Tag Archives: guns

Ostrich policies delay the inevitable

Following in the wake of the recent school shooting in Florida, corporations all across this great land of ours are falling all over themselves to virtue signal their adherence to right-thought by distancing themselves from an organization (the NRA) that had zero culpability in the recent shooting. Brilliant. Supposedly the NRA stands as some bulwark against “common sense” gun control being passed – even though such “common sense” laws already exist and would have thrown a roadblock at the shooter’s attempt to obtain a weapon had the federal government minded their own business. The irony is that a fair portion of culpability falls at the feet of leftist “do-gooders” and not the NRA.

During the Obama administration a new policy was established that had the goal of reducing racial “disparities” in suspensions and expulsions from school, part of Obama’s overall “School Leniency Policy”. Basically the policy was this: don’t report serious crimes to the cops, try to solve the issue “in house.” That’s a laudable goal perhaps, but not when the crime is extremely violent or the incidents are persistent. After the first year of implementing this policy more than 30,000 incidents of students physically assaulting teachers went unpunished and unreported to police. The shooter, Cruz, benefited from this system of see no evil, hear no evil. His repeated misbehavior and violent threats were quietly swept under the rug in order to achieve the goals of this federal program. Indeed, Broward county went quickly from leading Florida in student arrests to having one of the lowest arrest rates in the state. Pay attention here: this is exactly the same technique by which Cuba is able to report ultra low infant mortality (ignore the problem by killing preemies or aborting anything suspect) or that the UK can show very low homicide rates (only count homicides in which someone is caught and convicted… unsolved cases are ignored in the statistic). Very easy to get the result you want if you just ignore the problem.

In any event, because Cruz managed to evade getting caught up in the criminal justice system, he had no criminal record and thus easily passed the legally mandated federal criminal background check when he purchased his AR-15 in February 2017. In other words, President Obama is far more culpable in this particular case than is the NRA. If he had merely kept the Federal government’s nose out of how local schools manage their discipline problems Cruz would have been arrested many times and never passed a criminal background check. As an aside, it has been put forth that this is why the FBI did nothing with the tips about him; he wasn’t “in the system” so was not thought to be a credible threat.

One of the companies involved in the NRA tie cutting (discount loss for members) is the Georgia based Delta Airlines. In response, the fascist/cronyist Georgia legislature decided to swat them on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. A tax bill that was wending its way through the legislature had some juicy sales-tax breaks for jet fuel that would have greatly benefited Delta. The legislature threatened Delta with the loss of those breaks unless they restored the NRA discount. Delta did not, and the legislature made good on their threat. As a private company Delta has the right to associate or not associate with whomever they please (unless they make wedding cakes, then they have to associate with everyone) so it is a glaring failure of democracy that it is possible for those in power to abuse it so. But it is also a failure that such corporate favoritism (i.e. cronyist direct tax breaks) can take place. Sometimes two wrongs do make a right.

Gun Laws: The Philosopher’s Stone of Violence

It’s happened again, there has been another unprovoked violent assault by a nut job with a gun. And with a predictability that would make Pavlov proud, the left has eructed onto the blogosphere and social media with smug condescension. Their target? The evil Republicans of course; they obviously WANT children to die. It’s as if the left honestly believes all we have to do is pass a couple of laws and (dusting hands) problem solved.

But, let us first dispel some fake new making the social media rounds. The first is the lie that there have been 18 “mass shootings” at schools in 2018. In fact there have only been 3, all others were either suicides, accidents or didn’t involve any injuries whatsoever.

Granted three is three is too many, however why not just tell the truth and say there have only be three? Why the constant need by the left to overstate the incidence of everything they find objectionable by redefining what those terms mean? Perhaps to make everything look like a crisis that requires immediate state intervention so their worldview can be forced upon everywhere else? Nah.

