A Note About Responsibility

by John Holbo on February 25, 2018

Law-makers are responsible for the laws they make, and support, and do not repeal. They are responsible for the intended effects of their legislation, also for unintended but easily predicted effects. (They are even semi-responsible for less easily predicted bad effects – although the degree to which legislation should be a strict liability business is debatable.) None of this is mitigated if mediated through a causal chain that includes other actors besides the legislators.

If law-makers favor legislation that makes it easy for immigrants to enter the country illegally, they are faulted (or credited!) accordingly. It usually isn’t fair to say that legislators ‘favor’ or ‘like’ effects of legislation that are, most likely, regarded as costs, not benefits. But it’s fair to say that legislators are responsible for the costs.

Law-makers who favor legislation that makes mass-murder much easier than it would be, under an alternative legislative scheme, are not mass-murderers; but they bear responsibility for it, should the predictable become actual. (Same goes for citizens who drive the legislators to it.)

If you favor lax immigration enforcement, you aren’t an illegal immigrant, but you bear responsibility for illegal immigration. Same goes for murder: if you favor lax gun laws, you aren’t a murder, but you bear responsibility for murder.

You can bear responsibility for murders happening without being guilty of murder. (That’s a bit hard to wrap one’s head around. All conservatives currently raging against the shirking deputies have managed the trick.)

If you raise the speed limit and, predictably, x additional traffic accidents will occur, the legislature is responsible for those accidents. This sounds harsh: you are causing accidents. But it would be insane to say law-makers bear no responsibility for costs, they only get to claim credit for benefits. The fair way to put it would be: the law-makers judge the accidents to be an acceptable cost of people getting to and fro faster. The law-makers share responsibility for the costs with those who vote for them, and support the measure, and take advantage of the convenience of faster driving.

In the gun case: the law-makers judge thousands of gun-related deaths (and the occasional, horrific school shooting) to be an acceptable cost of many, many more people enjoying gun-owning lifestyles. If they pretend they aren’t making this trade they are still responsible, since they ought to know better. They share this responsibility with those who support them.

I keep reading pro-gun Republicans defensively complaining it’s not fair that people talk about them as if they are murderers. This is fair. They are merely morally responsible for murders, which isn’t the same thing. Until such time as they admit their correct degree of responsibility, it’s entirely to be expected that people will collapse the distinction and accuse them, incorrectly, of being murderers.

The alternative is that no legislator is responsible for anything laws do, because that always involves other people, doing stuff. Also, the shirking deputy didn’t do anything wrong, since what went wrong was murder, and the deputy didn’t do it.

{ 80 comments }

1

Karl Kolchak 02.25.18 at 3:46 am

The “shirking deputy” (or as it turned out, four shirking depuTIES) was part of the huge and very profitable scam that is “school security.” I’m a retired LEO, and one of my former colleagues, who is also retired and in his 60s, does security work at a public high school. All of the guys who work with him are also older and retired. It’s a cushy gig–paid for by the taxpayers from funds that are then NOT available for more teachers, newer textbooks, better computers, etc. Normally, the most dangerous thing they ever do is ticket the kids who are dumb enough to bring pot to school on 4/20 and confiscate their stashes (can’t give white kids a criminal record, don’t you know). It goes without saying that they would be quite ineffective against a determined killer with an AR-15, even if they dared to confront him (and they could even end up killing MORE students and/or teachers themselves since it has been shown that even cops under stress only hit their target with a handgun 18% of the time).

I say all of that to point out that this issue–like every other in America these days–is all about money and who, from the CONgresscritters of BOTH parties on down who benefit from NRA largess, to the various police forces whose members benefit from being able to land do-nothing second careers.

But is that so different than nearly every major politician (again of BOTH parties) who vote for more war spending and more military actions that result in the wanton slaughter of innocent children all across the Muslim world? Obama ADMITTEDLY killed over 6,000 civilians via drone strikes, and destroyed Libya as a nation-state. Does that make him a war criminal like Bush? I would argue that it does.

Killing is America’s business, and business is very good. Witness how we are BY FAR the biggest arms exporter in the world. Until I see liberals out there DEMANDING that the killing of Muslim women and children stop, and that America STOP selling weapons to pretty much any faction who wants then to wipe out another faction or to governments who slaughter their own people like Egypt and Saudi Arabia–I will consider their calls for tighter gun controls to be nothing but pure cynical politics utterly devoid of any morality.

2

John Holbo 02.25.18 at 3:59 am

“I will consider their calls for tighter gun controls to be nothing but pure cynical politics utterly devoid of any morality.”

‘those who are guilty of anything can’t be less guilty of anything else’? I think that’s too sweeping, Karl.

3

J-D 02.25.18 at 4:42 am

You can bear responsibility for murders happening without being guilty of murder. That’s a bit hard to wrap one’s head around.

Not that hard, surely? That’s why incitement to murder and conspiracy to murder and being an accessory before the fact to murder are crimes.

4

Moz of Yarramulla 02.25.18 at 5:00 am

Until I see liberals out there DEMANDING that the killing of Muslim women and children stop…

Liberals are out there demanding those things, and have been demanding them for quite some time. If you’re not seeing them that’s on you.

Quite recently millions of them took to the streets protesting the US invasion of Iraw, for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_against_the_Iraq_War

5

ph 02.25.18 at 5:25 am

So, Republicans are culpable and Dems are what? Just did a key word search: Dems vote to ban assault weapons 2009. Guess what turns up?

JH is right that Karl is perhaps to broad, but the OP is far too narrow. Corbyn is the UK Lab leader because too many of the Blair gang pay a price for supporting the illegal invasion of Iraq. In America, when Dems support violent regime change, not only do they get a free pass, the DNC allows the leading pro-war Dem to buy the nomination from the Obama-controlled DNC. Illegal war supporters such as Max Boot and Bill Kristol discover new identities as responsible republicans, and Democrats look back wistfully at the flawed, but reasonable Dubya Bush.

Pretending that the US love affair with weapons is one-sided is unlikely to convince all those on the receiving end of Democratic ‘solutions’ to ‘challenging’ international circumstances. Responsible US leadership of course means only attacking much smaller, weaker nations with no chance whatsoever of defending themselves, or fighting back.

‘We came, we saw, he died ! Ha-ha-ha!’ Hillary in 2016!!!

I say let’s try for some international rule of law. Course most of the victims of US weapons happen to be brown-skinned poor folks living a long way away, who speak, dress, and smell funny. But in the immortal words of Andrew Sullivan: ‘the innocents are few and far between.’

6

John Holbo 02.25.18 at 5:37 am

“So, Republicans are culpable and Dems are what?”

No, you’ve misunderstood the word ‘responsible’.

7

John Holbo 02.25.18 at 5:40 am

People aren’t responsible based on their parties but on what they do.

8

alexh 02.25.18 at 7:27 am

> None of this is mitigated if mediated through a causal chain that includes other actors besides the legislators.

> The alternative is that no legislator is responsible for anything laws do,

Just as a matter of logic here, why is there no middle-ground alternative that could allow for some degree of mitigation?

If I fail to support laws that predictibly should – statistically – prevent some murders (even though maybe these laws would cause yet other, but different murders) am I, by the absence of these laws, now responsible for these murders? As responsible as the murderer himself? As responsible as someone who incited the murder or helped cover it up? If yes, that’s just weird. If no, I don’t see how you can allow have degrees of responsibility but foreclose on the sensibleness of mitigation. (Or, it seems, pretty much any other nuance in assigning ‘responsibility’ to legislators for predictable costs of their actions and inactions.)

9

Collin Street 02.25.18 at 8:15 am

No, you’ve misunderstood the word ‘responsible’.

I’m still toying with my magnum opus, but a quick google revealed this rather interesting result.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3372926/
Random pull quote: “Several studies suggest that individuals with ASD can successfully categorize when the task is simple or rule-based, but have difficulty when categorization is more abstract or complex.”

[in this case, the category being formed is “people responsible for a given negative outcome”, which is about as abstract as you can get, I think.]

10

John Holbo 02.25.18 at 9:14 am

“If I fail to support laws that predictibly should – statistically – prevent some murders (even though maybe these laws would cause yet other, but different murders) am I, by the absence of these laws, now responsible for these murders? As responsible as the murderer himself? “

Clearly not as responsible as the murderer himself.

