Pushback on guns (and free will)

September 18, 2019 • 10:45 am

There are two topics that guarantee that I’ll get disagreement from readers: guns and free will.

I won’t say much about the latter except that some readers seem eager to convince me of compatibilism: that there are some versions of free will that comport with both determinism (i.e., we could not have behaved other than we did) as well as our common-sense notions of free will (i.e. “free will is what we exercise when we are not under compulsion to act”). I’ve discussed such claims many times before, giving examples of “quasi-compulsion” (i.e., you save money for your kids’ education even though you prefer not to, because you’re under familial and social compulsion), and noting that compatibilism is not what most people think of as free will (the study of Sarkeesian et al. in four countries shows that from 65% to 85% of people think of “free will” as contracausal—dualistic—free will).

But at any rate, people who comment on this, or contact me privately about free will, are always civil, as one might expect with a philosophical topic and a group of civil readers.

It’s different, though, with guns.

If I merely say that I favor restricting guns the way the Brits or Scots do—a statement I consider at least as provocative as “you don’t have free will”—then many people turn nasty, even some readers of this site. I had one interaction via email with a reader yesterday, who told me that he didn’t want his automatic weapons taken away (I was echoing Beto O’Rourke in a post) because he used it for target shooting. I replied civilly, saying that I actually agreed with him, but thought that target shooting should be done at gun clubs, with guns kept locked up when not being used at the club.

That didn’t satisfy the person, who became (as often happens) angrier and angrier with each exchange, insisting that I was wrong because “So, yeah … you want to take away my AR-15s?” (That’s a semi-automatic rifle, not an automatic, and doesn’t qualify as an assault rifle. I’m not sure I’d ban the use of AR-15s in gun clubs for target practice.)

But I would ban private guns along the line of the Scottish gun ban, where automatic and semi-automatic guns are verboten, where you can’t own pistols except to humanely kill animals or where those handguns are of historic interest, and where, except for two-shot shotguns, you can’t have a shotgun or a rifle except under limited circumstances (target shooting is one), and there are strict requirements for licensing of all guns. Wikipedia notes that there are only 566 licensed handgun owners in Scotland.

At any rate, we can argue about this civilly, but when gun ownership is the topic civil argument seems impossible. I tried to keep my cool with this one miscreant, but eventually asked him not to write to me again or comment on my website, saying, “I have no time in my life for rude people like you. If you have any respect for me, you’ll just leave me alone and not hector me about your love of guns.”  The response? There shouldn’t have been one after my request, but of course I got one:  “I won’t. You can count on it. I’m not going to read your BLOG any longer, either.”

The “BLOG” thing was of course meant as an insult, but I just laughed and wrote the guy off. What a petulant child!

That’s by no means all the disapprobation I get when I write about favoring gun bans. There’s something about Americans that turn them into rude and defensive creatures when the topic is guns.  They will give up their guns only when they’re prized from their cold, dead hands.

I don’t get it. This attitude, and this rudeness, surely did not prevail in Scotland when they enacted the gun ban, and I don’t see Scots raising a big stink now about their inability to get handguns. Why is the U.S. different? Well, in part it’s the rudeness inherent in social media, in part it’s our misinterpreted Second Amendment, and perhaps in part it’s the Wild West mentality that permits people to open-carry guns in 26 states and bring them onto many college campuses.

And perhaps the same mentality that makes people buy guns also explains why many of them are rude and obstreperous people. (I’m not, of course, saying that all gun owners are this way.)



141 thoughts on “Pushback on guns (and free will)

  1. I agree with you, Jerry, in part. I think there is place for individuals to won handguns in the country for person protection.

    I agree with Sam Harris on guns, in general.

    By all means, no:
    full automatic guns
    guns for anyone who can pay for one
    gun show loopholes, etc.
    guns for people on the terrorism watch list
    guns for convicted criminals

    And, by all means:
    Register guns (all of them)
    Require safety education for gun ownership
    Require safe storage

    1. I think the assault weapons thing is mainly a distraction from the real issue (which should be to register all guns and prevent people who shouldn’t have them from getting them).

      Only 3% of gun deaths are due to long guns of any sort (last time I checked).

      I have no issue with banning assault-style weapons. Just don’t expect that to move the dial any.

      Any deer-hunting rifle will do the same job.

      I am in favor of banning large magazines (and silencers, bump-stocks, and other assorted nonsense). I’m in favor of red-flag laws and requiring safe storage which have the potential to stop many suicides (at least have a chance to intervene).

      About 30,000 people die from gunshot in the USA each year (last time I checked). About 50% in homicide (almost all with garden-variety handguns), about 50% in suicide (almost all with garden-variety handguns), and a very small number in accidents.

  2. I lived in California for many years, and it seems to me that the entertainment industry really overplays the idea that good people have an advantage when there is conflict involving guns. That idea seems to track back to religion. Similarly, Youtube only seems to show those rarer cases where good people prevail, rather than the far more common cases of innocents being slaughtered.
    So, uneducated young men tend to believe that they will always be the winner in a gunfight. That gun-delusion is propagated by the NRA. The truth is that the only way to stop a bad man with a gun is to take away the guns in the first place. I predict that sensible gun laws are not far away, and will spread rapidly throughout the US of A.

    George in France

      1. To be fair you should include the times the (non-criminal) people were shot (accidentally or on mistakenly) by the good guy with a gun.

        Or the number of times a good guy with a gun lost his temper and killed someone, suddenly becoming the bad guy with the gun.


        1. Sure, as a woman in Australia once said to me: “Thayze dickheads everywhere.”

          Sure, some assholes carry guns. And if they prove themselves such, they shouldn’t be able to.

          Please do include cases when a bystander gets hit.

          These events are thankfully rare. My point is that it does happen and it’s valuable to people when it does.

          I’m not nearly as sanguine as the rickflick about such situations.

          Within the last year, my family and I were in the breakfast room in a hotel in small town Wisconsin. A man entered the room with a pistol openly stuck in the waistband of his pants. We exited immediately.

          My point: I think Conceal-carry laws aren’t nearly as strict as they should be. But that doesn’t negate the fact that some gun owners are trained and can act in good ways.

          I recommend Sam Harris on guns.

