We Have a Social Disease

I will put Chaos into fourteen lines
And keep him there; and let him thence escape
If he be lucky; let him twist, and ape
Flood, fire, and demon — his adroit designs
Will strain to nothing in the strict confines
Of this sweet order, where, in pious rape,
I hold his essence and amorphous shape,
Till he with Order mingles and combines.
Past are the hours, the years of our duress,
His arrogance, our awful servitude:
I have him. He is nothing more nor less
Than something simple not yet understood;
I shall not even force him to confess;
Or answer. I will only make him good.

Edna St. Vincent Millary

Like many people, I’ve been reflecting on the horrible murders that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School not quite two weeks ago. There’s a natural human need to search for order in the chaotic, to winnow morals from events, to devise solutions to problems and the reactions to these murders reflect that need. For many, having formed their opinions long since, the murders are nails, waiting for a hammer they’ve long had at the ready.

I think the reality is discouraging. Considered narrowly, a “pseudocommando” spree killer who expects or even intends to die in an attack on a soft target, clearly the situation in Newtown, probably cannot be stopped.

Considered more broadly, the intentional homicide rate in the United States is appallingly high—according to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime the highest among major developed economies at 4.2 per 100,000 population per year. I don’t believe that the solutions that are being proposed are well-suited to the problem but they do provide some insights into the views of those proposing them.

One point-of-view is that the problem is just too many guns. I don’t believe that view stands up to scrutiny for a number of reasons. If it were true, I would think that as the number of guns increases, so would the number of gun homicides. That isn’t the case:

The number of guns in the U.S. surged from 192 million in 1994 to 310 million in 2009. That includes 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles and 86 million shotguns. There are now about as many firearms in the U.S. as people. These stats have been widely reported. What has not been so widely reported is that the number of firearm-related homicides fell from 17,073 in 1993 to 9,903 in 2011 (up slightly from 9,812 in 2010). Per capita, the gun-related murder rate has dropped by more than 50 percent over the past two decades.

Additionally, I would think that, since gun ownership by whites in America is nearly twice that by blacks, that homicides by whites would be higher than by blacks. That isn’t the case, either. Indeed, despite African Americans constituting a far smaller proportion of the population than whites, there are approximately as many black homicide offenders as there are white each year.

The nature of victims, too, differs by race. Whites are more likely to kill their wives, kids, or coworkers. Homicides by blacks are more likely to be drug-related.

The homicide rate with white offenders is about the same in the United States as it is in Switzerland or Germany. If the homicide rate with black offenders were only to fall to the same level as the homicide rate with white offenders, our homicide rate would be about the same as New Zealand, Australia, or Canada.

If white Americans are arming themselves in fear of attack by black American, they are mistaken. Murder is almost exclusively intraracial and property crimes increasingly so. White murder victims are likely to have been killed by other whites; black victims have almost certainly been killed by other blacks.

I am emphatically not saying that I think that our high rates of homicide or gun homicide are intrinsically racial. I am saying that we have a social problem and that social problem is racial.

Whether the reason for high homicide rates is due to poverty or income inequality is controversial:

While cross-sectional regressions exhibited a positive relationship between the Gini coefficient and crime rates, first differencing regressions found negative or insignificant coefficients for this variable. These divergent results suggest either that 10-year time-series changes are different from long-term equilibrium cross-sectional relationships (which seems unlikely), or that coefficient estimates are biased in both regression specifications. Whether the biases offset each other, resulting in a null hypothesis, is not known. Nevertheless, these results suggest that greater attention should be given to identifying the many factors affecting crime before one concludes that income inequality is the culprit.

Translated from the sociologese: income inequality is not the first place to look for high homicide rates. See also here.

My own view is that Pat Moynihan was right many years ago and the disintegration of the black family has had serious implications for society as a whole. The large number of households headed by single women and the difficulty young black men encounter in finding jobs may lead them to seek social support and affirmation from gangs that support themselves through criminal activity (a very high proportion of homicides by young black men are drug-related).

