to comprehensive government regulation”.

  24. RFW
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    If someone published a poster with gun sight symbols and listing, inter alia, Sarah Palin, the Koch brothers, Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Ann Coulter, and assorted other cheerleaders and supporters of the Crazy Right, you can be sure that suddenly the right wing would erupt in indignation and condemnation.

    Tea Partiers and their ilk are historically uninformed hypocrites, cryptically funded by people whose only interest is in making more money by whatever means possible, without regard for side effects and collateral damage. Even if it means the destruction of the American republic.

    Time to bring back 90% marginal income tax rates and, I would hope, a heavy tax on net worth over, say five million dollars. Surely, as good patriots who like balanced budgets and also support expensive wars, the right wing would welcome these changes…?

  25. Filippo
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Yes, let’s wait it out until we determine the “influences” on this wretched nutbag human being. I know I’m wasting my breath, but, whatever’s going on with him, it would have been better had he not been conceived. What did he have against the nine-year-old girl he killed?

    The county sheriff said that the murderer is “unbalanced”? What does that mean? We all have our days where we are to some infinitesmal degree “unbalanced.”

    The sheriff also said that “possibly” there was an accomplice? What’s the basis for that statement? Anything’s possible as far as that goes. Does the sheriff know something he’s not yet telling? An accomplice infers a conspiracy.

    What happened to the guy in the previous gun-related incident with the congresswoman, the one who dropped the firearm tucked under his arm? If it’s legal to publicly bear arms in Arizona, then all he did was accidentally drop his weapon.

    We live in a bloody culture where, if people don’t get their way, they commandeer others property, the podium at a public forum, or abuse or injure or kill people.

    What’s up with this business of “sport” hunting: is it the joy of killing? Why not simply test your hunterly skills by sneaking up on an animal and take its photograph to show off as proof of your skills? And if one must kill the animal, surely the more primitive the weapon, the more masterly the skills of the hunter.

    • Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      I was raised hunting, and I don’t get the “sport” hunting either. Our ethos required us to eat what we killed. To kill for fun was rightly considered cruel and wasteful.

  26. Rich S.
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    16 years ago, a man tried to break through my bedroom window. I grabbed a pistol and turned on the light. He made tracks.

    13 years ago, my ex-wife held off her stalker with my shotgun after he broke into our home.

    About 8 years ago, she was talking to a man online and gave out a little too much info. He was computer savvy and soon tracked her down and came to the door demanding sex (yeah – she wasn’t too smart). When she told him to go away, through the locked screen door, he started to wrench it off its hinges.

    She closed the front door, ran to the bedroom and got the shotgun. There is a good sized window next to the door, and he could easily have gotten in, but luckily he hadn’t thought of that yet. The sight of my ex pointing that shotgun at him through the window was enough to discourage him.

    Please bear in mind that, where I live, the police are at least 10 minutes away.

    While I deeply regret the damage done by people wielding guns, many more people are saved by guns every day, usually without a shot being fired, than are killed in these few highly publicized incidents.

    Please also remember that there are millions of guns in this country. If you were to ban them now, you would take them out of the hands of lawful citizens and do absolutely nothing to remove them from the hands of criminals. Yes, you would cut down on accidents, but you would kill far more people than you would save.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      I’m almost embarrassed to point out, on a science site, that plural of anecdote isn’t data.

      You don’t answer the point Coyne makes, that since licensing works elsewhere it should work in US as well. Similarly, since it worked to introduce licensing elsewhere, it should work to introduce in US as well.

      Also, how would removing guns means actively killings? It doesn’t make sense. Are you by chance appealing to consequences? That is but another fallacy, you know.

      • palefury
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        Hey Rich S
        I am glad you and your ex are OK after all of this. Thankfully nothing like this has ever happened to me.

        Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions?
        1. Were the guns loaded? did you have time to load them? or was the sight of a gun enough?
        2. Do you think that a less lethal form of weapon would have had the same effect – like a baseball bat, stun gun, balintawak fighting stick?
        3. Would you as a gun owner be happy to take a firearm proficiency/safety test and mental health exam in order to be licensed to own said guns?

        Thanks 🙂

        • Rich S.
          Posted January 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

          Thank you, Palefury.

          The guns were loaded, but the chambers were empty.

          I have received defense training in the use of firearms, and practiced extensively. My ex, while not as practiced as I am, was a competent shot, and had practiced with that gun.

          I should mention that there are no children in my household. Except for the concealed shotgun, all firearms in the house are kept in a substantial safe.


          The question of a less lethal weapon is a good one.

          My ex-wife’s stalker was ex-coast guard, proficient with firearms, and physically fit. She was 5’0″ tall and somewhat frail. I do not know if he carried a firearm when he was stalking her.

          I don’t believe that defensive weapons that require physical or martial arts training are the answer, as there are many who aren’t physically capable of wielding them. Even physically formidable people can be incapacitated by illness or injury.

          I believe a stun-gun is a terrible option. It requires physical contact between the two parties and the affects wear off very fast. A taser has the additional problems of being a single shot weapon and requiring good aim. Besides, it’s not practical to practice with either one.

          I do like pepper spray. Were guns not available, I would carry a police-style canister.

          None of these things has the emotional impact of the presence and sound of a shotgun. I am not a fan of a pistol for self defense except for absolute necessity, and I no longer keep one in the house for self-defense.

          Would such things have worked, it’s certainly possible. However, I have no desire to rely on any weapon except that which is the most effective available.


          As to testing, personally, I’d prefer not to be subject to subjective scrutiny before being able to exercise what I consider to be a constitutional right to own a firearm.