Likewise another tired narrative is how the US has far more shootings than any other country in the world. This is an example of the old false equivalency fallacy. Typically the US, a country of 300 million, is compared to some tiny little nation with a population of 5 million (Denmark say) without any mention of the difference in population. Clearly, every country equals every other country when comparing countries. But that is not how we do statistics.  Data must be normalized to population (rates per 100,000) and violent act (e.g. not gun assaults but homicides). When we do that, the US falls somewhere in the middle.

And if you look at individual US states and compare the strict gun law states to the loose gun law states and look at HOMICIDE rates (not gun deaths or suicides) you’ll see there really is no clear correlation one way or the other. Some super strict states (California: 4.9/100k) have a higher homicide rate than very lax ones (Montana 3.5/100k). New Hampshire has the lowest rate of any state (1.3/100k) – if you really believe laws make the difference then copy them. Isn’t the point to reduce all homicides, not just homicides using some particular weapon?

If the left were serious about stopping gun deaths they would lobby instead to end the drug war and make all drugs legal. It is easy to ignore the unseen, that is the non-newsworthy deaths of  a handful of people every day in every city all across the country due to drug-related gang turf disputes or shoot outs with authorities (bear in mind NONE of those would occur were drugs legal.) But roll a dozen or so deaths together in an afternoon and in one location and now it is Armageddon! Broken pipes get attention, but dripping faucets not so much.

Again not to belittle the deaths of anyone, but the point is it is trivially within our grasp to save the lives of tens of thousands every year by simply doing nothing – by simply ending the drug war. It costs nothing to do and in fact would yield a huge preventive dividend by allowing police to devote more attention to crimes with actual victims. But no, the left would rather continue to believe the fairy tail that somehow if we could only waive some magic wand and make all guns illegal (because that is the only reform that could even hypothetically have stopped mass attacks, all the other suggested reforms would have done nothing whatsoever to have stopped the attacks of recent memory) – well then we would have the promised land and all would be solved. Yes I hear it coming, the “Oh but Australia did it and it worked!” objection. Please. As I said above the difference in population between the two countries is 13:1. Since 1996 when Australia enacted a federal ban on firearms there have still been 11 mass attacks. Three involved guns (cough, banned, cough), the rest deployed other deadly means: arson, blunt objects, and vehicles. So yes, fewer “gun” attacks, but still plenty of violent attacks. On a per capita basis, in comparison to Australia’s rate, the US should have had 143 such attacks in the same period. The actual number? 34.

No Substitutions Please

Gun control does not and cannot “work” if the goal is to decrease human death. If the goal is to decrease gun ownership, then yes, it works just fine. Gun control affords an illusion of safety by virtue of willfully ignoring the substitution effect; that is, guns are simply a means to an end, if that means is denied, then another means may be substituted to achieve the same (or worse) effect.

Those that believe more stringent background checks will keep guns out of the hands of the “bad” guys, all I can say is consider the case of the Orlando nightclub shooter. He was investigated by the FBI. Twice. And he was still considered to be a non-threat. In other words, even if FBI agents personally engaged in full background investigations of every prospective gun owner, that nut still would have been able to buy a weapon. How are background checks supposed to improve the situation if even the gold standard of such checks failed in this case? Actual “bad” guys aren’t going to get guns the legal route anyway, so they can entirely avoid such checks. “Good” guys follow the rules, but since they are already “good,” background checks are a waste of time and resources. The “good in the past but planning something bad in the future” guys will slip through undetected as well since it’s impossible to know what someone might do. So in all cases it is entirely pointless.

In European countries they have managed to achieve the holy grail of limited gun ownership. This effectiveness affords us the opportunity to witness the substitution effect in action. Bomb attacks are unheard of in the US but are far more frequent in Europe. People that want to kill aren’t going to think “aw shucks, no guns, guess I’ll just go home and write angry Facebook comments”. No, people do what people have always done. They find another means to achieve their madness. In the case of the Nice, France attack far more people were killed with that truck (77 at last count) than would have been with an AR-15. It takes a long time to shoot 77 people with a gun – even automatically you have to pull the trigger 77 times (or more if you have bad aim). But a truck can kill scores in seconds. If guns are not available, then it pushes people to find other, more deadly, means. Next time it may be a bomb, or a biological agent. Those wishing the elimination of all guns should be careful what they wish for.