So, I agree with Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Let’s tighten up on guns sales in the secondary market. But, while we’re thinking about how to reduce the number of people be murdered in the United States, let’s be more frank about the actual sources of our problems. We have serious social problems and it’s about time we addressed them.

90 comments… add one
  • God, I hated writing that post.

  • Andy

    It’s an excellent post though, so thanks for persevering.

  • Andy

    The homicide rate with white offenders is about the same in the United States as it is in Switzerland or Germany. If the homicide rate with black offenders were only to fall to the same level as the homicide rate with white offenders, our homicide rate would be about the same as New Zealand, Australia, or Canada.

    Where are you getting those figures? From the DoJ stats you linked to, the white homicide rate is about 3.5 per 100k in the US. In all the countries you mention it’s less than 1 per 100k except Canada, which is 1.6. Am I missing something?

  • PD Shaw

    Good post. I’m reminded of another of Dave’s post about King Canute, about the limitations of ordering the waves about. There are things we can do like tightening gun sales on the secondary market, but we should not be surprised or indignant about the nature of man and the limits of power.

  • One point-of-view is that the problem is just too many guns. I don’t believe that view stands up to scrutiny for a number of reasons.

    Like Sweden, where gun ownership is very high (at least by European standards) and yet their murder rate is 1/100,000 while our is 4.8/100,000. And Norway as well, by European standards their gun laws are fairly relaxed. And the Czech Republic which has the most relaxed gun laws.

    My point isn’t that guns are not a problem…guns certainly can be a problem depending on the culture.

  • Another thing to keep in mind when discussing this are things like relative risk/probabilities. If we are going to expend significant political capital and incur large costs…is this where we want to do it?

  • PD Shaw

    For those who didn’t read it, I thought Ten Myths About Mass Shootings was quite good (though a little weak on the point about armed security guards at all schools, which I don’t think makes any sense from a cost-benefit p.o.v., except high-school, and frankly we have too many security guards in Illinois at least which only benefit a certain privileged class benefits, but not the unwashed masses)

    One other state I found interesting, in 2007 the murder/manslaugher rate in Chicago and Dallas were both 16 per 100,000. Those are two strikingly different legal regimes, Chicago being perhaps the strickest gun control city in America, and more often Dallas’ rate has been lower. I tend to see the cause and effect in reverse; in Chicago, an innocent child is walking to the bus stop from a housing project when stray shots from gangbangers trying to kill each other mows the child down. In Chicago, they seek to do something about it. I don’t know enough about Dallas to cast judgments, but the question for Chicago is whether blaming the gun and not the gangbangers is a form of seeking cheap grace.

  • TastyBits

    People who live in crime ridden neighborhoods have guns, but the do not have permits or licenses. The gun control laws do not keep guns out. Guns, like drugs, are easy to obtain despite being outlawed. I suspect that the actual black gun ownership numbers are higher than the official numbers.

    Poorer communities have less resources to limit the impact of crime, especially drug related. Poor people cannot easily move. They cannot afford lawyers to keep the police honest. They cannot gate their communities, and they cannot get laws passed to protect their communities. Many of these communities are darker, and therefore, it appears to be racial.

    The “War on Drugs” has been an utter failure. Fully automatic weapons were a problem with the “War on Alcohol”, and gun laws were just as effective. Ending that war was the solution.

    The “War on Poverty” is the other problem. In an effort to reverse the effects of historical racism, the black family has been destroyed.

    Unfortunately, the poor have few rich or powerful friends. They are a convenient tool to advance an agenda.

  • jan

    Attempting to tie violent behavior strictly to the number of guns around is more of an emotionally satisfying solution rather than one that realistically confronts the problem. Or, per H.L. Mencken’s popular quote: “For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.”

  • PD Shaw

    Tastybits, I suspect you are right that gun ownership stats under-represent the poor. But we need to work with the data we have available.

