Rimbaud Conservatism

by Corey Robin on December 22, 2012

All this talk of arming teachers and training children to rush psychopaths who are outfitted with machine guns semi-automatic weapons reminds me of a moment in high school. But first, a recap.

In the wake of the Newtown killings, writers on the right have suggested we should teach children to turn on their assailants, rushing them en masse. Here’s Megan McArdle writing in The Daily Beast:

I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.

McArdle is a libertarian. You know, the type who believes you can’t derive Rawlsian-style social justice from self-interested premises—that shit would never work—but that you can adduce from those very same premises a mass death instinct of the sort that powered the Red Army to victory against the Nazis. When it comes to public goods, libertarians think we’re all free riders; in the face of crazed killers, we’re all comrades.

And here’s Charlotte Allen—about whom the less said, the better—writing in National Review Online:

There was not a single adult male on the school premises when the shooting occurred. In this school of 450 students, a sizeable number of whom were undoubtedly 11- and 12-year-old boys (it was a K–6 school), all the personnel—the teachers, the principal, the assistant principal, the school psychologist, the “reading specialist”—were female. There didn’t even seem to be a male janitor to heave his bucket at Adam Lanza’s knees. Women and small children are sitting ducks for mass-murderers. The principal, Dawn Hochsprung, seemed to have performed bravely. According to reports, she activated the school’s public-address system and also lunged at Lanza, before he shot her to death. Some of the teachers managed to save all or some of their charges by rushing them into closets or bathrooms. But in general, a feminized setting is a setting in which helpless passivity is the norm. Male aggression can be a good thing, as in protecting the weak — but it has been forced out of the culture of elementary schools and the education schools that train their personnel. Think of what Sandy Hook might have been like if a couple of male teachers who had played high-school football, or even some of the huskier 12-year-old boys, had converged on Lanza.

As Amy Davidson of the New Yorker observed in response:


 One image that comes to mind is the soldiers sent to die in outmoded frontal assaults against machine-gun embankments in the First World War….

As the mother of a twelve-year-old who might be described as husky, or at least big for his age, I do teach him that he has an extra responsibility to, for example, stand up for littler kids who are bullied—to never be a bystander. But I greatly resent the idea that he should throw himself in front of a bullet because a grown congressman isn’t brave enough to throw an N.R.A. lobbyist out of his office.

The World War I reference is apt. There is something bloodcurdling about grownups speaking so blithely about sending children off to their deaths. As if these kids don’t have a future of their own, as if they are all to be sacrificed on the altar of whatever K Street Moloch the right happens to be worshiping at this particular hour.

Which brings me to my story. In my junior year of high school, ABC televised a film, The Day After, about what the world would look like after a nuclear war. This was a time, some of you might recall, when talk of “nuclear winter” was all the rage. One of the strongest memories I have of the film was of its depiction of that winter. Dust and debris were everywhere; they looked like snow flakes of death, made to match the color of Jason Robards’ hair.

After the film was aired, Ted Koppel convened a panel of worthies—Henry Kissinger, Robert McNamara, Brent Scowcroft, Elie Wiesel, Carl Sagan, and William F. Buckley—to debate its implications. I can’t remember much of what was said, but one comment from Buckley has stayed with me all these years (see 2:45 in this video link).

In response to a provocation from Wiesel—who asked how it was possible for his co-panelists even to talk about a nuclear war, as if such a war could be fought and won (one wonders where Wiesel had been all those years)—Buckley said:

I think we do have to talk about it. Dr. Kissinger, twenty-five years ago, got hell for consenting to talk about it. So did Herman Kahn. The fact of the matter is here we are talking about all the tensions we’re going to be living on, fifteen years from now, twenty years from now. Well, the implied assumption is we’re going to be alive fifteen years from now, twenty years from now. That’s pretty good news, isn’t it?

Someone else on the panel, perhaps Scowcroft, muttered an encouraging “yep,” and Buckley went on. Until Koppel broke in:


Fifteen years may be pretty good news to men of your generation and mine. I suspect that some of our children might regard that as a rather limited life span.

The conservative imagination is supposed to prize longevity and continuity. It is the wisdom of old men. Yet here we have its most genteel modern tribune sounding like Edna St. Vincent Millay, happily mooting his own extinction and that of his child, declaring the shelf life of civilization to be little more than the life span of a reckless teenager. This is not Rambo conservatism but Rimbaud conservatism, betraying less a disregard for death than an insufficient regard for life.

Which is why, for the umpteenth time, I reject the notion that there has been some kind of downward trajectory on the American right since Buckley (or Burke, for that matter). What we hear from the Allen’s and McArdle’s of today is no different from what we heard from the Buckley’s of yesterday. The right has always been interested in violence and death. It has seldom been a country for old men—except the old men, and apparently women, who dream of the slaughter of young children.



Dave 12.22.12 at 7:16 am

‘But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.’


Barry Stocker 12.22.12 at 7:20 am

Anyone who bothers to read the linked McArdle article will see that it is almost completely the opposite of what the above implies. McArdle actually recommends more gun control, not a libertarian-conservative cult of gun violence. The reference to getting people to rush a school gun man comes at the end of a long article, which covers the difficulties of reducing gun inflicted death, and is more a counsel of despair than a glorification of sacrificial violence. That really is all we can do, sadly, given the number of weapons in circulation, is the tone. But then why bother with what McArdle actually says when you can take a provocative looking bit out of context to fit a narrative of Mad Libertarians? Is the ‘advice’ about rushing a gunman the best advice for such a situation? I have no idea. Does Corey have any information about this?


js. 12.22.12 at 7:25 am

Think of what Sandy Hook might have been like if a couple of male teachers who had played high-school football, or even some of the huskier 12-year-old boys, had converged on Lanza.

The strange thing is, I can think of what would have happened in this scenario: those suckers would have been dead too. It’s precisely the failure of imagination that’s most shocking here.

More to the point, I don’t really disagree with this, I don’t think, except that I do somewhat recoil at (what I see as) the rather romantic construal of modern conservatism. I would think it simply callous through and through. So maybe, if I’m reading it right, I do disagree a bit. (Though no disagreement re how the current crop is no different from Buckley, etc.)


js. 12.22.12 at 7:26 am

Blockquote fail there. First paragraph is quoted from CR’s quote of Charlotte Allen.


Hidden Heart 12.22.12 at 8:00 am

Dave@1: I’ve been listening to Britten’s War Requiem this week, and would have quoted that passage if you hadn’t done so. One of Wilfred Owen’s very best.

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an Angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him, thy son.
Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns,
A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.


Navin Kumar 12.22.12 at 8:13 am

To add to what Barry says, McArdle quite explicitly says she doesn’t know if it’ll work or not. So to criticize ‘her idea’ for not being tenable and imagine that one is thereby attacking McArdle is silly at best, and demonstrates that OP doesn’t read people she’s criticizing at worst.

That passage got a lot of press, almost entirely because people take delight in the Mad Libertarian narrative (thanks, Barry!) Here is her response: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/12/18/can-collective-action-stop-mass-shooters.html


Bryan 12.22.12 at 8:45 am

“the reference to getting people to rush a school gun man comes at the end of a long article, which covers the difficulties of reducing gun inflicted death, and is more a counsel of despair than a glorification of sacrificial violence. ”

the reference says that this would be a better solution than gun control and in the context of a mass murder at an elementary school talks of young people rushing gunmen – so not just ‘people’.

It was an abysmally stupid idea by someone who is payed for the ideas they produce.


Barry Stocker 12.22.12 at 9:33 am

Bryan, the article advocates gun control. It also points out that since there are millions of guns around in the USA, including the ‘assault’ weapons used in the recent attack, that there can be no immediate reduction in the likelihood of such attacks. Do you deny this? The article then finishes by suggesting that rushing a gunman *might* be the best way of reacting to a future attack. Do you deny this, or do you have evidence of a better immediate reaction to an armed attack on a school?. If so do please share that evidence with us.


Chris Bertram 12.22.12 at 9:43 am

Those who have read McArdle’s response and clarification, helpfully linked to by Navin above, may judge for themselves how nuts she is. On my reading, she just digs deeper:

I completely agree that small children rushing a shooter would be a terrible idea. … But I was talking about teenagers, not first graders.


Barry Stocker 12.22.12 at 9:50 am

Chris, I keep asking this question. And I ask it in all seriousness, because I really don’t know the answer. Is the least bad response to a gunman’s attack on a school for people at the school (including children of any age) to rush the gunman? Is it simply mad to ask? And are accusations of madness and digging deeper the only response to be made to raising the issue?


David S. 12.22.12 at 9:54 am

Why is the idea of schoolchildren throwing themselves into the line of fire of a madman armed with an AK-47 so hard to imagine? During the Iran-Iraq war thousands of Iranian children did exactly that on the front-lines against Saddam’s machine guns, and as we all know there’s nothing America’s Right, and I’m sure Megan McArdle, admires more than Iran and martyrdom…


Neville Morley 12.22.12 at 10:37 am

On the face of it there are two different issues, (a) how best to prevent such a situation recurring in future (gun control v. more good guys with guns, or at least with buckets) and (b) how best to respond to such a situation if you find yourself involved. But in fact the ‘run towards the gunfire’ solution to (b) is clearly unworkable if it hasn’t already been dealt with under (a): how else can we over-ride the natural instinct of anyone, let alone children, to run away and hide from an obvious life-threatening danger except through a rigorous and compulsory programme of training and indoctrination?

Which returns us to Corey’s key point; even if this is not being presented as an alternative to gun control, it still reveals either a basic contradiction in McArdle’s view of human nature (everyone’s a selfish bastard until he sees his fellow humans threatened, not by poverty or disease but specifically a gun-toting madman) or a remarkable willingness to sign up for the deliberate inculcation of social, nay socialist, attitudes into the young (again, only in relation to very specific circumstances).


Mao Cheng Ji 12.22.12 at 10:44 am

I got a better idea: that football-playing teacher could pick up a couple of small children and throw them at the attacker, knock him off. Gotta use the resources at your disposal.


MountainMan 12.22.12 at 10:44 am

What’s the talk of rushing shooters with “machine guns”? I don’t remember a school shooter ever using one.

Though I assume (quite charitably) that you’re just using the term theatrically, I wouldn’t want you to mislead the readers of this blog, many of whom probably don’t even know the difference between a shotgun and a rifle.

To be clear, Adam Lanza’s primary weapon was the semi-automatic Bushmaster .223 — not a machine gun. The Bushmaster is not a high-powered rifle. Many people use it for hunting, but only for small game. In fact, it is not even powerful enough for deer hunting.

Though I probably agree with most people here on gun control, I’m also not against the idea of allowing teachers or school officials to carry firearms. As someone who has significant experience with firearms, they’re not some scary mystery to me, so I try to think about the issue with respect to current norms. We allow strangers to conceal-carry in public without training, and many high schools already have armed security guards.

So, which scenario would you prefer: a high school guarded by no one, a run-of-the-mill security guard (think Mall Cop), or a college-educated school administrator?

I’d almost certainly choose the later.


Robert Hanks 12.22.12 at 10:59 am

Barry @2 and Navin @6: McArdle’s rationalization in her linked article makes it quite clear that she is seriously advocating rushing shooters as a policy solution and, indeed, the only thinkable policy solution – how is that not mad? How does her uncertainty that it will work make it less mad?

MountainMan @14: So relieved to hear Lanza wasn’t using a high-powered rifle – I mean, those things can hurt people.


William Berry 12.22.12 at 12:23 pm

I am a lifelong gun owner myself, raised in the rural gun culture of the Mid-South (SEMO, AR). I am also a pinko liberal and former union official and sometime Democratic party activist, and I strongly support drastic gun-control legislation. And I can state unequivocally that Mountain Man is full of it.

A high-powered rifle is any centerfire rifle that is chambered for a cartridge diameter that is greater than the diameter of the bullet, and has a high muzzle velocity. The .223 definitely falls into this category. It belongs to the same class of weapons as m-16/ ar-15 military rifles and in fact can fire the NATO 5.56 mm round. These weapons are closely related to a class of sporting rifles called varmint rifles (.223, .22-240, etc.) that sometimes have incredible muzzle velocities of more than 4,000 fps. I don’t know offhand the m.v. of the BM .223, but I would be surprised if it wasn’t more than 3,500 fps. That these weapons are not powerful enough for deer hunting is false, as they can be very destructive of tissue if a fragmentation type bullet is used. It is true that you would not ordinarily use the .223 for deer hunting as the larger diameter (.30 and up) bullets are more reliable in terms of knock-down power.

I like MM’s rhetorical technique of accusing gun control advocates of not knowing the difference between a rifle and a shotgun and then capitalizing on that perceived ignorance by spewing out a line of shit!

I seldom comment but I read CT and several other liberal, mostly academic blogs all the time and I have been amazed at how the gun nuts have crawled out of the woodwork and infested the comment boards with their pseudo-rational, prisoner’s dilemma-style arguments. They have nothing of value to contribute to the debate. They should put on their ghillie suits and crawl back under their rocks. (Mixed metaphor, I know, but whatever.)

I have my own (partial) solution to the gun problem— one that would be consistent with reasonable readings of the Second Amentment: Require all would-be gun purchasers to take the MMPI and achieve a good mental health score before being issued a license. A delicious irony would be that those most likely to fail would probably be those who most wanted to own a firearm!


Tiberius Gracchus 12.22.12 at 1:03 pm

What is the Rimbaud part?


William Berry 12.22.12 at 1:13 pm

Typo: .22-250, not .22-240


roger gathman 12.22.12 at 1:38 pm

Okay, okay, what does one of my favorite poets have to do with this ephemeral journalistic adventuress? I don’t see McArdle exulting in the pariah status of her ancestors, who were thiefs, lazy, and buttered their hair. I can’t see her experiencing the different colors of the vowels, or drinking to excess, or engaging in sexual adventures, or supporting the Commune. At best, she might bring a cuisnart to a let’s celebrate killing Communards party.
Frankly, the juxtaposition is appalling – and I think I speak here for the ghost of Verlaine, too.


ajay 12.22.12 at 1:45 pm

No, the best reaction to a shooter is not to rush him en masse. Of course it isn’t. That’s the best reaction if you’re unarmed and you want to defeat him – to neutralise him and take the ground that he’s occupying – that’s why the Iranians did it – but I don’t give a damn if the shooter’s defeated. This isn’t a war. The objective is for the kids not to get killed and the best way to ensure that is for them to get out, as fast as they can. It’s even possible, I suppose, that a fortress mentality might make this more difficult, because it’ll make schools harder to escape from. Fewer exits, locked doors, etc.

The whole discussion reminds me very strongly of something Primo Levi wrote about “why didn’t they rise up?” Anyone who’s read his books will know the passage I mean…


Corey Robin 12.22.12 at 1:53 pm

14: I wouldn’t quite say theatrical. But I kept stumbling, rhetorically, over semi-automatic weapons. McArdle had spent some time on the distinction in her piece and had pointed out that automatic weapons were almost never involved in these massacres. (Side note: She also points out that there has been a complete ban on them since the 1930s and that as a result, the availability of automatic weapons cannot be adduced as causes of these massacres, though she never stops to pause, it seems, to ask whether or not there might be a relationship between those two facts.) So I should have just used the proper phrase. I’ll change it in the post now.

As for the question about whether I’ve interpreted McArdle farily: Most others have said what has to be said here (though I hadn’t seen McArdle’s response, so my thanks to Navin for pointing it out). I would merely add that those of you who doubt this interpretation should read Albert Hirschman’s classic discussion of the role of “futility” in reactionary arguments. The pose of “I would really support you in pursuing policy x to achieve outcome y were it not for the fact that there really may be almost nothing one can do to achieve outcome y” [save, apparently, for some radical effort to reconstruct human nature such that all of us will be willing to gang rush crazy killers] is not unknown in the canon of the right.


Corey Robin 12.22.12 at 2:02 pm

Re Rimbaud (17 and 19): I was just generally thinking of the figure from modern poetry who is indifferent to whether he lives a long life or not or is even contemptuous of the notion. “I’m intact, and I don’t give a damn” — as a reader pointed out to me in an email. I’m no expert on Rimbaud or modern poetry, but it was that figura (hence my mention also of Millay) I was thinking of.


RSA 12.22.12 at 2:05 pm

McCardle: if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun

This is the mad part, in my view. Should schoolchildren practice gang rushing a guy with a gun, for training? That’s ludicrous. But instead imagine just drilling in the “correct thing”.

“Don’t think about it–just run at the man with the gun and try to tackle him… Some of you will probably be shot, but if you’re still on your feet, keep going… Guns can be loud, but don’t let the explosions scare you off… No, everyone has to do it at the same time, right away.”

McCardle is suggesting we explain to schoolchildren that by risking death (the gunman might only be able to shoot two or three out of eight or twelve children rushing at him) they may save some of their classmates. Will all the children be able to grasp the moral dimensions of that tradeoff? What does the teacher say to the kid with libertarian parents who asks about free riders? Is the kid with pacifist parents excused from the exercise? What about kids who wash out? Or the kid in the wheelchair–surely no bully would bring up his lack of participation?