The recent attack in Munich, Germany oddly still has the gun control advocates crowing. They cite Germany’s low homicide rate by gun due to their restrictive gun ownership laws. Germany has a homicide rate of 0.9 (per 100,000) (notice I cited homicide rate, not gun death rate, as that is the proper apples to apples comparison metric). New Hampshire has a homicide rate of 1.0. New Hampshire’s gun ownership rate is 146 per hundred residents. Germany’s rate is 30. Interesting. Five times fewer guns yet the same rate of murder. Did I cherry pick New Hampshire? Of course. But that is the point – political boundaries are arbitrary distinctions. There are probably regions of Germany with a much lower and much higher murder rate. Citing countrywide statistics might be interesting fodder for navel gazing, but it does nothing to root out causes. Correlation is not causation, but for guns and deaths there isn’t even correlation. If you’re going to cite low homicide rates as being correlated with low gun ownership rates then don’t ignore the fact that it also correlate with high gun ownership rates. Likewise high homicide rates can be correlated with both low and high gun ownership rates. These are not one variable relationship and simplistic analyses do nothing to advance the conversation.

Low Hanging Fruit

With the recent shooting in San Bernardino national attention has again returned to that eternal yin-yang conflict between the gun banners and the gun lovers. Or should I say those who promote “sensible gun laws” and those that do not believe their rights should be curtailed because of the actions of others. Truth be told the former believes “sensible” = “total ban”– because, obviously, making things illegal always eliminates the problem (cough, drug war, cough, prohibition). Banning all guns because of the senseless acts of a few crazed lunatics makes about as much sense as castrating all men because some have raped. The ban-wishers realize that a total ban is not feasible, so they couch their rhetoric in innocuous sounding terms like “sensible” and “common sense” when referring to proposed legislation. The only problem with these proposed laws (if you can actually manage to get any of them to divulge exactly what they might entail) is that not a single one of them would have stopped any of the mass shooting rampages in recent memory. Not. A. Single. One. Calls for background checks to include the presence of psychological issues don’t help if one has never done anything crazy before. Barring felons from obtaining a weapon don’t help if one has never been convicted of a crime. Waiting periods don’t help if one has owned a weapon for years and then commits an atrocity or simply “borrows” it from a family member. In short it is a human problem, not a gun problem. Humans can do anything at any time and as much as we might all wish it to be true (oh, please let there be a Santa Claus!) it is metaphysically impossible to predict the behavior of any one person so as to shut them down pre-crime style.

Now some may object at this point and point to a number of “peer” countries with draconian gun laws who have lower homicide rates than the US. What this simpleminded analysis leaves out is manifold. First of all the use of the arbitrary distinction “peer” is simply a ploy to omit countries with lower gun ownership than the US but with much higher gun deaths. One prominent example is Mexico.  “Oh but that is left out because of the violence stemming from the drug war,” they will say. Oh really? That is interesting, because the US is currently involved in a massive drug war as well, so I suppose to be fair we should subtract those numbers out in the same way they deem it valid to leave Mexico out of the comparison. When you make that adjustment the estimates are that the US homicide rate drops precipitously from 4 per 100,000 down to as low as 1 per 100,000  – the same as all these other “peer” nations with their draconian laws. The other part of the analysis left out is a lot of these “peer” nations are extremely small, culturally homogeneous groups (e.g. Japan or Norway). If one were slice up the US the same way and break it down by state or city rather than as whole you find even without drug war adjustments the regional numbers are on par or lower than those very same “peer” nations. In other words 1% of US cities are responsible for the overwhelming majority of gun violence.