          1. Ah if only we didn’t have that pesky second amendment – and the SCOTUS interpretations thereof. However if it is true, as I hear from B O’Rourke and many others, that a vast majority of the population wants serious gun control it shouldn’t be very difficult to get an amendment to the amendment or a complete repeal. I’m always surprised that no-one seems to consider this. As for anyone who sticks a pistol down his pants……

        2. Or the good guy’s toddler child got hold of the good guy’s gun and blew his mother’s head off.

          Or the good guy got depressed and killed himself with his gun.

          Suicides by gun outweigh other gun deaths by a factor of nearly two, so statistically, the person you are most likely to kill with your gun is yourself.

          1. About the same number of suicides as homicides by gun in the USA.

            Of course, safe storage should be required. Another sane thing that the NRA (and the gun nuts) oppose.

      2. What first occurred to me watching this is how vulnerable the innocent bystanders are when a gunfight happens. If the clerk had not instigated an exchange of bullets, I think the odds are very high that the robber would have taken the money and run. A much safer scenario.

        1. What happened was insanely dangerous. He discharged his weapon when a woman and child were between him and his target who might have chosen to fire back.

          I’ve no idea what was outside but if it was a normal street, other people might have been in the line of fire.

          Finally, he discharged his weapon in an enclosed space and none of the people in there were wearing ear protection.

          1. Reminds me of when recently a Trader Joe’s manager was shot and killed by police accidentally. This is someone who is supposedly trained in the use of firearms. This and many other events tell us that the mere presence of firearms is deadly. It is not so much about good guys and bad guys.

            1. The nightmare scenario: You walk into a saloon full of good guys, all packin’. Your knee bumps a guy’s elbow which causes his gun to discharge. Everybody in the place stands up and starts shooting. You are the only survivor.

              That last line is just for a happy ending. 😎

              1. It’s across the tracks off Dystopia Drive. You go dead ahead past Joe’s ‘Glorious Second’ Fruit Stand and Gun Shack. You can’t miss it.

  3. “… who told me that he didn’t want his automatic weapons taken away … because he used it for target shooting.”

    Why does one need anything lethal for a hobby of target shooting? Can’t one use an air gun, or some virtual reality thing, or try paint-balling, or take up archery, or darts, or bowls or something?

    1. He could, but does not want to. Jerry is correct about the “Wild West” theory – and to add to it that Americans are much more fierce about their “Sovereignty” than most of the rest of the world. I live in Utah and discuss gun ownership with many, and I find most of them to fiercely embrace their freedom and assign their freedom to owning guns, IE if the government takes away their “freedom” they can fight back.

      As a paranoid person, I can see their reasoning and logic behind why they own guns – they associate the 2 together and believe there will be a time when the Jack Booted Thugs come to take them away. Because of that, any time they even think you are talking about anything gun related, you (to them) are threatening their freedom. You might get all the other dumb arguments like home protection and target shooting and hunting and all that, but really it boils down to the above.

      1. This is true about the NRA-member types.

        “You might get all the other dumb arguments like home protection and target shooting and hunting and all that, but really it boils down to the above.”

        That is simply not true of many of the gun owners I know, including myself. I’m not worried about the US Army (or the State Troopers or the FBI). I know my .38 special revolver isn’t going to hinder anyone like that — nor would I want to.

        I’m worried about my wife’s ex. Who is one of those type of gun owners and whose mental stability is somewhat suspect. (He’s never done anything yet; but it only takes once, doesn’t it?)

        Maybe you would be comfortable trusting your family’s safety to the judgment of some like that; but I’m not.

        (I’ve trained with firearms since I was a boy. And I can hit what I aim at with a 3-inch barrel pistol. I’ve never pulled any sort of weapon on anyone, ever. I haven’t hunted since I was a teenager.)

        1. I am cool with people owning guns – I get your situation. I also fully believe that a prohibition on guns would be as bad if not worse than our current prohibition on drugs, IE gun production would continue and even less of them would be tracked, and less training and safety would be out there. I think the best way to fix our gun problem is to tackle all the other social ills that we face, and the violence will be less.
          I guess I should rephrase my statement, gun owners who get nasty when they argue are the paranoid types.

      2. The “threat to freedom” argument is just another stupid trope told by gun lovers. What about the freedom of everyone else to live out their lives without being shot? Obviously taking guns away is a loss of freedom but there’s all kinds of freedoms that we don’t have. If they want to talk freedom, then they need to understand the freedom from pain or death from gunfire trumps any 2nd Amendment freedom they think they have.

    2. That’s a really good point.

      And the logic of these arguments is always so circular:

      Why do you need to keep your eye in on a target range? Well, presumably because the country’s dangerous and you want to be able to protect* yourself with a gun.

      Why is it so dangerous that you feel the need to take a gun down a target range on a regular basis just so you stay sharp? Because so many people own guns. Why do so many people own guns? Because they want to protect themselves…etc. ad infinitum.

      *As to whether it actually helps protect the person in question or more often ends up killing them in a suicide or accident I don’t know, but that’s not the point. The point is that having guns for ‘protection’ is only an issue if society is flooded with guns in the first place. So using it as an argument _against_ getting rid of guns is nonsensical.
      If you get rid of guns the need to protect yourself with a gun is no longer anywhere near as pressing or justifiable.

  4. I had said I will no longer waste my time on this subject here but you bring it up and there I go. Just call me a concerned citizen who is really sick of the excuses for doing nothing and leading this country to such a disgusting level of stupid. Most people here know pretty well my stand on the issue. I would do away with all Assault weapons and also remove hand guns from just about everyone.

    I am certain that one thing PCC does not like is arguing biology or evolution with someone who knows nothing about the subject. I am of a similar opinion on guns. Most of the folks here are city people, nothing wrong with that, I have also lived in many cities. But these same city folks have had little or no experience with guns of any type and their knowledge is all from the computer screen. It is like talking about flying with someone who has never seen a plane.

    I do not need someone to tell me what semi-automatic or full automatic is. I do not need someone telling me they use their weapon of war to hunt wild game. To a actual hunter that is just not necessary or realistic. There are many more appropriate guns of all type that are better for hunting than that AR-15 like gun. You can give it up and still survive, believe it or not.

  5. My own observation is that the very people who get angry and (dare I say it?) irrational when the subject of guns comes up are the people that own them. Many of them would, of course, deny this …. angrily.
    The history of angry irrational people with guns is not encouraging.