Basically I don’t think these are issues that children are yet well-equipped to understand, much less make life-or-death decisions about. And yet McCardle wants to drill it into them that this is the right thing to do (just in case, before it happens). She also writes, Would it work? Would people do it? I have no idea… She’s concentrating entirely on what might be a good outcome in a similar situation in the future, without thinking through the implications of preparing for it.


MountainMan 12.22.12 at 2:34 pm

@WB: I grew up nearby, so we’re probably related. Though all I got from your post is that, while you’ve been trying to find places online where you can keep yourself intellectually isolated, your search keeps failing as crazed gun-clingers keep popping up and ruining your day. Also, I like this part: “It is true that you would not ordinarily use the .223 for deer hunting as the larger diameter (.30 and up) bullets are more reliable in terms of knock-down power.”

@Corey: There’s not a complete ban on automatic weapons, just the production of new ones for civilian use. You can still buy and sell pre-1986 machines, but they’re exorbitantly expensive and subject to federal regulation.

And for anyone here: What are some credible studies on gun control? Specifically, are there ones that show that it is effective? I know John Lott has studies showing that “More Guns, Less Crime”, but I’m fairly confident that he’s full of shit. I would like to see some analysis of effective gun control measures the US could take beyond the superficial, pseudo-scientific charts and graphs posted at Slate, Mother Jones, etc.


roger gathman 12.22.12 at 2:38 pm

22 – really Rimbaud is too too too much of a stretch. If we are looking for a comparison, the morale campaigns of the Japanese imperial government in the 40s seems a better fit. I could see training children for mass suicide in defense of … McCardle’s lower taxes and gated community as fitting the Japanese pattern much better than anything said by the seventeen year old voyant. Rallying the lower orders to sacrifice their kids seems not only to fit the decadent state of U.S. punditry, but to actually encompass what McArdle is suggesting.
Perhaps, though, the search for comparison here is misleading. We can understand this moral vileness without looking for catchy comparisons. We see the McArdle type all of the time, they are mass manufactured.


phosphorious 12.22.12 at 2:48 pm

I’ve seen more than one conservative gun nut. . . and yes MountainMan, I am calling you a conservative gun nut. . . bring up the distinction between an automatic and a semi-automatic rifle (or shot gun or whatever) in an attempt to derail arguments such as this. And I never quite understand how the logic is supposed to work.

Lanza didn’t mow down young children with a machine gun, but with a semi-automatic. So? Are they less dead? Does the fact that the gun wasn’t fully automatic mean it shouldn’t be regulated?

Newsflash: only gun nuts care about the technical differences here. The rest of us care that anybody in this country can by a weapon that has no place outside of a war zone.


chris 12.22.12 at 3:04 pm

The Bushmaster is not a high-powered rifle. Many people use it for hunting, but only for small game.

Six-year-olds, for example?

In fact, it is not even powerful enough for deer hunting.

Then we should issue each elementary school kid a deer to hide behind in case of shootings?


jonnybutter 12.22.12 at 3:06 pm

What are some credible studies on gun control?

How about just looking at other OCED countries? Why do you need studies? When I lived in a very large Japanese city in the 90s my American female counterpart and I could walk anywhere at anytime (including 3am) without fear. Why? Different culture? Yes, but also: no weapons. No PUSH-BUTTON DEATH DEVICES.

I realize that there being so many guns already in the US is a problem, but asking for studies is just a way to avoid grappling with that problem, I think.


Main Street Muse 12.22.12 at 3:06 pm

To Corey, agree that the right has not changed in its message; however, the velocity of delivery and volume of the message have increased alarmingly since the Reagan Revolution and FoxNews.

From Harvard: studies on how “more guns = more homicides.” http://hvrd.me/VjpVN6

Megan McArdle’s long, poorly edited article seems to suggest that we need to blend elementary schools with high schools so as to provide all schools with a pool of teenagers who can rush the shooter. Yay for her. Sad for the nation, however, if this is the best we can do.

WRT the NRA’s approach, education budgets have been slashed to the bone in many states. Where will the money come from for this police force? What educational program will be slashed to fund this?

Also regarding the NRA’s call for more guns in schools, David Frum had a series of wonderful tweets yesterday noting how if we took the NRA’s idea to its logical conclusion, we would need armed guards in churches, movie theaters, streets in NY, isolated roads in PA, train cars, etc. In other words, if we put armed guards in the locations shooters have used to slaughter Americans in the recent past, we would need to put them pretty much every where. Which is what the NRA wants, in that they get a cut of bullets and guns sold.

Anyone know where NRA’s financials can be found? I am not having luck finding the document on their website. Don’t non-profits have to publish this info?

I’d like to work to rid Congress of all those who get an “A” or “B” grade from the NRA. That’s a place to start if we are serious about protecting Americans from gun violence.

Please don’t get me started on Charlotte Allan’s god-awful piece, which includes this piece of magical thinking: “a feminized setting is a setting in which helpless passivity is the norm.” Had she ever visited Harpo Studios at its heyday, she would never have said this… just saying! Leave it to the NRO to provide us the 1950s on a platter as they work hard to politicize this issue.


P O'Neill 12.22.12 at 3:10 pm

There might not have been a downward trajectory on themes but there certainly has been on spokesmen. We’ve gone from Why don’t you get William F. Buckley to kill the spider to Why don’t you get Wayne LaPierre’s NSS militia to shoot the spree killer.


Jymn 12.22.12 at 3:11 pm

Perhaps if teachers were paid a better wage, more men would be elementary teachers. Then again, I doubt that would make much of a difference when confronted with a madman and a Bushmaster.


temp 12.22.12 at 3:12 pm

(Side note: She also points out that there has been a complete ban on them since the 1930s and that as a result, the availability of automatic weapons cannot be adduced as causes of these massacres, though she never stops to pause, it seems, to ask whether or not there might be a relationship between those two facts.)

McArdle says straight out, with no ambiguity, that a gun ban would be the best way to reduce shootings. So she does seem to understand the relationship between these facts.


bob 12.22.12 at 3:14 pm

Unfortunately, gun control is not only difficult, technological developments are well on their way to making it almost impossible. Specifically 3-D printing technology, because of which – as gun nuts enthusiastically report – “we might soon see the day when nearly everyone will be able to print the weapons of their choice in the numbers they desire, all within the privacy of their own homes.” http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2012-07/working-assault-rifle-made-3-d-printer


faustusnotes 12.22.12 at 3:21 pm

yes, MountainMan wants us to believe that the AR-15 is harmless. Evidence from Newtown suggests otherwise. Fortunately youtube is full of gun nuts displaying their Bushmasters and telling us why they love them so much. Here, for example we get a detailed lecture on why the Bushmaster is so great: you can shorten the stock for people who need to operate in restricted environments (like a primary school classroom!), it has very low recoil (you can fire with one hand!) and it really “squeezes out the rounds.” At about 5:40 in the video you can see the speed of the weapon. Sure, it’s terrible for deer-hunting – but you can fire 11 bullets into a child in a couple of seconds.

Just what every patriot needs!


DrDick 12.22.12 at 3:24 pm

Mountain Man –
There are studies that at least imply that for the US:
It is also the case that given the inability of states and municipalities to control their borders they cannot prevent guns from coming in from other towns and states, which limits their effectiveness. If we look at national level laws, the evidence is much more clear and developed countries with stronger gun control laws have lower homicide rates and far lower rates of overall gun deaths and firearm related homicides. Likewise the strict federal regulation of machine guns has been highly effective in this country and they are almost never used in crimes, despite widespread popularity in the 1920s and early 1930s.


DrDick 12.22.12 at 3:25 pm

Bob –

Try selling your fantasies to Australia and Japan.


MountainMan 12.22.12 at 3:33 pm


You’re beginning to sound like some weird, moralizing anti-drug crusader or something. “Just say no! Drugs kill! Zero tolerance!” The weird part is that you think no one cares about the “technical differences” between guns. I cannot tell if you actually meant to type that, or if you’re just extraordinarily ignorant of both gun mechanics and gun politics. It seems like quite the hard line, anti-empirical position to take. Is your utility function broken, or does it just not take into account the actual damage done by different types of guns?

Ok, so you want to ban weapons that have “no place outside of a war zone”. Sounds sensible to me, but what should we ban? Well, we can start off by reinstating the Assault Weapon Ban which will prohibit a lot of cosmetic stuff. Even though all the studies done on it showed that it was completely ineffective, it will make life inconvenient for those benighted rednecks, so +1 our team.

But, hold on… what did the Virginia Tech shooter use? Two, regular semi-automatic handguns with small magazines? Well, that’s unfortunate, because Heller says we can’t ban handguns. Hmm, seems we’re stuck.


Barry Freed 12.22.12 at 3:37 pm

3-D printing technology won’t be a problem because by then the economy will have completely collapsed due to the influx of trillions of dollars in counterfeit currency that everyone’s been printing on their hi-tech cutting-edge laser printers. Oh, wait…


bob 12.22.12 at 3:44 pm

DrDick – It isn’t my fantasy, but a quick Google search will show that it is very common among gun enthusiasts. I’d be delighted if it never came to pass, but unfortunately I don’t see a way that it won’t.


Jonathan 12.22.12 at 3:50 pm

Are you familiar with Rimbaud’s adventures in the gun trade?


faustusnotes 12.22.12 at 4:23 pm

so MountainMan, you have access to lots of studies about the failure of the assault weapon ban, and lots of sneering to do about “cosmetic” effects, but you have never found any studies about the effect of gun laws in Australia?

Colour me surprised …


Uncle Kvetch 12.22.12 at 4:27 pm

it still reveals either a basic contradiction in McArdle’s view of human nature (everyone’s a selfish bastard until he sees his fellow humans threatened, not by poverty or disease but specifically a gun-toting madman) or a remarkable willingness to sign up for the deliberate inculcation of social, nay socialist, attitudes into the young (again, only in relation to very specific circumstances).

This is the part that absolutely floors me. A woman who began her blogging career under the nym “Jane Galt” is mulling over possibilities for “collective action” in this one particular scenario…and we’re supposed to take her seriously? It’s just breathtaking.


Uncle Kvetch 12.22.12 at 4:27 pm

a quick Google search will show that it is very common among gun enthusiasts

Hey, that’s good enough for me!


bob 12.22.12 at 4:40 pm

Uncle Kvetch – ok, so google for selective laser sintering by 3-D printers; it is quite feasible to manufacture complex metal parts. The gun nuts’ enthusiasm is based on real technology that is advancing rapidly. Or do you know of genuine technical obstacles?


DrDick 12.22.12 at 4:41 pm


LFC 12.22.12 at 4:51 pm

@Mountain Man:
we can start off by reinstating the Assault Weapon Ban which will prohibit a lot of cosmetic stuff

The assault weapon ban should be revised and rewritten so that it does not ban “cosmetic stuff” but bans non-cosmetic stuff, and also it should not be full of loopholes and exemptions like the previous assault weapon ban.
I’m tired of hearing this “the assault weapon ban just banned cosmetic stuff” line. If that’s true, change it. That’s one reason law schools teach courses on how to draft legislation, so that aides to senators and congressmen can draft bills that do what their proponents intend and are not ineffective from the outset b.c of bad drafting. I know relatively little about guns. I do know this “cosmetic” argument is just an excuse to do nothing.


Dave Maier 12.22.12 at 4:52 pm

Is no one else reminded of this: http://www.cracked.com/blog/how-to-win-fight-against-twenty-children/? Although it does say not to use weapons.


GiT 12.22.12 at 4:55 pm

“Even though all the studies done on it [the AWB] showed that it was completely ineffective”

It was effective for Mexico.


CT User 12.22.12 at 5:01 pm

No, there is actually something substantive in that distinction, and I’ll give it a try here … bear with me …

The term “semi automatic” is commonly used in media (and movies, etc.) as an aggrandizing term – that is, “semi automatic, as opposed to something less dangerous/scary/lethal/whatever”.

But in fact, the term is actually a diminishing term – that is, “semi automatic as opposed to fully automatic”.

So why does it matter ?

It matters because essentially ALL guns are semi automatic[1]. Talking about a semi automatic rifle is like talking about a “multi geared car” … yes, it’s accurate, but it’s odd, since ALL cars are multi-geared. So when people speak in disparaging terms and demonize “semi automatics”, the reaction is the same as if they were demonizing ALL guns.

So that’s the point – the reason people keep trying to make this distinction, and the reason I would submit it is indeed important, is that the set of (semi automatic guns) and (all guns) are just about the same…

[1] Non-semi-automatic guns, ie., single shot guns, are things like old lever action .22s, civil war era muskets, and some very specialized, high precisions hunting and/or sniper rifles.


nick s 12.22.12 at 5:04 pm

why bother with what McArdle actually says

You mean, 4,000 words of barely coherent “can’t be done, can’t be done!” dribble that ends with the equivalent of an audible fart? What the heck is it about McArdle in particular that continues to inspire sycophants to defend her every idiocy, like a gang of Monty Python knights?


Bruce Webb 12.22.12 at 5:04 pm

quite apart from the moral depravity Megan McAddled simply didn’t game this out.

Make two assumptions: 1) mass shooters want to maximize body count and 2) they generally don’t expect to get out alive

Lets then postulate that we have trained all Americans from pre-school up to midnight movie goers to rush mass shooters. What then is the ‘winning’ move for the shooter? Answer: wear a shrapnel laden suicide vest. Boom (literally) you have maximized game goal one (body count) and limited the possibility of missing goal two (suicide by cop).

Megan thus showing she is both a sociopath and a really shitty gamer. Any 12 year old with a Gameboy could figure out this counter-tactic within the goals of this particular game.


MountainMan 12.22.12 at 5:06 pm


Ah yes, the old gun confiscation trick. I’m sure collecting a couple hundred million firearms here in America won’t be a problem.

Oh, and none of the recent reputable studies credit Australia’s 1996 reforms with the decline in violence — they’ve concluded the decline was just the continuation of long-term trends. The only point of contention is on suicides. Some argue the restrictions have reduced the number of suicide deaths, but other studies counter with evidence of the substitution effect.

But really, the “But what about Australia?!?” should be a standard part of the “gun control debate” drinking game. I know you saw some little chart over at Salon, but remember: they’re thrown together by journalists, who are even more mathematically-illiterate than the average sociologist.


CT User 12.22.12 at 5:12 pm

LFC said:

I’m tired of hearing this “the assault weapon ban just banned cosmetic stuff” line. If that’s true, change it.

Ok, but that’s not easy … again, bear with me here …

Guns are actually pretty simple. There are not that many substantive aspects of a gun with which to draw distinctions … rate of fire (full auto, vs. semi, vs. single) is already completely regulated[1]. Concealability (short barrel shotguns, short barrel rifles) are already completely regulated[1].

There’s not much left here with a plain old semi automatic rifle, no matter how scary it looks or how cosmetically similar it is to battle rifles. And so we have an AWB that deals with the bayonet lug and the flash hider and whether the stock collapses or not, and without question NONE of those distinctions would have impaired recent mass shooters in the slightest.

The only non-cosmetic direction to go, at least in terms of regulating the gun itself, are things so deeply functional that you start to outlaw all guns, period. Now that’s not insane, and I think people have good arguments there, but I don’t think that’s what you’re proposing.

[1] NFA, or National Firearms Act, of 1934


nick s 12.22.12 at 5:17 pm

It seems like quite the hard line, anti-empirical position to take.

The point here is that getting all sniffy about calibre sounds like Top Trumps masturbation when the empirical distinction that should matter here is between “lots of people getting shot” and “not so many people getting shot”.

Well, that’s unfortunate, because Heller says we can’t ban handguns. Hmm, seems we’re stuck.

Hmm, seems that you’re accepting complicity for lots of people getting shot. That’s fine by us.


Liberty60 12.22.12 at 5:18 pm

McArdle’s proposal is foolish in its utilitarian merits, as has been pointed out well enough.
But morally bankrupt as well in that is accepts the premises that cause the madman to be in the classroom in the first place.
She offers the rushing solution as being equal to or superior to gun control legislation. Apparently the liberty of people to own Bushmasters is more important than the liberty of not having to drill your 5 year old in suicide charges.

An analogy would be to suggest that the response to 9-11 should be to do absolutely nothing, but instead drill it into passengers that they should rush the hijackers. After all it worked like a charm on Flight 93, didn’t it?

Oh, would this work? I have no idea, so don’t criticize me. But it is obviously preferable to other solutions, like screening passengers and banning weapons aboard aircraft. And it would be intolerable fascism to restrict Americans right to carry boxcutters everywhere.


Liberty60 12.22.12 at 5:25 pm

I came of age in the late 1970’s, and gravitated towards Reagan conservatism.
Part of what swayed me was the arguments over crime. Liberals of the day seemed to always be going on about the rights of the accused, to the point where the main focus of crime should be to never, ever, tread on someone’s Constitutional rights. Or at least thats how the arguments sounded to a teenager.
Conservatives made the argument that allowing crime to spiral out of control was an infringement of the rights of the public. Having a situation where criminals were free to walk the streets while law abiding civilians hid behind security bars was a perverse reading of liberty.

Today we have switched sides; the NRA insists that the focus of laws be to never, ever restrict anyone’s right to walk into bars, theaters, churches or preschools armed to the teeth.
The public’s liberty to walk around safe and without the constant fear of gunfights is irrelevant to them. The NRA’s only solution to us? Buy a gun of our own, and outfit our toddlers with Kevlar vests.