If those that want to “do something” about gun violence are serious then they would be well advised to examine what factors are driving the violence in these cities. They are the low hanging fruit as it were since most gun deaths occur within their borders. Since most (Chicago, Detroit, etc) already have strict gun control laws, that is obviously not going to be a solution. To solve the problem one must understand the source of the problem. That source is overwhelmingly the drug war. It is not simply mere shoots out between gangs that factor in here but all the other social and economic factors that drive one toward violence when a prohibition is placed on some arbitrary article of commerce. Like a cancer the prohibition infects the community and destroys it from within. But it all starts with the prohibition. Remove the drain stopper that is prohibition and all the other violence inducing factors will drain away as well. Will this solve all instances of gun violence? No, but wouldn’t solving 75% or more be a glorious first step?

The constitution says we have a right to keep and bear arms. Changing that fact would be incredibly difficult if not impossible. The constitution does not say drugs are illegal. Its implementation was unconstitutional, thus its termination would likewise be constitutional. We can end the drug war tomorrow with the stroke of a pen. Why not take that easier path and achieve the greatest good? Or is it more about ideology than about actually saving human lives? Prohibition never solved anything.

Free Market Gun Control?

In the wake of the horrific Oregon shooting a few weeks ago each side in the pro-gun/anti-gun debate engaged in a kind of holiday-esque ritual: unbox one’s standard talking points, adorn social media and the press with said arguments for a week or two, and then when the furor has died down quietly pack them back up for the next gun-related incident. The problem with the standard talking points is that although they may resonate with the owner, they do little to sway the opinion of the opposing side. They have become stale and useless.

Government prohibitions of market transactions do nothing to eliminate those transactions. Prohibition raises their costs and consequently the profit potential. This induces more, not fewer, people to ply that trade. Decentralized markets are the most efficient means of delivering to people the goods and services they want. People do not want themselves or anyone else to die a violent death. Let’s see if the market can provide this good. Since it is the left’s position that our government has been ineffective at stopping gun violence and it is the right’s position that the government has no business stopping gun violence, then let’s just pretend for a moment there is no government at all. How could this problem be solved absent any sort of bully running around threatening and intimidating people? Insurance. Yes, that’s right, insurance. Insurance companies are in the business of providing financial protection for unforeseen events. Consequently insurance companies are in the business of mitigating risk. If someone owns (or rents) a home they will, if they are smart, carry a liability policy. This protects the policy owner from financial ruin if they are found guilty of causing some sort of harm to another. In order to minimize such claims involving guns each insurance agency could impose their own (varying) set of regulations on gun ownership for their policyholders. Depending on the level of policy owner regulation some insurers would see more losses related to gun incidents and some fewer. Those that had fewer would find their policies and regulations being copied. The market would soon converge on the most efficient and set of regulations that allow people to own guns while still preventing gun related incidents.

A decentralized system is superior to any one-size-fits-all top down approach because it is self-regulating through an alignment of incentives. In other words it is a “carrot” and not a “stick” approach. Gun owners don’t want to be sued into poverty if despite their best efforts something unexpected happens. Insurers prefer fewer claims over more, so they will make sure their policy owners do indeed make good on those best efforts.

Would this system have prevented Sandy Hook or the Oregon shooting? Maybe, maybe not. Since both shooters got their guns from relatives perhaps those relatives would not have be able to afford the higher premiums (due to other risk factors), or perhaps they would have been compelled to have kept the guns better secured, or perhaps other policy rules would have given them second thoughts about allowing others to access to their guns. We can’t know for certain what might have happened, but the point is that there are at least several possible barriers under this system. Not a single “sensible” new law would have imposed the tiniest of impediment had they been in place prior to those incidents.

So at this point the obvious question might be, “We have insurance today, why don’t insurance companies enact these sort of regulations today?” That is actually such a good question that rather than speculate I called my insurance agent at State Farm and asked him. The reason is simple: gun related incidents not involving an actual criminal (i.e. criminals shooting other criminals) are so few in number they can’t actuarially determine the risk level for them. It’s like trying to calculate the risk of blindness caused by a snowflake injury.

