Saturday, December 29, 2012

Grover Norquist as Petulant Teenager


Possible Obama responses:

I know you are, what am I?

Your mom is

Or how about:

We've had a lot of elections and Grover Norquist has never even been on the maybe he should STFU and let the grown-ups figure this out...

My take on Norquist is that he's a just a flat-out bad dude. When he's interviewed, he seems to be barely controlling serious rage directed at everyone who disagrees with him. He's done a hell of a lot of damage to this country, and I'll relish watching his head explode as his cancerous project falls apart around him.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Welcome to the Surveillance State

Feinstein's New Assault Weapons Ban

Nobody will know what to think of this until it's been subjected to a fair bit of public discussion, of course.

And so I'm not going to say much about it now, just throwing it out there.

But I have an inclination to think that something like this may be on the right track. The old AWB was also, I think, more or less on the right track. It turned out to be damnably easy to get around, though. And it did have the unintended consequence of prompting gun manufacturers to develop a new generation of small, high-capacity semi-auto handguns--handguns that took mags with ten rounds or fewer like the Glock 26.

But no such legislation is going to be perfect.

Any AWB, I'd say, needs to be supplemented with legislation that works to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and people with dangerous mental illness. We also, I'd say, need to close the gun show loophole.

It's important to realize, however, that all we're doing here is putting up some rather easily-circumvented barriers. No guns will be confiscated, of course. Whatever's out there now will have to be grandfathered in. You'll still be able to buy e.g. AR-15s and high-capacity mags--you'll just have to buy them used, it'll be harder and cost more. Barriers are what we want--but such barriers are typically permeable.

And none of this addresses what I'd call our real firearm problem, which is: handguns used by ordinary criminals. There may be a better case to be made for more restrictions on handguns than on military-style assault weapons. About 75% of firearm homicides in the U.S. are committed with handguns. Handguns are also far less important as a check on government power, and less important for home defense. If we were choosing to make policy ex nihilo, we might choose to put some fairly substantial restrictions on them--say, only allowing those who qualify for concealed-carry licenses to purchase them. But given the prevalence of handguns in the U.S. already, that'd basically amount to shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. Still, some such restrictions might be worth considering.

I'd rather see us put more of our attention on other fixes, but "assault weapons" restrictions do seem to be part of the puzzle. As is well known, there are countries with fairly high levels of firearm ownership that don't have anything like our problems with gun violence. (There are some pretty weak arguments against the Switzerland and Israel examples, but the cases are still less clear than they are often advertised as being.) We've clearly got cultural problems that lead to preposterous levels of violence, and that can't be fixed by restrictions on guns. But that doesn't mean that reasonable restrictions aren't part of the answer.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Bona Saturnalia / Merry Xmas / Etc.

Festive holidayness from Colorado!

Our visit with JQ's folks draweth to a close, and we're off to MO in a couple of hours. There's no connectivity at the Ranch of the Damned, though we'll be staying in StL tonight and our last night there.

Obviously I haven't been posting much, but you're probably familiar with the erratic nature of posting around these parts already, so no surprises there, really.

Currently I'm reading Nagel's Mind and Cosmos, which is, thus far, not nearly as bad as you may have been led to believe. Much like The Last Word, M&C is engaging and puts its finger on something important...but also like TLW, it fails to carefully define its target. The arguments don't seem that strong at first blush, but he seems clearly to have struck a nerve with some folks. He'd have been better off to have throttled back on his claims somewhat. I think the point he *should* have made is that the reductive materialist view he has in his sites remains something like a kind of to-some-extent-unspoken orthodoxy in many places, though it really is more like a quasi-religious presupposition than a conclusion we are compelled to accept. Instead of pretending that it's the reigning orthodoxy and that he (Nagel) can slay it, it's more accurate to say that a lot of people are a lot more certain of the view than they have any right to be, and that a sensible view of the situation shows it to be a highly problematic option. The thing to do is to point out that the emperor is rather under-dressed for the occasion...