    1. But please know that all gun owners or people who have used guns are this way. I never belonged to or had anything to do with the NRA. I think the courts have been morons on the second amendment issue. None of the gun control measures are making people give up guns, they are simply wanting to do away with the dangerous and unnecessary guns that have smothered this country over the past 30 to 40 years. The ones that killed all the people. Just do not think because someone owns a gun of some type that he or she is a gun nut. It does not work that way.

      1. Oh, no – sorry. I wasnt really suggesting that. I aknowledge that the vast majority of people who own guns are responsible and rational. Most people could also likely be trusted with nuclear weapons. They are not the one’s I am worried about – and its not always easy to pick out which is which.

      2. Randall, I think you meant, “But please know that not all gun owners or people who have used guns are this way.”

        “The [guns] that killed all the people.”

        These, by the statistics are, to an overwhelming degree, garden-variety handguns. Which is what makes the problem particularly difficult.

        1. Yes and I know that hand guns are the weapons that do the vast majority of killing. They also kill the most children and cause most of the accidental deaths. They are the most dangerous of all guns for humans to be using. The barrel on a hand gun in only 5 or 7 inches long. Therefore, it is very easy to be pointing it at people even accidentally. Almost all hand guns are semi-automatic, making them more dangerous than a revolver. If a bullet is in the chamber the only thing preventing the gun from going off is the safety. The hand gun is also the most difficult to hit anything with and most people would just as easily hit a bystander than hit the person they are planning to shoot. Without lots of practice you cannot hit anything with a hand gun. Why anyone would be hunting with a hand gun, I do not know. I know that I would never go hunting with someone who is carrying a hand gun and plans on using it. I do not want to die out there.

          1. I went once with a group of young guys from work to go shooting at a range. At that time, I did not own any firearms.

            As we were driving to the range, they had their guns out, in the car, unlocked, and, as far as I know, loaded (I always assume a gun is loaded), and started waving them around carelessly.

            I immediately had them stop the car; and I walked back to work.

            I am training my son about firearms, at the very least, so he can recognize such morons and such threats (of accident).

          2. Without lots of practice you cannot hit anything with a hand gun. Why anyone would be hunting with a hand gun, I do not know. I know that I would never go hunting with someone who is carrying a hand gun and plans on using it. I do not want to die out there.

            Very much not my territory, but I could see someone in bear country arguing for carrying a hand gun loaded with big slugs with major stopping power, just in case they (the hunter) have majorly failed in their bear-evading and warning techniques and end up French-kissing an ursine.
            Then again, you could make an argument that removing such poor genes from the hunting gene pool is an act of eugenics and the bear gets a meal. Or a taste for French-kissing humans. Or both. Your hunting friends may have an opinion on that.
            Does “doing French” mean the same in American as it does here? If not … well … “Wow!”?

            1. Well, I suppose that argument could apply even more strongly for a non-hunter in bear territory, who doesn’t want or need to carry a rifle but does want something handy in case a bear decides to have him for lunch. It would want to be not too heavy (like who wants to lug around pounds of weight), doesn’t need to be longe-range, but does need to have enough punch to stop a bear and preferably also make a big flash and bang to discourage the bear even if you miss.

              But that’s the only legit argument for handguns that I can see.


              1. And if you’re not bothered about making a modicum of noise, most bears will go to some effort to stay away from you.

        2. The [guns] that killed all the people.

          These, by the statistics are, to an overwhelming degree, garden-variety handguns. Which is what makes the problem particularly difficult.

          This only makes the problem more difficult if you consider that either of not pissing off too many voters, orretaining access to hand canons is particularly important.If you’re seeking a solution and these factors aren’t in your list of considerations, then so what. That’s the sort of reason that made the NRA so straw-clenching about the Centres for Disease Control examining gun deaths as a public health problem and caused them to buy some more politicians to get it stopped. They probably wouldn’t have counted those constraints as relevant to addressing the public health policy implications of access to guns.

          1. Aidan: “That’s the sort of reason that made the NRA so straw-clenching about the Centres for Disease Control examining gun deaths as a public health problem and caused them to buy some more politicians to get it stopped.”

            Ah, yes–that shibboleth. actually, in point of fact, the CDC *has* done much research on gun violence, which was buried by the anti-gunners, because it revealed (to the great surprise of no one who has been following the issue) that DGUs were as high, or higher, than the pro-gun folks had claimed. See https://www.forbes.com/sites/paulhsieh/2018/04/30/that-time-the-cdc-asked-about-defensive-gun-uses.

    2. “The history of angry irrational people with guns is not encouraging.” In fairness, with something like 300 million guns in this country, it’s indisputable that most people who own guns do so responsibly and without violence. I acknowledge people’s right to own guns in this country, though most often their reasons for resisting better gun safety regulation are incoherent, paranoid, or just wrong. So yeah, there’s a lot of irrationality and anger from gun owners on this topic, but for the most part I don’t find them threatening or dangerous. (I favor universal background checks, magazine limits, waiting limits, gun competence licensing, and other forms of “commonsense” gun safety regulation.)

      1. While it is true that most gun owners are law abiding, how does this really help? It’s like answering someone who has a fear of flying, “Most planes land without incident.” Not satisfying at all.

        1. Paul Topping: for someone who just said that another correspondent “need[ed] a course in statistics and reasoning,” I suggest that you might want to re-peruse your well-thumbed copy of *Freakonomics.”

        2. Well, if you are data-driven, it should help. Data and reality matter.

          (Regarding flying: Part 25 air travel is literally 10,000 times safer than driving your car.)

    3. “The history of angry irrational people with guns is not encouraging.”

      This person sounds like he wants to shoot PCC(E) with his ‘target gun’ for disagreeing.

  6. The US obsession with guns is indeed very puzzling to those of us on this side of the pond.

    Even more so than the US obsession with race, as at least in that case we can sort of see where it comes from.

    However, at least you don’t export the obsession with guns to the rest of the world.

    1. However, at least you don’t export the obsession with guns to the rest of the world.

      Well, they do export a certain number of instructive lessons about “don’t ever get into that situation”.
      On a weekly basis.

    2. I have long suspected that the two are related and that it goes right back to the drafting of the Second Amendment in the same years that the slave revolt in Haiti was in full swing. Those militias that the amendment speaks of were for putting down any potential slave rebellions more than worrying about the King of England coming to tax their tea again.