          That is not to say that objective scrutiny is not a good idea. I approve of criminal background checks and checks into state mental health records before issuance of a CC permit. As the holder of such a permit, I have been subject to that scrutiny. Also, as the purchaser of firearms, I have been subject to the FBI screening process repeatedly.

          My concern is with subjective evaluation of prospective gun owners, or CC permit holders, before issuance of a license. The costs and problems associated with such scrutiny will likely eclipse the benefits.

          First, any subjective scrutiny is subject to abuse. In places like NYC, where such scrutiny is part of the licensing process, abuse has been systemic. For many years, carry permits for law-abiding citizens were “available” at the discretion of the police, but they were rarely issued to any person not related to the law enforcement community, regardless of need.

          Second, criminals don’t apply for permits, and people denied guns through laws like this may also seek firearms illegally.

          Third, mental health issues often develop over time, and issues due to acute stimuli often heal over time. Testing at one point in a person’s life may have little bearing on that person’s mental state at a later date. Also such testing is, at least in my opinion, far to imprecise to be trusted as an arbiter of our liberties.

          I cannot deny that such a subjective process would help prevent tragic incidents. On the other hand, I question how many tragic incidents will happen because people will be denied access to the most effective means to defend themselves. As to which would be the greater, I have no idea.

          Personally, I feel that any law that impinges on a personal freedom must meet a far higher level of scrutiny than one that does not. I feel that any such law should not be implemented unless it is proven that the benefit is substantial, that the law will be effective, and that the hidden costs will not be prohibitive.

          I have not done the research to come to a firm answer to your question, but my gut feeling is that, in the final analysis, I would not approve.

          • Ichthyic
            Posted January 9, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

            Personally, I feel that any law that impinges on a personal freedom must meet a far higher level of scrutiny than one that does not.

            absolutely, in all cases, or do you temper that on a case by case basis?

            if the former, that is irrational, if the latter… welcome to how the rest of us think, too.

            • Rich S.
              Posted January 9, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

              Scrutiny means careful examination.

              What laws that infringe on freedoms would you EXEMPT from far closer examination?

              If the law is a good one, shouldn’t it pass that examination?

              Why would subjecting a suggested law to that examination be irrational?

              Wouldn’t it be more irrational to fail to scrutinize our suggested laws?

              • Ichthyic
                Posted January 9, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

                What laws that infringe on freedoms would you EXEMPT from far closer examination?

                surely even you can think of some?

                Wouldn’t it be more irrational to fail to scrutinize our suggested laws?

                and, that’s a strawman.

              • Rich S.
                Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

                Ichthyic, my answer to you was phrased as a question because you failed to advance any argument in opposition of my position, but instead asked me to argue against myself. Thus, it required no more than rephrasing it as a question to demonstrate its invalidity.

                However, I can answer your question in detail.

                I can think of a great number of laws that do not require significant scrutiny, but only because those laws have little cost to society and to not impinge on our liberties. As to laws that do curtail our freedoms, I can think of none that do not require exceptional scrutiny.

                America is a society built on our freedoms. Such freedoms are arguably the most crucial defining feature of our nation. Any law that impinges on those freedoms does so at great cost to our society.

                To quote Ben Franklin, from his Memoirs of 1818, “[t]hey who would give essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

                Thus, my statement is not irrational. On the other hand, it would be irrational to ignore the great number of our laws that have tremendous costs to society, have disastrous unintended consequences, and fail to accomplish their aims, all the while infringing on our liberties.

                Why do I make this point? Because our government often omits such scrutiny, to our great cost.

                As an example, take the recent health care overhaul.

                Without judging the bill on its merits, there is no denying that it is one of the most important bills to be enacted in the last half century.

                It clearly has staggeringly important consequences for our nation, our society, and our future. In requiring American citizens to purchase health insurance coverage, it clearly impinges on our liberties.

                No bill approaching that complexity can be enforced without a plethora of unintended consequences. Furthermore, there is significant disagreement as to whether it will do what it is designed to do.

                Yet, to quote Speaker Pelosi in reference to the above bill: “… we have to pass the bill to find out what is in it …”

                That, to me is the definition of irrationality, if not insanity.

                The health care bill is an apt example because it is a “hot button” topic, as is gun control, and because it too impinges on our liberties.

                When emotions and rhetoric run high, the actual effects of a law, and the costs to our society, are often ignored in the rush to GET SOMETHING DONE. These are precisely the bills that must be subject to extreme scrutiny.

          • palefury
            Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

            Thanks Rich S for getting back to me.
            It was good to get a different perspective on things.
            Also good to know your recommendation of non lethal weapon – pepper spray. Something to bear in mind.

            I should point out that I am not an American, so perhaps I think a little differently about “freedoms” and “constitutional rights.” But I was kind of thinking that gun ownership might be somewhat like driving a car. Both are somewhat dangerous and if used incorrectly could result in someones death. Now, to drive a car you have to have a license which involves both a written, practical and medical testing (eye test to make sure you can see well enough to drive). Would it be unreasonable to ask the same of gun ownership?

            You are right on the difficulties of judging mental health though – this is much more subjective and also can change over time. But maybe such checks would remove some dangerous people.

            Also I know that some states require background checks and what-not, but others don’t. This makes it a little more hard to regulate in the USA.

            • Rich S.
              Posted January 10, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

              Actually, I was born in London (I had dual citizenship), and while it’s been twenty-five years since I last lived there, I must agree. While I do not make a point of studying British politics, I do keep an ear out. I believe that Brits tolerate a lot more invasive government than we do here. Also, and I’ve read this several times, people tend to shrug off some of the more invasive regulations on the theory that the government is either too lazy or incapable of really enforcing them. On the other hand, Americans tend to be truly afraid that the government will do so – and they are usually right.