Corey Robin 12.22.12 at 5:30 pm

56: Liberty60, that’s an interesting point and one I’ve never actually considered. Namely, that liberals and conservatives have switched sides on the great security v. rights debate of the 70s. As you say, and we should acknowledge that we’re speaking here in vastly simplified terms, when it comes to crime, liberals used to stand for rights while conservatives stood for protection from crime. Today, at least on this issue of gun control, it’s flipped to the opposite.


LFC 12.22.12 at 5:35 pm

@CT User 49/53

Interesting. Unfortunately I don’t know enough about guns to continue in this conversation.


Tim Wilkinson 12.22.12 at 5:35 pm

I think people are being a bit uncharitable to McArdle here. The plan is clearly to frighten the shit out of a generation or two of schoolchildren. Once attitudes have thus been reshaped, the only real solution, proper gun control, will become politically feasible, as it so regrettably is not at present.


nick s 12.22.12 at 5:56 pm

I know relatively little about guns. I do know this “cosmetic” argument is just an excuse to do nothing.

It’s also somewhat disingenuous, in the sense that a lot of the “cosmetic” stuff that distinguishes that Bushmaster and other “tactical paraphilia” firearms is precisely what the manufacturers use to market them. What is this doing other than mapping particular cosmetic characteristics to manly manly manhood?

(If Hollywood and video games are going to be scrutinised, then let’s include the marketing of actual guns in the arrangement, however much that might upset Wayne LaShill.)


Britta 12.22.12 at 5:59 pm

The idea that unarmed or barely armed children should rush at someone with an automatic rifle reminded me of WWI as well. We’ve known for almost 100 years that rushing someone who can indiscriminately spray bullets does nothing but raise the body count. The idea someone could get close enough with a bucket to kneecap the killer is outrageous, to the point I would consider it an argument in bad faith.


Liberty60 12.22.12 at 6:06 pm

This is why I maintain that the Bushmaster has no legitimate claim to 2nd Amendment protection.
It is designed with the specific purpose of being scary-looking, a faux-M-16. All the cosmetic features are just that- cosmetic, without any utilitarian function for target shooting or hunting.
They openly marketed it as a “ManCard”, something that would provide a jolt of testosterone to men who presumably are lacking in that department. Sort of like a weaponized version of Axe body spray.

So it is the weapon of choice for the deranged, the insecure, the tortured young men craving the credentials of masculinity and power.
Add to this the constant drumbeat of fear and paranoia from the NRA and you have a situation where massacres are inevitable.


ponce 12.22.12 at 6:09 pm


“Well, that’s unfortunate, because Heller says we can’t ban handguns. Hmm, seems we’re stuck.”

I think we need to take a page from the wingnuts here.

The Supreme Court says states can’t ban abortions, but they are almost impossible to get unless you’re rich it the deep red states.

Let’s do that to guns.


MikeM 12.22.12 at 6:12 pm

I’m surprised that federal and state legislatures haven’t made it a policy to permit spectators in their chambers to carry concealed weapons. It would doubtless make them safer.


Harold 12.22.12 at 6:13 pm

World War I? It’s more like “The Charge of the Light Brigade”.

Someone has blundered in allowing the armaments industry to attain the unchecked influence it now has. And for their part, by bribing and intimidating congress and ginning up support among large numbers of rural and uneducated people, the death merchants have attempted to forestall the emergence of another episode like the Nye Committee Hearings of Franklin Roosevelt’s first years. Hopefully, they have now committed irreparable overreach.


DrDick 12.22.12 at 6:42 pm

none of the recent reputable studies credit Australia’s 1996 reforms with the decline in violence

I can only presume you consider John Lott a reputable source. Reality says you are wrong:


MountainMan 12.22.12 at 6:49 pm


The joke would make sense if the the legislators (1) didn’t have armed security and (2) wanted to carry weapons to protect themselves and/or other lawmakers. However, since those aren’t the case, it doesn’t quite fit.

Though, doesn’t it seem rather odd that small children aren’t given armed protection, even though such protection is the norm for almost every other person, building, or event that society finds both important and vulnerable? Almost every University has dozens of security guards — many even have their own police force. And it’s not uncommon for high schools to be similarly protected. So why is protecting elementary schools so taboo?

One could argue that it is because high schoolers and college kids can be dangerous, but elementary schoolers are mostly harmless. I suppose this is true, but after the Newtown Shootings, isn’t it obvious that our children need to be protected? Potential rampage killers have learned that elementary schools are easy, defenseless targets. In addition to keeping guns under control, shouldn’t we be thinking about ways to make school less vulnerable?


subdoxastic 12.22.12 at 6:57 pm

@CT User @ 49
“…all guns are essentially semi-automatic… the set of semi-automatic and the set of all guns are just about the same.”

I’m confused by this assertion. My expanding knowledge of firearms suggests that isn’t entirely accurate. Wiki provides a definition for ‘semi-automatic’ as follows: ‘A semi-automatic, or self-loading, firearm is a weapon that performs all steps necessary to prepare the weapon to fire again after firing—assuming cartridges remain in the weapon’s feed device or magazine. Typically, this includes extracting and ejecting the spent cartridge case from the weapon’s firing chamber, re-cocking the firing mechanism, and loading a new cartridge into the firing chamber.’

Your description seems to divide firearms into two groups:
1. hinge/break action, and muzzleloaders
2. All other action types.

There is a substantial difference among rates of fire between all the other action types you’ve lumped into category 2. Rates of fire are different for bolt action firearms, and pump/slide or lever action firearms– none of which (despite how much one trains in their use) will equal the rate of fire of a semi-automatic. There might also be a discussion to be had about the manner in which gas powered semis dampen perceived recoil for the shooter allowing for greater ease of use (though not likely germane to the specifics of the Newton case, as the .223 is not a particularly ‘hard-kicking’ round).

I know the point of this post wasn’t to delve into the arcana of firearm specs, but I’m fairly confident (ceteris paribus) not only would the damage inflicted in Newton been less if the shooter hadn’t been using a semi-automatic, it would also have been less if (even using a semi) the shooter hadn’t had access to extra-capacity magazines. The coroner reported that each victim was shot a minimum of 3 times. 3 bullets x 26 victims is the minimum # of rounds this guy managed to get off before he ended his life when confronted by the arriving police (and he was found with 100s of rounds remaining on his person). 76 rounds in a few minutes? That’s possible because he had a semi with extra-capacity magazines.

I do agree with your later post that ‘demonizing’ semis is not a particularly useful approach– but surely we don’t have to take the all or nothing tact you mention. Start with nixing extra-capacity magazines, make would be owners register/test for their license and then get to work on those ‘regulations’ which, as many folks have pointed out time and again are often so full of loopholes that they don’t function.


MountainMan 12.22.12 at 7:11 pm

@DrDick: See my post 24 for my opinion of Lott.

And thanks for linking to FactCheck. It mentions three studies:

“A 2003 study from AIC, which looked at rates between 1991 and 2001, found that some of the decline in firearm-related homicides (and suicides as well) began before the reform was enacted. On the other hand, a 2006 analysis by scholars at the University of Sydney concluded that gun fatalities decreased more quickly after the reform. Yet another analysis, from 2008, from the University of Melbourne, concluded that the buyback had no significant effect on firearm suicide or homicide rates.
So there’s no consensus about whether the changes decreased gun violence or had little to no effect.”

And there we have it. Australia enacts drastic gun control efforts — including gun buy-backs and confiscations — that would never be politically or legally possible in the United States without amending the Constitution, and over 15 years later there’s no consensus on whether or not they did anything.


Bruce Wilder 12.22.12 at 7:19 pm

A 2003 study from AIC, which looked at rates between 1991 and 2001, found that some of the decline in firearm-related homicides (and suicides as well) began before the reform was enacted.

Making “a trend” into its own cause, so as to raise the bar on attributing causality, or even correlation, to any change in public policy, the efficacy of which conservatives do not want to acknowledge, has long been a standard trope of social science research, as mucked up by right-wing hacks.


Chris Williams 12.22.12 at 7:19 pm

Re ‘More Guns, Less Crime’, I’m not really qualified to assess studies of the recent past. I am, though, qualified to comment on studies of the last two centuries, and thus I can assure you that Joyce Lee Malcolm’s history book (‘Guns and Violence, the English Experience’) which was designed to prove this point with reference to England and Wales isn’t very good, and proves very little. Here’s my review of it from the JMH:


MountainMan 12.22.12 at 7:45 pm

@Bruce Wilder:

I thought the trope was that social scientists were masters of performing the “Null Ritual” of significance testing, experts at attributing causality without properly accounting for confounding factors, and pioneers of the file drawer problem.


James Wimberley 12.22.12 at 8:15 pm

A niggle off the main point, but Corey wrote: “… a mass death instinct of the sort that powered the Red Army to victory against the Nazis…” Any evidence for the assertion that the Red Army soldiers (who indeed died in mind-boggling numbers) wanted to die, as opposed to having no choice given their inferiority in equipment (mostly), training and tactical leadership, the indifference of the higher command to casualties, and the threat of being summarily shot by NKVD troops for desertion if they refused?
A better analogy would be the Imperial Japanese Army in the Pacific War. In many cases, Japanese troops in hopeless situations refused surrender and made suicidal mass charges against American machine-guns. However, we should not assume that the no-surrender cult was fully owned by the common soldiers. It may just have been their officers, plus the ordinary military discipline that makes mutiny very rare, even in the case of certain death. .


Bruce Wilder 12.22.12 at 8:38 pm


Let me quote you again:

. . . none of the recent reputable studies credit Australia’s 1996 reforms with the decline in violence — they’ve concluded the decline was just the continuation of long-term trends.

Ah, yes, “reputable studies”. I know them well.

Sam Peltzman of the University of Chicago was the past master of this kind of “reputable study”. His classic was a study that concluded that policies, like requiring seat belts in cars, had no effect on auto safety, because the trend was improving auto safety. So, no matter how radical the change effected by policy was over a long period of time, the policy could not be the causal factor, because the trend, itself, was its own primary cause.

Peltzman, with singular chutzpah, actually argued that seat belt use was reducing auto safety, because people wearing seat belts drove more recklessly, because with a seat belt on, they didn’t have as much skin in the game, or some such idiocy. You see, though, he managed to miss the big picture decline in auto accident fatalities in his statistical soup, he was somehow able to tease out this alleged tiny effect of increased recklessness. It was such a tour de force of statistical b.s., that they named it after him: the Peltzman Effect.


Salient 12.22.12 at 8:40 pm

There are not that many substantive aspects of a gun with which to draw distinctions

Poverty of imagination much?

Maybe we should start regulating capacity–nobody needs more than ten shots per reload for self-defense or hunting.

rate of fire (full auto, vs. semi, vs. single) is already completely regulated[1].

Ok, then maybe we need to change the regulations (or the laws governing those regulations). I have no reason to care about whether the change would be instituted by modifying an old Act or by passing an entirely unprecedented bill. Who cares?

Concealability (short barrel shotguns, short barrel rifles) are already completely regulated[1].

Again, who cares? Whatever law is on the books, isn’t working, isn’t satisfactory. And who the fuck thinks ‘short barrel rifle’ rather than ‘pistol’ when contemplating concealability?

Concealable weapons should be banned. This includes most handguns. They are not currently banned. A complete ban, our long-term goal, would be struck down and invalidated by the current Supreme Court. Therefore, in the short-term, we should put into place the strongest possible partial ban that stands a reasonable chance of passing Supreme Court muster. If that proves insufficient, we should raise hell, or something, I dunno. Seeing Obama kick the issue a month down the road was pretty dispiriting.


DrDick 12.22.12 at 8:47 pm

Mountain Man at 69:

It does, however, clearly refute your statement:

I would point out that two of the three studies say there is some improvement, though they differ in the degree. Likewise, saying that there is no consensus is a long way from saying it had no effect. You are still wrong.


DrDick 12.22.12 at 8:48 pm

HTML fail on my part.


Thas 12.22.12 at 9:08 pm

@Mountain Man:

From Australian Institute of Criminology stats it certainly seems the case in Australia that the 1996 gun buyback has not impacted significantly on the firearm-related homicide rate. We have had a festering undercurrent of drug gang related killings in Sydney and Melbourne since the early 2000s.

However, we have not had a Newtown style massacre since Port Arthur. What would you attribute this to? Just lucky?


phosphorious 12.22.12 at 9:10 pm

MountainMan: do you think the gun Lanza used should be prohibited? Yes or no?


P O'Neill 12.22.12 at 9:52 pm

Before taking MountainMan as the last word on what Heller says about current and prospective gun control laws, note that others[1] don’t share the view that Heller has sweeping implications for those laws.

[1] Justice Antonin Scalia.


Matt 12.22.12 at 9:59 pm

If we have an “armed officer” in every school, does that mean he gets to draw down on kids who are bullying other kids for being gay?

Something tells me the NRA would backpedal REAL quickly from that – much like the Louisiana legislators who freaked out when somebody told them that “religious schools” weren’t the same thing as “Christian schools” when they were cheerleading for a bill to divert public school funds to churches…


John David Galt 12.22.12 at 10:24 pm

Taking the head-in-the-sand approach to real danger is dimwitted, all the more because several of our likely opponents in the next world war do have “insufficient regard for life” and that is not something we can change. China is one such place: the individual human life is (regarded by most people as) the least important thing there, not the most, because there are plenty of us, in fact a surplus.

Then there is Iran, whose leadership actively wants to commit a new Holocaust. If they get the Bomb it will not be for deterrence.

Ignoring these facts will not make them go away. But it may make the people doing the ignoring perish.


CT User 12.22.12 at 10:28 pm


Actually, I agree with you, and I thought I made that clear in my original post.

What I mean is, if you do indeed advocate a much more comprehensive, blanket ban on all guns, that’s fine – there are indeed all manner of avenues with which to pursue that. You can ban semiautomatics. You can ban handguns. You can ban guns.

If that’s the case, then we simply disagree, and have little to say to each other. No problem.

My post was not directed at someone holding my view. My post was directed at the “moderate” view that gun ownership is still fundamentally reasonable on some level and that if we just tweaked what we mean by that, some progress could be made. And my point was that there isn’t a lot of room left to do that.

I will admit one mistake, and that is in addition to rate of fire and length, which are completely regulated, there is magazine capacity and fixed/detachable magazine which *could be* addressed, and indeed that was a poverty of imagination (especially since those were addressed by the old federal AWB, and the current Cali AWB).

FWIW, I’m not terribly opposed to high cap mag bans … it’s a bit of a pain on the range, but it *is* a substantive distinction that truly does heighten the lethality…


John David Galt 12.22.12 at 10:44 pm

@mainstreetmuse: All charities have to file Form 990, which can be viewed on guidestar.org. But I’m not sure if this applies to political orgs, since people don’t get a tax deduction for giving to them.


chris 12.22.12 at 11:14 pm

Maybe we should start regulating capacity–nobody needs more than ten shots per reload for self-defense or hunting.

Ten, hell. In the Founders’ day, you got one shot per barrel until you reloaded with loose powder and tamped it down yourself. If you want to shoot two people, carry two pistols or a double-barreled gun. (This is why they didn’t have a problem with spree shooters.) Therefore, that’s all the Second Amendment entitles you to. If you want one of these newfangled “cartridge” thingies, we can talk, but you certainly don’t have any kind of *right* to it.

Now, admittedly, I say this as a person who would like for “freedom of speech and the press” to be extended to include freedom of phones and the Internet, if anything, *more* so than it is right now, so I wouldn’t like to establish an absolute rule that constitutional rights can’t be extended beyond their original contours except by explicit amendment. (Also, then we’d have to abolish the Air Force — the constitution only explicitly authorizes the federal government to maintain an army and a navy.)

But I think there’s room for a legitimate argument that the Bill of Rights only *absolutely* covers things that could have been within the contemplation of the Founders and the decision whether or not to extend a given principle to some new technology should be made on policy grounds. (IIRC, the Court already routinely does exactly that with, e.g., the 4A, and their results are not particularly consistent.)

In that light, it’s obvious that even a semi-automatic is about a century ahead of anything that could possibly have been imagined when the 2A was written. So extending it to cover such weapons is, at least, a decision of questionable wisdom, not something to be automatically done as a matter of right.


PatrickinIowa 12.22.12 at 11:14 pm

P. O’Neill at #30. Reread Buckley’s defense of lynching and get back to us.

As for security guards on college campuses, armed or not, they didn’t get to the scene of the shooting here at Iowa until everybody was dead or paralysed, including the shooter. So we have good evidence of how well the proposal works–not at all. (I’ll bet you a dollar Virginia Tech had armed security as well.) That’s the trouble with wingnut thought experiments: Just imagine what would happen if there was an armed police officer there? (We don’t need to imagine, we have Columbine.) Just imagine what would happen if an armed, trained gun owner had been present! (We don’t need to imagine, we have Connecticut.) Just imagine if the school had armed security! (You pick it.)

When I imagine armed school police, this is what I imagine, because it already happened: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/07/14276420-after-police-shooting-of-naked-college-student-mother-asks-why?lite.


Phil 12.22.12 at 11:23 pm

MM: I’m sure collecting a couple hundred million firearms here in America won’t be a problem.