  7. Interesting that the Scots, notorious for obstreporousness and for providing military men to the British Empire, have intelligently strict gun laws. The gun fetish in USA culture is certainly unique. It can’t be only a residue of the settling of the West, because Canada also had a West to settle. However, up there white settlers were forbidden, by the Royal Proclamation of 1763, to seize native lands without a treaty. The much more violent Indian Wars in the lower 48 may have engendered the gun fetish; and then it was amplified many-fold in pop culture, first by sensational journalism and “Western” shows, then by dime-novels, and finally by movie and TV Westerns. All of these comprise a fake commercial construct, something like the genteel antebellum South.

    1. Scotland’s tightening of gun laws followed a mass shooting at a school. I believe that England and Wales followed in subsequent years. I’m not sure exactly what the laws are in Northern Ireland, given their relatively recent history of having regularly-armed police and the Troubles and all that jazz.

      Canada also had a West to settle. However, up there white settlers were forbidden, by the Royal Proclamation of 1763, to seize native lands without a treaty.

      Hmmm, interesting.
      But … if Britain enacted that proclamation in 1763, why wasn’t it also enacted in the American Colony too. Odd that. There’s a topic for people who paddle in the pool of “alternative history”.

      then it was amplified many-fold in pop culture

      I always find it weird how Hollywood shootings don’t have much in the way of the screaming, writhing, etc which you see in the A+E department at 02:00 on a Sunday morning.
      Relatedly, I recall a USian A+E programme (“Emergency Rooms” I believe they call A+E) – it may even have been based in Chicago’s “Projects” – where one of the doctors recounted that most gunshot victims didn’t realise they’d been shot for several minutes after actually being shot. Another thing Hollywood get wrong.

  8. PCC: perhaps I can shed some light on the frustration of the “pro-gun” people, being one myself.

    Part of the problem is that there is a constantly moving target here. Examples:

    In this column, you state: “[The AR-15 is] a semi-automatic rifle, not an automatic, and doesn’t qualify as an assault rifle.”

    First, you must be the first “anti-gun” (these two categories are simplistic, I know, but, to avoid writing a tome…) person to *ever* make that admission. In fact, just yesterday, in the post about the 18 y.o. woman who was arrested, you wrote:

    “I’m with Beto O’Rourke on this one: yes, let’s take the assault weapons out of the hands of Americans. They have no use except for mass killing of other humans.”

    Well…Beto *was* referring *specifically* to the AR-15. So it’s only fair to ask the anti-gun folks to get their stories straight, and to become frustrated when they don’t. (Note: I am not meaning this as a defense of your correspondent and his bad manners; I’m just suggesting whence
    comes the ire.)

    But that’s hardly the biggest issue. Some may recall about a week ago, when I referenced a conversation with a woman on FB, who said that all guns should be confiscated, and anyone who resists taken out and shot. Someone here replied that this woman was obviously a loon, and…could I actually identify a ‘non-loon’ who was calling for confiscation? Well, in that same column, you continued: “And that’s just a start in the banning and confiscation that should occur.”

    So…I don’t think that I’m being rude, or defensive, or obstreperous, in simply pointing out that we gun-owners don’t arrive at our understanding of your positions by making stuff up. We get there by carefully listening to what you (meaning the editorial you, not you personally) say, and watching what you do.

    1. “(these two categories are simplistic, I know, but, to avoid writing a tome…)”

      Quite often this right here is what is going on when people on any side of any issue get pedantic about what someone on the other side of the issue says.

    2. I am not going to argue with you or pick over what some else said or did not say. I put the AR-15 semi-auto weapon in the middle of the assault weapons that should be banned. I do not talk about full automatic because anything in that category is illegal anyway. It is the semi-auto group that we are talking about. They look almost like an M-16 with short barrels and clips that hold 15 or 20 or 30 shells. And by the way, how may shells to you need to hit something? I know, you just like to pull the trigger and it’s too much work to have to put another cartridge in the gun. That is especially true when you are trying to kill lots of people.

      1. Randall, I may well be mistaken; but I thought the AR-15 (as sold in the USA) actually is an M-16 (perhaps not gauged to fire the military .223 round), except that the action is modified (or replaced) such that is cannot shoot on full-automatic.

        Is this not the case? (I suppose I should google it …)

      2. Randall Schenck: so many errors in your short statement that I scarcely know where to start. OK, here: “I do not talk about full automatic because anything in that category is illegal anyway.”

        Wrong. The 1986 FOPA, AKA the “Hughes Amendment,” only outlawed the future introduction of automatic weapons. Those previously owned were grandfathered, and can be legally transferred and owned. And BTW, I am not aware of a single instance of one of them ever being used in a crime.

        And: “[t]hey look almost like an M-16”? Well they ought to. Because except for the selective-fire capability, they ARE an M-16, just like an SKS is the same as an AK-47, but for that same lack of a selective-fire mechanism.

        1. Yes you would argue about something and at the same time say no one has used an automatic weapon (machine gun) to do a crime. Therefore, bring it up. Maybe we can get someone with a collection of Thomson machine guns to get out there and rob a bank. You like to pick over the tiny details instead of dealing with the serious matter of guns and killing in this country. The assault weapons ban put in back in the 90s was about semi automatic weapons. Why – because that is the only kind they were making and the only ones killing people. What we should probably do is issue a gun to every child born in America. Of course it should be a muzzle loader in the spirit of the 2nd amendment.

          1. Of course it should be a muzzle loader in the spirit of the 2nd amendment.

            If you make it a matchlock, then you can include some sort of pungent bear repellent in the match composition. Or bear attractant, if that’s your thang.

            Someone, somewhere must sell (alleged) bear pheromone to the misled populace. If that were effective (“if“), I’m sure that urban myth would have passed on the tale to me, but I can’t think of any.

        2. “And BTW, I am not aware of a single instance of one of them ever being used in a crime.”

          Oh how quickly people forget.

          Fourteen AR-15’s modified with bump stocks and 100 round magazines were used to kill 48 and wound over 400 in Las Vegas (along with ten AR-10s). You can be pedantic about the technical difference between automatic and bump stock modification but in reality what matters is they were killed or wounded with weapons that fired 400 to 500 rounds a minute.

          That’s an automatic weapon.

          Mac-10’s and Mac-11’s have been used in crimes. Lots of people have been arrested for modifying their semi-autos into automatics, which itself is a crime.