              The traditional answer to your point is that gun ownership is a right under the constitution while driving is a privilege, but the situation is more complex than that. Any constitutional privilege or freedom is subject to reasonable restrictions (for example, first amendment freedom of speech is subject to reasonable “time place and manner” rules). Furthermore, we already have negative “tests” for gun ownership, such as having not committed a felony. So, I think it would be possible to do as you say.

              Would it be advisable? I don’t know. I have given the question considerable thought and have not come down firmly on either side. I think that to analyze this in a fair manner (as opposed to relying on dogma from either side), I would have to spend far more time and use more space than I have here.

              I will categorically say that, in the case of such testing, I believe that only objective criteria can be used. You already know my feelings on that!


              As to mental health checks, I agree completely. In the final analysis, I think that the argument comes down to what price we are willing to pay for our freedoms. I think that analysis works best away from the heated rhetoric of the moment – be that moment a triumph for armed citizenry or a disaster like the one that triggered this discussion.

              If you will indulge me, I want to quote the father of the 9 year old girl killed in this shooting: “This shouldn’t happen in this country or anywhere else, but in a free society, we’re going to be subject to people like this, so I prefer this to the alternative.”


              As to the complexity of regulating in light of state laws, I could go on a pompous dissertation on the topic, but let it suffice to say that I agree completely!

      • yesmyliege
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        1) Do you really want to see good data on the utility of guns in home and personal protection? I know I would. Here is some data ( I found in ten seconds on Google. Summary: Guns are used 2.5 million times a year in self-defense in the U.S.

        2)Re licensing:

        You say that licensing “works” elsewhere. Do you mean that gun licensing has been shown to significantly reduce gun violence? I don’t think I have ever seen evidence supporting that, but I could be wrong.

        We have about 300 million guns (!) in closets and attics in the U.S. already. Do you think that licensing/registering guns is going to have any efficiency in reducing gun crime/violence, assuming such laws could even be passed?

        Personally, I think that efforts to legalize drugs could be a lot more effective in reducing gun violence.

      • Rich S.
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        I can’t offer you “evidence” that you would accept through a post comment.

        The actions I described happened. Unlike the anecdotal data used to support CAM, they were simple, physically obvious, actions. Besides, the post about which which we are commenting isn’t a science post.

        I didn’t say anything about licensing. Neither did Coyne. If you’re going to get rhetorical on me, then please leave the straw man arguments at home.

        Appeal to consequences is a red herring. I’m not discussing the truth or the falsehood of the premise. I’m simply stating a fact. However, I will restate it for you:

        If you remove guns from the hands of law abiding citizens, and do not remove them from the hands of criminals, your actions will cause more harm than the lack of those guns will prevent.

        I live in a rural area. The police are not a viable defense option. As it has been put to me: “when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.”

  27. GregFromCos
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    I think the bigger issue here was how his mental instability still allowed him to get a gun.

    It is being reported that he was asked to leave college until he could provide a letter stating that he was stable. This should have been reported and should have prevented him from owning a gun, until he was checked out and approved by a state appointed psychologist.

    We’ve seen too many cases where mentally disturbed individuals were able to purchase firearms. And this appears to be another such case.

    It will be interesting to see how this ends up working out in the end.

  28. Digitus Impudicus
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    The news media is usually horribly uneducated when it comes to info about guns. Automatics weapons are all but illegal in the US. Anyone who says you can just run down to the store and get one is ignorant or uneducated. Really only collectors can gets them and you have to give up a bunch of rights. They are a non-issue. The media likes to yell “automatic weapon” but they are almost never used in criminal activity, it is really rare.
    Almost any gun you see now is semi-automatic, meaning you do not have to manually cock it between shots. The only real exceptions are single-action revolvers (like an old-west gunfighter uses), some bolt-action hunting rifles, and many, but not all, shotguns. I am lumping double-action revolvers in with semi-auto, so sue me.

    >>>I’m not mistaken, modifying a semi-auto to auto is a relatively easy matter on the street.<<

    Also, really doesn't happen. Automatic weapons are really a non-issue. Don't conflate Hollywood films with reality. Most murders are committed with pistols, weapons that are easily concealed (that way you can sneak up on the target, you know).

    I am not convinced that banning guns will do anything, but if you are, ban handguns. Longarms are much harder to conceal. 30 inch minimum length. You can still fend off home invaders and tyrants with a rifle.

    • Digitus Impudicus
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      I meant “ignorant or dishonest”.

  29. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Europe gets along fine without guns, and has many fewer murders.

    If this is suggesting an unequivocal causal relation, it fails the test. Sweden has gun regulation, but (due to excellent nature and game) I believe it is claimed the densest concentration of guns in Europe.

    What gun regulation does is that it a) shows you can handle the gun b) shows that you know what a gun is for (not people you disagree with).

    This seem enough, probably because it isn’t guns what are inherently dangerous, it is people (that can use guns but also other means).

    Of course we don’t lug guns around to protect ourselves at political meetings. *Because we have gun licenses and regulation for that.* Try it US, it works elsewhere so even a fumbling old doddering nation may learn.

    [Note that you may want to limit numbers of guns anyway. They are stolen and circulating around “par license”, proving a fertile ground for gun-assisted thievery.]

  30. Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    I agree completely that gun control is necessary and ridiculously overdue. It is insanity itself that semi-automatic and automatic weapons can be so easily obtained by a crazy person. And no matter what his political affiliation, what he did was wrong. But as long as a party uses violent rhetoric as a way to encourage their followers as a way to express their displeasure at others political viewpoints than they are nevertheless culpable when violence occurs. And when the right wing and the Tea Partyers immediately jump to the defense of gun ownership in the face of this tragedy it’s hard not see them as Accessories of what is going on here. After all, there are a certain number of crazy people out there and if you tell them crazy things often enough and tell them that they should use their weapons to defend themselves if it comes to it… they will. Who is to blame there?