    OTOH, people who illegally own guns probably bought them from people who legally purchased them in the general area. I’m guessing its not an NRA redneck, but who knows? Also, as I believe is intimated in your comment, being poor and owning a gun, plus carrying a little to much reefer will get you off the street for at least ten. Its not hard for cops to ask what your doing, and pretend to notice a bulge in your jacket, and surprisingly find that in a dangerous neighborhood a pat down reveals a gun in the pants. What they find at the jail is just lagniappe.

  • michael reynolds

    To argue that more guns = more murder is false but also beside the point. One man with ten guns is not going to commit ten murders. We are a wealthy country and lost of people can afford lots of guns. One man with one gun is all it takes to commit one gun murder, or one mass murder, or one suicide, or to cause one accidental shooting.

    100% of murders committed at a distance of more than, say, five feet, are committed with guns. So if we were to wave a magic wand and cause all guns to disappear, we would also instantly end a category of murder: the sniper or drive-by.

    It is also pretty tough to commit an accidental killing at more than a foot of two distance without a gun. (Excepting the automobile, about which, more later.) So we would eliminate an entire category of fatal accident.

    It is not impossible, but far more difficult to have a road rage incident turn into murder without a gun. It is also more difficult to slaughter your entire family – as happened to my sister-in-laws best friend – without guns.

    And of course even when slaughtering kindergarteners, it’s helpful to have a gun. It’s doubtful it could have been accomplished with a knife.

    If anyone can disprove any of the above, please do so.

    So, without guns we know this: No sniper attacks, no drive-by’s, no unintended victims of drive-bys, no children sleeping in bathtubs in a the hope of avoiding being collateral damage in a drive-by, obviously no accidental shootings, far fewer mass murders, fewer impulse murders and fewer successful suicides.

    Again, any problem with any of those conclusions?

    Okay. Is there another tool in our possession whose elimination would do all those things? Maybe the car. But we need cars and we don’t need guns. And of course we labor unceasingly to make cars safer. Just in recent times we’ve added seatbelts, airbags, crumple zones, safety cages, padded dashboards, collapsible steering wheels, ABS, lane change warning, superior lights, anti-skid, improved bumpers and we’re working on systems that minimize injury to pedestrians.

    And the comparable improvements in gun safety? Cue the cricket sounds.

    We ban cigarettes from public spaces on weak evidence that they can cause cancer in non-smokers. But we should have lots of guns because despite all of the above they are vital for. . . For what, exactly? To hunt quail with thousand dollar shotguns and thus save on the price of chicken?

    We behave toward guns in an entirely irrational way. They are not treated as we would treat any other object capable of killing people. We rationalize, we excuse, we twist ourselves in knots to defend the indefensible. This is madness. This is the behavior of cult members.

  • michael reynolds

    As to the specific matter of a “social disease,” yes, but so? So what do we propose to do about the fact that humans are murderous creatures?

    I’m all for legalizing drugs. All drugs. And that would certainly cut down on murder among drug gangs. Presumably there would be no drug gangs, so they wouldn’t need to shoot each other over territories. Total Wine and Bev-Mo don’t murder each other over wine territory.

    But that has nothing to do with Adam Lanza. You know what would have stopped Adam Lanza? If his mother had not brought guns into her home.

    As far as we know he was not crazy. So that dodge doesn’t work. We have no evidence that he was somehow particularly affected by video games or movies. So that dodge doesn’t work. If he was an Aspie he was by definition not part of “society” in the usual sense. He could have shot any security guard on his way into the school, or gone to a day care, or a mall, so that dodge doesn’t work. He was not some super criminal who would have built his own gun out of things he found at Home Depot. He was not part of some criminal network that “would have found a way.” None of the usual evasions work.

    There is one thing, one thing only, that would have stopped Adam Lanza: if he did not have a gun. That one thing. And only that one thing.

  • steve

    1) I believe there is probably a threshold effect with guns. Once you reach a certain number, adding more doesnt change much in kill rates.

