Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gun Laws and the Knoxville Shooting

Since the shooting at Tennessee Valley UU Church, I've been waiting for the obvious response from Gunnitistan: That the answer is to allow concealed carry in churches. The first on my radar screen, via this week's Carnival, is Conservative Culture.

Let's acknowledge a few obvious points. First, great caution should be exercised in drawing public policy conclusions from any data set in which n=1. Second, Conservative Culture isn't exactly the brightest star in the Rightysphere constellation. Using this post as foil is little better than constructing a straw man. Apologies in advance.

Third (and less obvious) massacre prevention shouldn't be our primary focus in gun policy. Massacres inflict a horrible psychic toll and make big splashy news, but they amount to less than a rounding error in the overall homicide rate. If we find that Policy Change X would prevent some massacres but increase the overall homicide/assault rate, then on balance X is not good policy.

Much of ConCult's post is directed at criticizing the "liberal thinking" at the UU Church. Thanks for that. Probably some conservative comment on the tragedy hasn't included some sort of criticism of the politics and/or theology of the church, but I have yet to find it. The shooting seems to have inspired a small ebb in "Kill the Libruls" rhetoric since some guy decided to actually do that, so we have that going for us. Which is nice.

And by the way, the criticism is a bit off the mark. Ethical pacifism is not an integral part of UU theology (you are closer to that in Quaker and Mennonite churches, though even there CC's depiction is probably a bit off).

In our church few if any people would say that the man shooting at them should be spared if someone has the shot. Where we differ is the level of glee. We would find the death of one more person a tragedy, if a necessary one that on balance saved lives. We wouldn't be all "He's dead -- Yay!" Personally I'm glad he's still alive, if for no other reason than his plan was to commit suicide by cop and it's a Good Thing that any plans of this hateful bastard were thwarted.

Anyway, on to the gun issue. Experience with massacres shows that guns at the scene of a massacre may lower the death toll, but won't prevent massacres. Massacre assailants have almost invariably intended to die in the assault, rendering deterence meaningless. They also start blasting before anyone knows what is happening, meaning that people will likely die before anyone can return fire. Looking at the Colorado Springs massacre (n=2), the assailant managed to kill two people despite the fact that the church had an armed security guard on duty.

On the other hand, the Tennessee shooting illustrates the value of restricting assault weapons. While most assailants use multiple semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazine, Jim Adkisson used a shotgun that he had to reload after three shots. That's when the congregants had a chance to tackle him and prevent further carnage.

I'll concede that guns among congregants might make people safer, so long as those congregants are well-trained and fairly balanced. For personal reasons, that's not the choice I'd make for my church, but I see the argument.

Unfortunately Gunnutistan insists that regulating high-powered assault weapons and banning high-capacity mags is a half step from throwing us all in irons. Twenty round magazines are necessary for nothing but killing large numbers of humans at a time. Yet the gun lobby fights every common sense gun restriction, arguing that the only possible solution to the problems posed by guns is more guns.

Pray for us.


Anonymous said...

Very well written. Thank you for the thoughtful response to the tragedy.

Anonymous said...

To better understand the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution it is helpful to consider how almost every reasonable person would interpret this amendment if it did not involve something which is considered controversial or politically incorrect by some and idolized by others. Arms in the possession of ordinary citizens meet both criteria. Let's, for the sake of argument, suppose that the Second Amendment dealt with books, not arms or weapons, and read like this: "A well educated electorate, being necessary to the maintenance of a free State, the right of the people to own and read books, shall not be infringed." Does anyone really believe that liberals would claim that only people who were eligible to vote should be allowed to buy and read books? Or that a person should have to have voted in the last election before the government would permit him or her to buy a book? Would the importation of books be banned if they did not meet an "educational purpose" test? Would some States limit citizens to buying "one book a month"? Would inflammatory "assault books" be banned in California?

Jason Sonenshein said...

"...the gun lobby fights every common sense gun restriction..."