Get over yourself already. Let’s say that weapons of category X are declared illegal for personal possession without a license. Do you imagine that collecting all the weapons of category X would be a serious law-and-order problem? Do you imagine it would even be necessary? I mean, are you seriously suggesting that the good people of the United States would react to an unlicensed weapons amnesty with the proud contempt of the frontiersman, rather than by observing the law and forming an orderly queue? Do you honestly believe that there would be one, two, a hundred Ruby Ridges – and that this horrible prospect is something to be smug about?

In short, do you think your fellow keyboard warriors let their sociopathic fantasies take priority over the demands of the real world? Because I don’t think you do, and I don’t think 99% of them do either.


Dr. Hilarius 12.22.12 at 11:32 pm

A friend suggested a novel approach to gun control: require the use of seller specific tagents in firearm ammo. Restrict ammo sale to federally licensed firearms dealers who are required to obtain good ID for every ammo sale. For any gun crime, trace the ammo used back to the seller, who could be subject to either/both criminal/civil liability depending upon the specific facts. Possession of second-hand (not purchased from licensed dealer) would also be a criminal offense.

Probably this wouldn’t stop all mass shootings. It might reduce the number by making ammo less readily available and red flag those trying to obtain illegal ammo. The real problem is America’s obsession with guns as the solution to problems and “Red Dawn” fantasies.


Hogan 12.22.12 at 11:38 pm

@83: All nonprofits have to file 990s, not just charities. I found a page on guidestar.org for the National Rifle Association of America in Fairfax, VA. You have t0 create an account to view the filings; I don’t know what’s involved in that, although I’ll probably find out some time soon.


Hogan 12.22.12 at 11:53 pm

guidestar.org wants $125 for a single report, and the subscription rates are, shall we say, commensurate. You can hunt up the NRA’s 2010 990 filing here.


GiT 12.23.12 at 12:07 am


LFC 12.23.12 at 12:38 am

To Corey Robin (sorry, long comment):

I’ve read, albeit quite quickly, the Chronicle piece of yours (headlined “why conservatives love war”) that you link at the end of your post. In linking the article here, in a post on domestic gun violence, you implicitly draw a connection between views on guns at home and views on war. Indeed, the post itself makes that connection explicitly via the reference to World War I. This connection might seem obviously valid to a lot of CT readers, but I think it’s at least questionable (one could debate it, at any rate).

In the Chronicle piece you argue that an infatuation w/ war and violence is a longstanding part of the conservative tradition, leaning heavily on that Burke piece and mentioning Carl Schmitt and a couple of others.

I think this misses something. Before World War 1, it was common for intellectuals of various political views to glorify war and violence; after WW1, much less common (though of course some glorification continued in some quarters, see under fascism). World War 1 — and the aftermath of it — was a watershed in terms of attitudes to war, as John Mueller and others have argued. Conservatives were, I think, not immune from this general shift in attitude. More specifically, before WW1 it was v. common, in all the ‘great powers’, for respectable opinion-makers, academics etc to talk about war as a *positive good*, whereas afterward that sort of rhetoric and attitude was much less prevalent.

So there may be a line from Burke to Schmitt to Dick Cheney, but in stressing those continuities I think you miss the importance of a change in attitudes in the 20th cent., a change that I think was reflected across the political spectrum, at least in some countries. As far as the U.S. is concerned, despite the fact that the country is awash in guns and despite the often militaristic foreign policy, no Republican politician today — not Romney, say, not Santorum, not Gingrich, to mention the recent presidential candidates — could say in public that war is healthy for the species, good for the spirit, vital for maintaining the masculine strength of ‘the race’, that danger is what makes life worthwhile, etc. But they could quite easily have said that 100 years ago. A Romney, even a Santorum could not give Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘strenuous life’ speech today. This is not *just* a matter of rhetoric but, I think, points to a change in attitudes. And what you are writing about *is* attitudes, not policy (which is a somewhat different matter, of course).


faustusnotes 12.23.12 at 12:45 am

MountainMan, I didn’t read the chart in salon, I read the peer-reviewed literature. Which you obviously haven’t, preferring instead to get your talking points from some right-wing nutjob, or you would not have been making such silly claims.

The Australian experience also applies to all the “it’s just toooo hard!” pearl clutching. Australians (and Brits too!) can still own guns, but the guns they can own are of limited utility for mass shootings. It’s really not difficult to make this kind of legislation.

But then, in Australia and the UK the right wing haven’t yet gone off the rails into fantasy crayzland, so there is that …


Main Street Muse 12.23.12 at 1:03 am

To follow up on LFC’s comment a@91, let’s note that modern conservatives who most love war and who were most eager to send soldiers off to war were the ones who chose to opt out of it when they had the opportunity to serve (Cheney, GW Bush.)

Robert Graves, in “Good-bye to All That” talks about going to a war “in which officers had their swords sharpened by the armourer before sailing to France.”

That sentence struck me – I think about the romantic image of the those beautifully sharpened swords in the terrible pits of those WWI trenches.

And in this memoir, Graves gave his reasons for signing up for the war (I don’t know how to indent the block quotes):

“I had just finished with Charterhouse and gone up to Harlech, when England declared war on Germany. A day or two later I decided to enlist. In the first place, though the papers predicted only a very short war – over by Christmas at the outside – I hoped that it might last long enough to delay my going to Oxford in October which I dreaded.”

And then he learned about the brutal reality of WWI. And he wrote that beautiful memoir that I love.

For many centuries, in many cultures, war was the path to manhood. In our culture, war has been glorified until the Korean War. (“Greatest generation,” Yanks with cigarettes and chocolates liberating Europe, etc.) The Korean War made people start to question war (if they took any notice at all of that particular war.) It took Viet Nam to wipe glamour and heroics out of the American war zone. Abolishment of the draft took debate and protest out of the war.

The American love affair with guns and ammo is a different thing all together.


MountainMan 12.23.12 at 1:08 am

@Bruce Wilder (74):
Thanks for the story about Peltzman — it is certainly interesting. However, I’m not sure it invalidates my point. You just seem to have the wrong null hypothesis, something akin to: “correlation implies causation, studies be damned!” or something. Besides, if I wanted to argue with you about seat belt laws, I’d just pull out the equivalent of the gun-grabbers “But what about Austalia?!” argument and ask “But what about New Hampshire?!”

@Salient (75):
I hope you realize that regulating “high-capacity magazines” is a pointless endeavor, especially since the vast majority of stock handgun magazines hold more than 10 rounds. For example, I’d guess that the most popular handgun in the US is the Glock 19, which comes with a 15 round stock magazine.

What types of guns were used at the deadliest shooting event in US history, Virginia Tech? A pistol with a 10 round magazine and a pistol with a 15 round magazine. His secret? He had 19 more magazines in his backpack.

@DrDick (76):
There are more studies.

@phosphorious (78):
Sure, I’d gladly make all AR-15’s disappear if I could. I just don’t think any of the emotional reactionaries calling for X, Y, and Z to be banned and regulated have any idea what they’re talking about. It’s the same phenomenon that gave us the ineffectual security theater of agencies like the TSA.

@Phil (86):
Sounds like you live in an extremely thick bubble if you think that a government led gun confiscation would go over well in America. Like, I cannot imagine anyone familiar with mainstream American culture actually thinking that.

@Dr. Hilarius (87):
So we get our ideas from Jamie Foxx now. And I take it you aren’t familiar with handloading.


nick s 12.23.12 at 1:28 am

Sounds like you live in an extremely thick bubble if you think that a government led gun confiscation would go over well in America.

I don’t think you answered Phil’s specific question about “one, two, a hundred Ruby Ridges”, and I too would be curious to know your answer.

It does make you wonder about the “responsible gun owner”, just as the emptying of shelves for AR-15s, high-capacity magazines and certain kinds of ammunition in recent days, often at prices well over MSRP, makes you wonder what kind of measured, unpanicking response those people would offer as NRA Kindergarten Copz.


nick s 12.23.12 at 1:32 am

let’s note that modern conservatives who most love war and who were most eager to send soldiers off to war were the ones who chose to opt out of it when they had the opportunity to serve (Cheney, GW Bush.)

Wayne LaPierre was n-n-n-n-nineteen in 1968; perhaps he regrets not having the chance to shoot up Vietnamese villages and is just paying it forward.


William Berry 12.23.12 at 1:46 am

@MM#24: ” . . places online where you can keep yourself intellectually isolated”

Ah, the pleasures of intellectual isolation. I grew up surrounded by wingnuts among some of my family members, most of my schoolmates, and nearly all of my professional colleagues over these last sixty years. Don’t under-estimate the value of being able to escape to a warm, safe place!

On the subject of the OP: The crazy talk serves a real purpose. We are talking about and it is in the media generally. The Overton Window is already slipping back to the right.


LFC 12.23.12 at 1:50 am

Main Street Muse @93
Although the line about sharpened swords rings a bell, I’m a bit embarrassed to say I don’t think I’ve ever read Goodbye to All That, famous as it is (nor a lot of other WW1 memoirs). But I might mention Anthony Eden’s Another World 1897-1917, written at the very end of his life in the mid-1970s, which deals movingly w/ his WW1 experience, all the more so for being told in an understated way.


Main Street Muse 12.23.12 at 2:18 am

Nick S @97 “Wayne LaPierre was n-n-n-n-nineteen in 1968; perhaps he regrets not having the chance to shoot up Vietnamese villages and is just paying it forward.”

Great – the great advocate for gun violence weaseled out of an opportunity to serve his country in war.

LFC @99 – I read the Graves memoir years and years ago for school – and not even sure why (American Studies major.) An intriguing picture of a life transformed by the great war, as all of Europe and the world was as well. Eden’s story sounds intriguing. Will try to check it out.


someotherdude 12.23.12 at 2:35 am

I was under the impression that the Australian experiment was designed to specifically curb spree killing, and not to limit all gun violence.


DrDick 12.23.12 at 2:59 am

Mountain Man @ 95

Then link to them. You keep saying these things but provide absolutely no evidence to back it up. WTF should I believe you?


Salient 12.23.12 at 3:48 am

DNFTT. Mountain Man is only here to harass and harry people.


Dr. Hilarius 12.23.12 at 4:04 am

MountainMan@95: I have no idea who Jamie Foxx is. My friend owns a bar and is acutely aware that he can be held liable if a patron leaves his establishment and gets in an accident. He figures that ammo could be held to a standard of responsibility at least as stringent as alcohol.

Yes, I’m familiar with handloading. I’ve done it. Don’t assume everyone here is ignorant of firearms. There is no constitutional right to handload your own ammunition. It could be banned outright or require purchasers of powder to establish their specific tagent. Now someone could manufacture their own gunpowder but I suspect this would be a pretty small group. No restriction on firearms or ammunition would be foolproof. The question is whether it could decrease firearm deaths to some appreciable degree.

By the way, I own at least five rifles that easily qualify as assault weapons (certainly under the standards of the 1994 ban). Let’s see, a FN/FAL, two civilian AK-47s (one Chinese, one Bulgarian), a Ruger Mini-14, a Russian SKS with an after-market folding stock, and a couple of others that might not qualify. I won’t bother to list the handguns. I do understand the pathology of these weapons, recognizing it in myself. I’m not likely to go on a killing spree, however, being the kind of guy who rescues rats from my cat’s mouth. If I had to give up these guns I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. I could get by with my Husqvarna 30.06 and Winchester model 1898 .22. All of it locked in a safe bolted to the house foundation.


Dr. Hilarius 12.23.12 at 4:14 am

Ooops. Model 1890.


Ken 12.23.12 at 4:27 am

@12: we would need armed guards in churches, movie theaters, streets in NY, isolated roads in PA, train cars

Which just means the shooters switch to Little League games, nursing homes, nightclubs, and shopping malls. So we station guards in all those places, and they switch to funerals, daycare centers, ferryboats, and opera houses. So we station guards in all those places…


vrgil xenophon 12.23.12 at 4:37 am

1) Regarding the gun ban in Australia I should note that armed robberies are up 69% since the gun ban; assault with guns up 28%, gun murders up 19% and home invasions (now that armed thieves know that they will likely be met with no or little armed resistance) are up 21% since the ban.

2) regarding concealed carry laws it seems that virtually all studies show crime rates have dropped dramatically across the board following their institution in almost every jurisdiction in the nation, while jurisdiction with highly restrictive gun ownership laws like Chicago, Detroit, NYC and D.C are awash in gun crime. Anyone with any statistics/findings to the contrary?

3) In the year 2000 the LA Times lauded Clinton for injecting 120 million (in real dollars–not “proposals”) in federal grants to put armed law officers in local schools that year alone. Was this leftist God of the Democrats and/or “the left” wrong? Misguided? If not, why be critical of similar NRA proposals?

4) Chris@85/

The farmer’s rifle used during the Revolution was the technological assault rifle of its day. In fact American civilian farmers were better armed than British troops equipped only with muskets, as the rifled barrel was a distinct technological advantage allowing greater accuracy over greater distances.. It seems plain from my reading of the contemporary historical record that the framers fully intended that civilians be armed as individuals with weapons fully equal to any in the world as a guard against tyrannical govt. To think the Founders would go to the trouble of risking their lives prosecuting a revolution only to meekly surrender their freedoms unarmed to a new leviathan strains credulity. No less than that lefty of lefties Larry Tribe has opined that the framers obviously intended the 2nd amend. to apply to individuals and weapons of advanced design for their time: “Without the rifle mounted over the farmer’s fireplace you don’t get Lexington or Concord” he has written. The recent history of major crises/emergencies like Katrina and the Rodney King LA riots also proves the utility of many of the weapons those here would seek to ban as history records (YouTube, etc,) home and business owners in many cases actively used them to protect their homes and businesses from looters when Police were totally absent from the scene (by design in the case of LA and thru disorganization in the case of Katrina. ) How many law-abiding readers here living in major metro areas in the US–given a nation awash in powerful arms readily available to the criminal element, would be content to defend their home and loved ones or their business that constituted their entire financial lively-hood from armed looters with weapons of a capacity less than each their more numerous attackers held? Especially as the Police would in all probability be nowhere available as Katrina and the LA riots proved? Or restricted in the effort to lever/bolt-action-only weapons (as is the case in Australia) while their attackers were not so limited?


vrgil xenophon 12.23.12 at 4:44 am

***can’t even spell my own nom de plume correctly tonight–and Virgil is my middle name as well, lol.


Liberty60 12.23.12 at 4:47 am

@Corey Robin 57:
I think it would take someone of more academic and intellectual firepower than me to adequately make this thesis, but it does appear in my witness that conservatism has changed over my lifetime.
Both in the economic sphere and the cultural, it isn’t about standing athwart the world and yelling stop anymore. Maybe out of a counter-revolutionary nihilism, or some other motivating basis, contemporary conservatism has adopted a radical posture of embracing disruption and chaos.

You see it in the rightwing blogosphere where there are cries of “let it burn!”; you see it in the economic sphere where “disruption” and creative destruction” are championed. You see it in how much power the libertarians have gained against the Main Street business culture of the GOP.

Even in regards to this topic of gun control, you can see how the conservative movement rejects the actual history of the 2nd Amendment, (e.g., ignoring that in the Old West, the carrying of guns was often banned outright) in favor of a mythology that asserts that violent gun culture is the essence of Americana.

It isn’t Edmund Burke who motivates the conservative movement-instead, they are the Jacobins now, setting fire to the city in order to build from the ashes.


MPAVictoria 12.23.12 at 7:00 am

“DNFTT. Mountain Man is only here to harass and harry people.”
Exactly. Classic troll behavior. Pretend to be reasonable at first and then slowly move the goal posts.


Kaveh 12.23.12 at 8:19 am

@110 Yeah, because coming in and immediately spouting off his ‘expertise’ about different types and functions of guns makes him sound like a totally reasonable person, and not at all like a caricature of a right-wing gun nut from a feminist blog.


Kaveh 12.23.12 at 8:28 am

@107 The farmer’s rifle used during the Revolution was the technological assault rifle of its day.

The whole point of that comment was precisely that these analogies to historical technology aren’t precisely valid. E.g. although free speech and protection from unreasonable search & seizure still apply on the internet, even though it wasn’t around in the 1800s, the exact definitions of protected speech and unreasonable search in the new medium are not obvious or uncontroversial.


bad Jim 12.23.12 at 9:26 am

Actually, the musket was the rapid-firing short-range weapon of the day. A trained infantryman with a musket and a box full of paper cartridges could fire once or twice per minute, I think (bite off end of cartridge, pour a bit of powder in the pan, stuff the rest down the barrel, fire) whereas loading a rifle was comparatively time-consuming (powder, wad and ball being individually dispensed, some force required to ram the ball because it had to fit tightly in the barrel). Look at Morgan’s order of battle at Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse to understand the dynamics of a mixed force of riflemen, militia and regulars.

“An armed society is a polite society” is pure science fiction – it came from the pen of Robert Heinlein, who, though a graduate of the Naval Academy, never saw combat.


Peter T 12.23.12 at 9:32 am

A quick search suggests the numbers in virgil @107’s first paragraph are not correct. At least according to the Australian Institute of Criminology: the graph at http://www.aic.gov.au/statistics/homicide/weapon.html sums it up, but the others also seem out of whack.