11

John Holbo 02.25.18 at 9:19 am

Also, you aren’t responsible for laws that cause something unless there could be laws that don’t cause that something. I’m cool with ought implies can in such cases.

Thinking about the deputy gets the right answer. The deputy bears some responsibility for what happened, due to inaction. But he isn’t guilty of murder. And it matters that it would have taken real heroism to do anything useful under the circumstances. Nevertheless, he’s somewhat responsible.

12

dax 02.25.18 at 9:40 am

The reasoning seems akin to this:

People who live in modern society are responsible for its degradations, which include environmental pillage, slave labour, and early worker deaths. They could choose to go to an island (or Vermont) and live a self-sufficient life, but they do not. Therefore they (i.e. you and me) are morally responsible for many bad things. I guess I’m responsible, in one way or another, for most of the evils in the world.

That is to say, responsibility has lots of gradations.

I would say on the continuum Republican lawmakers are much more responsible for gun deaths than I am responsible for slave labour. But the notion of *greater* responsibility is not present in John’s reasoning, and so I’m not sure how useful it is.

13

Collin Street 02.25.18 at 10:18 am

Just as a matter of logic here, why is there no middle-ground alternative that could allow for some degree of mitigation?

The concept of “responsibility” is inherently variable wrt the degree of responsibility/control, no? A person is responsible to the degree that they are responsible, to the degree that they had reasonable other choices and knowledge of same. “Mitigating” on top of that is two bites of the cherry.

I mean, if you’re going to say “if you’re even a little bit responsible then you should be shot in one knee so that you won’t run away too fast from the steamroller that makes up the next stage in the process” then sure you could talk about mitigation. But nobody has that conception of “responsibility” in mind, I hope.

14

SusanC 02.25.18 at 11:14 am

Different kinds of responsibility, maybe.

British and US law has the notion of “sovereign immunity”. (Amusingly, even the Americans call it that, despite having got rid of King George a while back). The basic idea is that someone who has suffered a negative consequence of a government policy can’t sue the government over it, unless the government has waived its immunity (see the Federal Tort Claims Act, etc.)

[I am not a lawyer, so if you have reason to care about the details you ought to consult someone who is. I’m just using the basic idea to illustrate the philosophical issue]

But someone who has been negatively affected by government policy can, of course, vote against the governing party at the next election, and join with others in campaigning against them.

So campaigning against a political party on the basis of the negative consequences of their policies is entirely consistent with recognizing that you don’t have a good prospect of being able to sue them or get government officials convicted of a criminal offense.

British and American ay aside, there’s probably some deeper philosophical issue about what responsibility means lurking behind this.

15

Lee A. Arnold 02.25.18 at 11:15 am

Another indicator of responsibility is how an individual feels about the act. The interior, subjective dimension. (This was incorporated historically early into the judicial code of course.) It’s still a good cultural gauge: how touchy they are about it. And the gun lobby, all of the Republicans, and half the Democrats are really touchy about it. Last night on Fox News, one of the usual suspects was saying how “unfair” it is for gun regulation advocates to trot out crying kids and grieving parents for the TV cameras after a mass shooting. I mean REALLY. This comes a day after the NRA spokesmodel told CPAC much the same, that the liberal media loves massacres. Feeling guilty, much? It’s interesting how quickly the gun manufacturers’ public-relations focus groups have zeroed in on what the home gun hobbyists must be feeling too. Wouldn’t you like to read their secret propaganda guidelines? The high school kids (and the rest of us) should get ready for this little trick too: I call BS!

16

Lee A. Arnold 02.25.18 at 12:12 pm

A national ban on assault weapons will respect the 2nd Amendment. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote (in the Heller decision, 2008) the reasons why the current state bans on assault weapons in a handful of states are Constitutional:

“the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns… Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose…  We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller [US v. Miller, 1939] said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those ‘in common use at the time.’ … We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’… weapons that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned…”

17

Lee A. Arnold 02.25.18 at 12:17 pm

In the same opinion, Scalia wrote, “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms…”

Assault weapons ban, comprehensive universal background checks, more funding for mental health care.

18

steven t johnson 02.25.18 at 2:14 pm

“All conservatives currently raging against the shirking deputies have managed the trick [of assigning responsibility.]” As I recall, at least one person bled to death at Columbine while the cops organized an assault one the suicide corpses.

Despite all the movies and TV shows depicting valiant cops charging to the rescue, the police do not exist to protect the people. The police exist to police the people. To police the quad means to throw out the trash. Kitchen police do the scut work. Uniformed police with badges do the same kind of thing, on behalf of the masters. We are the scut work, we are the trash. The police are not heroes. They are masters. That’s why they can legally and morally, if only in conservative eyes, act as jury, judge and executioner to murder any potential threat, as opposed to a real threat. When police enter a situation that poses danger to themselves they operate with overwhelming force. The dude in Florida did not sign up to be a hero but to ride herd on the students and obstreperous parents.

There is one recent claim of an armed civilian engaging in stopping a mass murder, that recent church shooting in Texas. Note that killing the perpetrator after the act didn’t save anybody in the church. I have no idea how the police have ruled out one perpetrator killing the other, then casting all the blame on him, but they have their trade secrets I suppose.

As to the general notion that someone with a gun can stop crime, by world standards the US population is heavily armed. Therefore, criminals are routinely stopped by the armed people, and the USA has the lowest crime rate on Earth. This is entirely appropriate to the greatness that is US.

19

steven t johnson 02.25.18 at 2:28 pm

PS Regarding the statistic that 18% of police hit what they aim a? Handguns aren’t ever very accurate, by lack of virtue of their physical properties. It is one reason why police have no use for nonsense like aiming to disable. I suspect 18% is a very respectable rate.

The real moral is that resorting to violence is instrinsically unwise even for amoral pursuit of your aims. But when there is a contest between the facts and their mental schemes of how things ought to be, political conservatives always print the legend.

20

Frank Wilhoit 02.25.18 at 2:30 pm

Who is responsible for the non-enforcement of laws that lawmakers make, and support, and do not repeal? Particularly those that were originally composed as symbolic gestures, with the knowledge that they would not be enforced and the intention that they not be enforced? If these seem like straw men, proceed from non-enforcement to selective enforcement.

21

Mark D. R. 02.25.18 at 3:11 pm

Doesn’t this start to water down responsibility to meaninglessness? +30,000 highway deaths a area because congress allows poorly trained people to take control of 2 ton steel beasts capable of going 80 mph into other people.

22

Ben 02.25.18 at 3:34 pm

Hmm. No one has mentioned who bears responsibility for the sad state of mental healthcare or contraindicative but federally approved drugs for controlling of homeless and housed? Interesting.

23

Ben 02.25.18 at 3:45 pm

But those nasty and autonomous gunz…they beguile the unwary unlike other instruments of death like high capacity machetes and poison gas, 18 wheelers or any other WMD that’s handy.

24

Tom West 02.25.18 at 4:17 pm

Not to be too cynical, but the ability to admit the costs of a policy trade-off is so unusual that it is automatically assumed to be false-flag, concern-trolling, etc.

I’ve been lectured about how publicly admitting the cost of a policy I obviously supported was worse than not supporting it in the first place, as that provided exceedingly potent weaponry to the opposition (“see, even their own so-called supporters don’t support it” with the unspoken, but universal assumption that any policy you support cannot have any trade-offs.)

Politics is not about honest policy discussion with acknowledgment about trade-offs. Those are two completely different forums, and expecting politicians to commit suicide by confusing them seems… optimistic.

25

Chris Bertram 02.25.18 at 4:33 pm

Something seems wrong to me here. Suppose I favour respecting human rights and regard that as a hard constraint on policy. Then much (nearly all!) potential immigration enforcement will be ruled out (not that I’m happy with the example, partly because of the way in which illegalization and enforcement are interdependent). Human rights here function pre-emptively, excluding the kind of cost-benefit analysis that the OP supposes lawmakers engage in. If cruel and unusual punishments (of the kind of exemplary nature Foucault begins Discipline and Punish with) would reduce the murder rate, I don’t think it makes sense to hold lawmakers responsible for the murders that would have been avoided with public disembowelling, since public disembowelling should not be on the menu available to policymakers when they compare the costs and benefits of different measures.