    • Digitus Impudicus
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Automatic weapons can not be easily obtained, and the majority of weapons in existence are semi-automatic.

      • Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        I stand corrected. That was hardly my main point.

      • Observer
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

        I spent some time with a militia member in Colorado a few years back. He had an AR15 that had been converted to fully automatic. As he described it, it was a pretty easy task. He was the envy of his fellow militia members because of his ownership of it, and my impression was that most of the others didn’t have one of their own primarily because it was too expensive.
        Base on that, I wouldn’t say a fully auto rifle is a non-issue. It appeared as if anybody who could afford an assault rifle could easily convert it if he desired.

        • Posted January 10, 2011 at 3:45 am | Permalink

          The fully automatic feature (gnerally illegal) of an AR or AK weapon would hardly make much difference anyway in terms of killing people efficiently and quickly.

          The “automatic” term is a bit of a red herring and causes confusion, as several people already noted.

          The high firepower feature of many semiautomatic handguns is another problem. It’s basically the different between shooting 7 or 8 people before reloading versus 25. Of course most can be reloaded very quickly — a few seconds — but in this case, apparently that made a big difference, as the gunman was stopped from reloading by a civilian.

          It’s worth noting that these extended pistol magazines were outlawed in the Clinton administration but made legal again under Dubya. Thanks, NRA! You’re the gift that keeps on killing.

  31. mordacious1
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    I agree with Jerry that there are kooks on both the right and left and that both can be dangerous. But having perused the internet for several years, I find the difference is the support obtained on various websites. If I go on say, HuffPo and make a statement like, “Sarah Palin should be targeted…that’s why I’m loading my Glock”, other posters will condemn me, call me a crazy, and tell me to seek counseling. If I’m on a right wing blog and say something similar about Obama, I think I would get “Go for it” and “I hear ya”, etc. This is how the left and right differ. The right has been encouraging this behavior and the left condemns it.

    • locutus7
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Precisely, Mordacious. I’m a little fed up with this false equivalence, especially when it comes from democrats (“both sides need to tone down the rhetoric”).

      Sorry, but only one side brings guns to their political rallies.

      • Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        I agree; there really is no symmetry here.

        However it would serve all of us to remember that our political opponents aren’t evil people but rather people we disagree with; no current US political figure can be responsibly compared to Hitler, Stalin, Bin Laden, etc.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted January 9, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

          well, that’s the point.

          the attitudes we’re discussing here: the condoning of violence, the irrational hatred, etc, have NOTHING to do with politics.

          it’s that politicians, being who they are, tend to like to use hotbutton issues to motivate people to vote for them (something even McCain warned the GoP about during his run in 2000).

          so, I can’t see why we can’t easily separate out actual politics from an analysis of the violent rhetoric coming from groups of people who obviously have an axe to grind, but not only don’t know really where to chop, but are holding it backwards and using the handle like a club.

          it’s irrational fury directed at whoever happens to be the scapegoat of the moment.

          and it DOES remind me of the anger and rhetoric directed against the democratic government of Germany, post WWI.

          There were a great many people in Germany who not only thought they shouldn’t have lost the war, and therefore must have been “betrayed” by some internal force, but they also blamed the government for not getting a better deal from the Treaty of Versaille, and then not somehow “fixing” that even afterwards.

          the violent, misdirected rhetoric, the scapegoating, the fractioning political parties…

          it’s all very familiar.

          I saw this happening 8 years ago, and it scared me enough that I decided retreat was the better form of valor!

          it’s real, has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with mob mentality.

          I guarantee there will be more shootings of this nature, and the frequency will increase, until people burn themselves out of this nonsense (or they manage to actually burn down the government itself with torches and pitchforks).

          rant done.

  32. Mike
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I am disappointed in this article, because Prof Coyne seems to be as misled and ignorant about firearms as the people who make laws regarding them.
    (which i don’t like saying because I have enjoyed listening and reading Prof Coyne for a long time)

    You can hear it in the language when people don’t know the differences between semi-auto, and automatic, between clips and magazines, etc. Most have never touched or used a firearm, and they make judgments and decisions on the feelings of ‘oh that looks scary’.

    And this leads to the silly laws banning things that have no effect on anything, for example, if i want to add a vertical grip to my .22 plinker, so my hand can be vertical instead of horizontal, it suddenly becomes an ‘assault rifle’ (here in CA)

    Of course Europe has less gun crime, because they have banned all their guns,(only resulting in the lack of firearms from citizens, the criminals are doing just fine) but their total crime rate has only gone up. again and again the evidence shows that restricting firearms only causes crime to stay the same, or go up.

    its very simple, the people that obey all the laws that restrict and take away their firearms, and the exact people you don’t need to worry about. you can pass all the laws you want, but the criminals and crazies will get the firearms they want (the same goes for drugs) – what do they care about the law?
    What you end up with is a state or country like Mexico, where all citizens are forbidden to own any type of firearm, and the streets are run by criminals, who ‘somehow’ get firearms and who have no fear of retaliation from the people they are victimizing.

    • palefury
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      OK, I get the argument that the criminal element will buy and sell guns outside the law. But is the solution to this problem really to give everyone guns and hope it is the “good guys” that are still standing when the gun smoke settles?

      And surely the source of the illegal guns in Mexico is legally bought firearms in the USA and restricting who can legally buy a gun in US would eventually filter down to Mexico.

      However with all the guns already out there in the US to instigate these restrictions now may be shutting the barn after the horse has bolted. So in the near future this is not likely to make a significant impact, but long term, it could well make a difference.