Slex 12.23.12 at 9:35 am

@ vrgil xenophon 107

I don’t know where you take your statistics from, or whether you make it up on the spot, but the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime seems to disagree with you on the “gun murders up 19%”. The homicide by firearms rate is down from 0,3 per 100 000 in 1995 to 0,1 per 100 000 in 2008.

There has been an increase in all types of assaults , however the number of assualts causing death has fallen, according to data from the Australian government.


Slex 12.23.12 at 9:44 am

@ Peter T 114

The graph in your post can be misleading because it shows relative use of firearms and weapons. In principle it is possible that while fewer homicides are commited with firearms relative to knives, the absolute number and the rate of firearm homicide is higher. In this case it is not, but we can’t infer it from this graph alone.


Guido Nius 12.23.12 at 9:48 am

Each school should have its own drone!


bad Jim 12.23.12 at 10:28 am

As it happens, I have a motley collection of shotguns. They’re not nearly as useful as my drawers of screwdrivers and wrenches and pliers and hammers, and in emergencies even those aren’t as useful as my credit cards. One can always envision a scenario in which one particular tool is essential, but in my neighborhood, where I’ve lived for a dreadfully long time, where deer eat the roses and agapanthus in the front yard and raccoons play ball in the back, my nephews have had more fun with my telescope than with my dad’s twelve-gauge. That’s not to mention the killer appliance of our age, the computer…


Chris Williams 12.23.12 at 10:29 am

‘Virgil Xenophon’ (hey, I never worked out that handle before. ‘VX’. Love it.)’s post @107 above is interesting, because he’s clearly living in a very different subjective universe to the people with access to the numbers. This is worrying, because it implies that there’s a whole other ‘pro-gun scholarship’ out their, convincing its supporters that their world view is correct all the way down. It’s a failure of the academy to communicate.

NB – identifying this particular instance of wrongness does not invalidate the potential existence of other sets of faux scholarship out there: I leave identification of possible candidates to other threads.


NickT 12.23.12 at 10:36 am

I submit that those who advocate sending small children in suicide squads against men armed with significant firepower should be required by law to demonstrate that this tactic would be efficacious by themselves rushing a shooter armed with the appropriate firepower. If their approach works, we shall have learned something, If it fails we shall not have exposed our children to it. What say you, McArdle? How much faith do you really have in this idea? Hmmm?

MountainMan’s entire do nothing approach is reminiscent of the desperate stalling tactics employed by the tobacco industry when confronted with the evidence that cigarettes did indeed promote cancer. We managed to find enough willpower to defeat that lobby – I think we can find a way to defeat the small minority of gun-owners represented by the deranged NRA.


Phil 12.23.12 at 10:44 am

Sounds like you live in an extremely thick bubble if you think that a government led gun confiscation would go over well in America

Sounds like you’re living in a gun-nut fantasy if you think that the result would be widespread armed resistance. Most people everywhere have a tendency to obey the law, even when the law changes. It also sounds like you’re relishing the prospect of hundreds or thousands of people doing a Randy Weaver, which strikes me as sick.


Dan Hardie 12.23.12 at 11:28 am

I’ve served as a soldier in Afghanistan, I’ve been in a number of gunfights (‘contacts’ as the British Army calls them), and I was wounded by a machine-gun bullet in January 2010. This idea that teenage boys and/or a couple of schoolteachers could successfully rush a gunman is the kind of bollocks that could only be written by someone who has never, ever been in combat, and who has not even spent five minutes thinking about the basic realities of armed violence.


MjM 12.23.12 at 11:35 am

It appears to me that gun owners in the US demand that others respect their legal rights as per the Second Amendment but if any legal restrictions are introduced then these same persons will disobey that law? So these people feel that they should only obey the laws that they deem correct.

You cannot have it both ways: “respect the laws, I’m entitled to my guns” or “I don’t care about the law, I’m entitled to my guns.”

Do you obey the rule of law, or not?


dsquared 12.23.12 at 12:19 pm

the tactic of “unarmed children versus man with gun” was tested extensively during the period of the second intifada when the PLO seemed to be using it as their main military tactic. It did not work.


PatrickinIowa 12.23.12 at 1:56 pm

When a gun advocate asks for research, gently remind him that gun lobbyists in the US have recruited the federal government to deny funding and access to information that would allow such research to take place. It’s almost as if, 1) They have an idea what the research will show and 2) They think “liberty” involves making sure we censor what scientists study. Take a look: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1487470. (Also, what says “liberty” like censoring what healthcare providers can say to their patients?)

Or don’t gently remind him. I’m an academic, so my response to people whose political agenda includes suppressing research, as well as making it easier to kill children, is likely to be “Fuck you guys.”


chris 12.23.12 at 2:13 pm

The farmer’s rifle used during the Revolution was the technological assault rifle of its day. In fact American civilian farmers were better armed than British troops equipped only with muskets, as the rifled barrel was a distinct technological advantage allowing greater accuracy over greater distances.

As responses go, this is remarkably unresponsive. It’s physically impossible to carry out a modern spree killing with *any* Founding-era weapon. Regardless of what weapons your targets have or don’t have, you just can’t shoot enough people fast enough. It’s not a matter of relative capabilities, it’s a matter of *absolute* capabilities that makes extending the 2A to modern weaponry something way outside the contemplation of the Founders.

I doubt the Founders would have been thrilled by the government having assault rifles, but it’s not at all clear that giving *everyone* assault rifles is a solution, or even leveling the playing field in any meaningful way. Sniper rifles are even worse, given the amount of specialized training required to use them to their full potential. And, of course, the army doesn’t stop at assault rifles — are you going to advocate for widespread private ownership of rocket-propelled grenades, tanks, and cruise missiles so that the state won’t be better armed than the people? If terrorists might have a dirty bomb, should I build one myself to defend myself from them? These suggestions are absurd on their face. Technology has moved on from the day of the citizen soldier.

The first guns weakened the power of professional warriors — anyone could pick up a gun and shoot a knight who had been training in arms since boyhood. But now the wheel has turned again; modern weapons and tactics require trained professionals to carry out. A disorganized mob — or even a well-organized (but not professional) militia — with assault rifles are going to be on the wrong end of a huge casualty disparity even in a guerrilla conflict, let alone if they try to do anything remotely resembling open battle, or taking or defending a fixed location. And are doing exactly that, in the places where that kind of thing is going on. If the people of Afghanistan, armed with AK-47s, stand no chance against the American army (they can keep the blood flowing, but only if most of it is their own), what makes you think the people of America armed with Bushmasters would do any different?

A weekend warrior can take a modern weapon and massacre lots of civilians — that’s why we’re having this thread. But you can’t put together 10,000 of those jokers and come up with a military unit capable of taking on *actual* modern military units.

If the original purpose of the Second Amendment was to put individuals on par with states in fighting power, then that purpose is gone whether you allow individuals to own assault rifles or not. So why put up with the spree shootings?


Watson Ladd 12.23.12 at 2:45 pm

chris, there is this little thing called self-defence. Ossian Sweet wasn’t fighting the state when he defended his home from a racist mob, but rather doing what the state refused to do. The right to bear arms is not for the purpose of assisting the military or some quaint milita, but the very real purpose of ensuring minorities are safe from the predations of the majority.


Shay Begorrah 12.23.12 at 2:46 pm

Readers may be interested in the history of the original assault weapon, the German Sturmgewehr 44 and the development of the assault rifle thereafter.

It is of more than academic interest because the assault rifle concept evolved to allow the individual soldier, possibly a conscript with poor marksmanship, to achieve rapid and controlled fire in a constricted environment while minimizing the time spent reloading and maximizing the amount of ammunition that could be carried.

So in a way the assault rifle was developed to deal with the problem of being “rushed” (though by inferiorly armed adults, not young children) and older firearm configurations such as the bolt action rifle, the revolver, and even the seven or eight shot automatic pistol just were not designed for mass discriminate close quarters killing in the same way.

Also, not to pile on Mountain Man too much but the statement The Bushmaster is not a high-powered rifle. is extremely disingenuous – the comparatively small size of the .223 cartridge and the therefore controllable recoil of the assault rifle is what make it so very dangerous. The assault rifle was designed as a personal tool for critically injuring people after all.

A classic example of just how dangerous the assault rifle is, even in a place where people are familiar with firearms, would be Baruch Goldtstein, an Israeli settler who killed 29 people (and injured 129) before being overpowered while reloading (or running out of ammunition, accounts are unclear). Needless to say in this case there were armed guards and adults present.

As a counterpoint there was an equally terrible massacre of children in the UK in the mid nineteen nineties where the perpetrator was _only_ armed with several automatic pistols and revolvers. The lesson might be that if you have to have legalised personal firearm ownership the number and ammunition capacity need to be severely curtailed.


Ogden Wernstrom 12.23.12 at 3:34 pm

Does anyone else remember the uproar over plastic mop buckets when they started to become widely available about 25 years ago? Rubbermaid® has become the Glock® of mop buckets.

They can take my galvanized mop bucket when they pry it from my cold, dead hands!


Shay Begorrah 12.23.12 at 3:47 pm

@Watson Ladd

The right to bear arms is not for the purpose of assisting the military or some quaint milita, but the very real purpose of ensuring minorities are safe from the predations of the majority.

I am sure oppressed minorities in jurisdictions encumbered by strict gun laws are even now agitating for the right for everyone to be allowed to tool up, secure in the knowledge that in the event of a confrontation the racist mob will have forgotten to bring their own guns. (imagine if Trayvon Martin had had a concealed weapon to defend himself with – different headlines then, eh?).


virgil xenophon 12.23.12 at 3:49 pm

FYI The “assault rifle” may have been designed as a tool to kill people, but the Ar-15 was not. For those whose wishing fidelity to history, the AR-15 was originally commissioned by the Air Force from a civilian agency for use as a survival rifle for procuring small game by SAC aircrews downed over the Soviet Union or the PRC during combat in a WW III scenario.. The Army at first rejected it because of the NIH syndrome, preferring the M-14 it was already equipped with, but later adopted the modified version known as the AR-16 for changed doctrinal reasons, but also because its light-weight and size was more compatible for use by small-statured soldiers in the Third-World armies to which we exported weapons.


Shay Begorrah 12.23.12 at 4:06 pm


For those whose wishing fidelity to history, the AR-15 was originally commissioned by the Air Force from a civilian agency for use as a survival rifle for procuring small game by SAC aircrews downed over the Soviet Union or the PRC during combat in a WW III scenario.

The rifle you are thinking of is the AR-7 perhaps? A very different animal from the AR-15, with a different set of intended prey.


phosphorious 12.23.12 at 4:12 pm

FYI The “assault rifle” may have been designed as a tool to kill people, but the Ar-15 was not. For those whose wishing fidelity to history, the AR-15 was originally commissioned by the Air Force from a civilian agency for use as a survival rifle for procuring small game by SAC aircrews downed over the Soviet Union or the PRC during combat in a WW III scenario. . .

And once again, the discussion grinds to a halt as a gun nut masturbates over the technical and historical details of his totem.


virgil xenophon 12.23.12 at 4:24 pm


Interesting that you bring up the subject of mop buckets, OW, because not too long ago in the recent past circa the early 90s there was grave concern over the number of very young children drowning (in the hundreds nation-wide annually) while playing/exploring in those large white, 5-Gal plastic buckets/tubs used by contractors for tile grout, spackling paste, etc. when used by (mainly by the poor) as “re-cycled” waste/washing/cleaning receptacles . Numerous design changes were contemplated but none being either cost-efficient or really effective in preventing drownings, nothing was done, and an out-right ban was dismissed out-of-hand as being too damaging to the construction industry. So, presently responsibility for the prevention from drowning deaths by the children of the poor in this manner (who continue to die by drowning in the hundreds annually via this method) still rests on the shoulders of attentive mothers–as it should– or would you suggest taking up the banner calling again for an out-right national ban on such receptacles? I mean, “If it would save just one life!.” Remember, it’s “for the children!”


Shay Begorrah 12.23.12 at 4:26 pm


And once again, the discussion grinds to a halt as a gun nut masturbates over the technical and historical details of his totem.

I was interested in guns as a child in the manner of a train spotter but it takes a particular kind of cultural environment not to be disturbed by them (or an enthusiasm for them) as an adult. Assault weapons are tools for killing people, the majority of the effort that goes into designing and building them is focussed on increasing the ease, reliability and economic efficiency of taking life.

It is a hell of a thing.


Harold 12.23.12 at 4:38 pm

According to Daniel Howe (in “What Hath God Wrought”) contrary to their own mythology, the well- (or ill-) organized militias of Kentucky were repeatedly and ignominiously routed by the professional British soldiers in the War of 1812 in New Orleans. Howe concludes that the idea of virtuous republican militias beating trained armies is largely a fantasy, though to one Americans irrationally clung.

Machiavelli’s militias were also a failure in Florence, sadly for him.


Bruce Wilder 12.23.12 at 4:40 pm

Liberty60 @ 56 & 109

You’ve made an interesting argument, concerning how conservatives have ceased to be conservative, and “out of a counter-revolutionary nihilism, or some other motivating basis, contemporary conservatism has adopted a radical posture of embracing disruption and chaos.” And, we’ve seen, in comments on this thread, hints of how conservatives have constructed not just a counter-narrative to the liberal or progressive ones, but a wholly separate epistemic loop, to support what seem on their face to be frequently absurd ideas about the relation of guns to violence. (Similar epistemic loops seem to exist on economic questions.)

The anger and rebellion evident on the Right has been bottled up and isolated, where it can be useful to the plutocracy, monitored and managed, but not a threat. They’re not wrong, morally and instinctively, about the rottenness and corruption of the system, or even about the imminent threat that the state poses to the great majority of the people. But, they’re conveniently ill-informed, their reason deliberately debased, their attention distracted.


Kaveh 12.23.12 at 4:42 pm

virgil @131 of course conveniently neglects to mention that the AR-15 is just a remake of the AS-569, which was used extensively during the Korean War, in running engagements fought between South Korean and Chinese-equipped units, based on the tactics used in guerilla-on-gorilla action on the banks of the Crimea River, after which the gnomes were finally driven back into Mordor.


chrismealy 12.23.12 at 5:14 pm

I love the rhetorical strategy gun nuts use, to just bore everybody to death with trivia and quibbles about guns. We ought to teach children how to stop attackers with tedium.


virgil xenophon 12.23.12 at 5:17 pm

Shay Begorrah@132/

I stand corrected. This geezers memory has obviously atrophied. Apologizes. The AR-15 was, however, designed by the same design team (Stoner/Fairchild) that designed the AR-7 as a follow-on logical extension of the concept of a light, semi-automatic weapon such as the AR-7, I just had forgotten my own “fidelity to history.” Mea culpa


Corey Robin 12.23.12 at 6:04 pm

What #133 and #139 said.


Liberty60 12.23.12 at 6:05 pm

Bruce Wilder @137:
Apropos of the season, consider the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”, where Jimmy Stewart if confronted by two alternate worlds, Bedford Falls and Pottersville.

Which world more clearly aligns with contemporary liberalism, and which aligns with contemporary conservatism?

30 years ago, my answer would have been that Bedford Falls represents the conservative vision; Calm, staid establishments and institutions, intact loving families. Lives marked by obedience to the authroity of the moral order, and loyalty to the community above self interest.

Yet today? How would conservatives view the fact that in Bedford Falls, the commerce sector was tightly restrained and regulated, if not by federal laws, by local social mores and custom.
There was no “creative destruction”, businesses weren’t broken up and sold off, the main ethos was not one of radical self interest;
The people of Bedford Falls rushed to sacrifice and tax themselves for the war effort; they gladly accepted governmental rationing and control trusting that it was for the greater good.

The “highly feminized” setting of the local high school didn’t have armed guards standing watch, fingers on the trigger awaiting a madman intent on slaughter.

The conservatives claim they want a restoration of the “traditional” culture; except they scorn actual tradition, and instead substitute a mythical, bizarre vision of what they think it must have been like.

No living American has any adult memory of life Pre-New Deal; the actual way that people lived, how they took care of the sick and the elderly, how they transacted commerce, how they worked; these are all now only available to us from books and history.
So its easy to project our own desires onto the past, and try to resurrect something that never existed.


nick s 12.23.12 at 8:03 pm

home and business owners in many cases actively used them to protect their homes and businesses from looters when Police were totally absent from the scene (by design in the case of LA and thru disorganization in the case of Katrina. )

Katrina? You mean the armed vigilante mobs that mowed down people for the crime of walking while black?

Thanks, Virge, for making the case to take guns out of their hands.


nick s 12.23.12 at 8:29 pm

This is worrying, because it implies that there’s a whole other ‘pro-gun scholarship’ out their, convincing its supporters that their world view is correct all the way down.

I’d correct that to “pro-gun epistemology”, given that he obviously regards vigilante mobs in New Orleans as an exemplar of armed defence, even though there are convictions for one incident (cops on the Danziger Bridge) and an indictment against one person accused a of racially-motivated shooting.

Unless perhaps barricaded blocks guarded by people shooting on sight at those of a different hue is Virge’s idea of how armed civilian defence should be done?

(And while not wanting to engage with the Top Trumps wankery, the standard NATO 5.56mm cartridge is based upon the .223; draw your own conclusions.)