26

Z 02.25.18 at 5:13 pm

Law-makers are responsible for the laws they make, and support, and do not repeal.

I think I disagree, as a matter of political philosophy. Law-makers, in a democracy, are the delegates of the people, mere vessels for the general will or whatever. So, in a democracy, the assertion

the law-makers judge thousands of gun-related deaths (and the occasional, horrific school shooting) to be an acceptable cost of many, many more people enjoying gun-owning lifestyles

seems wrong to me: the people judge that acceptable, and the law-makers just do their bidding.

A possible reply, of course, is say that the US is not a democracy, and certainly not one with respect to the particular topic of gun legislation, but an oligarchy, so that the people have no responsibility, seeing that what they think has no bearing on the political process. In that case, you would be right (and since this is the case, arguable you are right). But I think I can at the same time and without contradiction accept the fact that the US is an oligarchy and refuse to embrace fully the corresponding oligarchic legal philosophy: doing the latter would seem to imply that, as a matter of principle or logic, I don’t think that the people can ever have political power in the US, and I don’t believe that.

So as a matter of philosophy and practical conduct, I think I disapprove of assigning special responsibility to law-makers. The people made a choice. If they have change their mind, just vote the law-makers out.

27

Ben 02.25.18 at 5:14 pm

Oh, that wasn’t the intent.of this piece?..covert objectivity?

28

anon/portly 02.25.18 at 5:50 pm

I don’t think the OP is really considering the true implications of its own argument.

First of all, doing something effective about guns, in the US context, is probably going to be expensive. Maybe we would need something like the Aussie buyback program, maybe we would need some expensive regulations. Maybe we would need to divert police resources. Etc.

There are also the political costs – if the political system is going to tackle gun control, that suggests that maybe other political ideas will have to take a “back seat,” as it were.

And even the changes that are implemented may or may not have that large of an effect – I wouldn’t count on the US political system to get gun control “right,” even if it does do some sort of gun control.

And certainly if it is effective it will create at least some murders, just as the OP example of lowering speed limits will create at least some accidents. Is it enough that the total declines? (I actually think the suicide rate argument is the better one for a policy that effectively decreases the number of guns – as I understand it, that would definitely be expected to decrease).

But I haven’t even gotten to the real problem with the OP, which is that fine, maybe gun policy has an impact on the murder rate, but what if other policies have a much larger impact on the murder rate, in the long run. Specifically, economic and legal policies. If I wanted the US gun death rate to nosedive, I would not focus on gun control, I’d focus on inner-city investment and revitalization. I’d focus on jobs. I’d focus on police and legal reform. (To what extent does the US exceptionalism vis-à-vis mass shootings result from our “gun” policy and from what extent from our legal and regulatory policy?). Okay, maybe certain forms of gun control would help too, but I think they’re somewhat ancillary.

Now I could be wrong. My views on economics are very different from most CT readers and commenters. But these are my beliefs. What if they’re wrong? Then I guess you could assign to me some iota of responsibility for some murders, if I choose to vote for a Republican (or the wrong Democrat) or if I don’t “do more” to support gun control. But what if they’re right?

When I look at US law-makers, I don’t see much that I like. JH thinks that law-makers should bear some responsibility for murders that he believes would not happen if the voted more in line with his own preferences and beliefs. I think that’s bunk, because I think JH’s preferences and beliefs are off-kilter, but if he were to adopt mine, he could still make the same argument, because I also believe that more sensible policy outcomes would reduce the murder rate. I just view the murder rate as more dependent on different policies.

Shouldn’t beliefs matter? If my beliefs are correct, then should JH bear responsibility for some murders, because he’s focusing on the wrong things? If my beliefs are wrong, should I bear responsibility? What about a typical Republican law-maker? What if they believe that their own policy-views are best? It would be one thing if they were examining the trade-offs in their own heart, concluded that JH’s beliefs and preferences were optimal, yet voted and worked legislatively opposite to them. But I doubt that’s what they’re doing. (I don’t doubt so much that are not working for what they think is best – that’s kind of their job description – so much as they are doing so counter to JH’s particular beliefs and preferences).

29

Heliopause 02.25.18 at 7:54 pm

I think it goes without saying that we all share responsibility for what goes on in the world commensurate with our ability to affect it. That goes for gun policy, it goes for the economic violence of inequality and deprivation which inexcusably exists in the world’s richest society, it goes for the sadism of US foreign policy which is eagerly funded and concealed by both conservatives and socially liberal elites. All of that and more.

30

Ben 02.25.18 at 11:20 pm

I’ve noticed the same proclivity amongst conservatives. That blind spot of self inquiry is missing a link.

31

John Holbo 02.26.18 at 12:02 am

“If cruel and unusual punishments (of the kind of exemplary nature Foucault begins Discipline and Punish with) would reduce the murder rate, I don’t think it makes sense to hold lawmakers responsible for the murders that would have been avoided with public disembowelling, since public disembowelling should not be on the menu available to policymakers when they compare the costs and benefits of different measures.”

Yes, the problem is that in these cases – murder, torture, wrongful harm – we want to find the guilty, ‘responsible’ party. And this makes it confusing that, around this hard core of immediate, primary responsibility, there is a cloud of less clear responsibility.

But I would say:

1) in the eyes of someone who thinks that torturing is ok, the legislator IS responsible for the harms that come from not having an effective torture program. (This person is wrong to think torturing is OK. But, given that wrong view is right, regarding the legislator as responsible is right.)

2) if it’s categorically wrong to do x, then people are NOT responsible for the wrongs that result from not doing x. Except here we get into the problem: are genuine moral dilemmas possible? Could you be strictly obliged to do something that is only do-able by doing x? I am on the record as saying genuine moral dilemmas are possible, so I guess I’d better retract my published position, or else admit this is an ugly possibility.

3) But there is no plausible view on which it is categorically immoral to have significantly stricter gun laws. You can be a strong 2nd Amendment-type but that’s separate.

[UPDATED THIS COMMENT FOR CLARITY]

32

John Holbo 02.26.18 at 12:05 am

“But I haven’t even gotten to the real problem with the OP, which is that fine, maybe gun policy has an impact on the murder rate, but what if other policies have a much larger impact on the murder rate, in the long run. Specifically, economic and legal policies.”

I should have made this explicit but the gun case is relatively simple insofar as it’s clear guns themselves are the major factor. Obviously if there are serious contenders for different policy approaches, things get more complex. But with guns, you either significantly reduce the amount of them or you don’t. If the latter, it is implausible you have addressed the problem with deaths. If you accept this amount of guns, you are accepting the deaths as a trade-off.

33

Ben 02.26.18 at 12:42 am

“Clear guns themselves are the major factor. “

Ach du lieber Vienna…Das ist gut!

34

Equalitus 02.26.18 at 1:04 am

The more people and the bigger area that a “morality sphere” is theorized/conceptualized, the more extrapolated the morality theory is. And the more inflated is that specific morality concept.
Some of the posts here resembles ‘structuralist moral theorizing”. Another word for this is ruthless aggregation if ethical expenditure.

35

Equalitus 02.26.18 at 1:10 am

How many of the posters here think that number of guns per capita, legally or illegally is mostly a demand side causality factor if not as much as illegal drugs are mostly a demand side factor. By that description [demand side causality attribution] it is meant that prohibition [increased gun prohibition] will have [conditional] small effect, especially in the short time frame.

36

Layman 02.26.18 at 1:23 am

Z: “Law-makers, in a democracy, are the delegates of the people, mere vessels for the general will or whatever.”

Which countries in your view meet this standard for democracy, i.e. have legislatures that never make unpopular laws? I can’t think of one.

37

James Grimmer 02.26.18 at 4:16 am

“I should have made this explicit but the gun case is relatively simple insofar as it’s clear guns themselves are the major factor. Obviously if there are serious contenders for different policy approaches, things get more complex. But with guns, you either significantly reduce the amount of them or you don’t. If the latter, it is implausible you have addressed the problem with deaths. If you accept this amount of guns, you are accepting the deaths as a trade-off.”

