Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dinner table discussions

Today ours was centred around gun laws, and whether they're a good idea or not in the light of yesterday's university shootings. I kept trying to get the conversation around to what might make some people want to do such a thing, but the boys were more interested in working out the best ways of preventing it.

International gun crime statistics were cited (how do they know such things? The boys, I mean, not the statisticians) and it seems that the UK is quite low down the list of gun-related homicides. So, despite being a libertarian Tom is in favour of gun laws. I'd say I'm ethically not, because a law is a law and it seems incongruous to suggest that some can be effective and others not. I was trying to remember the points Sarah Fitz-Claridge made in one of her essays on this subject, but couldn't. Can't even find it now. Oh well here's some debate about it. I'm not sure whether that was her post in the first place.

Ali mentioned the unusual fact that although it's legal to bear arms in many American states, silencers or suppressors are still outlawed. I found the semantics of this quite interesting and we got into a great discussion about what constitutes premeditated crime. The boys got really technical about guns and how they work, (Again: how on earth do they know?) but Zara and I were more interested in the psychology of such a crime and the boys did eventually leave the mechanics alone long enough to join us in wondering about the causes of psychosis and whether certain people do feel empathy or not.

Ali queried the point that, if a person has no empathy and is therefore unable to comprehend another person's pain - what would be the point of them going on a killing spree? - which got us into the realm of narcissism and sadism and wondering what caused those states of minds. We also got into discussing the effects of drugs (both prescribed and illegal) and diet on the mind, but I was more interested in this than the others I think.

I do feel very strongly that whenever something like this happens the main consideration afterwards, when everything physically practical has been done, has to be to work out exactly how and why it came to pass. I don't subscribe to the 'sometimes things just are' school of thought, I don't think.

It's also interesting that Zara and I wanted to discuss the psychology of the crime, whereas Tom and Ali were more interested in the mechanics of it. Is this because of our respective genders, or just our individual interests? We didn't get around to discussing that.


Blogger Tim said...

Americans are 27 times more likely than Brits to be murdered with a gun, and 3 times more likely to be murdered. On the other hand the rates of reported assaults are similar.

Stats from Nationmaster

I fail to see that the Americans are freer than we are, just more frequently dead, as a result of their right to bear arms.

If, on libertarian grounds, you grant people the right to carry guns, you simultaneously grant them the right to use them and the right to take away other people's lives.

6:01 pm, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes, that was exactly Tom's point too and I struggled to counter it, partly because I'm tired and partly because I can definitely see the logic in it.

The issue is certainly a doozie, from a libertarian viewpoint. I'm thinking there must be another angle to look at this from than the linear: 'if you let people have guns, they will use them to kill each other' one. Like, why will they? Why will they want guns? Why would people want to kill each other? Just because they can? Nah. The human race is not that bad. There must be other reasons, to do with the set-up of modern societies or something.

Gah, I just haven't had enough sleep to get my head around what I think about it! But even if I had, it's still a very very tricky issue IMO. I'm just instinctively repulsed by the idea of banning things to try and prevent them. Murder is banned, but it still happens.

6:08 pm, April 17, 2007  
Blogger skypainter said...

Gosh, it is a tough call really. I have to say I like having a no-gun law, but I don't know that is prevents people from obtaining a gun and using it as we know in this country.

7:02 pm, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Allie said...

Freedom to own something for no other reason than limiting someone else's ultimate freedom - to live - is beyond the pale for me. But then I'm no libertarian.

7:18 pm, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

An add on.

I don't think there is any real evidence that we are safer because of the change in the law post Dunblane (which I am convinced was passed only so politicians could be seen to be doing something, rather from any considered thought about whether it would increase public safety), since it has been always been cheaper and easier to obtain a gun illegally than legally.

Before Hungerford and Dunblane, we had laws which permitted people to own guns. There is a difference between the right to own a gun under a licence and to use it for sporting purposes under strict limitations and the right to cart one about with you in your pocket all the time.

This is similar to the difference between allowing people to drive cars under licence, and not allowing them to drive them while drunk.

If your libertarian view is that people should be allowed to drive while drunk, I definitely want a gun so I can shoot them. :-)

7:21 pm, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

If your libertarian view is that people should be allowed to drive while drunk, I definitely want a gun so I can shoot them. :-)

LOL that's the most convincing anti-libertarian argument I've heard yet! Steady on, I don't want to be authoritarian - I'd have to rewrite my whole blog ;-)

7:32 pm, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes this is the list Tom cited too.

Hmm we're 32nd.. Yes. That's persuasive isn't it?

7:35 pm, April 17, 2007  
Blogger mamadillo said...

