02 October 2017

Category error.

The US and gun control is a category error.

The problem isn't gun control.  Gun control is how you codify a social consensus about what firearms are appropriate.  (Which is about half of why Canada has a political issue about it; there isn't such a social consensus.  The other half is American media leakage.)

People will sometimes cite the US firearms ownership stats as evidence of a particular tendency to violence.  I think that's a misinterpretation; it's a highly price-sensitive, high volume market.  That's people using up limited disposable income for social signaling purposes, not any structurally different in social group-formation terms from having to have this year's shoes.

It's an ethnogenesis based on fear-banishing rituals.  It's got entirely divorced from facts -- one of the major costs of the Cold War was a set of facts with which people could not by-and-large deal at all, and this has been the wedge of a whole lot of refusing to admit facts -- and it's got a whole lot of fear amplification driving it for profit.  (Advertising -- just plain bad, because it's about making you more insecure, and the more insecure you are, the worse your decisions will be.)  This is why tactical is a fashion category, and why there's a thriving trade in teaching people house clearing tactics in case they get burgled.

It's also why gun control -- guaranteed to increase fear in this belief system -- won't work.  It'll become (more of an; look at what got produced in response to the Clinton assault weapons ban) an act of piety to evade any such laws.


Real tough, because corporates have been granted civil rights which they ought not to have.  There isn't a simple mechanism whereby you can legally break the "I can make lots of money by terrifying people" business model.  There's the whole vast "the 2nd Amendment's modern political existence supports white supremacy and only white supremacy" problem.  (Try to imagine a future in which the NRA holds picnic-and-range-day events for inner city disadvantaged youth and has a Black American gunsmithing scholarship program where the top tier awardees go to MIT in mech eng on a full ride scholarship.  Then try to imagine how to get there from here.)

I'm not clever enough to figure out how you get around the fear; I can think of some things that would do it -- lots of good jobs doing ecological restoration and infrastructure replacement, any time anyone has a functioning government -- but not how to get there.  It's just that trying for gun control fits the whole (carefully designed) apocalyptic narrative of helplessness and fear, and won't do anything good.


dd-b said...

I'm pretty sure blaming advertising and gun industry money is completely off-target. The advertising that exists is even more narrowly distributed than liquor advertising, and the power of the NRA is from a strong *voting* bloc, not from money it can hand out (go *look* at the amounts of money they are said to have handed out, and compare that to any other source of political money!).

On the other hand, saying the thing that blocks further infringements on firearms rights is a lack of social consensus is clearly correct; in a democracy, a social consensus will get the laws fixed in a few years or a decade, max (we got the laws fixed on gay marriage long *before* there was consensus).

The Norwegians still have the record for deaths in a shooting spree, remember. This is not in any sense uniquely American.

I also think you're wrong about the racist basis of today's gun rights community. Many of the socially conservative people, who own guns, will fall in that camp, but the actual gun activists, at least the ones I know, do NOT. I've been to various parties with recent immigrants, long-term immigrants like me, Persians and Russians and people from Tennessee and Arizona and Minnesota, and a number of people of African descent, and with many of the relationships among the people attending the gatherings across racial lines, with no sign anybody found this unusual or unpleasant.

Graydon said...

+dd-b An argument of voting power condemns the NRA; if they thought gun rights applied to non-whites, they would. (As they most manifestly do not; the police are not charged for shooting armed non-whites in open-carry states, legal carry, and so on.)

No American gun rights community reacts politically when the gun rights of non-white Americans are violated. De-facto, gun rights are white-only.

orc said...

"The Norwegians still have the record for deaths in a shooting spree, remember. This is not in any sense uniquely American."

The United States is *insanely* violent, almost to the point where a (different?) failed state would looks peaceful. The first world has ways of dealing with gun violence by changing the laws to make it much more difficult for a nice middle class terrorist to get a stack of guns, which is why in the rest of the world they end up needing to get some sort of state support to actually do a repeated terrorist attack. Here in the abattoir of democracy we just shrug and forget about it because it only takes a couple of weeks for the now-daily terrorist attacks to add up to the death toll of even a record-breaking attack like (pick whichever one you want.)

