Why gun nuts get called gun nuts
It's really tough to have a debate on guns with pro-gun types because they are nuts. And by nuts I mean: they typically don't follow and discernable logic for establishing a proposition through argument. The comment thread here from earlier in the week shows two of the favored strategies for gun nuts: derailment and ignoring. Here is how the derailing worked.
The main point that I was trying to establish in the thread was: fewer guns means less gun violence. Now, even having to debate this gives you an idea of how crazy the gun nuts are; you're engaged with someone who sees no connection between guns and gun violence. It's like trying to debate a supply sider on the effects of tax cuts: Something that makes zero sense on the face of it and has been repeatedly proved wrong in practice is now up for debate ("teach the controversy!")
In other words, the conversation immediately goes through the looking glass. But OK, I thought, let's take a little trip to Crazy Town and see if we can't salvage something sensible out of it. My guide was user YesMaybe [YM], and we began an extended discussion on this report. Again, the big picture here is the question "does reducing the number of firearms reduce the amount of firearm violence?" In reference to this:
Following implementation of the ban, the share of gun crimes involving [automatic weapons] declined by 17% to 72% across the localities examined for this study (Baltimore, Miami, Milwaukee, Boston, St. Louis, and Anchorage), based on data covering all or portions of the 1995-2003 post-ban period. This is consistent with patterns found in national data on guns recovered by police and reported to ATF.
I noted that there was a decline of 17% after the ban. I don't have the exact verbiage since it was lost in cyberspace during the site upgrade (verbiage which is now, hilariously, a big sticking point for YM), but I'll gladly stipulate that I used some kind of inexact shorthand when describing it. Since we both had the source material available I didn't give much thought to typing it out verbatim or copying/pasting. Any ambiguity could be resolved almost immediately.
Well that was a BIG mistake on my part. YM took it as evidence of great perfidy, describing it as a "baloney claim," an "entirely false claim" (and that I am "suffering from terrible confirmation bias on this topic, to the point of misreading clear language and ignoring blatant contradictions"), that it was "simply false and based on misreading" and "a huge misrepresentation" (also: the ban "didn't have much of an effect"). And of course it was all duplicity on my part. It wasn't a trivial (see below) distinction that had no impact on my main point ("fewer guns means less gun violence"), but a deliberate lie made in a bad faith attempt to secure through deception what I could not secure through refuting YM's sublime reasoning. Huzzah!
This is what's called derailing. By seizing on a trivial detail, immediately ascribing dark motives to it, and fixating on it to the exclusion of everything else, the discussion shifts from the main topic ("fewer guns means less gun violence") to an incredibly tedious argument over syntax.*
What's funny is that even the precise wording YM calls attention to over and over again supports my thesis: Banning a category of firearms reduced the crime rate in that category by between 17% and 72%. Pretty impressive! But in a derailed argument, semantics are king. Even if the lowest value of 17% is still well into statistical significance, do you really want to go further into Crazy Town by arguing over what statistical significance is? (And what exactly ARE statistics, anyway?)
In any event, the discussion was well and truly off the tracks. I tried to work back to the main topic ("fewer guns means less gun violence") a number of times. YM was, unsurprisingly, interested in navel gazing over the speculative effects of re-instituting the 1994 ban. Not in, say, looking at an actual real world example that provided a chance to test the hypothesis ("fewer guns means less gun violence").
Australia instituted a ban after a horrific massacre in 1996. There was no grandfathering with this one, either. It was a retroactive ban, and citizens were offered a buyback program for compensation. Fewer guns! Did it lead to less gun violence?
Australia's 1996 gun law reforms were followed by more than a decade free of fatal mass shootings, and accelerated declines in firearm deaths, particularly suicides. Total homicide rates followed the same pattern. Removing large numbers of rapid-firing firearms from civilians may be an effective way of reducing mass shootings, firearm homicides and firearm suicides.
Wow! It sure looks like fewer guns has meant meant less gun violence in Australia! Wouldn't it be amazing to be able to discuss that? It would be like getting a one way ticket out of Crazy Town! Gun nuts will have none of it though, and you can look at YM's resolute and impressive refusal to acknowledge that in the comment thread as proof. They stake out their turf and cannot be budged. No matter how directly you put contrary information in front of them, they will not see it.
There are lots of discussions that could be had about our dysfunctional and murderous gun culture: The way our Second Amendment devotees never discuss what a well regulated militia consists of; or how a police state was smoothly set into place while the vigilant gun-loving sentries were asleep at their posts; or the comical absurdity of the "armed citizenry as bulwark against tyranny" laff line (a Predator drone would turn you and your stout little band of patriots into pink mist before you even knew you were being targeted, dumbass); or, most importantly of all, how fewer guns means less gun violence.
Good luck getting any of those discussions off the ground with a gun nut, though.
* Even that discussion is stupid, because no one argues that passing a duplicate of the 1994 ban would have immediate effects (due to grandfathering). The reduction would happen over time, as pointed out by University of Missouri (St. Louis) criminologist Richard Rosenfeld:
ROSENFELD: Policy number two has to do with our other gun violence problem. The problem we've been talking about over the last few days and indeed over the last year. And that's the gun violence problem associated with the mass shootings. That's a rather different problem.
Smart policing of the sort I just described is not going to work as well because as you pointed out, mass shootings are rare, they're not spatially concentrated. And so smarter policing --
KLEIN: You don't mean all in the same city?
ROSENFELD: They don't occur all in the same city. They don't occur in the same neighborhoods. They're so rare, they don't occur clustered anywhere, fortunately.
There it seems to me restricting access to high-powered weapons and large capacity magazines is a necessary step. As you point out, it's not going to lead to an immediate elimination or even, it seems to me, important reduction in the number of incidents. But overtime, I'm reasonably certain that it would lead to a reduction in the number of victims.
We call these mass killings because of the number of victims involved. And if there's less access to the kinds of weapons that show up disproportionately to these killings over time, there should be fewer victims.