Despite media hype to the contrary, these events, as horrific as they are, are so few and far between that we each have a better chance of being struck by lightning than becoming a shooting victim. Other inanimate objects controlled or used by humans cause far more harm than guns each year (cars, pools, trampolines, etc.)  and yet there is no call to ban those things. Quite odd. Insurance acts as a guide to mitigating risk. Risky things are expensive to insure (be that poor drivers or unguarded pools) and so that tends to minimize those things.

Rather than lamenting violence in this country we should be astounded that in a country with over 300 million guns the murder rate is a mere 4.7 per 100,000 per year.  That is lower than 110 other countries with more stringent gun control or outright bans. We should always strive to do better but since there seems to be no correlation between murder rates and gun control then perhaps the answer is not more gun control but rather to follow the market’s lead and see what works and copy that. Laws shackle us from trying alternative approaches and limit choice. Only the free choice of millions in the market can guide us to the best solution.

* Answers to some obvious objections:

Question: “Well what if someone just chooses to get a policy that doesn’t cover guns or they just don’t get insurance, i.e. they simply take the risk that all will be fine?”

Answer: They are of course free to do so, however, the complete lack of any protection means those they have harmed (or their agents) as a result of their negligence are without any limitation whatsoever permitted to take all that they possess in the world, up to and including their life. In other words there is no limitation of liability if you don’t have insurance or have insufficient coverage. That is a pretty big motivator for 99.9999% of all people to have the peace of mind of being protected by insurance coverage.

Question: “Well what if it is just some homicidal loner who buys a gun and is planning on dying, so they don’t care about insurance or liability?

Answer: Liability laws would need to be eliminated so that one could sue the person that sold them the gun and likewise the person that sold that person the gun, all the way up to the manufacturer of the gun. This would ensure that each person in the chain has an incentive to exercise some level of due diligence to ensure whoever they are selling the gun to represents little risk and is qualified to operate it.

Question: “But wouldn’t that just put gun manufacturers out of business if they got sued every time someone got shot?”

Answer: No, because gun manufacturers would perform whatever actions their insurer said they must do in order to remain protected under their own insurance. As long as they do what the insurer says (i.e. voluntary regulation), they are protected from any such claims. Likewise each person down the chain of sale then has an incentive to be protected by insurance and thus to have their actions regulated by their own insurer. The end result is the final seller then has the greatest incentive to ask for certification of the buyer from some other independent certifying body that has “okayed” the buyer for the seller. That certifying agency takes on the risk and you can be certain they will investigate the heck of the background of each person applying for certification. The certifying agency has their own insurance and their insurer will drive the level of due diligence they must engage in order to approve or deny gun buying permits.

Question: “So gun buyers would be in some sort of database and if they did not possess the purchasing permit they would not be able to buy a gun?”

Answer: Yes and no. Those that want to prove to the world they are low risk and not crazy would voluntarily do so. Once they have their seal of approval they could purchase whatever firearms they wanted and remain protected by insurance. But, being a free system, if someone does not want insurance they can buy guns from others who also don’t want to be part of the system – and this would all be legal. There would be no “black market” per se of people without permits buying guns. There would simply be a small market of some people doing this but the inherent risk of selling to someone like that would be so great it would make the cost of the guns so high this alone would act as a natural barrier to most. Most crazed loners are not financially well off. But given the enormous downsides very few would engage in this sort of activity. Basically the same people that are criminals today and can’t legally buy guns would remain similarly verboten under this system. But the point of gun control has never been to stop criminals from getting guns – everyone knows mere laws won’t stop that. The point has always been to minimize accidental shootings or the mentally unbalanced from obtaining weapons and this approach would accomplish this in an entirely voluntary approach. It would also foster an environment of fewer accidents since today anyone can buy a gun without any training at all. Under this approach one would have to demonstrate competency. We demonstrate competency to drive a car with a license, so why not demonstrate competency to handle a gun with a license? I’d rather have a private system doing this rather than a one size fits all government approach that is immune to improvements from new information.