Some Thoughts to be Thought Through After Las Vegas

One of the stranger impulses that one has a problem dealing with in the age of social media is not just a tendency to feel to comment on every element of an event with a preconceived set of basically tribal political criteria when something like this happens. This is understandable, the US has many problems and we think our side has a quick answer to it. I find myself responding to a lot of liberal arguments, not because they are more egregious or illogical, but because I am exposed to more of them as a left-wing urban dweller.

On the idea of terrorism, things get complicated. I actually find the idea that lone wolf shooters are white and the media doesn’t call white terrorists, terrorists suspect. The media narrative around Timothy McVeigh or various IRA bombings in the 1990s, they were clearly defined as terrorists. Mass shooters weren’t though, and at the time, there was no legal reason to do so. This is not to say dispropriate hysteria is not applied to non-white “terror” attacks and mass shootings are treated as terror in those cases by the media often. Prior to the 2000s, if you don’t know the motive for a killing, you don’t know if it is terrorism. The first mass shooters weren’t terrorists because they have no objective beyond the act itself. If any act of violence is terrorism because it is violent, then the category has no real meaning.

Now, by federal statute, terrorism is defined by motive and only domestic attacks carried out at the behest of or on the behalf of foreign organizations. There is no federal charge for domestic terrorism, but there are state-level charges. Nevada defines terrorism solely be scale and targets, and mass shootings count. The media figures don’t know that I am guessing because there are 50 sets of laws that apply here.

There are all sorts of biases at play but seems like expanding the category of terrorism to encompass all sorts of random or semi-random violence just increases the arbitrariness of state charges. The expansion of state-level terrorism laws was a product of the Bush-Obama period, but there is no standard legal definition, and encouraging an expanded popular definition seems to be operating on the idea that if everyone is oppressed together, then the privilege will go away.

Then comes gun control arguments, and I feel like I always to add a bunch of caveats: I am not anti-gun control and I am not a second amendment fetishist. However, I am a little tired of the ” if it was only as hard to get a gun as it is a car” In most states, this simply isn’t true. There are states in the West and the South where it is very easy to get a gun, but you don’t have to pass a safety check, get a background check, in some states a mental health check, and go through a waiting period to a driver’s license in most states. You have to be of age and pass a test, and maybe go through a probationary phase with use restrictions. As study after study shows, there is no strong relationship between state- and city-level gun control laws and gun crime. 

IF you want to be honest, admit that the philosophy federalism over most regulation is a problem, but then admit that your issue is larger than the second amendment. There is no way to ad hoc this problem as many liberals say, but there is also little evidence even from international statistics that gun control alone will decrease the violence.

And as I have said many times, poverty reduction correlates more strong to decreased homicides than gun control if you look at international statistics. There is evidence that national level laws would have an effect on the margins, but very little if they would have an effect given state by state laws.

One would do well stop only mentioning rich countries with low historical rates of homicide before their gun control laws as your sole model. IF the laws are the same Mexico and UK but the gun-violence isn’t then you cannot attribute the success to the legal regime. You would have to control for a other effects, including access created by the US border. In short, the study is beyond what I have seen either liberal or conservative outlets actually doing. Furthermore, looking at the current evidence and the likelihood of the kinds of gun deaths, gun regulation would likely have an effect on suicides more than any other category of crime. While Australia’s example is often sited, the European trends of the last half-decade indicate that mass shootings as a method of political attack will likely happen despite strict gun regulation, but its hard to say, because while mass terror attacks are increasing, they are still incredibly statistically rare and our sample sizes are small. Many conservatives pointed that out in the Australia case, despite the reporting at Slate and Salon, that as, non-that-conservative L.A. Times points outs:

Each year between 1979 and 1996, Australia had an average of 3.6 gun deaths (both homicides and suicides) per 100,000 people. After the NFA was passed, that rate dropped to an average of 1.2 gun deaths per 100,000 people.

In both time periods, the total number of firearm-related deaths was on the decline. But “the trend accelerated” after gun control took effect, the researchers wrote.

The researchers also found that passage of the NFA was associated with a steep drop in the overall homicide rate. Before Port Arthur, homicides involving weapons of any kind had been falling at a rate of 0.3% per year, on average. Afterward, they fell by 3.1% per year. There was no evidence that killers who couldn’t get their hands on guns switched to other weapons instead, the team wrote. . .

Overall, gun-related deaths fell faster after gun control than before it. But some of those gains might be due to factors that have nothing to do with guns. For instance, trauma doctors and surgeons have gotten better at treating gunshot victims. They’re also getting treated more rapidly in the NFA era, thanks in part to the growing ubiquity of cellphones, the researchers wrote.

In short, the most steady analysis of Australia doesn’t produce clean data for either side and inclusion of statistics like that of Mexico, where similar laws are failed, we realize that even if the laws were passed, the laws themselves would not necessarily remotely effective policy.

This is not to say we don’t need a dialogue about gun control, we do. But perhaps we can quit pretending that this is just about federal regulation, or the second amendment. Perhaps it isn’t just a question of political will, which my liberals friends seem to think they can shame people into supporting, but a question of complex, multicausal social issues and a constitutional framework that is ill-equipped be coherent.

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