And when the Lone Eagles(tm) start getting up to the death tolls of the Oklahoma City fertilizer bomb or the various state-sponsored massacres against black people & first nations, I'm sure the NRA and their fellow death cultists will continue to effortlessly find excuses for the bloodshed.

Anonymous said...

While gun manufacturers are most definitely part of the problem, the widespread undercurrent of white supremacy that's become so horrifyingly visible of late is (IMHO at least) one of the primary drivers of US gun ownership - in addition to frighteningly proud bigots owning large number of firearms, the wider culture of white supremacy seems to me to be strongly associated with the desire to be able to defend yourself with lethal violence even among people who are not openly bigoted. More specifically, the culture of white supremacy in the wider sense looks to me to be part of the "culture of honor" whose demise seems most strongly associated with the long-term decline in murder in developed nations (https://videojuegosycultura.files.wordpress.com/2008/01/long-term-historical-trends-of-violent-crime.pdf), but which is mostly strongly present in those portions of the US with the highest average murder rates and higher than usual levels of gun ownership.

As a side-note, I regularly see two arguments from US gun fans as to why exceptionally permissive gun laws are necessary - protection from crime, and protection from tyranny. The first is impressively fact impervious, both because on average violent crime off all sorts is notably lower than it was 10 or (even more) 20 years ago, and because what evidence exists suggests that gun ownership does very little to reduce the likelihood of being the victim of a violent crime and that gun ownership is significantly (and unsurprisingly) correlated with dying by violence.

The second is even stranger (from my PoV) - that owning handguns and rifles by some bizarre means prevents take-over by a tyrannical government. This position always makes me wonder if any people who believe this have any familiarity with the power of modern military weapons and how they compare with firearms that are legal in the US.

If we could break these two myths, we'd be well on our way to making the US notably less violent (and from my PoV, considerably more civilized). It's both odd and horrifying that we may see the 2nd myth put to the test relatively soon. It seems to me that there's an increasingly chance that the current US president will be tossed out via the 25 Amendment or perhaps impeachment, and it's equally clear he won't go quietly. As a result, an uprising by the well-armed white racists who make up his core supporters seems far from impossible.

It's equally clear that they'll lose swiftly and badly, since while some police departments seem far too sympathetic to their cause, the US military most definitely is not, and so I'd expect any such uprising to be largely over in less than a month with the result being a fair number of dead racists (and a fair number of truly horrific incident perpetrated by these people). In addition to possibly delegitimizing their cause, I wonder if this result would cast serious doubt on the ability to civilian firearms to oppose military force. I suppose we may see.

Graydon said...


It reads like you're getting tangled in the ostensible meaning, rather than the coded meaning.

White supremacy is a loot-sharing system; if you're at the top of the heap, the power of the state is used to remove -- whether by relocation, incarceration, or genocide -- those who might hinder your economic goals. State power furthers your ends. If you're in the white part of the heap, you're trading your general political support for having state power not oppose your ends, a share of the loot (now much diminished, since this was invented for the general european colonial expansion and there aren't any more conquerable continents), and legal exculpation for acting in nominally extra-legal ways to enforce the loot access hierarchy. (So, the "Oklahoma race riot" that was burning down the prosperous black part of town because blacks are not allowed to be more visibly prosperous than whites; it violates the hierarchy.)

There's nothing mythological about the threat of violence to prevent non-white voting, non-white political violence -- all the black leaders in Ferguson are dead of extremely dubious suicides -- and the restriction of access to weapons to whites. It's a real and important thing in the US political makeup.

So, "safety" -- from another political system -- and "tyrannical government" -- one that does not operate on the basis of white supremacy -- are not myths, they're just not the meanings you'd expect if you weren't looking at the politics with an awareness that white supremacy is foundational rather than some sort of external corrosion.

There's pretty much daily armed uprisings by white supremacists. They're not called that, they're rarely very large, and they don't usually make the news and if they do make the news they get normalizing language. (A cop shooting a black man for being armed in an open carry state is an act of extra-legal white supremacist violence.) I would not even begin to suggest that the US military doesn't have a white supremacism problem, either.

An insurrectional militia can't effectively oppose military force in an open field battle of maneuver. They can relatively easily crash the local economy and render an area uninhabitable.