    2) I object to special interest groups excluding their interest from consideration. Both mental illness and guns should be on the table.

    3) I agree with Verdon in that we need to look at costs. I have gotten castigated on this point elsewhere, but some cures, which probably wouldnt work anyway, cost too much for the expected results.

    4) Make drugs legal (or not illegal). Most of that murder rate for blacks goes away. Makes us all safer and saves money.

    Steve

  • jan

    100% of murders committed at a distance of more than, say, five feet, are committed with guns. So if we were to wave a magic wand and cause all guns to disappear, we would also instantly end a category of murder: the sniper or drive-by.

    There is no magic wand. So, why even place that into consideration? What is reality is that guns are part of society, whether they are banned or not. If banned, there will be a black market kind of availability and mystique. If not banned, hopefully there will be more implementation of existing gun laws, and perhaps longer registration periods. However, society will never be able to magically wave off all violent behavior, only manage it better.

  • jan

    “I’m all for legalizing drugs. All drugs. And that would certainly cut down on murder among drug gangs.”

    Legalization of all drugs just opens another cache of problems — a virtual Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences, mainly dealing with a removal of stigma, along with open ended opportunity, making it easier for the most vulnerable of society to become addicts. I’m far more concerned about our youth, and formation of early habits that can forever follow them in life, than I am about gang-bangers.

  • michael reynolds

    Jan:

    Yes, you’re making the argument for impotence. It’s the gun nut’s version of, “There will always be rape, so hey, why not relax and enjoy it?”

    Hey, what can we do? There’s always been disease, why bother trying to cure it? There’s always been slavery, what’s the big deal? We’ve always had Norsemen invading and burning all the churches and killing everyone, but whaddya gonna do?

    The real social disease here? The special, special way people like you deal with the murder of twenty little children. Hey, what can we do, am I right?

  • jan

    Michael,

    As usual your use of hyperbole muddies the discussion at hand. Your constant reference to anyone objecting to your gun rant, is that they are supporters of murdering children. How is that adding to the conversation?

    All I’m saying is that the simple substraction of guns from society is not going to cure the problem. It may even add to it, as the most violently-inclined members of society will have access to weapons, using them on the law-abiding sitting ducks in society, who have given up their weapons because of the strong arm of government.

    It will be interesting to follow the story, which listed all the gun owners in a certain part of NY. Some people are saying that it will give criminals a better scope on which areas to rob — mainly the ones having the least amount of red dots, denoting minimal gun ownership in those homes.

  • michael reynolds

    Jan:

    You don’t actually bother to read what I write. You glance, pull out a phrase and type in your programmed response. I find this frustrating.

  • TastyBits

    @michael reynolds

    The real social disease here? The special, special way people like you deal with the murder of twenty little children. Hey, what can we do, am I right?

    You should specify that these are twenty white children, and the killer was the white guy next door. Killing dogs will get more attention than killing black children. None of your solutions are going to help them, but “what can we do?”

  • jan

    “You don’t actually bother to read what I write. You glance, pull out a phrase and type in your programmed response. I find this frustrating.”

    Seriously, Michael, what did I miss?

    First paragraph —> dealing with your version of a gun nut’s version of something (not defined).

    Second paragraph —> trailing into a discussion of disease, slavery, and Norseman invading and burning churches (???)

    Third paragraph —> “The special, way people like you deal with the murder of twenty little children.”

    What other substantive details/comments/points were offered in that post?

  • michael reynolds

    Tasty:

    You are absolutely right that we value white children more than black children. We scarcely notice a black child dying.

    My “solution” — and it’s not quick or easy or complete — is to change the way people think about guns. We need to change attitudes toward guns. That will be a long, long educational process. But I think the younger generations are salvageable. I think we can see a future with fewer guns, where gun owners are seen as beyond-the-pale.