      Firearm restriction is the only viable solution I can see that might eventually solve this problem. If you have any alternative solutions I am sure we would be happy to hear them

    • Dale
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      This comment is so full of misinformation. This is precisely the logic that discourse has been reduced to in the US. Say what ever you want to be true and since you want it to be true it must be true.

      “Of course Europe has less gun crime, because they have banned all their guns…”

      Of Course this is totally not true. Every European country allows its citizens to own guns, it is just harder to get them. Not in Switzerland every citizen is required to have a gun as part of their national militia.

      “but their total crime rate has only gone up. again and again the evidence shows that restricting firearms only causes crime to stay the same, or go up.”

      Note the inconsistency, You just said they had less crime. If what you said were true, then it follows that across the board Europe and Canada should have a higher crime rates than the US.

      “…the criminals and crazies will get the firearms they want (the same goes for drugs) – what do they care about the law? ”

      Most illegal guns in Mexico and Canada come from the US.

      “What you end up with is a state or country like Mexico, where all citizens are forbidden to own any type of firearm, and the streets are run by criminals, who ‘somehow’ get firearms and who have no fear of retaliation from the people they are victimizing.”

      Again The vast majority of these guns are bought legally in the US by the criminals and shipped south.

      It is this type of rhetoric that is repeated over and over by the Glenn Becks of the world until it is taken as gospel even though there may in fact be little truth behind it. The truth of the issue is irrelevant.

      On the other hand if I keep talking about how Obama et. al. are out to destroy the US and that second amendment remedies may be needed and how we need regular revolutions, then we shouldn’t be surprised when some nut case listens.

  33. jose
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Every person who kills someone important is immediately labeled as insane. It’s very convenient, because it puts the killer apart from everyone else, so there are no consequences, no responsibilities. The ‘insane’ person will be killed by the state and everything will stay the same.

    • locutus7
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Americans have always demonized people who are outside the conventional american mindset, whether leaders of foreign countries or killers, as insane.

      Now, some very well may be clinically insane, but in many cases it is that the “insane” person is acting in a way incomprehensible to the average american.

      I’m not blaming america – I’m american – just pointing out a trait I’ve noticed. Perhaps all countries have similar ways of describing deviant personalities or disagreeing world leaders.

    • Tulse
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

      As someone who teaches on mental illness (although is not a psychiatrist), the published writings of the assailant sure look like classic paranoid schizophrenia to me.

  34. Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    “And if you respond that without guns, ordinary Americans couldn’t overthrow the government and the military like our ancestors overthrew the British”

    Erm, you know your military have F-22’s, shoulder-launched thermobaric warheads and abram tanks, right? I don’t fancy your chances with a rifle.

    Maybe its time to start campaigning that the 2nd amendment should extend to civilian ownership of nuclear warheads too.

    • Paul
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      “I don’t fancy your chances with a rifle.”

      A friend of mine from China made the same observation. I tried to explain to him that the point was resistance- refusing to simply bare your throat. He didn’t get it. To him the only option is to do what stronger people tell you to do and hope for the best. That conversation depressed me to no end.

      • Microraptor
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

        If the point isn’t to win an armed conflict but to force them to kill you, what do you need a gun for? Why not practice civil disobedience?

        • Paul
          Posted January 9, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

          I can only conclude that you didn’t read my post.

      • jose
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

        So you’re admitting that guns won’t overthrow anything. Might as well use sticks and stones then, right? That way, your chances against the military would stay the same, and kids wouldn’t kill each other at school so easily.

      • Posted January 10, 2011 at 6:32 am | Permalink

        Who said anything about simply baring your throat? No need to cling to false dichotomies.

        My point was simply that, if your military decided to act against you with violence, owning a semi would provide little more real protection than owning a spear.

        If protection against government violence is what you seek, then you need to lobby for civil availability of modern weapon systems, rather than clinging to the illusion that 200 year old military tech would provide protection.

        If the 2nd provided for individual citizens to possess standard infantry weapons of the time, then why would it not cover individual ownership of thermobaric grenades, now?

        • Paul
          Posted January 10, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

          Isn’t a false dichotomy, and you miss my point. It’s primarily about resistance…as compared to acquiescence.

          But then again, as others have pointed out, guerilla warfare has been shown to be very effective.

          • jose
            Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

            I get it. It’s how guns make you feel. They perpetuate the comforting illusion that you, using your little gun, could overthrow the government if it became tyrannical. A spear is not the same. It’s not shiny, even though it’s just as useful as your guns when it comes to overthrow regimes.

            That’s why practical concerns, like the fact that your guns would be completely useless against 3 planes spraying agent orange all over your town, not to mention the fact that the government has over 5000 atomic bombs just in case they’re needed at some point, have nothing to do with your comforting feelings towards guns.

            • Paul
              Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

              “…could overthrow the government…”

              The jews who fought in the Warsaw ghetto…what was the point? Was it to overthrow Nazi occupation? Was it to free themselves and magically escape the situation? It was their refusal to go like the rest, like…well, like cattle.

              I know you probably don’t understand this. But more likely you can’t conceive of any modern democratic government ever sliding, albeit slowly, towards totalitarianism (maybe you can, but only when a Republican is in office). But I do. I don’t think it will happen, but I choose to reserve for myself a way to resist, if only briefly, and totally futile. I can’t help it. I’m a barbaric American.

              • Posted January 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

                “I choose to reserve for myself a way to resist, if only briefly, and totally futile”

                If that really is a worry, why not campaign for a way to resist adequately? If that is the purpose of the 2nd, why not call for civilian ownership of modern weapon systems?

          • Posted January 10, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

            No, I didn’t miss your point at all. Its just a terrible point, and I suspect you don’t get mine.