1. I am curious what you’d consider analogously simple cases that legislators can be held accountable for. There are simple cases and simple cases, and relatively simple cases, and the rest of the cases. But I agree that there are simple and relatively simple cases.

As a relatively simple prod: I myself know that I wouldn’t have a financial worry in the world were I not burdened by medical debt I incurred as an insured person with a pre-existing condition. Lots of medicine-related bankruptcies in the USA don’t make sense to folk from other developed countries. Corey Robin spoke once on this site of medical care as something, when provided socially, that offers an existential protection to people vulnerable to medical risks–which we all are, to varying degrees.

2. I also have this weird suspicion that I’m living in a country, the USA, that is aggregating simple and then “relatively simple” cases with (somewhat or relatively) bad “solutions” and getting the answer in most cases clearly wrong–failing to solve many simple and relatively simple cases. I may be wrong overall. I hope I am. But I’ve got particulars.

I envy Australia’s apparent success with guns. I wonder what we’re going to do about payday loans, which have thoroughly predictable effects. I wonder . . . choose your topic.

3. Policy is hard. One has to start where one is, with the political realities, the forces of inertia, etc. and so forth. Still, bad policy, or immoral policy, can become clear, or relatively clear, and/or goad folk into what one hopes is a sense of what bad or immoral policy involves in the first place. This is something a legislator needs to have in mind, and is responsible for, as a representative of “the people”. The–we–folk can’t have everything in mind.

Among other things.

38

J-D 02.26.18 at 8:52 am

Z

I think I disagree, as a matter of political philosophy. Law-makers, in a democracy, are the delegates of the people, mere vessels for the general will or whatever.

Well, which is it — ‘the general will’, or ‘whatever’?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPonMKEEWKc

For what it’s worth, I think you’d get plenty of agreement with the proposition that legislators are vessels full of something, whatever, but I don’t think that’s what you meant.

So as a matter of philosophy and practical conduct, I think I disapprove of assigning special responsibility to law-makers. The people made a choice. If they have change their mind, just vote the law-makers out.

So if I hired a lawyer or some other kind of agent to act on my behalf — no, better, if you hired an agent and that agent then committed fraud both against you and against other people, then because that agent was hired to act on your behalf, and was selected by you, and could have been fired by you at any time, the agent has no special responsibility for the fraud, but you are responsible for the fraud.

Wait. How about ‘No’?

I don’t think I disagree as a matter of political philosophy, I know I do.

39

J-D 02.26.18 at 9:50 am

Equalitus
Since you ask: I don’t know how many of the commenters here think that, but I am not one of them.

40

Z 02.26.18 at 11:31 am

Layman @36 Which countries in your view meet this standard for democracy, i.e. have legislatures that never make unpopular laws? I can’t think of one.

Of course there are none. No society is a pure democracy, just like no society is a pure absolute monarchy or a pure autocracy. Political ideologies are idealized abstractions. But my point precisely applies to idealized systems, and how you conceptualize your own system. If you consider your system mostly as a democracy, then law-makers bear less responsibility than the people who elected them. I also happen to believe that this a more practical way to think about the issue: if the majority of American people is happy with the current gun laws (something I don’t believe for a minute), then Americans are happy and all is well; if they aren’t, they should make the law-makers understand that they simply have no choice. No choice. Calling upon their sense of responsibility is counter-productive.

J-D @38 if you hired an agent and that agent then committed fraud […] the agent has no special responsibility for the fraud, but you are responsible for the fraud.

Analogies have limit, and yours doesn’t strike me as particularly helpful (hiring an agent to act on your behalf does not strike as particularly close to choosing delegates te represent your political will). But even playing the game, if what you describe happens once, then probably no: I have been defrauded. But if for the last three or four decades, I have systematically hired the same lawyer and he has systematically defrauded me and other people, then, yes, there are good reasons to believe I bear most of the responsibility.

41

Layman 02.26.18 at 12:40 pm

Z: “I also happen to believe that this a more practical way to think about the issue: if the majority of American people is happy with the current gun laws (something I don’t believe for a minute), then Americans are happy and all is well; if they aren’t, they should make the law-makers understand that they simply have no choice.”

I guess I don’t grasp the point of your objection. If you agree that there is no country where legislatures don’t act contrary to the wishes of their constituents, then how can those disapproving constituents be responsible? Speculating about a theoretical democracy where such things don’t happen strikes me as a waste of time, unless you’re offering a program to make those theoretical democracies real.

Speaking specifically about the US, it was designed to give lower-population states and their citizens disproportionate power and representation – for reasons related to slavery – and this design can’t be altered without the agreement of the majority of the people in some of those lower-population states; which of course they are not inclined to give. So the voters who are unhappy with the bad acts of their representatives are generally not able to express that displeasure by ousting those representatives.

I’m sure you know this, so I don’t really understand why you think ‘the people’ are responsible for not voting in anti-gun representatives when in fact many of ‘the people’ opposed to guns aren’t actually able to do that.

42

nastywoman 02.26.18 at 1:01 pm

Y’all just don’t get it – the only ”responsible” is I (ME!) as I know – and tell everybody who doesn’t want to hear it that there are the dudes with the white hats -(”the good guys”) and there are the dudes with the black hats -(”the bad guys”) and sometimes a dude with a white hat has to shoot at a dude with a black hat -(even if the good guy is missing) and it’s as simple as that!

43

reason 02.26.18 at 2:34 pm

Layman – not only, but also the first-past-the-post two party system also acts to reduce the choices available to voters.

44

TM 02.26.18 at 2:58 pm

Layman 41, by your standards is there ever a situation where voters bear some responsibility for the policies enacted by their representatives? Of course all existing democracies are imperfect, and the US for many reasons particularly so, but it doesn’t follow that there is no connection between what voters want and what they get. American citizens could kick those NRA-stooges out of office if they wanted (that is, if enough among them wanted it and they wanted it badly enough).

“If you agree that there is no country where legislatures don’t act contrary to the wishes of their constituents, then how can those disapproving constituents be responsible”

Come on, legislatures sometimes act contrary to the wishes of their constituents but they don’t do so all the time. Even in an imperfect democracy, which is all we have (and frankly I don’t think there will ever by a perfect one, or at least there will never be consensus as to how a perfect one would look like), citizens do have agency, they do make political choices and should be considered responsible for them. The discourse on CT often has this tendency to assign all the blame for bad policies on politicians and their big business etc. enablers. But many of the bad policies have mass support, often majority support, and the left needs to come to term with this fact. The attempt to absolve “the people” of any responsibility for what is being done in their name is delusional as well as offensive, since it refuses to take the agency of those people and the choices they make seriously.

45

Z 02.26.18 at 3:00 pm

unless you’re offering a program to make those theoretical democracies real.

Of course I have a program to make those theoretical democracies real (in the specific case we are discussing). The majority of sane people just have to require candidates to publicly pledge their support for specific, sane gun laws. No one gets through the primaries without such a pledge. Ultimately, it will prevail.

If you agree that there is no country where legislatures don’t act contrary to the wishes of their constituents, then how can those disapproving constituents be responsible?

I think your objection is that you treat as absolute statements that I consider inherently (and self-evidently) relative. So, of course, disapproving constituents cannot be deemed 100% responsible for something their representatives decided considered contrary to their will, just like subjects cannot be considered 0% responsible for what an absolute monarch decides on whim. So I understood the OP as ascertaining not that law-makers were 100% responsible for the laws they make (an absolute point) but as pushing for considering them relatively more responsible than they already are (a relative point) and similarly you should not read my objection as saying that law-makers are 0% responsible for the law they craft, but as pushing for considering them relatively less responsible and the people relatively more responsible.

In a system with democratic and oligarchic components (and racist ones, and socialist ones…) like the US, I think that it is neither efficient nor philosophically sound to expect legislative change from the personal virtue or sense of responsibility of the law-makers. I think those who want democratic elements to increase in power and the oligarchic ones to decrease in power should organize people to leave no choice on their representatives.

If you want a successful concrete example, look at what the Republican base did on immigration.

46

alfredlordbleep 02.26.18 at 3:11 pm

[another aside]

Related to the assignment of responsibility and (JH’s comment in another thread) literary treatment of moral problems is J. B. Priestley’s (fairly) well-known An Inspector Calls. You may enjoy this 1982 dramatization from the BBC (if your high standards don’t prevent it).