    That requires no new law. It requires the same kind of propaganda campaign we carried out on littering and cigarette smoking. The kind of change of heart we went through on things like cock fighting or use of the ‘n’ word. 30 or 40 years from now most people could see gun ownership as what it is: an anti-social act.

  • TastyBits

    @jan

    … I’m far more concerned about our youth, and formation of early habits that can forever follow them in life, than I am about gang-bangers.

    If it were your youth that the gang-bangers were shooting up, you might have a different opinion.

    All the reasons for outlawing drugs was a reason for Prohibition. Outlawing alcohol produced the same results as outlawing drugs. Alcohol and other drugs are regulated, but there is no federal “War on Alcohol Abuse”. It is a local or state issue.

    The formation of early habits is the responsibility of the parents.

  • michael reynolds

    Jan:

    Go talk to someone else. There’s a bar and you don’t clear it.

  • jan

    “The formation of early habits is the responsibility of the parents.”

    It certainly is their responsibility, but culltural and peer group influences oftentimes can unravel the best upbringings.

  • jan

    “The formation of early habits is the responsibility of the parents.”

    It certainly is their responsibility, but cultural and peer group influences oftentimes can unravel the best upbringings.

  • I agree with Michael that stigmatization is likely to be more effective than prohibitions. Where I think I disagree is that I don’t believe you can effectively stigmatize something while promoting it in movies and videogames.

    I agree with steve in the notion that, once a certain threshold of availability has been reached, adding more has no effect. In the specific case of guns and even more so with high capacity magazines which are incredibly easy to make I think that bans might increase the organized crime that underpins a lot of the high murder rate.

    I have no problem with legalizing marijuana. I think that legalizing all Schedule I drugs or, worse, all drugs would create far more misery than it would alleviate.

    The model of Prohibition should be considered more critically. Prohibition did not only lead to the rise of organized crime it also resulted in less alcohol abuse. Repealing it wasn’t the only measure that was necessary—AFDC was the other component.

    When Prohibition ended the organized criminal gangs didn’t just disappear or take up needlepoint. They turned their attention to other illegal activities including extortion, drug trafficking, prostitution, illegal gambling, and corruption in government and unions. On the Waterfront is a dramatization of one of the unforeseen consequences of repealing Prohibition.

    The issue with criminal gangs is barriers to entry, not some unique character of prohibited substances.

    In attempted answer to Michael’s question, I don’t think that the problems within the black community will be eliminated by legalizing drugs. They’ve been built over the period of centuries and they won’t be remediated quickly. Gangs and gang violence are the symptom, not the disease. Destruction of the family, something now ongoing in the white community as well, is one of the major issues. I think it’s obvious that something should be done but I honestly don’t know what. A de-emphasis on marriage, the acceptability of children born out of wedlock, the acceptability of irresponsibility, the low status of men, a seriously flawed educational system, and the lack of meaningful jobs are all factors.

  • PD Shaw

    steve, I am quite skeptical that drug legalization will make much of a dent in the murder rate. Most, if not all of the people on death row when I worked a summer at an appellate defender’s office, suffered severe drug addiction. Admittedly we were looking for this kind of stuff because its one of the two things that might get a new trial — evidence of a severe drug problem might be evidence of a severe mental health problem. Cheaper, more available drugs, will kill some people, particularly the poor, the uneducated, those without hope.

  • From my point of view the problem with gun bans as a solution is that they have practically no fractional results. What’s it going to do if you slow the increase in the number of legal guns by 10%? Nothing.

    I think we can stipulate that a 100% ban on all guns including 100% confiscation of existing guns will eliminate gun violence. I think we can also stipulate that won’t happen.

    I have less confidence than Michael in this:

    But that has nothing to do with Adam Lanza. You know what would have stopped Adam Lanza? If his mother had not brought guns into her home.

    I think he would have just gotten his guns elsewhere. There have been mass murders recently in both Sweden and Germany. Those didn’t depend on their perpetrators’ parents bringing guns into the home.