A proposed ban on 20-round magazines would be a lot like the ban on so-called "partial birth" abortion. The "partial birth" abortion ban is quite popular, and I'd suspect that a ban on 20-round magazines would be too. In and of themselves, both bans would have a negligible impact on the lives of the vast majority of Americans.

And yet I oppose both bans for pretty much the same reason. Proponents of the "partial-birth" abortion ban act didn't declare victory and go home once it was enacted and found to be constitutional. They continue to push for more seemingly "common-sense" restrictions on reproductive choice, making small, incremental steps toward their real goal of re-criminalizing abortion, and perhaps even contraception.

Similarly, the anti-self-defense lobby won't stop with a ban on 20-round magazines, or restrictions on so-called "assault weapons." There'll always be another "common-sense" gun restriction, and another, and yet another one after that. Take a look at this article by Jacob Sullum for some idea of what the Violence Policy Center really wants. The so-called "assault weapon" ban was just the beginning.

Seemingly "common-sense" abortion restrictions bring those who oppose reproductive choice incrementally closer to their ultimate goal. Similarly, seemingly "common-sense" gun restrictions bring those who oppose self-defense incrementally closer to their ultimate goal. And that's why I oppose both of them.

Bradley L. Cromes said...

This is brilliant, Pho. We dealt with this issue not long ago on Buckeye Punditeers.

You analysis is spot on, and an eloquent defense of assault weapons bans AND attack on concealed carry.


Also, to Anonymous #2...there's a big difference between "a well-educated electorate" and "a well-regulated militia." For one, the word "regulated" is present in the Constitution, meaning the Founders meant for there to be limits on our rights to own guns. Second, despite the recent HELLER opinion, the word "militia" has importance, too...which only proves that any thoughtful reader can make the phrase say what he or she wants to depending on context. From a statutory interpretation standpoint, our side has the better of this argument than yours (though public opinion is in your court). The Constitution is meant as a bar to the excesses of public opinion...

...but I digress. As a gun owner and a legal scholar, those are my thoughts.

Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Scott,

The solution is not concealed carry in churches (or anywhere else); the solution is a holstered and very visible sidearm strapped to your leg.

I just don't get the concealed carry folks. If you want to exercise your 2nd amendment rights, why hide it?

Let your boss and your co-workers see that Glock. Proclaim to the world that you are not to be messed with by walking the streets with a S&W .44 cal revolver on your hip.

Concealment is for cowards.



Conservative Culture said...

Why hide it? I find it difficult to fathom just how little you feign to know about human nature. Is it that you are so naive or like to slander people's character with your supposed wisdom of the world?

I'll answer hoping that you are the first and not the "ugly creep" who really knows the answer but pretends not to know.

An open weapon on the street draws too much attention. Especially from the criminal. It is best to keep ugliest of our culture off guard and uncertain. You want him wondering about the "unarmed" civilian "Does he have a gun?" If all weapons were open they the time you walk out without a visible weapon... well do I have to really spell this stuff out for you?

I want to ask what college you went to but that might be expecting too much. As for the cowardly part the better part of prudence shouldn't be mistaken for cowardice.

Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Conservative,

Yes. Only a coward needs to conceal his weapon.

Where did I got to college? Ohio University, class of '84, after serving our country for 11 years in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, as well as here in the United States where I served for three years as a platform instructor at an advanced NCO school.

And, oh yeah, my uncle, a sergeant in the 82nd Airborne, was my sponsor for my NRA membership.



Conservative Culture said...

A well deserved thank you for serving our country as well to your Uncle. Also for your NRA membership, good job.

But let me correct your unnecessary assassination of my character. While I am not opposed to open carry one advantage of carry conceal is that ever potential target becomes a potential armed person. Let the creeps second guess themselves that perhaps 5-10 people around them might be pulling a weapon if the creep begins to assault the public around them.

There is a time for open display of force and there is a time for covert tactics.

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