47

anymouse 02.26.18 at 3:13 pm

John Holbo,

I should have made this explicit but the tough on crime case is relatively simple insofar as it’s clear that setting criminals free increases crime including homicides. Obviously if there are serious contenders for different policy approaches, things get more complex. But with criminals, you either keep them locked up or you don’t. If the latter, it is implausible you have addressed the problem with deaths. If you accept this amount of criminals roaming free, you are accepting the deaths as a trade-off.

I really feel we need to hold the folks who favor ending mass incarceration responsible for the excess deaths they have caused. We have seen the homicide rate soar as a result of their policies. Oh wait. No.

Oh. I think I get it. The difference is that as state’s have adopted looser gun regulations we have seen the homicide rate sour. Oh wait. No.

I am on the record as accepting that a relationship exists between suicides and gun ownership rates.

Despite accepting that relationship, it is not clear to me what can or should be done. Short of confiscation it is not clear not me what can be done to reduce gun deaths.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/10/06/zero-correlation-between-state-homicide-rate-and-state-gun-laws/?utm_term=.c548418450e7

If I am not even sure what can be done. Why should I accuse people who disagree with me as responsible for extra gun deaths?

Even if we could repeal the 2nd amendment. Even accepting that confiscating guns would save lives it is still not 100% clear to me is what we should do. My reading leads me to believe 100K – 500K is a fair estimate of the number times guns are used for personal protection every year. That is lot of security.

Let’s say we can reduce gun deaths by 10K every year by reducing gun ownership. That would be an enormous savings. If we value a human life at 3 million dollars. Over 25 years that would represent a benefit of .75 trillion dollars. That is huge! But on average what would 90 million gun owners pay not to have their guns confiscated? 10K? That is .9 trillion dollars and .9 > .75.

48

reason 02.26.18 at 3:39 pm

” My reading leads me to believe 100K – 500K is a fair estimate of the number times guns are used for personal protection every year. That is lot of security.”

Whose guns (are used counting security professionals) are used for what level of personal protection (I’m pretty sure in a substantial number of these cases the threat was imaginary) or more than offset by an increase of the personal danger because the situation was escalated. In fact this escalation of threats is my biggest misgiving, if victims are more likely to have guns then perpetrators are more likely to have and are more likely to use them. Ceterus paribus is responsible for a lot of really sloppy thinking.

49

burner 02.26.18 at 3:43 pm

‘My reading leads me to believe 100K – 500K is a fair estimate of the number times guns are used for personal protection every year. That is lot of security.’ (anonymouse)
Where I live, only members of tiny violent criminal subcultures carry guns to protect themselves from one another. Literally no other non-official person carries, ever. I can’t quite express how insane your words sound to me.

50

Layman 02.26.18 at 4:07 pm

TM: “Layman 41, by your standards is there ever a situation where voters bear some responsibility for the policies enacted by their representatives?”

Sure. If they elect someone based on what he/she advocates, and then that person acts on those aspirations, the voters bear some responsibility for the outcome. How not? I’m hard-pressed to understand why you think I would see it otherwise.

TM: “Come on, legislatures sometimes act contrary to the wishes of their constituents but they don’t do so all the time.”

Of course, but I was responding to this, from Z, which suggests that in a democracy they can never act against the wishes of their constituents: “Law-makers, in a democracy, are the delegates of the people, mere vessels for the general will or whatever. So, in a democracy, the assertion…seems wrong to me: the people judge that acceptable, and the law-makers just do their bidding.” So I think your argument is with Z.

Z: “If you want a successful concrete example, look at what the Republican base did on immigration.”

Sure, but it is the Republicans / conservatives who in this era benefit from the unequal power enshrined in the Constitution and enhanced by gerrymandering. Democrats for the most part impose the exact same kinds of litmus tests on immigration and other issues (abortion, guns, etc) as do Republicans, but since Democrats never get a working majority and control of the executive branch for any length of time, they can’t act on them. So, ‘do what the Republicans do’ doesn’t have the same effect as it does when the Republicans do it.

I don’t think it is eternally thus. The Republican demographic is fading, which is why they increasingly resort to breaking the rules or cheating in the House and Senate in order to get their way. But it is for the moment the status quo.

51

Layman 02.26.18 at 4:09 pm

anymouse: “My reading leads me to believe 100K – 500K is a fair estimate of the number times guns are used for personal protection every year.”

Where do you get this information? Pointers, please.

52

b9n10nt 02.26.18 at 8:18 pm

Manufacturers and sellers are more responsible than politicians, & haven’t been mentioned yet.

53

J-D 02.26.18 at 9:15 pm

Z

I think your objection is that you treat as absolute statements that I consider inherently (and self-evidently) relative. So, of course, disapproving constituents cannot be deemed 100% responsible for something their representatives decided considered contrary to their will, just like subjects cannot be considered 0% responsible for what an absolute monarch decides on whim. So I understood the OP as ascertaining not that law-makers were 100% responsible for the laws they make (an absolute point) but as pushing for considering them relatively more responsible than they already are (a relative point) and similarly you should not read my objection as saying that law-makers are 0% responsible for the law they craft, but as pushing for considering them relatively less responsible and the people relatively more responsible.

I consider that voters are responsible to some degree for the choices they make and that legislators are responsible to some degree for the choices they make, and if the discussion is about what percentage of responsibility should be attributed to particular agents for particular outcomes then I’m not much interested. However, I think it’s worth suggesting that if you want to make a point which is to you self-evidently a relative one and not an absolute one, then it’s poor choice of words to write things like

Law-makers, in a democracy, are the delegates of the people, mere vessels for the general will

and

the people judge that acceptable, and the law-makers just do their bidding

If you intend to make a point about responsibility which you consider relative, not absolute, but then you describe somebody as a mere vessel, just doing the bidding of others, and then readers misunderstand you as making an absolute point, shifting all responsbility from one point to another, I think much more of the responsibility for the misunderstanding is yours than your readers’.

54

Faustusnotes 02.26.18 at 11:45 pm

Anymouses stats are wrong. The 500k figure is laughable, you don’t use correlation to analyse rates and proportions, and there is a link between gun ownership and gun related homicide.

The mere existence of this “debate” and the fact that seemingly intelligent people believe the kinds of things Volokh and anymouse believes is depressing. Sort your shit out, America.

And yes voters are absolutely responsible for the terrible behavior of their representatives. Sort your shit out America.

55

anymouse 02.27.18 at 1:44 am

From a summary of CDC research

http://www.slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/02/second-circuit-upholds-stringent-restrictions-on-firearms-outside-the-home.html

This is a popular study with progressives.

http://ftp.iza.org/dp4995.pdf

It studies the impact of the Australian gun back on the homicide and suicide rate. This isn’t just a regular ole back ground check gun law. It is a massive buy up of guns. According to my reading they found no evidence that the homicide rate declined. (Yes for the suicide rate and that is very important but not for the homicide rate.)

For fair minded readers the correct relationship we are interested in is the overall homicide rate and gun ownership rate. Not gun owner ship rates and gun homicide rates. Dead from a knife and dead from a gun the result is the same.

56

faustusnotes 02.27.18 at 6:21 am

Anymouse, that study is not especially popular with “progressives”. It is also deeply flawed – it’s not a true difference-in-difference study, it uses OLS regression (this is the second time in this thread you have posted up this dumb-arsed approach to analyzing rates, it might help you to learn some statistics), its handling of the relationship between buyback and change in death rates does not properly account for trends or for the fact that they’re studying rates, and it doesn’t provide an explanation for the fundamental problem in studying the 1996 law – that non firearm suicides dropped by much more than firearm suicides. It also isn’t clear if it uses age-sex standardized data, and why don’t they analyze separately by sex given the radically different patterns of suicide and homicide behavior between men and women?