Anyway, more on that later.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Interesting Columbine Fact + Anti-Firearm Nonsense From Daily Kos


Interesting fact: there was an armed guard at Columbine, who got off four shots at very long range (for a handgun) at one of the murderers, but didn't hit him.

Of course Daily Kos isn't a serious site, especially not for a discussion of firearms, but it is relevant than an armed deputy was on scene. Sadly, it takes the freaking National Review to point out the obvious, that there's a good chance that the deputy mitigated the damage done by the killers.

The DK post goes on to falsely proclaim the following:
People with concealed carry permits may be able to arm themselves against other people with concealed weapons. They will not be able to stop a Sandy Hook or Columbine or Aurora style gunman with a rifle and body armor (none at Columbine, yes at the others).
But, of course, the failure to stop the killers immediately--as opposed to altering their plans and shortening their killing spree--in one case does no such thing as prove that someone with a standard sidearm can't stop a mass murderer, nor that every would-be mass murderer from here on out will be armed with an AR-15 and armored with Kevlar. This is just wishful thinking on the part of anti-firearm lefties. (And funny what counts as wishful here...). What a concealed firearm would do in such a situation would be the only thing that any safety measure can ever do: shift the odds in the right direction.

Here are the facts:
If you are caught in a situation like this one with a well-armed person intent on mass murder, you are largely f*cked. On average, if you have a sidearm then you are somewhat less f*cked than if you were completely unarmed. If the assailant is wearing body armor, then you are in much bigger trouble than if he is not. However, if you engage him at, say, 15 yards (rather than 60), you're on much more equal footing, and the difference in firepower is somewhat evened out.

As I've said before, the two irrational ends of the gun control debate are each afflicted by dangerous, idiotic fantasies. The right is afflicted by the fantasy that enough people might actually carry concealed weapons to really, significantly lower the odds of such mass murders happening, and also by fantasies in which having a sidearm matters a lot if someone surprises you in line at Starbucks. The left is afflicted by what is, if anything, an even more irrational fantasy, the fantasy that guns are incredibly effective in the hands of bad guys, but so ineffective in the hands of law-abiding private citizens that they do nothing to shift the odds in their favor in such cases. In fact, much of what is said on the left entails that, even if you are cornered by a mass murderer and find a firearm, you should throw it away because using it will simply increase the odds of harm to yourself and others--except for the bad guys, of course, who are inexplicably immune to slugs even when unarmored.

It's too bad that we have to wade through such nonsense to have a sensible debate about this topic.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"Guns Don't Kill People" / Sandy Hook

Although I tend to be (somewhat reluctantly, but not very reluctantly) pro-Second-Amendment, I was struck  pretty hard by the contrast between the Sandy Hook mass murder of school children and the case in China in which a man slashed 22 school children with a knife.

There's a certain type of pro-firearm person who is fond of saying "guns don't kill people, people kill people." A well-known response, of course, is that people with guns kill people. That's not accurate, of course, but the idea is: people who are killed are often killed by people with guns.

We don't get a great comparison in these two cases, of course, since the man in China seems to not have even been trying to kill the children. He was trying to hurt them. But even if he had been trying to kill them, a man with a knife is almost always less dangerous than a man with an AR-15 and two pistols.

But it's not clear what the role of such murders ought to be in our reasoning about firearms. Given what we know about people, and about our system overall, we know that there are going to be murders. And there are going to be mass murders. And there are going to be ones that are even worse than this one. A lot, lot worse. So it's not completely clear to me why some people seem to see this as an occasion for reassessing gun laws. We knew that roughly this would happen. We know that roughly it will happen again. That is the price of having a system in which very powerful firearms are very easy to get. If one person out of 300 million of us is crazy in approximately this way, people are going to die.

The thought has, roughly, to be: this and tragedies like it are the price we pay for refusing to grant the government a certain type of control over us. One might reasonably--or so I think--conclude that the price is too great relative to the payoff.