    • Posted January 10, 2011 at 3:52 am | Permalink

      You guys are forgetting how some plucky teenagers held off the Red Army using their wits and light, non-military firearms when the Russians invaded Colorado.

      Don’t tell me that the movies aren’t true!

    • Digitus Impudicus
      Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      Simple rifles and improvised explosives are giving our modern military lots of headaches in Iraq and Afghanistan right now. Why wouldn’t it work here?

  35. Alan Fox
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink


    I am disappointed in this article, because Prof Coyne seems to be as misled and ignorant about firearms as the people who make laws regarding them.

    Mike, are you aware that the homicide rate is five times (yes, FIVE) that of countries in Western Europe, who tend to restrict gun ownership. It may be a coincidence but then…

    • James Jackson
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      Gun availability is one term in the equation. Another is ethnic composition of the population, and another is the variance of ethnic composition of the population. It is not valid to compare European, or Japanese, homicide rates to those of the U.S. solely on the basis of firearm availability.

      • Tulse
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

        Gun availability is one term in the equation. Another is ethnic composition of the population, and another is the variance of ethnic composition of the population.

        And another, likely far more relevant, is economic disparity in the population.

        • Tim Harris
          Posted January 10, 2011 at 5:08 am | Permalink

          What do you mean by ‘ethnic composition’? Too many nasty blacks and Latinos? Or are you saying something more innocuous? In fact, many European countries are quite as ethnically complex as the USA.

          • James Jackson
            Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

            Consult Wikipedia for information on the ethnic composition of Britain and France and you will see that the two ethnic groups you are concerned about are much smaller portions of the populations there. Contrary to your statement, there are no European countries with as high percentages of those groups as in the U.S.

  36. Alan Fox
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Permalink


    omitted “in the US”!

  37. Alex SL
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    As a non-American, this is of course not my right to decide, but yeah, it has always puzzled me how a sentence that is so friggin’ obviously aimed at the formation of a military can be twisted to mean that every bozo should be allowed to own a gun.

    Well, I am not a constitutional scholar. Perhaps it means that everybody is allowed to own a gun. But what is self-evident is that when the document was written, the weapons everybody would have been allowed to own would have been front-loader muskets or suchlike, and not the kind of gun that allows you to mow down an entire assembly in two minutes.

  38. Gayle Stone
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Right on! It’s the availability of guns. There are many disturbed persons with guns looking for an excuse to use them. Last week a 10 year old killed his mother with a shot in the head. He was known to be violent; hit a teacher with a dust pan; not normally fatal but a gun is and he also had other firearms.

  39. Michelle B
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Mental insanity often is not an explanation for violent behavior.

    Make sure you follow the link to Slate for the article in full.

  40. mistereveready
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    The idea of banning guns from the U.S. is a silly idea.

    First, too close to Mexico.

    Second, strong support for owning a firearm, including semi and fully automatics (I’m on their side more or less).

    Third, would just allow criminals to more easily do their business if they are the only ones with weapons. I’d see a gun ban in the US being about as successful as alcohol prohibition was.

    I endorse being able to defend my home, but I do agree that buying a gun should not be as easy applying for a credit card (which currently it is in my state).

    IMO, there should be

    1) Mandatory, yearly renewed, safety & legal classes. Including what is the difference between defending self/family/home and using the weapon like an idiot on someone out of anger.

    2)Less bullshit laws where the assailant or invader can sue for damages or the defender be prosecuted for using lethal force. It’s an occupational hazard ffs. Don’t want to get hurt? Then don’t attack.

    3) No nonsense laws about gun safety. The person firing the weapon should be responsible for every round fired from that weapon.

    4) Encouragement to partake in self defense classes so that a firearm is an option, not a crutch.

    5) (Regretfully) Gun registration. Current owner (ASL), barrel serial number, make and model of firearm.

    I am an atheist, a proud owner of many pistols & rifles, and err a not so proud member of the NRA (stepping ladder for republicans). No way am I ever relinquishing my firearms. I’d fucking pretend to be christian if that meant keeping mine.

    I agree with with some of the people in this thread that say, the problem isn’t guns, it’s that people want to murder each other and many people SHOULD NOT own a firearm or any thing that is remotely harmful.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      First, too close to Mexico.

      I really hope you weren’t being serious.

      I’d fucking pretend to be christian if that meant keeping mine.

      that does not bode well for your ability to make a rational argument.

      • mistereveready
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

        As far as the mexico comment, mostly yes. Getting illegal goods from there isn’t exactly ultra difficult.

        Pertaining to the concept of me pretending to be christian. It has no bearing for a rational argument. I was mostly joking about that, and I’d never ever become a christian nor endorse the bullshit involved. Maybe a fake yay jesus quip to keep the religious off me, if needed.

        But still. No way I’d ever part with my firearms unless I want to. Nor would I ever vote for anything that would deny me the right to defend myself.

      • Dominic
        Posted January 10, 2011 at 7:22 am | Permalink

        Yes – confusing comment there – why would a christian need guns anyway? I tought that they were supposed to love their enemies & be a friend to those who hate them?

        • mistereveready
          Posted January 10, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

          Christians can be deadly. But more of a tongue in cheek remark about should there be some highly unlike rule that X group could only operate firearms, I’d be inclined to fake allegiance.

    • Dominic
      Posted January 10, 2011 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      Many of the guns being used in Mexico are taken over the border from the US, smuggled out very easily as the checks on cars etc going out of the US are much fewer than those going into the country, at least according to a BBC report I heard the other day. So please don’t blame the Mexicans. Do Canadians make a similar complaint – ‘too close to the USA’?