In fact the 1996 NFA did not significantly affect the rate of gun-related suicide or homicide deaths, because they were already on a severe downward trajectory due to laws passed in 1988-90, after the last round of mass shootings. It did end mass shootings in Australia (there have been none since 1996), which was its stated aim at the time (it was never introduced to reduce firearm-related deaths, only mass shootings). It’s worth remembering that access to hand guns was already limited in Australia, so the availability of weapons for mass shootings was already restricted, and this law eliminated the remainder of the mass shooting weapons. It wouldn’t have the same effect in America because the NFA never touched handguns, which are also a popular weapon for mass shootings.

America needs a much more comprehensive set of laws than the NFA, and it would be a mistake to use the new momentum for policy change to implement this law instead of a proper baseline gun control policy.

Also for fair minded readers, we are only interested in gun homicide and suicide, not the overall rate, because restricting the availability of guns can obviously only affect the rate of crimes using guns, not those using knives, etc. In countries where gun control laws are already extensive – like Australia – it’s not possible to analyze overall homicide/suicide rates for this purpose, because the changes are too small. The Australian example also shows that studying overall rates can be misleading because you can see large declines in non firearm-related deaths, which are misinterpreted as being due to the firearm law. It’s well established in suicide research that access to methods is important, and restricting the method is unlikely to lead to a large switch to other methods (and even if it does, the change in mortality observed will depend on the lethality of the method after vs. before the switch).

Anymouse, you obviously aren’t familiar with epidemiological research on injury or suicide. I recommend you stop trying to provide second-rate or cherry-picked analyses and go with the consensus amongst public health and injury experts: effective gun control saves lives.

57

burner 02.27.18 at 7:02 am

‘Dead from a knife and dead from a gun the result is the same.’ (anonymouse, 55)
This is, of course, the reason military forces all over the world are still armed with swords and spears rather than firearms: edged weapons are just as good at killing people as guns.

58

reason 02.27.18 at 8:45 am

burner,
hole in one.

59

MFB 02.27.18 at 10:03 am

Hmmm. Here in South Africa, although the official access to guns is quite difficult (background and competency checks and huge amounts of forms to fill in) in practice, because the country is awash with weaponry, it’s not that hard to get hold of a gun if you really want one, for instance if you’re a depressed loner who wants to murder the people he blames for not being nice to him.

And yet we don’t have school shootings. Every now and then some bullied kid brings Daddy’s Z88 to class and pots someone, but that’s far rarer than stabbings or stonings.

Meanwhile, Australia and Britain, by and large, didn’t have school shootings before they called in their civilian weaponry either. (In both cases, if I recall correctly, it was the shocking experience of one of the rare massacres which led to severe restriction on weaponry.)

So access to weaponry doesn’t seem to be the cause of school shootings in the United States. I am sure that restricting access to weaponry would reduce the number of shootings. But there seems to be something really badly wrong with U.S. society, something which simply isn’t being addressed anywhere, which causes this problem. I accept that some of the people questioning restrictions on weaponry are problematically motivated, but it seems to me that several are more or less sincere; in a sense the weapons are less a problem than something awry with the culture.

Of course, U.S. politicians should address all problematic issues, from guns to anomie (or whatever the problem is). But clearly they aren’t, and in that sense, because the people calling for gun control continue to insist that they live in a country which is essentially perfect (barring some tweaking and the need to remove Trump from the Presidency) instead of a horrendously flawed nation, the gun control issue is something of a red herring and a political stunt.

60

faustusnotes 02.27.18 at 10:04 am

That’s a cute error in gun defenders’ reasoning isn’t it? If banning guns won’t stop murder because it’s just as easy with a knife, why do they insist they need a gun to defend themselves?

61

Z 02.27.18 at 10:06 am

Layman @50 So I think your argument is with Z.

Hum. I don’t think so: TM and I both seem to agree that in a democracy – in theory! – lawmakers express the will of the people, so people bear the burden of responsibility for the existing laws, and that only imperfect democracies exist (of course). I’m not saying this contradicts anything you wrote, but I’m saying that this doesn’t agree with the thesis of the OP.

Sure, but it is the Republicans / conservatives who in this era benefit from the unequal power enshrined in the Constitution and enhanced by gerrymandering.

Well, see, even this point I take to contradict John Holbo’s OP. Because, OK, the way political will gets expressed in the US is distorted. R-politicians get the same share of political power than D-politicians based on far fewer votes etc. Nevertheless, in the end, these R-politicians promote insane gun laws because the people in their district asked for it, or at least do not object to it. These people make the trade-offs (kids shot by semi-automatic rifles vs. I can’t enact my fantasy of being a badass anymore), not the politicians.

Alternatively, the US is ruled by a malevolent oligarchy that is both completely irresponsive to popular will and determined to inflict pain on the population, in which case appealing to the responsibility of the lawmakers seems pointless anyway. I’m ready to believe this is the case with respect to economic issues, but not quite yet for gun laws.

J-D I think much more of the responsibility for the misunderstanding is yours than your readers’.

Oh, you are undoubtedly right. Thanks for the pointer. But since we are in the business of making observation about rhetorical style, I have one too. When you find yourself reading a text with multiple interpretations (that is, any text), how about reacting to the ones that make sense even if your interlocutor is not a complete idiot? I think you’ll find you have more productive interactions this way.

62

faustusnotes 02.27.18 at 11:36 am

MFB, you’re right but I think that the answer is simple. Mass shootings in the USA have become a competition, and to outdo the numbers now you need to go to places with very large numbers of people in close proximity – churches, schools, concerts and cinemas. You can’t just wander around shopping malls or streets and hope to hit the numbers anymore. This is why the latest shooter set off the fire alarm before shooting – he wanted as many students in one space as possible.

This ratings race can be stopped by establishing a set of media guidelines for reporting shootings: Don’t ever report the shooter’s name or background, don’t give a body count, don’t eulogize the dead, don’t play live footage of the dramatic intervention. The media already have guidelines for reporting suicide and could easily follow a new set if they wanted. But no one is organizing it and no one will say yes to voluntary censorship. In the absence of that the shooters will keep looking for ways to get higher body counts and more dramatic responses. But to do that they need semi-automatic weapons with large magazines and high lethality, which is why assault weapons are their tool of choice.

This is another reason why having armed teachers won’t help. They’ll simply find other targets (cinemas, theatres are obvious ones), and in any case these guys are always expecting an armed response, so having teachers armed is simply going to reduce the time they have to do their killing – all the more pressure to use an assault rifle.

63

Layman 02.27.18 at 11:41 am

Z: “TM and I both seem to agree that in a democracy – in theory! – lawmakers express the will of the people, so people bear the burden of responsibility for the existing laws, and that only imperfect democracies exist (of course). I’m not saying this contradicts anything you wrote, but I’m saying that this doesn’t agree with the thesis of the OP.”

Since the OP discusses what actually happens in actual democracies – where lawmakers sometimes act contrary to the will of the majority, rather than ‘expressing’ that will – your theoretical objection badly misses the mark. It’s as if JH said ‘looking at the world, I see oranges’, and your objection is ‘not so, they ought in theory to be apples’.

“Well, see, even this point I take to contradict John Holbo’s OP.”

Support for universal background checks on gun sales is 97%. Support for an assault weapons sale ban is 67%. Support for a mandatory waiting period on gun purchases is 83%. Are lawmakers merely vessels for expressing the views of their constituents? I don’t think so.

https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2521

64

TM 02.27.18 at 12:09 pm

Layman 50: Not sure whether your interpretation of Z’s statement is fair (let him sort that out).
You say: “If they elect someone based on what he/she advocates, and then that person acts on those aspirations, the voters bear some responsibility for the outcome.”

How is that not applicable to US gun policy? Are we in agreement then that a large part of the US electorate bear some responsibility for the lack of gun regulation, for gun culture’s chokehold on US politics? I would add that those who are too indifferent to vote also bear some responsibility for the outcome, if they have the option of voting for candidates who advocate for other outcomes.

65

Layman 02.27.18 at 12:19 pm

To be clear, responsibility isn’t an indivisible quantity. If voters vote for politicians who promise to do bad things, those voters have some responsibility if those bad things actually occur. Similarly, if politicians enact bad things, they have some responsibility for those bad things, whether they do them to please their constituents or to flout their wishes. Lawmakers are expected to have character and exercise good judgment. Do members of Congress past and present bear some responsibility for the state of gun violence in the US? How can they not? Does that mean no one else bears responsibility? Of course it doesn’t.

