Thursday, January 10, 2013

Gun Science

Some gun legislation will come now. People are upset. The debate has slipped, as it always does, to special interests and high-minded men. The politicians have, or will have, a "good idea." When people want opinions, they will call on special interest groups with specific tax advantages. The Second Amendment will be defended by the NRA.

In 2004, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences released its assessment of over 400 journal articles, books government publications and some original research. The conclusion was there was no evidence that any gun control reduced violent crime, suicide, or gun accidents. The results of a 2003 study by the Center for disease Control was the same.

Studies by countries with and without gun laws, with mild or severe constraints and with comparative results over changing laws and changing time show consistently that violence is influenced mainly by social and economic factors; the change in laws changes only the weapon of choice. The notion that guns protect citizens is not borne up consistently in the same studies either. The idea that guns allow the ordinary citizen an outlier moment where he kills or maims in a momentary and atypical fashion is not the case; virtually no murderer is an "ordinary citizen" but rather a habitual lawbreaker of violent character. (In the Harvard Review where these studies were collated the recurring description was "aberrant.") Indeed, violence in ordinary families is infrequent.

So what is the origin of our rush to legislate when gun violence occurs? A major factor is our refusal to accept evidence for what it is and the humility it implies. We bull our way through limited studies with limited conclusions in a frenzy of desperation to make some difference somehow. That and a remarkably primitive willingness to accept imitative magic, confident in fine-tuning neutral circumstances.
After all, when a comet appears, something important is happening somewhere.

But there is another, less whimsical element. We do not want some people to be worse than others. We want circumstances to differentiate us, not essence. There is a fear that, if some people are truly different, truly hostile to our peaceful way of life, the social structure itself will fail, a belief that is almost the direct obverse of reality.

So we intervene to intervene, confident in our good intent and blind to the destructive placebo we give ourselves in the place of true understanding.


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