Moving Targets

In a Twitter conversation last night, I was directed to a pro-victim-disarmament “study by Harvard University”. The link I was to follow never opened, but I did find their most recent study on my own (and I certainly agree with the author’s conclusions).

On the contrary, the Harvard Injury Control Research Center has collected abstracts from several studies, all of which (unsurprisingly) come out in favor of victim-disarmament. How is this possible? In two ways:

The first is by making argumentum ad passiones, the appeal to emotion. One of Harvard’s cited sources reports that, in a survey of Boston 7th-graders who illegally carried firearms, most wished they lived in a society where no one could have firearms. Let me first point out the ridiculousness of the survey group. 12-year-old criminals? I’m certain they were completely honest and forthright. Then there’s the problem of the question asked: do they really wish to live in a society in which 80-year-old women have no way to defend themselves from thieves and murderers? Perhaps they do–but what does that say about their credibility in the survey?

The second way is by moving targets. You see, the second-most-important question in this debate (the first is Constitutionality) is, “does increased availability of firearms to law-abiding citizens increase or decrease crime and fatalities?” However, in study after study by the pro-victim-disarmament groups, the question asked is, “does increased availability of firearms to law-abiding citizens increase or decrease the rate of gun-related homicide?” Note that, almost by definition, increased availability of firearms will increase the rate of any type of firearm-related death. If ten homicides per annum were reported in a society without legal access to firearms, let us say that one of them would have been committed with a firearm. Say firearms were then legalized, and the next year seven homicides are committed, four of them with firearms. The victim-disarmament studies could correctly report that firearm-related homicides had quadrupled, while ignoring the inconvenient fact that they had been reduced by 30% overall. Unfortunately, only the abstracts in these studies were available, so I cannot examine the actual data collected. Nor can I identify the definition of the word “homicide” in these studies, but a category for “justifiable self-defense” is universally lacking in the available information. I can only examine the abstracts in conjunction with other statistics, which demonstrate quite clearly that less access to firearms by law abiding citizens increases crime rates, in with the Constitution, which affirms that the right of American citizens to own firearms shall not be infringed.

There is a final point I would like to make about firearms and crime rates, however. Several years ago, I read Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker (ugh). In it, he describes a model of behavioral equilibrium in a population (I’m sure that there was a specific name for the model, but I can’t recall), wherein different interacting behaviors will be exibited in different proportions of the population depending upon how effective they are. I think that it is entirely possible in the society of the United States that, due to the negative image of firearms portrayed by news and entertainment media, carry of firearms by law-abiding citizens has not reached the saturation point of being as effective a deterrent as they might be. In otherwords, so few people actually carry, out of the total population of possible victims, that criminals may still safely assume that their victims are disarmed. Of course, when they are wrong, they may press the issue to the point of fatality, thus leading to an increase in “firearms-related deaths”. However, if a much more significant portion of the population carried firearms, it would no longer be safe for criminals to assume that someone was an easy victim, leading to an much greater reduction in crime.

Update: Someone agrees with me.

Update: Real-world effects of gun-control


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