Anyone who thinks that the government is currently a threat that might require armed resistance is probably a nut. But we don't maintain our ability to fight back against the government because we think that it will go insane tomorrow, or next week, or next year. We retain our right to keep and bear arms because we think that the government will go insane some day. Sadly, I think the probability of that is something approaching 1. That is, I find the belief that the U.S. government will always be benign, no matter how long it lasts, to be incredible. I wish I could believe otherwise.

I have found that it doesn't pay for me to have conversations about this with people who do not see, even in principle, why citizens might want to retain the ability to protect themselves against their governments. However I do think one might fruitfully ask about the relative costs and benefits of the two possible courses of action. On the one hand, we might give up our firearms and thus make it extraordinarily difficult to check the power of a malevolent government. We would also pay a day-to-day cost by making it more difficult to fight back against certain instances of crime. The payoff would be that criminals would be less well-armed, and massacres similar to Sandy Hook would be almost impossible to carry out. The other course of action is the one we've currently chosen: we retain a great deal of power to resist a malevolent government and to resist certain types of crime (e.g. "home invasions"), but the cost is lots of well-armed criminals and mass murders. One might reasonably conclude that, overall, the expected gain of the former option is greater than that of the latter.

One reason actual crimes may be relevant to our deliberations is that decisions about gun policy are generally at least tacitly grounded in facts about us. If enough of us were crazy, it might be obvious that we had to ban firearms. If there were one mass murder per week per state, for example, our calculations might look different.

Of course the other most salient thought here is that governments simply have no authority to infringe the right of citizens to keep and bear arms...and that I haven't addressed.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Douthat: Destroy the Planet, Please

No time to say much about this right now, but Pete Mack directs us to, and I can't resist at least gesturing at it.

Douthat seems like a nice guy, and basically the last thing the internet needs is more mean-spirited snark, but my God, this piece makes my heart sink.

To my mind, this is almost exactly equivalent to saying something like "hey, one way we can insure we stay ahead of everybody else is to just burn the sh!t out of our coal." Or..."Hey, let's save the economy by chopping down all the trees in Yellowstone and selling them for firewood!" Except Douthat's suggestion is worse.

The population needs to go down. People really do need to get that through their heads. Perhaps not drastically...but sooner, other things being equal, is better than later. There are prices to be paid, of course, but there's almost no more efficient way to put short-term gains over long-term sustainability than to argue for pumping up the population. If we had a reasonable human population, almost all our other environmental problems would disappear or be radically mitigated.  A slower growth rate is one of the few good things to come out of the Great Recession; let's not f*ck it up, shall we?

Currently, just being consistently a little more responsible about reproduction over a longish period of time should be enough to get things on the right track. One of the last things we want to do is to allow ourselves to get into a situation in which we have to take drastic measures on this front. So let's not do that.

About Half of Republicans Think ACORN Stole The Election

Which is particularly strange given that ACORN no longer exists...

Also, 25% say they'd like their state to secede and 19% aren't sure.

So I guess I think about this what I've thought for quite some time: as they get crazier and crazier, their odds of winning go down, but the cost of their winning goes up. So the expected loss stays more-or-less the same...

It's easy to start wanting to count them out, but I think that's a mistake. Say the economy stays crappy--which is eminently plausible so long as the House GOP stays its course...say they manage to make one of their fabricated scandals (say, whatever comes next after Solydra and Benghazi) stick...say they get a charismatic candidate for 2016, say they even nominate someone female or a member of a minority group, and say they convince enough people that they've changed their stripes...  No, they're down, but not out.

And Gerrymandering should keep the House under GOP control at least until 2016.

Well, anyway.

(h/t S. rex)

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

RIP Rick Majerus

One of the good ones.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

The Case For More Guns (And More Gun Control)

Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic.

Haven't read; just passing it along right now.

I'm congenial to the general I should be more skeptical...