Bruce Wilder 12.23.12 at 8:31 pm

I’m not sure that “contemporary liberalism” imagines anything at all; certainly, neoliberalism, the ideology of Clinton and Obama and much of the soi-disant liberal or progressive blogosphere, has proven itself an architectural plan for Pottersville. With a liberalism like that, who needs conservatives?

Maybe that’s why the conservative tribes — most of them — have become improbable radicals — they’ve been displaced by the transformation of liberals and progressives into improbable reactionaries, feebly standing athwart the rapid deterioration of the regulatory & welfare state, whispering, “slow down”. (And some of the few genuine conservatives of the reality-based sort left, alarmed by the accelerating rate of structural deterioration, seemed to be joining them — something I take for a bad sign.)

I’m not sure which disturbs me more: the elite dialectic between corrupt neoliberals and corrupt libertarians, which generates the Washington Consensus on plutocrat-friendly policy alternatives (“we have to reform entitlements”! “the deficit!”) and the kabuki performed for cable news consumption, or the popular (populist?) epistemic chasm that becomes apparent in discussion of guns and gun control, or in the Tea Party response to anything.

Mountain Man deployed a fairly impressive array of tactics to prevent a productive exchange, and I really don’t know what one could say to virgil xenophon, which would establish a correspondence between his plane of unreality and the actual world. (VX — isn’t that a landscape-despoiling nerve agent?)

The NRA is a rare beast in today’s American politics: a mass-membership organization. There’s very little in the way of social affiliation at work in American society today — it is generally at a very low ebb, with adults reporting few intimate and committed relationships — and political movements, powered by mass-membership are almost non-existent. Historically, that’s very odd. And, even the organizations that do exist seem very weak. AARP always seems on the verge of merging with its interests as an insurance company. And, although I don’t know, I suspect, just from the little I’ve seen in recent days, that the NRA is little more than a fancy front for a gun manufacturers’ lobby and marketing operation. Still, their ability to propagandize and mobilize a membership gives them rare electoral power. And, they won’t fade with the next news cycle, will they?

I used to watch Glen Beck when he was on Fox. It was just a weird stream of consciousness, full of emotion without any structure of reason or critical thought. Is that what gun nuts feed on? Can an antidote be devised?


Main Street Muse 12.23.12 at 9:02 pm

“The NRA is a rare beast in today’s American politics: a mass-membership organization.”

Kind of a union for gun owners. A large collective. Due-paying members. Powerful lobby. But no one questions their right to organize. Unlike labor in America.


Bruce Wilder 12.23.12 at 9:50 pm

Kind of a union for gun owners. . . .

Cum subculture. Like the Amish, too. With their own values and moral narratives and worldviews.

There’s a lot of democratic politics in a functioning labor union: locals and nationals and federations, feeding a vertical exchange of values and views. It can all go terribly wrong — the democracy can be subverted or corrupted, as members lose interest or leadership loses its integrity.

And, subcultures can become increasingly weird and authoritarian.

It might be interesting to know what’s going on with the NRA, to drive the generation of the gun-nut culture and worldview, as it seems but an example of the phenomenon of the alternative reality Right.


Main Street Muse 12.23.12 at 11:04 pm

To Bruce Wilder, as I understand it, NRA gets a cut from guns and bullets sold. Great marketing. Get a gun in every school. If only tobacco companies had thought of that…


ponce 12.23.12 at 11:10 pm

Looking over the NRA tax forms at the link posted upthread, the NRA take in over a quarter of a billion dollars a year and doesn’t seem to actually do anything other than raise money and threaten to primary disobedient politicians.


john in california 12.24.12 at 1:00 am

MM @ 67 on why no one has thought to have armed security guards in elementary schools:
“One could argue that it is because high schoolers and college kids can be dangerous, but elementary schoolers are mostly harmless. ”
mostly harmless??? –
but never mind, that is not the most revealing thing about your statement, rather it is your assumption that the security guards are there to protect the students from each other. Columbine not withstanding, is that the primary reason for security? If so, especially if the students ( and the guards) believe it is so, what kind of paranoid atmosphere is created? I went to high school in the early sixties, and the only security we had was a vice principal wandering the halls shooing people to their classes and checking the bathrooms for smokers. We had fights – fists – and we had loneliness and angst and prejudice and cliques, but we weren’t killers. I don’t think kids are today but the fear driven right wing solution of more guns and the cop out of the know-better dems to go along lest they seem weak or sympathetic to the nutter who shoots up a school leaves the average non-winger left disgusted. I don’t see anybody in power doing anything more serious about guns than they are about global warming or the power of the 1 % to dictate our economic policies.


Nabakov 12.24.12 at 3:27 am

@Watson Ladd

“The right to bear arms is not for the purpose of assisting the military or some quaint milita, but the very real purpose of ensuring minorities are safe from the predations of the majority.”

So how did that work out for the Black Panthers?


MountainMan 12.24.12 at 3:39 am

“Attention tribe, do not engage this man in conversation, as I’m quite certain he trolls!” I know you’ve yet to progress past Step One of the program, but please, not everyone you disagree with is trolling. And frankly, trying to quell the discussion by heedlessly branding commenters as trolls seems rather rude. Though if you still feel the need to insult me, wingnut seems to be a popular choice.

@Dr. Hilarius(104)
Jamie Foxx is an actor, comedian, and musician who has been in the news lately to both promote his upcoming movie and to advocate for increased gun control. I thought he was the comedian who had the popular routine about “bullet control” in the 90s, but I was wrong, and it’s actually Chris Rock. (If you want to hear it for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuX-nFmL0II Some of his quotes are pretty interesting from a cultural perspective, since most people here don’t view lifting weights and carrying a gun as means of personal protection in the way Chris Rock does.)

And I actually agree with you to a large degree about bullet taxes and banning handloading. I’m just not convinced that they would reduce both the number of firearm murders or accidental deaths, which I hope is the goal. I figure that, by and large, the people most affected by a ammo tax are not those most likely to commit murder. They are those who compulsively hunt and practice shooting: competitive shooters, collectors, and other “gun nuts”. (Remember: it was Adam Lanza’s mother, the gun nut, who owned the guns and took him to the range, and she didn’t kill anyone.)

Furthermore, regular practice and training are absolutely essential to the proper use of firearms. I really wish I could find statistics on this (though a proper study might be hard to carry out), but I would guess that if you graphed the number of bullets someone has shot in their lifetime against the number of accidental firearm-related injuries they have caused/sustained, it would have the same parabolic shape of a graph of miles driven vs. accidents.

So, I’m not sure taxing bullets would be effective, but it would be definitely be disruptive to the gun nut culture.

While game theory suggests that initially staking out an exaggerated, extreme position ultimately leads to common ground closest to one’s “actual goalposts”, that only works in fair negotiating environments. And here at CT, this “optimal” strategy only works for those with goalposts at the Correct position.

Unfortunately, those not afforded the privilege of using the above strategy with impunity have it quite rough. We can’t even engage commenters with the charitable strategy of finding common ground and working out disagreements, because as soon as we step out of line, pitchforking tribalists such as yourself show up with transparently smug attempts to outgroup us.

Try the Principle of Symmetry. Criticizing someone for pointing out factual mistakes and explaining technical details would look ridiculous to you in any other context (think: “scientists and all them ‘facts’!”).

I also have historical flashbacks, but they’re mostly of when the crazies were clamoring for the government to just “Do something!” about the terrorist threat, and they decided to pass the Patriot Act and ruin air travel. You know, for safety.

I think you misunderstood what I was saying. Government led gun confiscation is impossible in today’s political climate, so *theoretically* if any such confiscation were to occur, it would have to be carried tyrannically–without without the consent of the governed–which (obviously) would not go over well.

@Bruce Wilder(145)
I stifled exchange? Surely you jest. Though I will readily admit that this thread is meandering down a winding, off-topic path which I’ve undoubtedly contributed to. And unfortunately, I think my initial comment might have been the wrong turn that got us all lost.

@john in california(150)
Yes, the security guards and metal detectors are there to keep the students under control. I agree that it’s a horrible atmosphere, and I’m not sure what to do about it either.

But your comment is interesting, because it helps me conceptualize worldviews, which I think writ large, occupy the extremes of gun politics in the US. And it is making me think about the key differences in our systemic responses to (1) mutual violence between students in school, much of it gang related, that escalates to the point where guns/knives are involved, and to (2) what we imagine when we hear the term “school shooting”.


Bruce Wilder 12.24.12 at 5:20 am

MM: I figure that, by and large, the people most affected by a ammo tax are not those most likely to commit murder. They are those who compulsively hunt and practice shooting: competitive shooters, collectors, and other “gun nuts”. (Remember: it was Adam Lanza’s mother, the gun nut, who owned the guns and took him to the range, and she didn’t kill anyone.) [emphasis mine]

Now there’s a persuasive use of evidence to support your argument. Some things are beyond parody.


John Q 12.24.12 at 5:40 am

Conservative pundits will sometimes have these “come to Jesus” moments when they realize that they’ve been totally wrong in what they’ve been saying for years on an issue – e.g. WFB on race, Joe Scarborough (recently) on guns.

But they don’t seem to be ready to go the next step, and say to themselves, “Gee, if I’ve been wrong on that, maybe I’ve been wrong about my other positions too.” (As of course they have.)


MountainMan 12.24.12 at 6:30 am

@Bruce Wilder(153)
I was just attempting to preempt the cries of “But Adam Lanza was a gun nut!” that I would have undoubtedly heard if I hadn’t said something. Again, even if Adam Lanza was a gun nut, his actions are still just a single data point, not a comprehensive study. While I am not a Criminologist myself, I spent some time after the Aurora shooting to review the literature, resulting in my own “come to Jesus” moment. (As in, my views on gun control actually moved closer to the views of the Jesus people. Scary, I know.) I’ll post a good summary soon.

Anyways, I’m not sure how your smug dismissal proves anything other than your intense tribalism. I’m not a conservative or a gun nut, so the fact that everyone here keeping trying to paint me with these labels really confuses me. This is why the engineering faculty don’t talk during meeting. The possibility of someone shrieking “you’re not one of us!” is too much to bear.


ponce 12.24.12 at 8:10 am

“Government led gun confiscation is impossible in today’s political climate”

Maybe, but I bet requiring gun owners to pass a mental exam if they want to keep their weapon would have well over majority support.

And taking a page from the wingnuts, I’d say requiring a drug test to purchase guns or ammo would, too.


Bruce Wilder 12.24.12 at 8:24 am

MM: I’m not a conservative or a gun nut, so the fact that everyone here keeping trying to paint me with these labels really confuses me.

That you keep painting yourself as a conservative gun nut confuses somebody.


jonathan hopkin 12.24.12 at 10:37 am

This conversation shows the conservatives and gun nuts have already won the argument by dictating the boundaries of the possible. All you have to do is invoke the two century old constitution (why can’t you change it? It’s not the bible), the huge stock of existing firearms and large number of people who like shooting them, and the difficulties of multivariate longitudinal analysis, and say ‘oh it’s all very difficult’. Even if things go inconceivably well, the US will still have more, and more powerful, guns available to the unhinged than any other democracy, and hence there will continue to be mass killings. How about simply starting from the notion that we don’t want any more mass killings and look at the characteristics of countries where they don’t happen? If Americans don’t do that, it’s because in the end they don’t really care enough about it to challenge existing institutions. As others have pointed out, 9/11 (in which fewer people died than the average annual gun deaths in the US) was enough to turn the world upside down. If Sandy Hook and all the others can’t do the same, it’s because in the end too many Americans (some of whom are commenting here) accept these deaths as a price worth paying for their weird idea of freedom.


hidflect 12.24.12 at 10:59 am

“… training children to rush psychopaths ..”

This could only work if they had explosive, jihadi suicide jackets attached. A better solution might be to seed anti-personnel mines around the school and teach all the kids where they lie. Added bonus: Darwin removes the stupid ones.


faustusnotes 12.24.12 at 3:27 pm

MountainMan and xenophon have now managed to run a whole thread where they present basic facts that are shown to be wrong – often within a couple of comments of the original revelation – and then go on, without shame or apology, to present new facts that are also shown to be wrong. They’re not even trolls – just some kind of virus that exists to spread stupid. Engaging them is beyond a waste of your time. If xenophon can come on here spouting wrong numbers, be corrected (twice) and then shamelessly spout wrong historical information about the AR-15, he (it) has literally shown itself to be more bot than man. The only solution to such insane levels of stupid is to ignore.


Ogden Wernstrom 12.24.12 at 3:53 pm

RE: The flip/flop of Conservative views (@56, @57, et c.)
In my destitute years, I found a book that was out-of-budget, but I selected the shortest chapter to read while I stood in the bookstore. I was surprised that the shortest chapter in this one-chapter-per-Amendment book was about the 2nd Amendment.

I’m working from 20-years-ago memory, but what I took away from it was that right-wing/Conservatives and left-wing/Liberals each apply a different standard to the 2nd Amendment than they do to the others. The 2nd Amendment is the only Amendment that contains language which left-wing/Liberals interpret as a restrictive clause, where right-wing/Conservatives think “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” is an amplifying clause. I think it went on to point out that there are many other examples where the left- and right-wing view through a 2nd-Amendment-specific lens. (I think the technology issue in @85, @107, @112, et c. is similar….)

I think the book was , by Ellen M. Alderman and Caroline Bouvier Kennedy.


Ogden Wernstrom 12.24.12 at 3:58 pm

Sorry, I neglected the closing tag there.

I think the book was In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action


BenP 12.24.12 at 4:48 pm

Re: 155 MM “Again, even if Adam Lanza was a gun nut, his actions are still just a single data point, not a comprehensive study”

Just out of interest how many six year old children must die before you’re happy with the data?


Charles Peterson 12.24.12 at 5:06 pm

#142… Lack of memory or facts can sometimes give a positive glow to the past, when the reality may be far different.

Some pre-New Deal data points:

1911…the Triangle Factory fire in NYC, working women burned alive in a locked factory

Sometime around that time my grandmother had a dispute with her brother over who was to inheirit the nicer house on the north side of a lake somewhere in Minnesota. This was a fairly well-to-do farming family. One day my grandmother charged over to the nicer house with my infant father in arms to have another argument. As a result, my grandmother was involuntarily confined in a mental hospital for Schizophrenia for the rest of her life. My mother visited her mother-in-law in the early 1950’s and reported there was no need whatsoever for her to have been so confined, but she was far too old to move at that time. Meanwhile, a few years after my grandmother’s commitment my grandfather fell down a flight of stairs, and died. So my father was raised by his eldest sister for half of his childhood. Nobody seems to have thought of taking his mother out of the mental hospital. After all, medical science had determined she was sick, and that was that.


Walt 12.24.12 at 5:11 pm

hidflect is the only person on this thread with the courage to say what needs to be done.


Freshly Squeezed Cynic 12.24.12 at 7:58 pm

Strangely enough, for all MM’s mocking of the “cosmetic”, everyone’s favourite textualist thinks differently:

”Some limitations “undoubtedly” are permissible, Scalia said, because limitations existed when the Constitution was written: “For example, there was a tort called affrighting, which if you carried around a really horrible weapon just to scare people, like a head ax or something, that was, I believe, a misdemeanor,” he explained.

What is “horrible” and intended to “scare people” can only be on a purely subjective, and potentially “cosmetic” basis, surely?


Mary Mac 12.25.12 at 1:28 am

The NRA is filled with men who think their guns make their dicks appear bigger. I am sick to death of these people. As they rail on about the sanctity of their weapons, they don’t realize we all know their dirty little secret. They are scared shitless, paranoid cowards who can’t see beyond the end of their Bushmaster. (My Gawd, what brilliant marketing strategist came up with that name. When the Bushmaster came out I bet every overcompensating, over the top, die hard idiot rushed out to buy one or two or three) So, how do you defend against this madness?

There are two kinds of people in this country. The ones with the guns and the ones without the guns. How do we get the gun toothpaste back in the tube without killing massive numbers of people? And if we don’t do something massive numbers of people will continue to die.

And, please, vrgil xenophon no more invoking the supposed “disorganization” that went on during Katrina. People were left to drown and starve. There were dozens of helicopters in Biloxi and Rumsfeld refused to allow them be used to rescue or bring supplies to the victims. Funny how Black Water, the protectors of the property of the well to do, showed up before the National Guard did. But that is another story for another time.


nick s 12.25.12 at 1:43 am

I figure that, by and large, the people most affected by a ammo tax are not those most likely to commit murder.

MM, like many of his ilk, still doesn’t accept that individual rights are entwined with broader social responsibilities — specifically, that the structures that allow gun ownership to be cheap and easy for Buford P. Riflehoarder, Jr. are not distinct from the ones that make gun death cheap and easy.

If that reflects a haziness in the text of the holy holy US constitution on this matter, it’s for the same reason that it’s hazy on assault weapons: it’s obsolete.


rootless (@root_e) 12.25.12 at 6:33 am

Nidal Hassan managed to kill 13 people and wound 29 others on a military base, filled with soldiers and armed military policemen, but the 8th grade English class will be able to drop their copies of Animal Farm, vault over their desks and disarm a gunman. Oh.


D Any 12.25.12 at 8:34 am

For better or worse, I just read this post and most of the comments. I often find CT posters and the comment threads examples of serious, tempered discussion. Recent coverage of the Newtown mass shooting does not, to me, seem to fit this pattern. Of course, this is a very emotionally evocative topic, so this is understandable.