          “Not ever being used in a crime” is what used to said about AR-15s and mass shootings.

          1. Jim Danielson: if you read what I actually wrote, you would note that I was referring to the use in crime of legally-owned pre-1986 fully automatics. (They’re simply far too valuable to find their way into criminal use.)

            If you’re talking about illegally-modified weapons, there still aren’t many instances, but a notable one would be the 1997 North Hollywood bank shootout, where Larry Phillips Jr. and Emil Matasareanu used, among other weapons, an illegally modified Norinco Type 56 S-1s.

        3. “And BTW, I am not aware of a single instance of one of them ever being used in a crime.”

          Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre (1929), for a much earlier example, one of many such incidents of the time.

          1. I think he was talking about ‘grandfathered’ full-autos post-1986. I expect he’s correct in that, I imagine those relics are quite valuable now and mostly in the hands of collectors.

            It’s kinda off the point.


    3. I’m a pro-gun control person and I’ve known the difference for a long time. I expect there are a lot of people like me.

      Anyway, this quibbling is really just a distraction from the main argument which is that when you get shot by a gun, you are probably going to die. I doubt if the people killed in El Paso or Sandy Hook or Columbine give a flying fuck whether the weapons used were classified as assault rifles or assault weapons or whatever. The shooters should not have been allowed to have them.

      This whole argument is a distraction like when you argue with Christians that there is no god and they tell you you are not qualified because you don’t know what the Trinity is.

      1. when you get shot by a gun, you are probably going to die.

        Hmmm, 25% of self-inflicted head-shots have a survivor. Doesn’t particularly surprise me. Various studies listed in this comment give a gunshot mortality in the 20-30% range and “The hospital mortality rate for gunshot wounds was 8 times that for stab wounds.”, which also sounds reasonably sensible. But the long and short of it is that gunshot wounds on average are non-fatal. Obviously there’s a lot of variation on that.
        A couple of days ago the case of Phineas Gage was discussed here, and if someone can survive hospital treatment in pre-antisepsis days with a wound like this (internal link? I hope so.) then surviving a gunshot wound today is less than surprising. Even if people could aim better (to quote another commenter in my search, “people can’t aim for shit”), I doubt the mortality of treated gunshot wounds would make it to 50%, just because over half of the body is redundant and/or non-critical.

        1. What is this bullshit. Can were stop quibbling about technicalities? No. OK.

          When you get shot by something that might be classed as an assault weapon or an assault rifle there is a significant probability that you will die.

          Is that better?

          And if you don’t die, the injuries are likely to be extremely serious.

  9. “I won’t. You can count on it. I’m not going to read your BLOG any longer, either.”

    Them’s fightin’ words, boss. Only chivalric way for gentlemen to settle this under the code duello would be single-shot flintlock pistols at 20 paces.

    Lemme know if you need a “second” to drop the kerchief.

    1. “Seconds” also have to stand in for their “Primary” in the event of the “Primary” bottling out.
      In and affair of honour, there are two people seeking satisfaction.

      1. ‘“Seconds” also have to stand in for their “Primary” in the event of the “Primary” bottling out.’

        Now that is an alarming prospect. Were I a second, I would be careful to arrive *after* my ‘Primary’ and I’d be on my toes at the slightest sign of the ‘primary’ absconding…


  10. In my opinion, people should be willing to keep their guns locked up at the target range or at a hunting site. It’s the ones that keep them at home, even if supposedly locked up, that are the problem. The whole “defend myself and my family” thing is extremely misguided.

          1. I read the beginning of it and, although I have some respect for Sam Harris, it is just one more guy trying to justify his addiction.

            It introduces the subject with a claim that both sides are not understanding each other:

            “On the other, proponents of stricter gun laws often seem unable to understand why a good person would ever want ready access to a loaded firearm.”

            That’s wrong and a false equivalence. I completely get the attraction. I won’t claim to know it as intimately as a gun owner but I don’t have to. Most guys like to shoot stuff. There’s also the natural desire to defend yourself and your loved ones. This is no mystery.

            I hoped Sam Harris would be above all this and make a more interesting case but we all have our vices.

            1. I just read the end of Sam Harris’s article just to be sure I wasn’t being unfair. No, I got it right.

              “Clearly, we need more resources in the areas of childhood and teenage mental health …”

              This is an extremely disingenuous argument we hear a lot lately. Sure, we need better mental health. Who could argue with that? However, virtually all mass shooters, and non-mass shooters for that matter, where their sanity is questioned after the fact, were considered sane leading up the shooting and insane after. (I am using these terms loosely, of course.) If you think for even a few minutes about the kind of mental health process that would be needed to make any difference, you quickly realize it would be completely unworkable. Everyone with access to a gun would have to be subjected to an intense, thorough mental exam on a regular basis, perhaps every six months to a year and after any traumatic event (accident, death of a loved one, victim of a crime, etc.) Obviously, some would be deemed unfit to have access to a gun and be denied the ability to purchase one. That would not go down well and might even be the trigger to violence itself!

          2. I got the impression Sam thinks he has a special need for a hand gun. He’s under threat from wackos his public statements offend. There are probably plenty. He has a reasonable case. It might be nice if he would make clear that he, as a celebrity, might be an exception and most people don’t need guns for protection.

            1. rickflick: “It might be nice if he would make clear that he, as a celebrity, might be an exception and most people don’t need guns for protection.”

              Now isn’t that special. I’ll bet that if you compared the murder rate for “celebrities,” whatever that may mean, it would be lower than that for innocent bystanders in certain neighborhoods in, let’s say, Chicago. Or in South Oxnard, a scant few miles from the relatively privileged enclave where I live in Ventura.

              Be that as it may, isn’t it interesting that those same politicos who want to radically curtail access to firearms (DiFi comes to mind) are routinely surrounded by a phalanx of security guards…with guns?

              Yeah…meanwhile, *this* “most people” will continue to keep his own counsel as to what is required “for protection.” Note also that there are countries where the police don’t routinely carry firearms. You want us to give up ours? Start with the police and the politicians…then we’ll talk.

  11. I’ve never considered myself a gun owner but I guess I am. I’ve got an 1848 Austrian Garibaldi rifle complete with bayonete hanging on the wall in my living room. An item from the Civil War and incapable of firing due to age (and rust).

    But I’d give it up in a happy heartbeat if such weapons were used for in mass murders and they were banned.