I'm thinking that in libertarian theory, there wouldn't be any oppression for people to feel the need to shoot people? And the dangers of drunk-driving would be sufficiently known and understood that people would just not do it. In theory, of course ;-)

8:38 pm, April 17, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm far more interested in the right to keep and arm bears. Of the three (maybe four) things of note Ben Elton has said, the one that a desire to own a gun should immediately bar you from doing so makes sense to me. No matter how much I ponder and scratch my head (which is probably too much), right wing libertarianism is still beyond me.

As Bill Hicks had it:

"There's no connection, and you'd be a fool and a Communist to make one. There's no connection between having a gun and shooting someone with it, and not having a gun and not shooting someone. There have been studies made and there is no connection at all there. Yes. That's absolute proof."

So, when *are* the militias going to rise up against their tyrannical government, anyway?

David, who can't remember his blogger password.

Another thing - why is it *word* verification? 'qtvjcr' wouldn't be accepted at any scrabble night I've been to, I'm sure.

2:32 am, April 18, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

The militias are too well-schooled, aren't they? Mass disenfranchisement from the age of 3 - it's a great ploy!

I like your theory Trog. Yup, I'll go with that. So do we keep our gun laws until we reach Utopia, or not?

Oh no! The Lure of Utopia! That'd take us right back to square one again!

6:55 am, April 18, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband owns and uses air guns for target sport and for shooting vermin and the government is trying to limit air gun ownership. Let me also point out that there is huge amounts of people who shoot as a target sport and for shooting game. Our most successful sportman is an air gun shooter, he's won more medals than anyone else in history in the Olympics and worls championships - yet noone outside the sport has heard of him bec he is over 50 and he shoots.

The stupid thing is, that sensible gun owners get penalised for those who break the law. As with the Dunblane incident - it was only law abiding gun owners who were penalised. If someone wants to go and shoot a load of people, they can get a gun leagally and illegally. Yes it will be more difficult than in America (where Woolworths sell guns) but they will do it anyway.

The Dunblane indicident has banned guns to the point where Britsh target sportsmen and women have to travel to France to practice their sport. When the Olympics comes to London, they will have to introduce a special dispensation for hand gun shooting.

9:08 am, April 18, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Hmmmm.. yes, before seeing those statistics I'd have been arguing that banning something doesn't necessarily prevent it from happening.

We're quite low down on the murders per capita list too, aren't we?

This can't be due to laws though. Murder is surely illegal in all the other countries on the list, so there must be some other factors coming into play.

10:42 am, April 18, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

I think the law as it stands is unduly harsh. The type of gun used by competitive target shooters is limited in usefulness as a massacre weapon or even as a street crime weapon. TBH I don't think there was much wrong with the law pre Dunblane. Certainly not enough to justify the panic reaction to where we are now.

I do think this is an area where there is a strong case for tight controls. But given that we have indiscriminate sales of explosives (particularly around November 5th) it seems to me that we could liberalise the current regime to the benefit of target shooters, for example - without any real added risks.

Conversely, I can see no reason to allow people to have certain types of weapon at all.

For example, an AK47 is of no interest or use to a target shooter, it simply isn't accurate enough. It is designed with one sole purpose which is to kill large numbers of people very quickly. So I can see no reason why we would want to permit the ownership of them, except in the most exceptional circumstances.

(My word verification is "kwmfpwl", that is Welsh isn't it?)

10:52 am, April 18, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

Gill, on stats, look at Switzerland.

Very high levels of gun ownership, very low murder rate of which a very high percentage are firearm murders.

(oobka - Polish for girl band?)

10:56 am, April 18, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

So do restrictions on gun ownership decrease general murder rates, do we think? Or do people just find other ways of killing each other?

What does increase murder rates anyway? I see Columbia and South Africa are both high scorers on those lists. Columbia would be due to the drugs trade, I guess. What about South Africa though?

11:07 am, April 18, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

What happens if someone loses their temper?

There are two types of murder, premeditated and unpremeditated.

Controlling guns would have no effect on the former.

If you lose your temper (or become imbalanced, anger can be a form of madness), you will reach for whatever weapon comes to hand. (There was a chap here a few years ago who went into a church and chopped at people with a samurai sword, ISTR)

If what comes to hand is a knife, or an axe, or a hammer, then you might kill, or you might just injure someone, before you calm down, or are stopped. If what comes to hand is an AK47, a lot of people will die. This is a weapon with a theoretical rate of fire of 600 rounds per minute and magazines up to 75 rounds. So you could kill 75 people without pausing to reload.

Hard to say you are sorry after that. And a little pointless.

11:30 am, April 18, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Would you want a gun, even if you were allowed to have one? I can't imagine any reason why I might want one, personally.

3:44 pm, April 18, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

I used to shoot, and enjoyed it. So yes, I can see that I might wish to do so again.

I am not keen to have guns around the house though.

(word verification: otevy Gaelic for television)

5:34 pm, April 18, 2007  
Blogger Allie said...