      • mistereveready
        Posted January 10, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        I know that it’s mostly that U.S. importing to Mexico. But the point is, obtaining illegal goods from Mexico isn’t nearly close to impossible. Should arms be banned in the U.S.A. Mexico would be a prime spot to go get such goods.

        • Dominic
          Posted January 11, 2011 at 3:32 am | Permalink

          That’s an argument for better co-operation with Mexico. Stop the demand for drugs in the US, or seriously consider legalising drugs then they can be controlled & taxed perhaps?

  41. WS Wolf
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Dear Professor Coyne,
    You wrote, “What is ineluctably involved, however, is the availability of automatic weapons…”. Like many news articles dealing with science, almost any news article dealing with firearms can be defined as an article with a major technical blunder. Although early reports called it an automatic weapon, Loughlin used an ordinary pistol. Real automatic weapons (machineguns) have been heavily regulated since 1934. I am aware of only one murder committed in the U.S. with a legally-owned machinegun; a contract killing by a moonlighting police officer.

    You wrote, “There is no justification for allowing Americans to buy and use automatic or semi-automatic weapons.” On the contrary sir, there can be no justification for not “allowing” us to exercise our basic right to defend our lives. A right in no way exists without the means to implement it. I make no argument for machineguns but semi-automatic firearms have been in wide use since the 1890s because in many circumstances they are the best tools available for self-defense.

    You wrote, “…gun advocates…use the Second Amendment as justification…for owning all sorts of guns….” No sir, gun advocates use the right to self defense as justification for owning weapons suitable to that purpose. The Second Amendment has merely recognized a right that pre-existed the Constitution in order to prevent its infringement.

    You wrote, “Well, We have a militia now—it’s called the military.” These authorities, among others, disagree.
    “Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American.” – Tench Coxe, of Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788
    “I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.” – George Mason, during Virginia’s Convention to Ratify the Constitution (1788)

    “It’s time for America to … ban guns or put them under the tightest of restrictions. … we can get rid of the guns.” No, we can’t. Cocaine is imported by the tons despite spending billions to prevent it. Cooks would have no trouble adding an ample supply of guns and ammunition to the pipeline.

    “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms…disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes.” – Thomas Jefferson

    Getting rid of guns would signal a complete capitulation to crime. To prevent the misuse of guns the law abiding would have to be disarmed and would have only the rights allowed to them by criminals; criminals misuse guns so the law abiding can’t have them, either. We would have to give over to the state our right and responsibility to protect ourselves and our families. If we would give up our right to protect our families is there any right that we would not give up in exchange for a promise of safety?

    I have noticed a very high correlation between those who want guns banned and those who have little or no personal experience with firearms and get their information from news media and cinematic fiction. I have never met anyone trained in the safe handling of firearms and having familiarity with their use who shares that attitude. I find that suggestive. If you wish to explore this subject I heartily suggest beginning with A Nation of Cowards: Essays on the Ethics of Gun Control by Jeff Snyder.

    I applaud your efforts to promote rational thinking and intellectual honesty.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 9, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, but you’ve just met someone who has that attitude and was trained in the safe handling of firearms. Me. I took a course in firearms when I was in the Boy Scouts (I can’t remember if there was a merit badge), but spent a long time not only firing at targets, but even longer learning how to handle the guns safely.

      And, after that, I still think that firearms should be banned in this country.

      • mistereveready
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

        Ban? I can’t agree with that.
        Regulate, educate, and hold the users responsible? Hell yes.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted January 9, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

          Ban? I can’t agree with that.

          nobody is asking you to.

          just don’t be expecting you’re gonna win every vote on this issue.

          • Tim Harris
            Posted January 9, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

            ‘Hold the users responsible’ – just as the man who killed a young Japanese trick’ntreater was held responsible, perhaps?

            • Ichthyic
              Posted January 9, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

              it’s one thing to hold someone using their fists responsible; their victims most often survive.

              it’s another to hold someone who uses a gun responsible; their victims often do not.

              arresting a killer does not bring back the victim.

          • mistereveready
            Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

            I don’t expect to win every vote, but I’m not forfeiting mine, nor endorsing anything that would take my right to use them in defense and for sport either.

            But, again, banning IMO, would be impossible to maintain.

            • Dominic
              Posted January 10, 2011 at 7:31 am | Permalink

              Perhaps Americans are altogether too fond of killing each other.

              • mistereveready
                Posted January 10, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

                Not even remotely about enjoying killing anyone. I hope I never have to. Should I come to a situation where I must in order to protect my home, I reluctantly will.

                Many citizens of the U.S.A. fight for their rights to own fire arms for many reasons.

                People act as if violence will diminish should guns some how be stripped from legal citizens. All it would do is make people find even deadlier alternatives.

              • Ichthyic
                Posted January 10, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

                “All it would do is make people find even deadlier alternatives.”


                like what?

                fucking hand grenades?

      • Paul
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        “And, after that, I still think that firearms should be banned in this country.”

        Even after Herr Bush and Zee Patriot Act? I honestly thought that the Bush years would have left-leaning citizens thinking twice about having a gun stored somewhere.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted January 9, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Permalink


          why, because you somehow think that having a loaded pistol will affect whether or not you get arrested by the government?

          I really am not following your logic here.

          • Paul
            Posted January 9, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

            Arrested? Who said anything about being arrested?

      • Dominic
        Posted January 10, 2011 at 3:13 am | Permalink

        We have a similar debate in the UK – over knife crime.

      • WS Wolf
        Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

        Does each individual not have a right defend themselves and their family? And the attendant right to possess the means necessary to that end?

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

          Answer to first question: yes.

          Answer to second question: no.

          There are tradeoffs involved in using “any means necessary” in such defense.