  12. Probably the quickest way to stop this insanity is to repeal all liability restrictions on gun manufacturers.

    1. I thought they were going to accomplish this in court, although I have not heard anything for some time. I understood the folks back east with the Sandy Hook mass killing had something going through the justice system on this.

    2. That would have to be the case for automobiles too or soda companies and the tobacco industry…ummm, we’ve actually got something out of them.

      I think it would be good to have an NFL moment with the NRA. NFL now has a fund for head injury related illnesses/deaths. Maybe NRA will do the same if publicly shamed enough. Of course, NFL sells tickets. NRA just buys congress.

  13. Targets can be shot at with bows and arrows too – unfortunate there wasn’t a clear explanation why such a special gun was required.

    1. ^^^^(cont.)^^^

      … but I think it has to do with the arms race factor – the biggest baddest gun wins over the second biggest, or that most likely to be in the hands of an intruder.

    2. In the same vein, I was thinking about this :

      I’m not sure I’d ban the use of AR-15s in gun clubs for target practice.

      Given what a multi-shot weapon is designed to do – spray bullets in the general direction where you think your attacker is – they probably don’t ban AR-15s at the target shooting club for the same reason that the Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers doesn’t have explicit bans on automotive compressor-driven spray painting equipment, dynamite(*) and arc welding transformers – they’re the wrong tools for a different job.
      (*) Caveat : Mount Rushmore, I believe they did some of the “hogging out” with dynamite.

    3. The people I’ve known who’ve done target shooting (one of whom I believe was on the last Olympic biathlon squad) used bolt-action weapons. In the biathlon, they have a limit on the number of extra cartridges they can use. Three extra cartridges. So going full auto wouldn’t last very long.

  14. I don’t think American culture has ever “grown up”. We are still a very immature society. Some manifestations of this are: much of the South is still embittered by “Northern Aggression” 150 years after their lost cause, religion (a malevolent force that spreads immaturity like no other) has infected millions more, and (as pointed out) our culture of the “Wild West” which has been romanticized, along with the Antebellum South, into a golden age of freedom and, to many, white superiority. One need not look any further than the current POTUS to witness Mr. Immaturity in Chief.

    To me, the 2nd amendment and its subsequent interpretations over the years, has been one of America’s greatest failures. If any one of the founding fathers knew how the 2nd Amendment would eventually (helped along by technology) turn this country into one of the most deadly in the world, they would have never included the damned amendment.

    1. Or, they would have made it clearer exactly what they intended.

      Given the time and what was going on (including the settlement of the Ohio Valley), I suspect they did intend for people to personally own guns (well, at least for white, property-owning males, just like with voting). But the guns of the time, of course, were muzzle-loaders, as many have pointed out. Those guns were a superiority weapon when confronting most Native American tribes.

      1. I would recommend, American Dialogue, by Joseph J. Ellis if you want some of the history explained by a good historian. Pages 160 to 170 gives a review to explain the originalist approach and what a pathetic ruling Heller was.

        1. Hi Randall, thanks for the recommendation. Could you summarize?

          (Too many books, not enough time … Some of my recent very good reads:

          Command and Control by Eric Schlosser
          Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham
          The Perfect Weapon by David Sanger
          The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes)

          1. Essentially the case that got us where we are today – District of Columbia v. Heller was not a surprise airburst in the night but the culmination of a decades long campaign orchestrated and funded by the NRA to make ownership a right of citizenship. Justice William Burger said this was one of the greatest pieces of fraud on the American public by special interest groups. The dissent opinion by justice Stevens explains how pathetically the court interpreted the 2nd Amendment and how far from Madison they went. Scalia was no historian yet he attempted to base his decision on history that he basically made up. It is a very good read.

  15. “who became (as often happens) angrier and angrier with each exchange . . . .”

    I grew up with guns — lots of guns. My dad was a prolific hunter of any and every kind of animal. Although I myself never hunted, I always enjoyed target shooting. However, in my experience, many (most?) of the people who have guns are the very people who probably shouldn’t have guns. They are very much inclined to be authoritarian, paranoid and short-tempered. My brother in Texas is a prime example. He constantly brags about having 30+ guns, and berates me for not having lots of guns of my own at the ready to “protect my family.”

  16. For your consideration here’s a link to the DoJ final report on the effect of the 1994 AWB https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/204431.pdf

    The primary result of that law 25 years later was the proliferation of boutique Armalite and Kalashnikov firearm manufacturers. At the time of its passing there was no general interest in those sorts of firearms.

    I suspect that just as with the 94 AWB any major laws will result in a rebound effect down the road with a repeal and even more interest. The current Democrat lineup of Presidential candidates may well the the greatest firearms salesmen in history.

    FWIW anyone interested can purchase a small CNC machine for around $2000 and begin building any of the proscribed weapons in their home workshop. Likewise with ammunition, it’s just chemistry and I’m sure that we are all aware of how well bans on drugs, another form of chemistry has been.

    Mass shootings are stopped whenever people pay attention to the weird and disgruntled making ominous threats.

    1. “Mass shootings are stopped whenever people pay attention to the weird and disgruntled making ominous threats.”

      Other countries don’t have weird disgruntled people? Americans are weirder and disgruntleder than the rest of the world?

      (Much as I’d cynically like to think so….)


      1. I suspect that there are a lot more weird disgruntled sorts wandering about in the US than in most other countries. I personally believe this is due to garbage health care, garbage working conditions and other assorted garbage social conditions like “Right to Work” laws in the US

  17. I agree with about gun control.
    I am beginning to think that sometimes when people become rude and defensive it’s because
    they refuse to admit they might be wrong.

  18. I’ve lived through the crack years in Los Angeles. Carjackings and home invasions were commonplace. These people were willing to enter an occupied home to cause physical harm while taking your possessions. It’s ridiculous to think that gun laws would affect these guys. Do you really think that someone willing to commit multiple violent felonies would stop commiting these crimes because you added one more felony to the count?

    Maybe some are comfortable waiting for the police to identify your bodies after the fact. I’d rather have a chance to protect myself. Life isn’t a movie where some hero magically shows up to save you.

    I get the sense that many ardent anti-gun folks have lived privileged lives where they haven’t had to fear violent crime. That wasn’t/isn’t reality for many of us. It’s great that you’ve never had to worry about having to protect yourself, but it’s incredibly self-centered to think that others are living the same privileged life of safety.