66

TM 02.27.18 at 12:20 pm

Z 61: “… in a democracy – in theory! – lawmakers express the will of the people, so people bear the burden of responsibility for the existing laws”

I won’t agree in that generality. There are well-documented cases of political elites in nominal democracies not expressing the will of the people,(to put ot mildly). What I object to (as I have often explained in this forum) is the reflex often found among leftists to assume that it’s all the fault of the corrupt elites, never of “the people”, and that if only we had “real democracy”, if only the “real” will of “the people” were respected, things would be so much better. Sadly there is a lot of evidence to the cotnrary – hence the insistence of liberal democrats that basic rights, especially minority rights, not be subject to majority rule.

67

nastywoman 02.27.18 at 1:12 pm

@59
”But there seems to be something really badly wrong with U.S. society, something which simply isn’t being addressed anywhere, which causes this problem.”

It has been ”addressed” for… probably centuries? now that WE –
(”Teh Proud American Warrior”) loves to solve conflicts by guns or even yuuuger weaponry.
And as Wyatt Erb -(or whatever his name was?) and Doctor Holiday didn’t see anything ”wrong” with ”shooting it out” – the issue never ever has been if there is ”something badly wrong with U.S. society” – as in comparison to some even more primitive ”societies” we at least don’t eat our enemies – and perhaps you know that our society is a comparable ”young” society which still seems to go through all kind of growing pains in finding out that shooting each other is just not… not… ”cool”?

BUT give US a few more hundred years more and we will be just like Denmark!!
I promise!!

68

anymouse 02.27.18 at 2:26 pm

faustusnotes ,

I am aware of the issues with the study. But again it is study that is frequently sited by progressives

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2015/10/2/9440369/gun-violence-statistics

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/05/world/australia/australia-gun-ban-shooting.html

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-leigh/nra-reducing-gun-deaths_b_5447059.html

that I am generously willing to accept.

If you want to argue that it’s flaws, means it does not prove anything, that is, ok, with me.

Pardon me everyone, reductions in gun ownership rates, do not reduce either the suicide or the homicide rate.

Hat tip and thanks to faustusnotes!

Carry on!

69

bruce wilder 02.27.18 at 6:24 pm

TM: What I object to (as I have often explained in this forum) is the reflex often found among leftists to assume that it’s all the fault of the corrupt elites . . .

Z: . . . the US is ruled by a malevolent oligarchy that is both completely irresponsive [sic] to popular will and determined to inflict pain on the population, in which case appealing to the responsibility of the lawmakers seems pointless anyway. I’m ready to believe this is the case with respect to economic issues, but not quite yet for gun laws.

The U.S. is ruled by a malevolent oligarchy, that’s just a fact and the vestigial democratic form of its institutions belies the reality of its functioning. Reflexively denying this is . . . well, a questionable reflex, isn’t it?

That Faustusnotes and Layman are eager cheerleaders for some of that oligarchy’s most prominent brandnames in other contexts just illustrates how the problem of social-political endogeneity both creates the “responsibility” the OP notes and challenges our (I mean, any individual’s) cognitive capacity to make sense of the emergent consequences of social action and the individual’s relation to it.

We have cultural norms of a political nature that we use to “explain” to ourselves and others what constitutes individually ethical and moral behavior. These make sense of intention, accidents and so on within the ambit of ordinary individual behavior. Presumably, the behavior of a mass-murderer of strangers (not dressed in a military uniform or holding high office) is challenging to understand aside from any allegation of a “causative” social-political context.

Legislators make rules and institutions to administer those rules, against a background of (disputed) normative assumptions embedded in political culture about how individual human behavior and its consequences are affected by those rules and their enforcement. The political struggle is not just a high-minded debate about abstract rules; there is also a struggle going on over what those norms are, driven by competitive story-telling and narrative propaganda, as well as political organizing aimed variously at forms of concerted action (voting, partisan allegiance), or as is now the common pattern in the degenerate state of American democracy, diverting any emergent coalescence of the popular will into cul-de-sacs.

I do not understand why “free-enterprise” lobbying institutions like ALEC — tools of the aforementioned malevolent ruling oligarchy — promote “stand your ground” laws, such as the one that governs Florida that, of course, undermines political attempts to govern violence with law, but also tends to promote and sanction certain normative presumptions about what is right and just in personal interaction.

Reflexively repeating slogans like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” belongs to that realm of political-cultural norms, even if it is dressed up in that statistical manipulations of faulty social science. Ditto for always blaming The Man or an abstract Capitalism (that must be exchanged at the refund desk for political institutions before anything can be done) or always objecting to taking notice of the machinations of that malevolent oligarchy or always arguing against taking notice of the machinations of certain brandname minions representing the malevolent oligarchy. We all get caught up in the endogeneity of political culture; I do not claim that I am myself any exception. We are all paddling in powerful currents, carried along in the human stream. I think most of the time, we are drowning in that stream, drawn under and into the enactment of mind-numbing rehearsals of arguments that do not always make a lot of rational or moral sense. And, yet, I can see within my lifetime how slow boring of hard boards in those arguments have changed political culture over decades. I think of the advance of gay rights and the various waves of feminism. Or, the seemingly inexorable rise of neoliberal economics or U.S. Imperial degeneracy.

It doesn’t seem like we are doing a good job with the norms around mass shooting or gun violence in general. The U.S. experienced an historic rise and fall of violent crime, which I am reasonably confident related to lead poisoning primarily from the use of lead in gasoline. Think about how immune a causative factor like lead poisoning in the atmosphere is to the construction of political narratives around crime and how to govern criminal violence. If we were as far down the path of democratic degeneracy in the 1960s as we are now, could we even get lead out of gasoline? It was slow going even then. I don’t know how to construct a counterfactual. I don’t know how to fathom just how malevolent the oligarchy is, but it is bad. My larger point is that actual “causes” might not be so easy to incorporate into the political struggles over policy, in part because they do not fit into the narrative frame of individualism and free will and all that. The U.S. developed a political culture that imprisons at very high rates and destroys lives with criminal records (and now credit ratings and student loans) and medicalizes social stress to sell more pharmaceuticals and, and, and . . . because we were not monitoring lead in the atmosphere and only accidentally noticed the consequences of a business decision to save money on gasoline.

Anyway, some of my thoughts — a bit random, but I don’t have a “solution”.

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Faustusnotes 02.27.18 at 10:03 pm

No Anymouse, reductions in gun ownership rates do lead to reductions in suicide and murder. The NFA did not though. Earlier gun laws in Australia did.

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Joe M. 02.27.18 at 10:26 pm

Law-makers who favor legislation that makes mass-murder much easier than it would be, under an alternative legislative scheme, are not mass-murderers; but they bear responsibility for it, should the predictable become actual.

I think a most people (including maybe legislators, but certainly other proponents of loose gun laws) probably buy into something at least loosely like this. If you inserted this statement into e.g. a speech denouncing abortion rights, many of them would enthusiastically agree.)

In the gun case: the law-makers judge thousands of gun-related deaths (and the occasional, horrific school shooting) to be an acceptable cost of many, many more people enjoying gun-owning lifestyles.

I think the same people who were nodding their heads at the first paragraph quoted above now vehemently disagree, but their disagreement is factual: they don’t believe this is a trade-off because they argue that loose gun laws *decrease* the risk of gun-related deaths (or at least “innocent” gun-related deaths, which gets the drug- and gang-related gun deaths off their conscience). Because guns are a deterrent against crime. And good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns. Etc. That seems insane but I think it is a widespread genuine belief.

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F. Foundling 02.27.18 at 11:18 pm

@burner 02.27.18 at 7:02 am

I’ve been thinking of a similar response to the line ‘they’ll always find a weapon to use, look at all the accessible knives’. Let’s just arm every person on Earth with a handy portable nuclear device that can be used to immediately exterminate all the rest of humanity upon the pressing of a single button accessible at all times. Surely this is not an objectionable idea, and its implementation will increase rather than decrease safety and stability. After all, precisely like the difference between a knife and a gun, or the difference between an ordinary gun, a semi-automatic one and a fully automatic one, this is just a quantitative difference in the number of people killed and the ease with which you can kill them. What could possibly go wrong?

