Friday, January 15, 2010

Gun Control: An Issue that Shouldn't be Ideological

I want to start by saying that I am completely, perhaps uncharacteristically, undecided when it comes to the issue of gun control/the Second Amendment, etc

One thing I am decided on, however, is that the question of gun control should not be an ideological issue. It should be a purely pragmatic one. If private gun ownership can be shown, with valid statistics, to be stopping crime and saving lives...they should be allowed. If certain restrictions can be shown, with valid statistics, to be stopping crime and saving lives...then those restrictions should remain. And if some restriction tactics are shown to work better than others...then they should be used.

However, coming by "valid statistics" is incredibly hard, and that perhaps is why I am undecided on the actual issue. You will see propaganda from the NRA telling you that such-a-number of crimes are stopped each year with defensive use of firearms, but you will also find studies from supporters of gun control saying that certain restrictions work. But very often these include a million confounding variables; maybe crime or gun-related deaths would have decreased that year anyway because of other factors. One thing I do know is that statistics should be allowed to speak for themselves, people shouldn't collect data with the idea of proving their pre-decided point.

And the effects of gun-control could be different in different circumstances, different times, different places, different cultures. That the Swiss all own guns and seem to be relatively peaceful, doesn't prove that it is the guns that are causing their peace, nor that strict gun-control laws in Chicago are a bad idea. Switzerland and Chicago are very different situations. At the same time, just because gun-control may seem to reduce crime in dense urban areas, doesn't mean it makes sense in rural areas where there is lots of open space and the police are often 20 minutes away.

I don't know how to reliably find such statistics. A wide-scale "experiment" might have to be carried out wherein similar counties were compared and variables controlled for, and some given gun-control laws, and others not, and then gun-control would be added to those that previously didn't have it, and taken away from those that did, and see what the effects were on the various types of areas.

But, my point is...this shouldn't be an issue of absolute "principles" as conservatives explicitly treat it. In this way the liberals are somewhat more sympathetic on this issue. They, at least explicitly, make this issue one of practical results. Whether it is true or not, they are convinced that gun control, pragmatically, is reducing crime, is saving lives.

Though that's not to say that liberals don't implicitly let "principles" effect their position subconsciously; such as a general uncomfortability with private use of force, soft pacifism, a reaction against the stupid conservative entanglement of masculinity with power/violence, etc. The fact that they seem to believe that gun control will always work everywhere at all times in all situations indicates this implicit ideological bias; they are practical absolutists on the issue even if not ideological.

But the conservatives who make this an issue of absolute principle, of inalienable "rights," a priori to any consideration of whether it is concretely increasing or decreasing the death rate...are grossly oversimplifying, to say the least. It cannot be a question of absolutes, to me, because gun control might work in some contexts, whereas gun ownership might be practically beneficial in other areas. It has to be a question of what works in a given place at a given time.

Such absolutism on the issue, this dedication to the "theoretical" arguments without any honest non-biased consideration of the concrete practical results...makes me suspect that many gun-loving right-wingers are, indeed, just "clinging to" their guns as simply a badge of "identity politics," or as phallic proxies in a self-defeating (and incredibly fragile) model of masculinity.

The emotion some of them invest in it, the way they take it so personally, is clearly disproportionate to the cause, especially given that it seems to be independent of any consideration of the facts as to whether it saves lives or not in a given context. It seems to usually be a "you can't tell me what to do!" sort of childishness borne of the fear that taking away their guns will somehow emasculate their men. As opposed to a fear that taking away their guns will make them actually less safe, which would at least be a valid concern in my mind.

But, I still don't know if such a concern would justified or not, regardless of the validity of its subject matter. I seriously don't know if there are any unbiased statistics that can account for all the many variables currently. So, pragmatically, I don't know what to think, concretely, about gun-control. I don't know whether or in what situations it might work. Right now, I'm on the fence until some real statistics accounting for all confounding variables become available. But I do know that ones decision should ultimately be based on such concrete practical facts, on whether gun control (or lack of it) is shown to be reducing death and crime in a given context. Not based on biased statistics nor on some theoretical absolute "principle" or strong emotion. This shouldnt be an ideological question, it should be a practical one. What works? What saves the most lives in a given context?

I will add: the same can be said for any prohibition, whether of drugs, alcohol, gambling, prostitution, etc...whether the thing is intrinsically moral or not. It's not the State's job to prohibit all immoral things, nor does it have to allow all morally neutral (or even morally good) things if they are causing problems in practice. The State's realm is temporal justice, peace, and happiness.

So, if in any context banning such things can be shown to be effective at maximizing those civic values better than allowing those things would do...then I'd support such a prohibition, in that given context where it had been demonstrated statistically to work. If, however, it doesn't work or is shown to be causing more problems than it's solving, then I wouldn't support it. To me, that seems an obvious attitude. Supporting the War on Drugs just because one is personally absolutely opposed to silly if it is simply doing more harm than good, simply causing more crime than would happen if they were legal, safely regulated, and treated as a medical issue. On the other hand, supporting gun rights just out of some absolute commitment to personal liberty on such decisions, even if there were evidence suggesting that legal limitations did help also stupid. It makes no sense to support it in such an absolute way, rather than in a pragmatic conditional way.

One shouldn't be ideological about such policies, which are supposed to be practical. They should be judged by their effects and effectiveness, the important question it working, concretely? Is it saving lives, is it maximizing the good of society? Or, on the contrary, is it just causing more harm than good? Usually, the answer will depend on specific context, not an absolute principle.

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