    I don’t know what we should do to prevent mass killings, but taking away one tool of the many available (pressure cookers, cars driving into a large crowd, etc) seems like an ineffective solution to mass killings. It would reduce mass killing by gun, but wouldn’t it just increase the number of mass killings by other means? We need to be honest about what we’re trying to control. Is it violent crime or is it gun ownership?

    1. I think this is the fallacy of thinking one is safer with guns. Perhaps there is a point at which density of crime is so high that you are safest if locked and loaded at home but I suspect that we have never come close to that point in the US.

      If statistics are convincing, then the way to think about this is to contemplate how safe you feel if your neighbors are armed to the teeth. That way you get past the automatic confidence, probably unfounded, in your own ability to avoid accidental, unjustified harm. I don’t know about your neighbors but I wouldn’t trust mine to always handle their guns properly. Who knows if they don’t have a violent ex-spouse, like one commenter here has, who is going to send a round through the wall and kill someone in my house?

      1. I guess you completely skipped over the part where I said that others have not lived a privileged life of safety. The crack years were real. I don’t know what to say to someone that thinks those years weren’t dangerous enough to warrant taking steps toward personal protection.

        Also, my neighbors are good people. I want them to be armed so they can come to my aide if I’m unable to defend myself. I want someone to come help right away rather than the 10-30 minutes it takes for the police to get to me.

        As for accidentally firing my guns, that’s never happened because I’m responsible. How many times have you accidentally stabbed someone with your kitchen knife? I’d assume it’s the same number of times I’ve accidentally shot someone. Zero.

        1. How many times have you accidentally stabbed someone with your kitchen knife? I’d assume it’s the same number of times I’ve accidentally shot someone. Zero.

          Looking at one hand – scars from slipping while sharpening a chain saw. Scars from window glass after the burglars had been around (when I lived downstairs from a crack dealer, but that may have been coincidence – attracting attention from the cops was really not in his interests, particularly since I strongly suspect he was an informer at that time). Moving to the other hand – well, that’s scar is molten lead from casting diving weights, that one is from barbed wire washed into a cave with a fence segment. That one across two fingers was a really new knife and a carrot that wasn’t as strong as I’d expected. And the index finger has a healed (barely visible) scar from a similar cooking slip. Knives are damned dangerous things even when you’re not actively trying to murder someone. Guns, of course, are single use tools, and that use is murder.
          How did Paul Topping put it? Oh yes,

          You need a course in statistics and reasoning.

        2. I’m not sure how bad your neighborhood was, but I do think it’s a fair point that some inner cities are so dangerous and have such a problem with gang violence that disarming the population unequally could have unintended consequences. I would need more information about who the gun owners in those areas are and the degree to which law abiding citizens stave off a degree of bullying by owning guns, even if it’s just through the common knowledge that most people own guns which serves as a deterrent (again, I’d need more information to draw a conclusion there – it’s also possible that most law abiding citizens in the areas with the highest crime already don’t own guns and any reduction in gun ownership would impact criminals almost exclusively.)

      2. …send a round through the wall and kill someone in my house.

        There you go. You need to have enough guns in your house to form a steel barrier, protecting your loved ones from stray bullets. About 4 or 5 thousand long guns would probably do for the downstairs. 🙄

  19. Headline from the Onion (America’s finest news source):

    School Shooter Thankfully Stopped Before Doing Enough Damage To Restart National Gun Debate

  20. Stopping people from just walking around with guns I think would go a long way. But I don’t think there is much hope of that in the US.

  21. I think it is hard for Americans to see past their culture or dare I say, indoctrination — the idea of owning a lethal weapon as a right. I am Canadian but lived about 1/3 of my life in USA. Almost everyone I know down there has guns and thinks it is normal, desirable, or necessary. Conversely, I’m not sure I’ve met a Canadian who owns a gun, or would want to (perhaps with one exception of a guy I know who lives in the woods). It’s just not in our DNA. Of course this is all anecdotal, and in a country with as much wilderness as Canada, there are lots of guns to be sure. My perspective comes from a city and cities are where most Canadians live.

    As to thinking of gun ownership as a right, well, blind people don’t have a right to drive, you’re probably not allowed to own explosives, or nuclear weapons (not really sure if that is codified in law or just on the honour system). Our freedoms are curtailed in myriad ways that we accept in order to live together peacefully. It seems equally absurd to me that gun ownership should be a right as it would be with the examples above.

    1. you’re probably not allowed to own explosives, or nuclear weapons (not really sure if that is codified in law or just on the honour system). Our freedoms are curtailed in myriad ways

      On the subject of explosives, here in the UK I have some experience with the licensing for handling explosives (using them in cave exploration is an accepted if undesirable way of making progress). Possession of explosives is really, really tightly regulated. To actually store them is essentially impossible for a “civilian” – the need for the store to be a minimum of 100m from any residence requires owning land more than 200m in diameter, which excludes 99% plus of housing properties and probably 90% plus of farm properties. A use-only “bang license” is much easier to get (just positive police and military intelligence vetting – only a year or two of work) you can buy explosives but you then have to take it directly to the site of use and use it. No storage, anywhere, not even overnight. No stopping the car in a built-up area to refuel or take a piss. Really strict accounting for use, of course. Extremely limited quantities – they’d much rather see two transactions in one week for 250 grammes than one for 500 grammes.
      Why all the regulations? One word : Ulster.
      Don’t even get me started on the regulations on fertilizer compositions that can be used to make explosives. I know my chemistry well enough, and have enough interest in explosives and pyrotechnics. The regulations are tight enough to discourage me. I don’t have a strong enough drive to get round them. Same single word reason.

      What the regulations are for fissile material, I don’t know in any detail. Nobody and no industry I have been involved with uses fissile material. I have watched tens of millions of pounds be spent trying to retrieve non-fissile radioactive material lost in oil equipment downhole. The regulations require at last three serious attempts at retrieving such lost equipment – which in practice translates to at least a week of rig time and these days upwards of 3 million dollars for a rig on a production installation. 5 times that for a dedicated rig. Only then can you mix the pink cement.
      Ever seen a kilometre reel of half-inch polypropylene line? The only time I have it was in consequence of the regulations for moving non-fissile sources by sea. If the ship goes down, the “bunker” has it’s own wreck buoy built in, which will stream a buoy to surface so you can find the bunker. The ship can drift where it wants to, but you retrieve the bunker first. The explosives bunkers don’t need that – the explosives can rot on the seabed for all anyone cares. If a fishing boat accidentally dredges them, the wartime munitions people are tediously well aware of how to deal with it. They get several shouts a year.