          • WS Wolf
            Posted January 10, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

            If the instruments of self-defense are banned the right does not exist in any meaningful way. That is like saying we have the right to a free press but we cannot have printing presses or electronic media. The right to a free press is protected because it renders the right to free speech meaningful.

            I am sorry if I didn’t make myself clear. By “the means necessary” for self defense I mean rifles, shotguns, pistols or non-lethal weapons such are in common use by police departments. Tradeoffs are definitely necessary. Firearms and ammunition should be chosen with care. If they are excessively powerful they can penetrate attacker, building materials and the house next door. The right to defend most certainly does not include the right to endanger ones neighbors. Though I suspect this is not what you mean by “tradeoffs”.

            If by tradeoffs you mean, as others have argued, that the law abiding should give up effective tools for self-defense in the hope that they would somehow become unavailable to criminals, criminals would not be rendered impotent. Criminals would still rely on sharp instruments, blunt instruments and force of numbers as they obviously do today given the fact that about 90% of violent crime is done without firearms (FBI statistics).

            If all criminals voluntarily decided to stop using guns, the only way that a ban could be effective, some portion of that 10% of victims of firearms violence would become victims of non-firearms violence and some, I think very small, portion would not become victims at all. The tradeoff is that many those who could have defended themselves with firearms would become helpless victims of murders, rapists and robbers.

            This would institute a culture of human sacrifice. A culture where some would be made into helpless victims, would be sacrificed, in a vain hope that some others would not be hurt or at least not be hurt by gunfire. This would be an abject, cowering capitulation to criminals. A condition perhaps suitable to sheep but not to a free people.

            I hope that I misunderstood and you meant something different by “tradeoffs”.

    • mistereveready
      Posted January 10, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      Not knowing what defenses that person has is a very good reason to be wary of attacking.

      I think too many people are focusing on the tools used for violence than the reasons that people harm each other.

      As if suddenly should firearms become illegal, all the hatred and dangerous activities will cease. That’s pure bullshit. I’ve lived in areas where the first thing to know, before speaking or walking was how to fend off others. Banning doesn’t make obtaining items necessarily difficult either. As you mentioned with the Jefferson quote, disarmament just makes handling the loons that much more difficult, it doesn’t get rid of them.

  42. Alan Fox
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 2:45 am | Permalink

    A naive question:

    Why does anyone need to own and possess semi-automatic hand guns? Is American culture so broken and different from Europe that the chance of being shot multiple times is the only thing preventing complete mayhem?

    I can see the appeal of hunting weapons (plus a shotgun is an effective deterrent against intruders and most hunting accidents seem to result in injuries to other hunters which is fair enough, I guess!) but why hand guns?

    I see the anecdotes upthread but are there any statistics that could demonstrate that removing all hand guns from circulation would increase violent deaths in the US from its current level? I don’t see the logic. Explanations are welcomed, thanks in advance.

    • WS Wolf
      Posted January 10, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Semi-automatic handguns are the best tools available for self-defense against an unexpected attack. That is what they are designed for and why they are issued by the vast majority police departments. Many people with small or weak hands who have difficulty using a revolver effectively because if its long, hard trigger pull are able to manipulate a semi-automaitc effectively.

      The chance of being shot multiple times is hopefully not the only thing preventing complete mayhem, that depends on our individual morality, but it certainly does give pause to violent criminals contemplating rape, assault or robbery.

      A shotgun is indeed an effective deterrent against intruders but, depending on individual circumstances, a handgun might be the better choice. Easier to store safely, easier to manipulate in confined spaces such as hallways or small bedrooms, easier to hold a criminal at bay while dialing a telephone, less prone to fumbling and accidents. Most importantly, a handgun can be carried unobtrusively, ready for emergencies outside the home. Your right to defend yourself does not end when you step out of your front door.

      As for statistics I suggest the book “More Guns-Less Crime” by Dr. John Lott. Lott and his associate examined the crime data from every county in the U.S. for a period of over a decade, making it the most extensive analysis of crime ever undertaken. Among their findings were that states that changed their policy for issuing permits to carry concealed weapons from using subjective criteria or simply denying permits to all, to issuing permits to anyone who could meet certain objective criteria, enjoyed significant and lasting reductions in violent crime.

      The logic? The law abiding should not be denied the use of emergency survival equipment in order to keep criminals from misusing it. Each individual has the right and obligation to defend themsleves and their families; their lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness, if you will; against violent attack. Attendant to that is the right to possess the most effective means to resist. For a comprehensive treatment of the philosphy involved read Jeff Snyder’s fine book A Nation of Cowards: Essays on the Ethics of Gun Control.

  43. Dominic
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 3:11 am | Permalink

    I fear for the USA…

  44. Posted January 10, 2011 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    “What is ineluctably involved, however, is the availability of automatic weapons, one of which Loughlin used to gun down those 25 people.”

    Right on. It will be interesting to see whether she still opposes gun control when she comes out of the coma.

  45. Marichi
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    There are two embarrassing ways that America differs from what the ABA calls “our economic counterparts” in the rest of the world: we are way more religious, and we have way more guns. The combination, of course, is toxic.

    In a decade or so get prepared a third point of difference to that. As America’s economic competitiveness, scientific capabilities and the scientific temper of its legislators and voting majority declines, America is well on its way to becoming a has been. In about 15 years America will be like France between the WW1 and WW2, Boris Yeltsin’s Russia or the Last Emperor’s China. Plenty of pomp, and even weaponry, but an unspectacular dud. It is already happening, and it is going to get worse.

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Coyne on the recent shootings in Arizona: But the perpetrator, one Jared Lee Loughner, appears to be a garden-variety American crazy: […]

  2. […] came across a blog post by Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist.  His blog, Why Evolution Is True (WEIT), is one I frequent.  He […]

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