Guns and the Real Problem

In the wake of Las Vegas shootings … this chart seems to indicate the “gun” issue is not highly correlated with the problem. Gun laws, to quote a Harvard study, are an inelastic means of controlling gun violence and the violence isn’t very well correlated with where the guns live. (and given the existence of those who “collect” stamps, guns and other things, just “counting” guns is a poor metric)

David Brin in his series of books of the “Uplift Universe” postulated among other things a push (required for species survival) to understand human sanity at a level beyond our current ability. In this universe, a psychotic shooter could, in inter-species/intra-galactic polity, damn the human race to extinction or slavery instead of just killing a number of dozens of people. For that reason, psychological tests were developed to insure that any human (sapient actually) going off planet had to be known, certified, and understood to be, well, sane. One might wonder if that sort of test or understanding is possible or plausible.

It would be more useful if, in the wake of these sorts of incidents, cries of “guns are the problem” and “guns aren’t the problem … instead pointed out that people going bug-nutz crazy is the real problem and that our treatment of the mentally ill in our society is just slightly, ever so slightly, better than debtor prison was in the 18th century as a way of treating insolvency.

So. Lets’ talk about the psychosis/depression/insanity crises not the gun one.

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  1. says:

    I don’t have the numbers on hand but I’ve heard if you restrict yourself to non-gun homicides (knives, blunt objects, etc.) the US is pretty much comparable to other countries. When it comes to gun homicides, though, it is much higher than other comparable countries. If the problem is that the US has or produces more people who ‘just go nuts’, you would expect the violence rate to be high no matter what tool was used to execute the violence.

    This is an area where 2nd amendment partisans are unable to think coherently. The reason guns were invented was to make it easier to kill. Guns are a tool that are very good at doing what they are designed to do. That is why no army in the world arms its troops with knives instead of guns…even though ‘knives can kill too’ and are much cheaper.

  2. Boonton says:

    Also I’m going to challenge you on our treatment of the mentally ill. In fact we spend quite a bit on treating the mentally ill well and our society today is very open to mental illness and avoiding being judgmental of it. If you don’t believe that consider someone telling you they are stigmatized at their job because they let it slip they have a therapist. If you heard this you might wonder if the person had slipped through a time warp from 1965. Most places today saying that would lead to people asking whether you’d recommend your therapist rather than bashing you for going to one.

    After Columbine there was a huge effort to find ‘trenchcoat mafia’ types. Goth kids, kids who were dour, sour, moody, frowny, into heavy metal, D&D, etc. were harassed by counselors hoping to ‘help’. Today we have a huge anti-bullying movement that was originally premised on the idea that the two school shooters were victims of bullying by jocks (thankfully that movement transitioned into seeing that bullying is worth countering to address suicide and depression). Only problem, the Columbine kids were not in the ‘trenchcoat mafia’, they were different kids who graduated before them. They were not bullied by jocks.

    Las Vegas is almost a case study in why this mental health approach does not work. Here you have a successful man with absolutely no social media presence who just killed scores of people one day. There is no big data set that is going to yield you any reliable indicator that will let you intervene ahead of time. My personal theory is that when people ‘snap’, they have a habit of reverting to cultural narratives. I suspect more than a few ISIS inspired terrorists, for example, are actually what you term ‘mental illness’. The only difference is that ‘white guys’ who snap revert to a cultural narrative either of obscure theories/ideologies or none at all while Muslims who do revert to the ‘jihadi’ one.

    But in order to catch such people ahead of time you need to develop a detection mechanism that does NOT end up sweeping in all types of false positives. In other words, making all the kids who wear black goth clothes go to psychologists after Columbine didn’t stop any new school shootings, it just wastes a lot of time and money at best and at worst ruins kids lives by labelling ones who did nothing and wouldn’t do anything as ‘disturbed’. But does such a detection mechanism even exist?

    If you have a radioactive element with a very long half life, you know every year so many atoms will decay but you also know there is no mechanism that can tell you which atoms will be the ones that will ‘snap’ this year. With so many difference cases combined with the fact that nonetheless mass shooters are infrequent we have no reason to think that we are dealing with anything different.