I too am frustrated with how the right and “gun nuts” respond to discussion of better regulating firearms. But reading this thread, I was also really frustrated with how Mountain Man (MM), who seemed to be a pretty reasonable interlocutor, got pigeonholed in a way that made the rest of this thread less useful than it could have been. The most recent example that comes to mind is, Bruce Wilder #153 wrote “Now there’s a persuasive use of evidence to support your argument. Some things are beyond parody.” I think what this misses is that at many points MM struck me as simply exploring the issues, constraints, and arguments here, rather than just trying to score points; this was true right from the start when he correctly noted the credibility problems with some research with “pro-gun” conclusions (Lott).

By and large, my impression from reading CT posters and commenters on gun control is that the substance and clear argumentation I expect are lacking, largely replaced with exclusionary rhetoric and emotional appeals. (And I don’t mean to exclude folks on the “pro-gun” side either from this statement.) It would be great if this improved.


GiT 12.25.12 at 9:20 am

Ah, but that’s just because only MPs are allowed to carry firearms on military bases. If every soldier had been packing heat… At least, that’s the story in bizarro world.


Mao Cheng Ji 12.25.12 at 11:49 am

Looking at the situation from the political angle, stricter gun control will be enacted when and only when the easy availability of guns starts threatening the dominant group. As in the Black Panthers/Mulford act situation. Or the ammonium nitrate regulations.

It’s true that the Newtown incident does provide evidence to that effect, but it’s inconclusive, since there is no political motive. Could be a one-off.


Nemo 12.25.12 at 9:49 pm

“Nidal Hassan managed to kill 13 people and wound 29 others on a military base, filled with soldiers and armed military policemen, but the 8th grade English class will be able to drop their copies of Animal Farm, vault over their desks and disarm a gunman. Oh.”

Yup. Ft. Hood is one example where the “bumrushing” tactic didn’t quite work. According to some accounts, some did try, but it rather provoked him.

Even if it’s possible to train all men and women and children to be a hardened suicide squad, the effectiveness of the tactic DEPENDS.


MountainMan 12.25.12 at 11:04 pm

@BenP (163):
God, you sound like a panelist on The View. “Just how many more!” is the probably the worst argument in this thread. At least most people here are smart enough to make their “think of the children!” responses a bit more nuanced.

@Freshly Squeezed Cynic(166):
Ok? I’m not an orientalist, so I don’t know why Scalia’s jurisprudence is supposed to be some argument against me.

@Mary Mac(167):
Please, can we stop with the suggestion that men use things such as guns to “make their dicks appear bigger”? That type of thinking doesn’t help the cause of gender equality.

@D Any(170):
Thanks for both being reasonable, and reading most of the comments before passing judgment. Earlier today I posted about the key finding of major criminology studies, but it never showed up. I tried to repost, but I got the “duplicate content detected” message. I think some of my html tag were wrong, so maybe that’s it. I’ll try to repost soon.


MountainMan 12.25.12 at 11:12 pm

So, here’s my Holiday gift to you all (though by the end of it, I’m sure more of you will think of me as Scrooge than Santa):

On the issue of gun control and levels of violence around the world, one of the most widely-cited studies is by Swiss criminologist Martin Killias. The study, published in 1993, examined 21 countries, and found that gun control had a significant effect on the level of gun violence and total homicides, with the latter being much smaller. However, he expanded the study in 2001 with better data and surprised himself:

Interestingly, no significant correlation with total suicide or homicide rates were found, leaving open the question of possible substitution effects.

Guns, violent crime, and suicide in 21 countries from the Canadian Journal of Criminology.

You might object that we can’t compare the US to many other European countries in aggregate because the US different and needs to be looked at independently.

Let’s see what well-known, provocative FSU criminologist Gary Kleck found in The Impact of Gun Control and Gun Ownership Levels on Violence Rates, published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology and subsequently cited 126 times:

(1) gun prevalence levels generally have no net positive effect on total violence rates, (2) homicide, gun assault, and rape rates increase gun prevalence, (3) gun control restrictions have no net effect on gun prevalence levels, and (4) most gun control restrictions generally have no net effect on violence rates.

Ok, well it is common knowledge that our last Federal Assault Weapon Ban didn’t have a significant effect on crime (see reports by the NRC and CDC), but maybe we just have to ban everything?

Criminologists Don Kates and Gary Mauser examined this question in Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?, published in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. They do a thorough analysis of the literature, most of which comes to similar conclusions: gun control measures are not effective, gun prevalence is not correlated with homicide or suicide rates, etc. To me, the most interesting part of this paper is that it even though it was designed to be a neutral collaboration between a liberal and a conservative criminologist, the paper’s conclusion ends with a quote by Brandon Centerwell of the University of Washington, who when attempting to answer these same questions, had a similar experience:

If you are surprised by our findings, so are we. We did not begin this report with any intent to ‘exonerate’ handguns, but there it is – a negative finding, to be sure, but a negative finding is nevertheless a positive contribution.


james 12.26.12 at 12:28 am

The lnk below backs Virgil Xenophon’s Austraila statistics 1995-2007. The site is pro-gun rights but data is referenced.


On gun issues, you will find that all statistics are self selected for political effect , irrespective of position on the issue.

The only statistics that I have found to be relivant is that gun related crime goes down when job prospects improve.


Freshly Squeezed Cynic 12.26.12 at 12:53 am

MountainMan: The point is, there is fairly good reasons why “cosmetic” additions can be regulated; if they are intended to intimidate, etc. It’s not a self-evidently absurd position.


faustusnotes 12.26.12 at 1:34 am

Oh dear MountainMan, you’re citing a study that relies on correlation analysis of national-level data, and another study that doesn’t do any analysis at all, as your evidence? Yet you can’t cite the Australian study that does actual analysis. I wonder why? Here’s an analysis by Simon Chapman that uses actual statistics to model the intervention, and gives you a fairly compelling set of figures. Or you could look up Andrew Leigh’s study, which shows that the states that bought back the most guns had the largest reduction in firearm homicide; and that the biggest reductions in homicides occurred amongst the classes of guns that were subject to the buyback. The third study you linked to, by the way, found that 7 categories of control were effective, and there was partial evidence for another 11.

Also you don’t need to cite individual studies from the USA. If you had any google fu, you would be aware that the CDC commissioned a review of studies into the effects of gun control interventions in the USA some time ago.

James’s link is, unsurprisingly, trash. The gun buyback was in 1996, and yet it compares figures from 2001 to 2006. I wonder why? And why does it waste a whole paragraph on rates of crimes committed without guns? And, of course, no analysis…


MPAVictoria 12.26.12 at 2:17 am

“@Freshly Squeezed Cynic(166):
Ok? I’m not an orientalist, so I don’t know why Scalia’s jurisprudence is supposed to be some argument against me.”



LFC 12.26.12 at 3:25 am

Dave Brockington had a post at Lawyers Guns and Money (link below) pointing out that British crime rates are higher than those in the U.S., except in one category — homicides by guns — for which the British rate is much lower. Seems like a reasonable inference that the reason is that gun restrictions in the UK are much tighter and gun prevalence much lower.



MountainMan 12.26.12 at 3:25 am

@MPAVictoria: Ha, I didn’t notice that. It was supposed to say “originalist”, but the spellchecker complained, suggested “orientalist”, and I didn’t catch it.


Ogden Wernstrom 12.26.12 at 5:10 am

I live in a rural area, and I fear the my neighbors’ guns might be taken away. Actually, I fear that invasive, non-native nutria would return to our wetlands, and that the coyote population would skyrocket – and that we might lose a dog to the coyotes. (I do not mind the occasional chicken loss, since chickens and coyotes have the same chief weapon, fecundity. Plus a lost chicken is worth a few dollars, while a lost dog was a friend. I’m pretty sure the coyotes will not go after the larger livestock.)

But, upon further thought, I realize that these fears are silly. The NRA has about 10 times the membership of the ACLU, and my neighbors who shoot the nuisance animals use mostly the sort of guns that will be exceptions to any gun-limiting rules that will ever get off the ground in the US.

Here are some ideas I have – none of which is thorougly vetted, but all of which are likely to be opposed by the NRA:
1. Double-Action-Only for autoloaders, or some such thing. Maybe repeating arms for civilian use should either (a) require a cocking action separate from the trigger, or (b) use the trigger travel to cock the hammer (such that the hammer can not be left in a cocked position, even if cocked by the trigger). From what little I know about guns – riflery class in high school – I think this would slow the rate of fire to be like a revolver. Precision game-sniping (hunting) weapons, e.g. lever- or bolt-action, could continue to have the single-action trigger.

The Glock – a make popular with law enforcement and gangs – might make this sort of technical requirement moot. I don’t know how the Glock mechanism works.

2. The usual array of regulations about magazine capacity, testosterone-styling, identifiable/traceable powder et c., but then: Spend on actual research, so we get an idea of which regulations are effective/ineffective. And keep at it. Then pay attention to the results. (This is a long-term strategy, though, because data points are so few, and effective regulations should further reduce them.) This should not turn into an excuse to delay regulations.

I suggest that Charter Schools could provide the dataset for fully-armed teachers. (Plus the janitors can stand down.) I suspect that there have been zero shootings in any charter school so far, so we have a clean start on collecting that data. Maybe home schools could participate by hiring armed guards.

Due to the variation in state constitutional provisions for bearing armament, national regulation might be hard to implement – but variation by state might give us a start on analyzing the effect of each regulation.

3. Tactical-bucket training for [male-only?] janitors.


MountainMan 12.26.12 at 5:33 am

@Freshly Squeezed Cynic(177):
If you can make a case that adding features like an adjustable stock, pistol grip, threaded barrel, or barrel shroud are “intended to intimidate” to such a degree that they need to be banned I’d love to hear it.

I find your comment quite telling. While dismissing the papers I cited for hand-wavy reasons, you apparently failed to realize that I wasn’t unloading a series of cherry-picked studies on this thread — I was attempting to provide a simple systematic review of the literature. But perhaps you did realize this. Perhaps you began to realize it when the results of your “google fu” weren’t giving you want you wanted. Perhaps this is why you chose to ignore the Kleck study completely. Perhaps this is why when confronted with the fact that criminologists don’t agree with you on gun control (especially not in the US), you immediately turn the conversation to Australia.

Overall, that’s probably the best place to look if you want to prove that gun confiscation and strict gun control work. But the problem is that no one has shown that. I think it’s funny that when I try to educate you on widely-cited studies by actual criminologists, you give me an outdated study by Simon Chapman, a gun control lobbyist and public health professor, who has spent most of his career lobbying against tobacco, but recently has set his sights on on guns. Seriously, I’ve been following Chapman and his feud with Samara McPhedran and Jeanine Baker (researchers associated with women’s shooting groups) for a while now.

If you cared to look harder, you would have seen this more recent paper, , that combined and reanalyzed the data used in multiple previous studies, including the one you linked to. From the abstract:

Despite the fact that several researchers using the same
data have examined the impact of the NFA on firearm deaths, a consensus does not
appear to have been reached. In this paper, we re-analyze the same data on firearm
deaths used in previous research, using tests for unknown structural breaks as a means
to identifying impacts of the NFA. The results of these tests suggest that the NFA did
not have any large effects on reducing firearm homicide or suicide rates.

You’ll notice that as new data has come in, instead of accepting his position as wrong, Simon Chapman has gone out of the way to defend the laws under and ever-changing set of criteria. Initially he was claiming that the laws were widely successful because gun violence was down, but as the years passed, it became clear that the laws had no measurable effect on homicides. So then, despite warnings from the Australian government that their data was incomplete, he started arguing that the gun laws were justified because they had decreased suicides. But yet again, as more detailed data from Queensland became available, things didn’t look good for him there either.

So, now he’s on to insisting that “mass shootings”–not gun homicides, suicides, or accidents–were the only thing that the ban was supposed to reduce.

And, as expected, McPhedran and Baker responded with Mass Shootings in Australia and New Zealand: A Descriptive Study of Incidence published in Justice Policy Journal. The study used New Zealand as a control group and several statistical critiques, noting that their model does not find support for the hypothesis that Australia’s prohibition of certain types of firearms has prevented mass shootings.

This was published almost two years ago, and I’m still eagerly awaiting Simon Chapman’s response!


John Quiggin 12.26.12 at 6:09 am

The first McPhedran-Baker paper was so silly as to permanently discredit both authors (I only found out recently they were gun lobbyists, but it figures). Their alleged test required negative deaths to reject the null hypothesis of an unchanged downward trend. And if US data really supported the pro-gun case, it wouldn’t be necessary for the gun lobby to rely on a known fraud like John Lott.

The problem is that, even with a massive reduction in gun deaths, as has occurred in Australia, it’s always possible for sufficiently motivated researchers to find a test that produces the result they want. In the rightwing alternate universe, this is now routine. For the same technique at work, see global warming, evolution, unskewed polls, abortion & breast cancer, anti-vaccination, HIV revisionism etc. (several of these handily collected in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Scienceby Tom Bethell, published by Regnery).


faustusnotes 12.26.12 at 8:35 am

MountainMan, I did in fact address the Kleck study, by pointing out that it finds evidence in support of 7 gun control interventions, and partial evidence for 11 more (this finding is in the abstract you’re quoting from). And please don’t pretend you’re “attempting to provide a simple systematic review of the literature,” three papers is not a review of the literature and as I pointed out in that same comment, such a review – at least of studies within the US – has been conducted by the CDC. You could just use that, if you can be bothered to look for it. Of course it doesn’t bear on Australia’s experience.

The “response” by McPhedran and Baker is weak. It doesn’t describe the methods used to identify mass killings clearly, and it adjusts only for “location” rather than for more specific variables that could have been used – such as the weapon involved in the killing or the crime rates in the respective locations. Why does it treat Australia as a single nation when the data is available by state, with information on buyback rates in each state (as in the paper I linked to above)? Furthermore, why are the rates calculated in this paper (0.0042 and 0.005) different to those presented in a WiSH report using exactly the same data (0.004 and 0.006, I think)? Is the WiSH report mistaken, are they standardized rather than crude rates and if so how have they been standardized? The paper doesn’t say. Why do they start their time frame from 1980, rather than 1989, when both countries had comparable official statistics? But most of all, why use NZ at all when Australia can be divided into states, and data on individual states analyzed with a proper term for the buyback itself? No adequate explanation is offered for the decision to use 1980 as a starting point, to include NZ but not to break Australia into states, and to use crude instead of standardized rates for presentation of incidence figures. Also, why do they only present numbers of events (12 vs. 4) rather than number of dead and injured? (96 vs. 30 dead, and an even higher IRR if you include the injured, since the Australian killings tended to have higher injury rates). Finally, they should give a power calculation, since it’s likely within the given number of events (12 vs. 4) that even in equal-sized populations they wouldn’t be able to show a difference.

Lott’s paper (with the broken link, btw) is an interesting idea, but it is fundamentally flawed because it attempts to fit a whole series of OLS regressions to a data series that everyone has established is zero-inflated. Tests for serial dependence are not going to work in that environment, and to the best of my knowledge ARIMA methods are entirely inappropriate for that kind of data. I’d be interested to see the 95% confidence intervals around Lott’s predicted trend lines, because I have a strong suspicion that post-1996 they will give a large range of negative rates – a sure sign that his models are misspecified. For example, just from a simple pubmed search it’s clear that ARIMA models are not appropriate for traffic accident data, which is usually orders of magnitude more plentiful than firearm homicides. A quick search doesn’t enable me to find any methods for testing structural breaks in count or zero-inflated poisson data, but my guess is that OLS methods won’t work, and that appears to be largely what Lott has done. Why?

I’m not sure why Chapman being a “public health professor” needs to be written as a criticism of him, but I also note that you haven’t given any evidence of his switching the goalposts. In the paper I linked to (no more outdated than some of yours, I’m sure, which I note were published in 2001) he shows results on mortality rates and mentions testing numbers of mass killings. Do you have any evidence that he has “ever-changing set of criteria,” or are you just pissing in the wind? And if the criteria need to be changed, why are you approvingly citing work by Lott that uses exactly the same mortality measures as Chapman?

I guess you’ll dismiss all these criticisms as “hand wavey” even though they’re concrete criticisms of major methodological, statistical and reporting errors in the papers you are claiming support your case. But I get the impression that you aren’t all that interested in rigor, here, just in throwing out low-grade evidence as a rhetorical technique. The Gish gallop, I think?


faustusnotes 12.26.12 at 8:46 am

I would second John here and note that there’s a serious challenge in evaluating statistically the effectiveness of an intervention that reduces the outcome to 0 from a low base. This gives people like McPhedran and Baker the opportunity to claim no effect. But if we look at deaths, we have the following data just for mass killings

Australia pre-1996: 96 deaths in 16 years
Australia post-1996: 0 deaths in 10 years

NZ pre-1996: 24 deaths in 16 years
NZ post-1996: 6 deaths in 10 years

Giving Australia as 5 times the population of NZ, that gives us an SMR of 120/96 for NZ pre-1996, and an incalculable SMR post-1996 (it should be 30/0). That is, death rates were higher in NZ before the gun buyback, and remained higher afterwards. Of course SMRs would be different if they were based on age/sex standardized rates, but if the two countries are so “comparable” this shouldn’t be an issue.