      1. Heh. Decades ago I happened to read in council minutes, an application for consent to import a cobalt radioactive source for irradiating [something or other]. Much cheaper running costs than X-rays, apparently. It would be transported from the wharf by truck and the contingency plan in the event of accident was to drop dirt on it from a lead-shielded helicopter.

        It was at that point I said to myself ‘these people are *never* going to get their consent’.



        1. That’s a procedure written by someone without physics input. Put it in a bunker (ours use barium-sulphate cement rather than lead, because lead is considered dangerous) for the marine leg. Lift it off the boat and onto the back of a flat bed. In the event of the truck being hit by a runaway train as an atom bomb is going off above, remove the debris, put the bunker onto a new truck and continue to your destination.
          Shipping bunkers are not delicate bits of artwork, they’re brute-force engineering pretty much unconstrained by considerations of weight. As long as a 25-ton crane can move it, it’ll do the job.

          I bet the treatment room is on the ground floor level.

  22. I have a question, just asking. If you met a gun nut with a slew of automatic weapons, would you rather he believe in dualistic free will or would you rather he believe that he has no free will?

      1. No, it is an inquiring mind type of question directed at anyone, not at you in particular. And posed because the topic juxtaposes free will types and gun nut types so I thought it was a bit funny.

    1. I’d go with the determinist. At least he’s probably the thoughtful type. The free will guy might be a religious fanatic.

  23. Hmmm, maybe gun owners are a bit tempermental because most of the media make a habit of misquoting them, demonizing them as murderous lunatics, and always demanding more and more concessions from them. This gets worse when the anti-gun crowd also rely on media-hyped hysteria and faked statistics to push their point.

    For example, do you believe that “study”, quoted all over the media, that the US has the highest number of mass-shootings in the world? A shooting-death every day? The worst homicide-rate in the world? Then perhaps you should look at the UN’s findings, which gives the US the 111th-highest homicide-rate in the world, out of a field of 193. Or perhaps look at the FBI’s findings — that the US has 30,000 firearms deaths every year, of which 20,000 are suicides and another 1000 are “justifiable” shootings by both civilians and police (out of a population of 330 million).

    Add to this, the latest bunch of Democrat candidates who brag that if elected they really *would* end civilian gun ownership. I’d say that those testy gun owners have considerable reason to be short-tempered.

    1. I don’t know what “study” you’re talking about but, if I had to guess, it’s one that’s talking about only rich countries whereas the UN study is obviously about the entire world, or the part for which statistics are available. Take a look at those 10 countries that rank over the US. Should we heave a sigh of relief? I don’t think so.

      1. Mr. Topping: “…if I had to guess…”

        And that is rather the problem. You don’t have to guess. You might have asked Leslie Fish for a URL, or done a bit of sleuthing on your own.

        And this is another reason why those of us on the other side of the debate tend to be frustrated. We marshal the facts carefully–we have to, as imagine the opprobrium we would earn if we got them wrong–but when we calmly present them, we get screamed at by people who haven’t taken the time to get their facts straight, but “just know” that they’re right. (Do I really need to quote Moynihan here?)

        In our host’s original post, he was decrying the rudeness of a pro-gun correspondent. But read through this thread, and note how *all* of the venom–100% of it–has come from the “anti” side. We make a calm presentation of facts, and what happens? We are accused of being “pedantic,” and having “stupid trope[s],” of being “angry,” “delusion[al],” “irrational,” and “nuts.” (And that’s just a brief selection from this column.) We are accused of being crazy, atavistic, bloodthirsty, of being rednecks, etc.

        It doesn’t help your arguments.

        1. What a load! It’s on the person quoting statistics to provide a link, not all the readers. If I challenge stats provided without reference, the supplier of those stats should provide the additional information.

          No surprise but you never say my assumption was wrong, just that I shouldn’t make assumptions. Did you think that I wouldn’t notice? Is this how you “marshal facts carefully”?

          If we have venom, it is because you gun nuts are literally killing us.

            1. Nope, can’t say I noticed the part where Paul proved your point at all.

              And FYI, Leslie Fish is the same person who commented on a recent WEIT article about a mass shooting and insinuated that CNN were in on it. Her website/blog, which I visited out of interest, is frankly unhinged.

              1. Saul Sorrell-Till:

                OK, you win. Mr. Topping’s escalation, from calling me a “nut” to calling me a murderer…yeah, there’s nothing at all to be learned from that. That’s the very quintessence of civil discourse.

                As for Ms. Fish, I’m not sure where she got the “111th” number, but Dominic above gave a cite that slots the U.S. at 89th, and Politifact has us at 94th: https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2018/mar/28/viral-image/united-states-third-murders-outlier-cities/

  24. I have a couple of friends that I see about once every two months along with a bunch of other atheist friends who will react pretty negatively when the topic of gun regulation comes up. They assume the rest of us mean complete banning of guns and they just cannot be assured that we don’t mean a complete banning of all guns. Eventually, you just gotta drop the topic altogether because it doesn’t change their minds.

    It’s very possible that we’ve all been going about it the wrong way, though. I remember going to a Freethought Society meetup event near me several months ago and we heard a talk from a psychologist about how to change someone’s mind on a topic. The problem is, though, that it pretty much HAS to be done by the psychologist if it’s going to be done right.

    1. Just this morning I was at the grocery store and I saw this guy with a cowboy hat doing his shopping thing. When I reached checkout, I saw him again, and this time I noticed that he had a very large handgun tucked in his belt. This was the first time I’d seen such an site in my life. I was appalled. My stomach clenched, and I had the urge to vomit. I don’t want that guy in my grocery store or hardware or gas station. I want him arrested and his ugly weapon taken away because it is a provocative insult to humanity. Am I wrong in this, or do I just have to get with the program?

  25. “Wikipedia notes that there are only 566 licensed handgun owners in Scotland.”

    On the other hand, there is almost unrestricted access to and open carry of bagpipes. That also seems to be the case here in Canada, where they are often unleashed at funerals of noteworthy persons. Perhaps in some small measure the custom mitigates the sting of being guest of honour at the funeral.

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