Gill, murder rates in SA so high as legacy of apartheid - fractured communities, broken families, massive social inequality. That'd be my guess, anyway - not claiming expert knowledge.

Restrictions on gun ownership probably do mean fewer murders - as a general rule - because you're so much more likley to kill someone when you attack them with a gun, as opposed to any other weapon.

I have known of incidents where people have become seriously mentally ill on university campuses in this country - and have been violent, but no-body died. In a country where a gun is the norm, the way to settle your score, the thing you need to feel safe, then the outcome in those situations is many people die.

6:04 pm, April 18, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

It's a difficult one really.

I'm not against gun ownership per se, there are guns at my mother's house and in a country with national service, afaik, quite a few people have guns, atleast in the community my mother lives - including a bazooka, the missile bit anyway, which surely can't have anything to do with shooting deer (which is generally the reason people seem to have guns, although I guess bear, wolves, wolverine and lynx also have some bearing on the figures :)

However, aside from target sports and hunting, I can't see any reason why anyone would want to keep a gun, but then I'm rather naive in such things. It seems as if guns beget more guns - people carrying guns to protect themselves from other people carrying guns (which all seems a bit daft to me).

6:12 pm, April 18, 2007  
Anonymous Hypothetical Parent said...

Strange to think that if I or my hypothetical offspring had died in some horrendous massacre, we would have turned to be nothing than that a number in a news piece and an exciting dinner table conversation.

Stranger even is that this is probably what the killer envisioned.

This individual found no join in his normal life for some reason, so depressed, so coerced and so immoral he could not think of any any other solution but death and destruction.

He lost all joy in learning and living and so, hatred replaced respect.

Because his life was a failure and he was hopeless, he thought he would take some pleasure in revenge by killing some sucessful people. He would certainly enter history if he beat the previous massacre record. He knew he would get what he wanted. The loser in the corner made a name for himself and will always be known.

The problem is not guns, although they do provide an easy way to kill people in a short ammount of time. I think nobody would disagree that more good people should be armed and less bad people should be armed. How to achieve that is not at all clear.

We reward this kind of criminals by giving them a place in history. If there was a law that didn't allow for the name of criminals to have a place in history, these people would lose at least part of their motivation.

Of all the people who died in the massacre it seems only the killer and another victim, Liviu Librescu, a teacher who survived the Holocaust to later die to give time for his students to escape, got a page in Wikipedia.

Who were the other students? What did they want to be? What ideas died with them? We'll never know.

6:39 pm, April 18, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Here are some profiles of the other victims.

That was a clear and credible explanation HP, which helped my understanding at least. Thanks. It's hard to contemplate the depth of despair that leads a person to choose fame and/or revenge over life, but it matters that we try, I think.

7:12 pm, April 18, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh, thanks for this also Allie:
"Gill, murder rates in SA so high as legacy of apartheid - fractured communities, broken families, massive social inequality."

7:36 pm, April 18, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

And Tim, I'm sensing a word verification conspiracy theory developing here ;-)

That seems daft to me too Nikki :-/

7:38 pm, April 18, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's just what I needed, starting the morning crying looking at the pictures of dead people. I don't know why I even allow myself to dwelve in these things. After all there are people dying everyday.

I just checked the quotes of the gunman. His feelings sound like what you would refer to as victim mentality, anti-capitalism, maybe anti-americanism and some anti-semitism as well - I don't think the day he chose is a coincidence?

He also compares himself with Jesus Christ. Not sure what kind of twisted thinking made him believe that his act helps poor people in any way? I can't see what was gained by killing others and then himself? Something ingrained in communist history, maybe? Killing all the rich so an equal society can be created? But then there has to be a rich elite to be powerful enough to oppress people so nobody is able to create more wealth than others and everybody is even? It doesn't seem hard to grasp this concept, even me with my rather incomplete and naive understanding of history.

Not to mention he was not so poor as to not have the opportunity to be in that university in the first place?

I am a poorish person who never liked rich spoiled brats much myself, especially libertarian rich spoiled brats with friends in high places.

I also know I will never ammount to much of anything. I will always be in the corner crying my eyes out thinking how stupid I was by ever dreaming high.

Still, my feeling is mild and perhaps my moral won't allow me to get to an uglier place. I would take no joy in this kind of negative fame, in causing the loss of brilliant minds and making the world a worse place.

8:56 am, April 19, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

I think mental illness must have taken him beyond the realms of what most of us would consider to be rational thought :-(

I had a friend who this happened to - until then I didn't really understand it was possible. Now, I think 'unhinged' is the best description for it. My friend is a lot better now but it took a cocktail of potent drugs to get her mind back, which blew a lot of my alternative medicine reasoning out of the water somewhat.

Still, the situation might have been salvageable earlier by more natural means, I don't know. I DO know that living in unhappy circumstances is dangerous for some people.

10:26 am, April 19, 2007  

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