Sunday, December 30, 2012

Guns are good at killing people: Gun Control Discussion part 1

Since everyone in the pundit-o-sphere is talking about gun control, I thought I'd bring my ten-cent pistol to bear as well.  This is going to be a multi-part post.  Here's part 1.

First of all, let's all agree from the outset is that guns are excellently designed machines. And what they were designed to do is kill things effectively, at range, with minimal training and effort on the part of the wielder.  Obviously, marksmanship is a skill and to possess it requires a great deal of training and ability, but as a person who went to shooting range once and hit a bunch of stuff, I can attest to the shallowness of the "good enough to be dangerous" end of the learning curve.

This should have two consequences.  First of all, it should stop bullshit like this, in which we learn that a lot of murders are done with guns.  Well, duh.  If I wanted to kill a person, I would use the best tool available, and--as mentioned earlier--guns are pretty damn good at the whole killing thing.

There's a great meme along the lines of the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" theme that speaks to the second intended consequence of this realization:

And on one level, this is dead on.  Obviously guns don't have moral culpability in any killings for which they are used, but that's not at all to say that they don't contribute.  I've never heard anyone say that the killing of Bin Laden could have been done just as easily without any guns.  Which is just to say that we invented guns because we wanted a better way to kill people, and we did a good job.

Things like this Chinese tragedy make this kind of obvious.  A crazy person went into a school and attacked a bunch of children, stabbing 20.  However, since knives aren't as good at killing people as guns are, what they got was 20 injured children, instead of 20 dead children.  The US wasn't as lucky with our most recent mass assault tragedy, and the reason is pretty obvious: semi-automatic firearms are better at killing people than knives.

A lot of people are saying that poor mental health care is the root cause of these mass homicides, and I totally agree.  The US rates of suicide, homicide, and homelessness are all pretty deeply tied up in poor mental health care, but that sounds to me like an argument for universal health care including psychiatric care, not an argument against gun control.  

The "there are too many crazies" argument is kind of like saying that mental institutions should leave the sharp objects around and just do a better job of treating the violently insane.  No. The obvious answer (in a mental institute) is to do both, and to do the "keep the pointy things away" one first, because it is easier to do.  

I don't think the answer for the United States is nearly as obvious, but I think the fundamental framework should be kept in mind.  I'll evaluate (ridicule) policy proposals currently on the table as well as making my own suggestions in upcoming posts.