@TM 02.27.18 at 12:20 pm

>hence the insistence of liberal democrats that basic rights, especially minority rights, not be subject to majority rule.

I suppose the question is what one means by ‘being subject’. A nation is free to change any part of its own constitution. That is an essential part of its sovereignty. You certainly *can* tell the nation that a certain decision it makes is morally wrong; perhaps so morally wrong that a citizen or an outside actor is *morally* obliged to break the law even at the cost of another moral transgression, namely violating the right of the majority of their fellow-citizens to self-rule. Still, in practice, there is nobody but the majority that can decide what the state does and what rights are recognised and respected (in the absence of a takeover by a righteous military junta or an equally righteous foreign intervention abolishing democracy). The fact of the matter is that minority rights will only be respected by the state if the majority decides so, and in that sense they are subject to its rule. These basic rights also have to be defined, and this, too, is a matter for the majority to decide; there is nobody above it who can define them for it. Even if one were to claim that the UN should define and enforce these rights, it could only make such a decision by a majority vote, too. One is free to declare basic rights from the viewpoint of Heaven all day long, but until one has managed to convince the majority of one’s fellow humans to recognise them – and, thus, vote for them – one has achieved nothing.

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Trader Joe 02.28.18 at 3:57 pm

The solution is actually pretty simple and obvious.

Someone needs to invent actual phasers or light sabers. Then a clever judge needs to rule that these aren’t in fact “arms” as defined by original intent constitutionalists and accordingly aren’t covered by the second amendment. Then a wise and thoughtful congress could construct laws to regulate the distribution of phasers and light sabers.

Guns would quickly become an old fashioned novelty only held by collectors like LP records and rotary dial phones = problem solved.

Or we could at least take some baby steps – much like is done with deadly devices like cars and motorcycles and mandate age limits, licensing, insurance and training if one wishes to exercise their ‘right.’

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b9n10nt 02.28.18 at 7:07 pm

@73 I agree, but it’s a little like the ol’ economist on the stranded island: “assume a can opener”.

Assume a population committed neither to gun ownership specifically nor to deluded notions of “individual freedom” generally and the solution is then, indeed, obvious.

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TM 03.01.18 at 12:25 pm

bw 69: “The U.S. is ruled by a malevolent oligarchy, that’s just a fact and the vestigial democratic form of its institutions belies the reality of its functioning. Reflexively denying this is . . . well, a questionable reflex, isn’t it?”

The malevolent oligarchy couldn’t rule the U.S. without mass support. Reflexively denying this is … you fill in the blank. After all, the most transparently malevolent and most transparently oligarchic president in the history of the US managed to win 46% of the vote – not a majority, not a plurality, but still, 46%. US democracy is sufficiently warped that the oligarchy can rule, for some time, against a majority – but it cannot rule without significant mass support. And ignoring that fact or denying it makes for poor political analysis.

F. Foundling 72: “Still, in practice, there is nobody but the majority that can decide what the state does and what rights are recognised and respected”

Interesting juxtaposition with bw above. It almost sounds as if Foundling believes in democracy.

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Tom West 03.01.18 at 1:56 pm

Pardon me everyone, reductions in gun ownership rates, do not reduce either the suicide or the homicide rate.

When you cross from the U.S. into Canada, whose violent crime rate is almost identical to the U.S., why does the homicide rate drop 80%?

Perhaps you go with “Americans are uniquely homicidal”, but I’ll go with “Easy access to high lethality weapons matters”.

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anon/portly 03.01.18 at 3:27 pm

76 I think in 68 Anymouse was trying to suggest that faustusnotes was suggesting that, but faustusnotes answers that point in 70.

It still is somewhat of a puzzle though….

56 (faustusnotes) [The NFA] was never introduced to reduce firearm-related deaths, only mass shootings.

70 (faustusnotes) The NFA did not [reduce gun ownership rates] though.

[The NFA] reduced the stock of firearms by around one-fifth (and nearly halved the number of gun-owning households). Later in a footnote they say the household percentage went from 15% in 1992 to 8% in 2000.

http://andrewleigh.org/pdf/GunBuyback_Panel.pdf (same authors, different link than the one in 55).

When faustusnotes says that the NFA “did not significantly affect the rate of gun-related suicide or homicide deaths,” this can only mean that in the households from which guns disappeared (~7% of Australian households), the rate of suicide or homicide deaths caused by those confiscated guns was trivial.

I think this somewhat contradicts John Holbo’s view that more guns = more deaths, everywhere. It’s clear in the earlier thread that he thinks arming a small number of teachers, which would obviously not increase the gun-owning household percentage by anything like 7%, would have a decidedly non-trivial effect on gun deaths.

Of course the cited source could be wrong also, or maybe faustusnotes thinks it’s wrong.

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anymouse 03.01.18 at 5:16 pm

Tom West,

To be clear my statement

‘Pardon me everyone, reductions in gun ownership rates, do not reduce either the suicide or the homicide rate.’

Was a sarcastic reply to faustusnotes.

I do think reducing gun ownership will very probably reduce suicides. I do not think it will have much if any impact on homicides.

You wrote –

‘When you cross from the U.S. into Canada, whose violent crime rate is almost identical to the U.S., why does the homicide rate drop 80%?

Perhaps you go with “Americans are uniquely homicidal”, but I’ll go with “Easy access to high lethality weapons matters”.’

The homicide rate in Canada is about 1.7. In the US it is about 5.2.

The household gun ownership rate in Canada is 25%.

http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/csj-sjc/jsp-sjp/wd98_4-dt98_4/p2.html

The household gun ownership rate in the US is 30%

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/06/22/the-demographics-of-gun-ownership/

It really doesn’t look like the difference is due to the gun ownership rate.

From the FBI. 88% of all homicides in the US were the gun was classified were committed with hand guns.

https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2014/crime-in-the-u.s.-2014/tables/expanded-homicide-data/expanded_homicide_data_table_8_murder_victims_by_weapon_2010-2014.xls

Based on all that. I not think ‘Easy access to high lethality weapons matters.’

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Faustusnotes 03.01.18 at 11:29 pm

Anon/portly those are interesting figures on gun ownership but the problem is that firearm suicides were dropping about 3% a year during the period Leigh studies, so it’s hard to separate the impact of the NFA from that trend. And while the number of suicides is lower in the second five year period studied, it cratered for non firearm deaths at the same time. So was it the NFA? I’m also suspicious that the number of firearm owning households dropped by half, because assault rifles are the kinds of thing that committed gun owners have. I doubt many Australians first gun was an assault rifle. I wonder if gun ownership was in general decline over the period, and this general decline has been confused with the impact of the NFA?

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Moz of Yarramulla 03.02.18 at 6:45 am

I doubt many Australians first gun was an assault rifle.

AFAIK very few Australian gun owners had assault rifles. These days we have more of a problem with idiots getting licensed hunting rifles then driving into the nearest patch of bush and banging away at anything that moves. It’s IMO only a matter of time before a couple of them kill people in close succession and the government moves to take their guns away. Carefully drafted that would get a lot of support from the rural lobby (because they’re the ones most likely to be shot).

In Aotearoa where I was at the time the plod could just about name the people affected by the new laws. Technically I was one, in that I had a .22 modified to take a pair of 50 shot magazines… which the cops duly said “you’re paying us to store it? Well, you can’t have it back” and I duly replied “oh noes, woe is the Moz” so they bribed me with tea and sympathy until I got over it. Looking it up, it turns out they possibly weren’t banned but I probably voluntarily relinquished the oversize magazine: https://www.loc.gov/law/help/firearms-control/newzealand.php It wasn’t a big deal, then or now.

After Aramoana I don’t recall much pushback on the gun laws, or possibly more accurately the social perception where I was, was that standing up and saying “I think more mass shootings is a reasonable price to pay so I can have military weapons” didn’t garner a lot of sympathy. The local shooters groups were more “those dickheads? They’re nothing to do with us”. Sadly after I left in 1999 the gun nuts seem to have been way more organised and successful. I’m not excited by that, I’m more a fan of The Greens position of banning semi-automatics (partly because I’m aware of how easy it is to modify many of them to become full automatics… I expect Las Vegas will change that discussion in the US in the near future).

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