Even if (as most studies have found) the effect on homicide overall of the National Firearms Act has been weak, those numbers strongly suggest that its effect on mass killings has been exactly in the direction intended. The suicide rates are also a very positive outcome.


MountainMan 12.26.12 at 10:37 am

@John Quiggin(184):
I agree that their first paper was silly, but I don’t that is what should discredit them as researchers. Sure, they naively used linear regression, but it didn’t take them long to develop more nuanced methods. Indeed, this type of research isn’t technically difficult.

What I think discredits them is the same thing that I think discredits Simon Chapman: ideologically motivated cognition and conflict of interest. They’ll do whatever it takes to prove their point and win the feud. In the past McPhedran and Baker: (1) moved the goalposts when confronted with data on mass shootings by doing a longitudinal comparison between countries to get their desired result and (2) once took to examining the suicide breakdown by gender so that their conclusion would appear better than if they had examined the data in aggregate. Likewise Simon Chapman has: (1) log-transformed data when it supported his conclusion but was inappropriate, (2) actively recruited his friends in public health to publish on the effects of gun control, provided them with analytic methods, and denied collaboration so that they would seem independent (some leaked emails blew his cover), (3) ignored Poisson overdispersion when it complicated result, and considered it when it helped provide skepticism, and (4) tried to sneak in the Milperra massacre as an example of a mass shooting, even though no other source categorized it as such.

And if US data really supported the pro-gun case, it wouldn’t be necessary for the gun lobby to rely on a known fraud like John Lott.

Well, John Lott may be full of shit, but most the other research doesn’t support gun control either.

I don’t have time to respond now, but I’d like to point one thing:

…I also note that you haven’t given any evidence of his switching the goalposts.

The reason I’m not meticulously citing everything is because I’ve been following this for a long time, and am trying to recount to you the events of the past years. Here’s a task for you: find the most recent dates in which he’s asserted that the laws have had a significant effect in reducing (1) the number of mass shootings, (2) the gun related suicide rate, (3) the overall suicide rate, (4) the gun related homicide rate, (5) the overall homicide rate, and (6) the violent crime rate.

And just because I want to know if you’re completely unreasonable:
How big of an effect would the controls have to be in order to be worth it? Do you see any downsides to gun control (e.g. effort put into implementation and enforcement, cost to the taxpayer, burden imposed on many individuals)? Assuming your a rational utilitarian, how can you justify heavily restrictive gun control measures considering they’re definitely not worth it by other safety standards? What is the general model for your mental cost / benefit analysis? Are you one of those “just one life” fundamentalists?


faustusnotes 12.26.12 at 11:43 am

MountainMan, I am really not interested in second-rate complaints about Chapman, if you have a point to make about his dishonesty then you need to back it up with evidence, not ask me to go fishing. His work on tobacco control is not “ideologically driven,” it arises from the clear evidence that tobacco kills, and his work on guns is drawn from a similar perspective.

As for your other questions: I don’t think additional gun controls in Australia could have had a big effect in 1996, because our gun controls were already quite strict and the murder rate low. I lived in Australia then (I’m Australian), and not only did they have no effect on anyone, but they remain to this day very popular. As others above observe, most Australians have never seen a gun outside of a policeman’s holster, and don’t know anyone who owns, has owned, or will own or even use a gun. The cost of the laws is quanitifiable (through the buyback) and really not very high, and the benefits on suicide were huge. From Chapman’s paper the step change appears to be 1 per 100,000, or 200 a year. A standard cost-effectiveness assessment would suggest this intervention is cost-effective provided it costs less than 24,000,000 international dollars per year, or about 0.7 billion international dollars as a one-off buyback cost (assuming 3% discounting). I think it meets either of those conditions, though the ongoing cost is hard to assess. By the other safety standards you link to, the buyback would also be worth it just on the mass killings prevented. There were 96 deaths in 16 years, or 6 a year; so provided gun control costs less than 54 million US$ a year, the NFA and gun buyback were worth it. If you discount future years, you’re looking at a total cost over the entire future of 1.5 billion to be worth it by the “other safety standards” you link to. The buyback actually cost $70 million according to Lott in the paper you linked to. Just in averted mass killings over the past 16 years, that’s less than a million dollars per life saved; if you take it over just the 7 years to 2003 when Lott gave the figure, it’s still less than 2 million per life saved.

You should consider that Australia is a country where voting is compulsory and gun controls have a long-standing history. Both of these measures are extremely popular in Australia. There is no civil liberties or cost-effectiveness grounds on which Australians would reject these laws, because they are sensible, cost-effective, and reasonable. You should try them.


John Quiggin 12.26.12 at 11:44 am

The cases of Chapman and McPhedran-Baker aren’t in any way symmetrical. Chapman isn’t antigun, he’s pro-public health. In fact, he’s far better known in Oz for his opposition to the tobacco lobby than for his relatively minor role in the gun debate. If it weren’t for the fact that guns and cigarettes kill people, he wouldn’t be against them.

By contrast, McPhedran-Baker and the tobacco industry have ulterior motives for supporting guns and smoking, and therefore seek to deny the evidence that they kill people.


rootless (@root_e) 12.26.12 at 2:34 pm

Anyone who was really interested in a data driven discussion of gun violence would support repeal of the Tiahrt Amendment and the ban on CDC studies.


ezra abrams 12.26.12 at 10:47 pm

Has anyone actually
the Macardle article ?
If you had, you would see the vituperative condemnation, from all quarters, is totally misplaced and wrong headed, and is unworthy of anyone who aspires to academic or enlightenment values.

Megan wrote a long, long article which i though very valuable: the thrust was that (a) although all the rules were in place, newtown still happened – the school did have a lock, the guy wasn’t allowed to buy guns etc, and (b) most of the simple minded ideas people came out with – ban large cap clips – may or may not work, and present large scale real world obstacles.
(anyone here familiar with how well the multidecade, multi billion dollar war on drugs working ?
anyone here have a teenager, think it take more then about a second to score at the high school ?)

At the very end of this piece, almost as a poorly worded after thought, was the stupid idea about rushing people.

I really think that the tone of criticism reflects the worst tendencys of the internet blogging, and people who are piling on should be ashamed, not just because they are misplaced in their criticism, but
because when you have a complex, real world problem, as ALL OF YOU SHOULD KNOW, AS ALL OF YOU SHOULD BE TEACHING YOUR STUDENTS, the first thing you do is brainstorm, which means, list all your ideas, and no negative feedback; once you have all the ideas, you discard the 90% that are bad (See Pauling, Linus, quote by student sinsheimer)

PS: those of you who saw C Blows’ graph in the Times theother day – did you look at the datums [sic] ?
high rates of gun ownership don’t necessarily correlate with high rates of gun death.


ezra abrams 12.26.12 at 10:50 pm

mary mac at 167
“The NRA is filled with men who think their guns make their dicks appear bigger.”

what a stupid thing to say
Blacks are just interested in watermelons
WASPS only serve bad food
Yids are greedy and grasping

sound about like what you said about the NRA ?
as I assume CT represents the intelligentsia, I am reminded that after Hitler took power, very few non jewish professors resigned or objected…..


Phil 12.26.12 at 11:11 pm

Government led gun confiscation is impossible in today’s political climate, so *theoretically* if any such confiscation were to occur, it would have to be carried tyrannically

That’s not a deduction, it’s a conclusion. “Confiscation politically impossible under democracy” and “confiscation would have to be carried out tyrannically” are the same point differently stated. What I’m interested in is how you arrive at that conclusion. My reasoning goes like this:

Most Americans believe in obeying the law, even when the law changes.
If the law changed to ban private ownership of weapons of category X, most Americans who were affected would comply voluntarily; most of the minority who were not willing to do so would acquiesce without resistance.

Nobody’s proposing “government-led gun confiscation”. I’m suggesting that an amnesty for ownership of weapons of category X (however defined), followed by police confiscation of any residual weapons of category X, would be eminently possible, with no tyranny required.

And I repeat, it seems to me that the idea that resistance would be widespread and violent is a gun-nut’s fantasy – and regarding that prospect with relish (rather than, say, horror) is the kind of thing that gives gun-nut’s fantasies a bad name.


Harold 12.26.12 at 11:13 pm

Shorter Ezra Abrams: Let’s not be beastly to the NRA — rather we should suspend out negative judgements and just brainstorm — like poor, put-upon Megan McArdle was doing.


Uncle Kvetch 12.27.12 at 12:08 am

Let’s not be beastly to the NRA

The NRA member is the new Jew of liberal fascism. Somebody alert Jonah.


ponce 12.27.12 at 12:22 am

I think the NRA is becoming the new NAMBLA.


Consumatopia 12.27.12 at 12:57 am

It matters because essentially ALL guns are semi automatic

What is with this bizarre meme I keep seeing? Most handguns are semi-auto–but by no means (not even “essentially”) all of them–referring to revolvers as semi-auto is abusing the term. I don’t see why restricting handguns to revolvers or other manually operated guns would necessarily contradict Heller.

Is there some data out there on what percentage of long guns are semi-auto? Any time I’ve gone hunting or target practicing, I see mostly bolt and lever action rifles and pump action shotguns.

Before banning semi-auto I’d restrict detachable magazines (both their size and the mechanisms for switching them). Shootings have been stopped after a shooter had emptied a magazine, so this could make a real difference. Even the “cosmetic” stuff matters–a gun that gives the user a greater emotional thrill of power may very well give a potential shooter the last bump of courage he needs to carry out his plan.

But, although it would annoy a lot of my friends, banning semi-auto is a workable policy. The main obstacles are political. Yes, plenty of semi-automatics would still be out there, but the goal is not to make spree shootings impossible, but more difficult, and restricting the manufacture of an item, even one that is already widely owned, would accomplish that goal.


Liberty60 12.27.12 at 1:40 am

@Ezra Abrams @192:
I am a gun owner, and have enjkoyed shooting at the gun range many times, and even took my Scout Troop there on occasion.

It is not correct, and a slur to say that gun owners are emasculated antisocial jerks looking to fulfill their masculine fantasies.

It is entirely correct and honest to acknowledge that an alarmingly high percentage of the gun owners I personally met and intereacted with at the gun range were in fact, emasculated antisocial jerks looking to fulfill their masculine fantasies.

Seriously- in my times at the gun range, about 50% of the guys there fit this description. I have actually been in the home of one of them- an Airstream trailer without electricty or heat, piled high with Soldier of Fortune magazines, and assorted paramilitary paraphenalia, where he eagerly showed me his AK-47.

The NRA has done more to spread this image of gun owners being Travis Bickels than any liberal ever could.
Until the NRA can honestly confront and expell the gun nuts, they will end up being marginalized and ostracized. And they should.


Meredith 12.27.12 at 4:30 am

As a woman and, yes, as a human being (you can be both at once, I think), could I just say that a lot of the comments here and, well, the gist of most, have disappointed me? I love baseball, I love cars, I even love football (American — but the other kind, too; I also love boxing), and I know rather a lot about these things, but I always lose out (well, I don’t even play — I just get quiet) to the the loud men spouting statistics and names and details that escape me (as they escape 7/8 of the men around me, too). That’s what the comments here feel like. You can’t give the batting average of obscure first-baseman X when he played for Detroit in 1977? You can’t participate in the conversation about this game, any game, of baseball!

As for Megan McCurdle (that’s what seems to happen to her sauces if she doesn’t have a thousand kitchen devices, and even then…), please do attend to TBogg, e.g.,:


I am no gun expert, so I guess I cannot speak on the subject of guns at all (even to try to stop their killing my children or grandchildren, and others’), but I did learn from the comments at that post that Megan should have secured her hold and grip before putting her finger around the trigger.


Sancho 12.27.12 at 9:08 am

For the lulz, true words in jest and so on: http://tinyurl.com/46lnf2p


TallDave 12.27.12 at 5:02 pm

Apparently Corey Robin is under the impression docile, disarmed Jews lining up to be slaughtered fared better against the Nazis than the “mass death instinct” Red Army.

Bravo, this really is the stupidest place on the Internet.


Phil 12.27.12 at 5:08 pm

TallDave – you’re right, we should get busy on socialising kids to think like members of the Red Army circa 1941. This might entail introducing some of the mechanisms used to socialise actual members of the Red Army circa 1941 – in fact, it probably should do: you’ve got to learn from best practice, after all. So bring on the Komsomol and put a commissar in every classroom – just to keep an eye on those kids who aren’t party members, you understand. It’s not a nice prospect, but we’ve got to be adult about these things – the alternative is gun control, and that’s just not politically realistic.


Ragweed 12.27.12 at 5:33 pm

My apologies to all for continuing the derailment on some of the technical details, but a few of the comments above really need some countering.

A .223 (5.56 mm) round used in the AR-15 et al is not considered adequate for deer because one of the principle goals of a deer-hunter is to drop the deer in its tracks, or within a fairly short distance. A mortally wounded deer that runs off a few hundred yards into the underbrush and dies hours or days later is wasted – the chance that the hunter will find it is almost nil. So someone hunting deer wants a round with a larger bullet and more immediate stopping capacity.

But a mortally wounded enemy soldier who crawls off to die of a sucking chest wound is just fine in combat. Immediate stopping power is less important than rate of fire, and a smaller round with a high rate of fire gives better odds that the soldier will be able to get a sufficient number of rounds into their targets. Because the 5.56 mm round has been selected for its effectiveness in killing people, not deer. That is why it is the primary military round for every country in Europe. To claim that it is not a high-power round because it is ineffective against deer or elephants or whatever misses the point.

@VE “The farmer’s rifle used during the Revolution was the technological assault rifle of its day. In fact American civilian farmers were better armed than British troops equipped only with muskets, as the rifled barrel was a distinct technological advantage allowing greater accuracy over greater distances.. ”

Actually, no. The low rate of fire of a rifle made them distinctly disadvantagous in actual combat. Made for great sniping if all you wanted to do was hide in the bushes, but not so good when trying to hold a fortification against a line of charging Hessians with mounted bayonetts. More then once Washington complained about having too many rifles and how desperately he needed men with proper muskets.


ezra abrams 12.27.12 at 6:02 pm

Ragweed @ 203
corrections appreciated
At the time of the revolution, there were muskets and rifles
both required that the soldier push the bullet and powder down the barrel
the powder left a lot of residue, and after a few shots, the barrel needed to be cleaned.

The musket had a loose fitting bullet; this meant many more shots before stopping to clean the barrel (std was 1 shot every 15 seconds for 4 min). However, because the barrel was loose, the bullet did not get any spin – it was a “knuckleball” and had very low accuracy.
The rifle had a tighter fitting bullet; this meant the bullet got some spin and was much more accurate for longer ranges; however, it meant the barrel had to be cleaned of residue more often.

The other big factor was smoke; a few hundred guy discharging weapons meant that the battlefield was obscure; apparently, opponents couldn’t see each other – which meant they had to be really close, so the low accuracy of the musket was not a defect.

iirc, the gun used by the US in Nam was designed so that the bullet would “richochet” inside the body; this made medical care more difficult, and thus slowed down the enemy.


Ragweed 12.27.12 at 7:46 pm

@EA – yes, but that is getting into more technical detail than probably necessary. The point is that even in 1776, a military gun was a specialized weapon the differed significantly from what the typical farmer or settler had or needed.

BTW – part of the reason for the technical thread jack is that we really dispensed with McArdle idea pretty quickly – 5th graders taking on gunmen, bad idea – check. Armed guards in every school in the country, inneffective – check!

What I find more interesting in some ways is the whole discussion of the elementary school as a “feminized” environment. The whole notion of society becomining “feminized” is also widespread on the right and seems as interesting as the whole notion of “Rimbaud” conservatism, and ties right into the “Man Card” advertising. Real men use guns, play football, take down guys with guns with their bare hands, and teach their kids to be real men. Women (despite the fact that the NRA goes on and on about women gun owners) are unable to defend themselves and teach children to be passive. The production of gender identity on the right is just as central to this as disregard for life in the future.

The big issue in the Buckley quote is not that he only had a 15-year timeframe for survival. In fact, I suspect that what he had in mind was not that 15-years was all you could ask for – his assumption was that in 15 years time, we would still be on the edge of nuclear war, and I would wager that 15 years after that, and 15 years after that, an on and on. He wasn’t writing off future generations, he was assuming the cold war would last indefinitely – an Endless War (not realizing that the Endless War against the Evil Empire would be replaced by the Endless War against Islamic terrorism).


reflectionephemeral 12.27.12 at 10:05 pm

A small, peripheral point– Neil Postman mentioned that TV panel in Amusing Ourselves to Death, in support of his view that what makes “good television” completely precludes reasoned discussion, even when television is trying very hard to be serious.


faustusnotes 12.28.12 at 1:21 am

I’m really noticing that the gun nuts on this thread are very quickly shown to be wrong about almost every “fact” they present about guns. Interesting, that.


Dr. Hilarius 12.28.12 at 2:49 am

A tragic addition to this thread: a co-worker’s son was just shot to death. He was one of 600 at an upscale sports bar celebrating the Seahawk’s win against the 49s. He appears to have been a random victim or bystander. The shooter had already served time as a juvenile for his part in beating a popular street musician to death. It’s not just an academic debate.

Comments on this entry are closed.