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Gun control in the US will fail

One can empathize with “the tears, the thoughts, the prayers and the broken hearts” (a synthesised quote from several newspapers) that Americans are expressing/experiencing in relation to the murder of  26 people in Connecticut.  The murders of the 20 mostly 6 or 7 year old school children naturally create a feeling of deep sadness and, indeed fear, for all parents. But the sense of having heard all this before and that absolutely nothing will change in the US creates despair at how far Americans have moved away from being a decent society.

The  US with 270 million guns in private hands has the highest level of per capita gun ownership of any country and, apart from Mexico, one of the highest murder rates attributable to  shooting in the world.  The fraction of US citizens living in households with guns is 47%. The US has almost double the gun-ownership levels of Yemen, a failed state combatting terrorism.  It is an almost unbelievable indictment.

These statistics suggest several things. First, that gun ownership in the US is anything but an aberration. To the contrary gun ownership has broad community acceptability – as American as apple pie.   As a consequence, political moves to limit gun ownership will fail because many Americans want their damn guns.

Paradoxically, these statistics also suggest that the “gun lobby” argument, namely that the Connecticut problem stemmed from the fact that child-carers didn’t have guns, makes a weird and tragic sense.

It makes some sense both because the political popularity of guns is strengthened by Prisoner’s Dilemma disincentives for individuals to retreat from high levels of gun ownership.  Accepting a gun buyback would be unattractive to citizens who would recognize high levels of overall gun ownership in the community and, hence,  their own personal increased vulnerability if those with criminal intent acted rationally and kept their weapons.  There will be adverse selection issues here with the criminal class and mindless white trash Republicans-cum-libertarians tending to retain their weapons. America will remain a society stuck in a 1960s western movie where grievances and misdeeds are seen to be reasonably addressed with guns.

People will not want to unilaterally give up guns – indeed murderous rampages, if anything, provide incentives for those with this American view of social reality towards, if anything, still higher levels of gun ownership.

One alternative to ever increasing “tooling-up” of armament ownership is to learn to live with more Connecticut-type events, with more senseless murders and with more tears, threats and prayers.  This might follow a moral minority giving up their killing utensils in a weapons buyback but with the mass of weapons remaining extant in the hands of  criminals and right-wing fanatics. Things have gone too far in the creation of a self-destructive, violent US society for it to revert to anything that might approximate common sense.  At the current gun-based culture seems likely to persist for many, many years along with the periodic slaughter of innocents. (1834)

13 comments to Gun control in the US will fail

  • Harry,

    There are more gunshops than petrol stations there.

    If they wanted to stop such incidents they could.

    They simply do not want to for reasons you have illuminated on.

  • Jim Rose

    An excellent post: Gun control is not going to happen because of the poor incentives for law-abiding individuals to retreat from high levels of gun ownership in the USA.

    Disarming first in an arms race may not be wise:
    • The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey showed the risk of serious injury from a criminal attack is 2.5 times greater for women offering no resistance than for women resisting with a gun.

    Disarming mutually may not be wise either. Schelling in 2011 gave the example of a world without nuclear weapons –
    a. It would be a world in which the US, Russia, Israel, China, and a dozen others would have hair-trigger mobilization plans to rebuild nuclear weapons, and would have prepared targets to pre-empt other nations’ nuclear facilities, all in a high-alert status, with practice drills and secure emergency communications.
    b. Every crisis would be a nuclear crisis because any war could become a nuclear war where the urge to pre-empt would dominate; and
    c. Whoever gets the first few weapons again will coerce or pre-empt. It would be a very nervous world.

    Getting rid of gun free zones are a start because they attract spree killers. Spree killers overcome their delusions and the voices in their heads for long enough to invest much time finding places filled with defenceless victims. (Virginia Tech was a gun free zone). The last thing spree killers want is to be quickly shot down like the dogs they are such as at that american church in 2007.

    Schelling argued that nuclear stability must be based on a secure second strike capacity. Do not protect the cities, protect the weapons. Your cities are a hostage for the other side against a first strike because your cities would be destroyed in the counter strike.

    By both sides not protecting their cities, but protecting their weapons, there is a credible mutual exchange of hostages. Neither has an incentive to strike first because the other side has your cities as their hostage for reprisals. an arms race is complicated.

  • rog

    America appears to be infected with the myth of freedom and that guns are integral to that concept. Truth is those that use guns in the pursuit of freedom invariably lose freedom.

  • Jim Rose

    rog, americans are in an arms race where gun free zones help the spree killers

  • the solution is obvious.

    You have to give semi-automatic guns to every primary school pupil!!

    Those people from NRA are sooo wimpy

  • Jim Rose

    None of the gun control proposals to date go beyond assault rifles and even then with many exceptions.

    Dopey old Joe Biden is leading for Obama administration. He is not known for building successful coalitions on complex issues even with fellow liberals.

    Serious issues are put in the hands of competent political leaders with gravitas, who have something to lose if they fail, and a long enough career ahead of them to reward and punish those who did and did not join their coalition

  • Simon

    I’m not convinced by the “prisoner’s dilemma” analysis. It assumes that being armed in an armed society makes you safer, but the reality is opposite – being armed makes you less safe. Individuals seeking to minimise their risk of becoming victims of gun violence should voluntarily disarm.

    Well, that’s assuming that people are rational rather than clinging to guns as a symbol of personal strength.

  • hc

    Not sure I disagree with you Simon. I think that those living in America see unilateral disarmament as risky even if (perhaps) its not. Collectively it increases risk for sure but I am not certain that unilaterally it does.

  • Lesley de Voil

    What you’re really saying, Harry is that the USA is a failed society. At one time, only the “Wild West” was the uncivilised part, now it’s all of it uncivil.
    Regards and Happy New Year.

  • Jim Rose

    None of the proposals I have seen go beyond regulating sales etc of assault rifles.

    The current stock will remain unregulated as will handguns. Token gestures in all.

    Regulating criminal use of hand guns such as 10/20 life might work, but American prison terms are already savage so little in the way of marginal deterrence.

    Spree killers plan to commit suicide so they cannot be deterred.

    Gang-bangers are far more likely to be killed by business associates and rivals so arrest actually increases their life expectancy.

  • Jim Rose

    I found this interesting from http://www.volokh.com/2013/01/09/how-to-stop-school-shootings-right-now-abolish-pretend-gun-free-zones/

    “At Columbine High School, the attack coincided with the “school resource officer” (a sheriff’s deputy) being off-campus.

    The officer returned during the start of the attacks, and fired some long-distance shots at the killers.

    Those shots drove the killers into the school building, and saved the lives of several students who had been wounded.

    the officer failed to pursue the killers into the building. Dozens of additional officers arrived within minutes, but none of them entered the building either, even though an open 911 line indicated that killings were taking place in the library, while police stood outside just a few feet away.

    At least 11 of the 13 Columbine deaths could have been prevented if the police had acted promptly.

    since Columbine, police tactics have changed drastically, to emphasize that whoever is at the scene should immediately and aggressively counter-attack an active shooter.”

  • Appreciate your current invaluable expertise.

  • [...] from high levels of legal private gun ownership when criminals will keep their guns. Harry Clarke pointed out [...]

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