Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Guns in America (part 3)

Identifying absolute causal relationships is a difficult business. We can make inferences, of course, but we need to be careful about going too far without rigorous statistical analysis and study. That said, though, it doesn’t necessarily follow that because we are unable to prove a causal relationship that we ought not take steps that might mitigate against a perceived problem.

Like guns and mass shootings.

Will increased gun regulations reduce the number of mass shootings and the number of dead children? I think so, but there are others who would, quite obviously, disagree and argue the point. But query whether we should wait to try material steps to reduce gun violence until we have empirical proof that those steps will work. How many more innocent people need to die while we wait to be absolutely sure that enhanced gun control regulations will work? And what is the downside to trying more gun control now? If it doesn’t slow down the pace of mass shootings, what have we lost? I mean, what have we really lost? I’m not talking about paranoid worries of liberty or tyranny (see part 2 of Guns in America).

Again I ask, how many children are we willing to see die as the price we pay for the paranoia of some that the “big bad government” is coming after them or that the Marxist Muslim Fascist Kenyan President is going to impose sharia law and subjugate American sovereignty to the United Nations? Are you willing to sacrifice your spouse or your child to those fears? I’m not.

But on the issue of causation, I do want to note one set of interesting observations. As I was first thinking about this, I couldn’t help but recall the old Sesame Street song “One of These Things Is Not Like the Others”.

  • Japan, Britain, Australia, and Switzerland all have people with mental illness, just like the United States.
  • Japan, Britain, Australia, and Switzerland all have violent movies with gunfights and explosions, just like the United States.
  • Japan, Britain, Australia, and Switzerland all have violent videogames with graphic depictions of blood and gore, just like the United States.
  • Japan, Britain, Australia, and Switzerland all have strict laws on who can own a gun and what types of guns can be owned, unlike the United States.
  • The United States has been suffering through an epidemic of mass shootings in public places unlike Japan, Britain, Australia, and Switzerland.

Should we talk about mental illness? Absolutely! Should we talk about violent movies (and music and books)? Of course! Should we talk about violent videogames? Without doubt!

But let’s not forget to ask ourselves why other countries haven’t had the gun violence that we’ve had when they all have those same issues to contend with. We should discuss those issues but let’s not wait to address the one issue where the United States is clearly different: The ease of access to guns, including assault weapons.

If your child is getting bad grades, it might be due to a heavy course load, a learning disability, poor teachers, or any of a host of other reasons. You could conduct a study of all factors that might contribute to your child’s poor grades before taking any action. But if you saw that among the possible issues was your child’s failure to study or do the assigned homework, I suspect that you’d be inclined to start with addressing that issue before (or perhaps concurrent) with examining other possible issues.

Isn’t that sort of what we’re talking about with regard to gun violence? Yes, there may be other societal factors influencing behaviors and we shouldn’t discount those. But what’s wrong with tackling what appears to be the one clear factor that we can address now. If we’re wrong, then it’s likely “no harm, no foul”. But if we’re right yet choose to do nothing, then more children, more innocent people, are likely to pay the ultimate price for our failure and timidity to act.

Does easy access to guns cause the violence we’re seeing? I don’t know. But I feel pretty confident that restricting access to guns (or the types of guns) won’t make things worse.

I have an idea: Let’s impose some new, reasonable regulations on access to guns, ammunition, and so forth. And then let’s see if that helps. What do we have to lose? Compare that to what we each might lose if we don’t try.

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