    The guns involved were legal weapons purchased legally. What would have disincentivized Lanza’s mom from buying them? Social stigma? How do you make that work with an armed constabulary and without censorship?

  • PD Shaw

    Several years ago, here in Springfield, a young man diagnosed schizophrenic attempted a mass killing at the capitol. He had lost his FOID card and guns. He had stopped taking his medicine and believed in some government conspiracy was influencing his thoughts. He went to the local gun store and stole a gun (I believe with the old finger in the pocket trick). The gun store owner shot him as he fled, accidentally winging his son. The young man attacked the capitol, surprising and killing the first security guard, but when he saw the blood, he stopped and fled.

    Just think of all the problems with this picture. He didn’t own a gun or have the legal right to do so, but he stole one. He was in the mental health system, but he stopped taking his meds. The gun store owner was unable to use his gun to stop him. The security guard couldn’t save himself. Basically it seems like a miraculous fluke in his mental circuitry stopped him from killing dozens of people.

  • PD Shaw

    As I commented on the recent discussion about the lack of stigma in out-of-wedlock births, I believe for stigma to work there must be some shared social space. Inner city kids don’t care what strangers living behind a security system in some other part of town or suburb think about them. Gun owners don’t care what gun grabbers think, some even wear their scorn like a badge.

  • I think fear of “justice” is fundamental to any kind of reform that has any promise of being successful.

    Promulgate the concept of “karma,” “what goes around, comes around.” “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

    Of course, Lantz was essentially a kamikaze, so those sweet thoughts don’t work so well.

    The boy in P.D.’s example might have been deterred, though.

  • jan

    I agree about one point Dave made regarding ‘stigma,’ in that it won’t work if you demean guns and violence in real time, while glamorizing and pushing them out there in the entertainment industry.

    Cigarette smoking has been mildly effected through the use of stigmatization. However, note that there was a concomitant action taken by the movie industry in doing away with smoking in movie scenes. Also, smoking has become more costly through higher taxes, making it out of reach for some, consequently resulting as an additional deterrent. Putting horrific pictures on cigarette packaging is another more recent attempt to make smoking less attractive, by graphically showing future consequences that might occur with the continuation of the habit.

    As for the legalization of drugs, I remain on the side of non-legalization. The connection between drugs and crime is vividly strong. Simply stated, drugs alter brain chemistry, weakening one’s judgment, self-discipline, impulse control, and even the ability to decipher right from wrong or what’s real or unreal. Drugs wreck havoc not only on the individual addict, but also on their families and friends. Just attend a few al-anon meetings, especially ones specifically geared to parents of addicts. It will break your heart to hear story after story of the massive amounts of grief/helplessness experienced in this emotionally frayed group of people.

    Even long term marijuana usage can produce paranoia, extreme irritability as well as symptoms of schizophrenia. With the cultivation of the present-day weed, having greater percentages of the hallucinogenic component, THC, you are also seeing higher admission rates into ER’s of people freaking out on this drug. Sure, a person can’t OD on marijuana, but if used outside of it’s medical applications it can socially destroy a person’s life. So, I would caution those who fluff cannabis off as doing so little harm that it should become totally unregulated.

  • TastyBits

    @jan

    Changing “drugs” to “guns” is the gun control/ban people’s argument.

    Taking some goodness from me to give to your child is socialism. If my actions are causing your child to do something, your child is the problem. Proper child rearing requires a large amount of work, and I am not willing to do another parent’s work.

    Sensible federal regulations on the manufacture and transport of goods should include drugs, but the federal government should not be involved in drug law enforcement. Local communities or states can restrict drugs as is done with alcohol.

    Smoking weed does not turn one into a flesh-eating maniac. This is as silly as the “Reefer Madness” movie. Alcohol is as bad as anything said about drugs. Jagermeister and Red Bull is legal speedballing. Alcohol related fatalities are somehow overlooked. As are fraternity hazing incidents.

    The gun ban advocates refuse to accept personal responsibility for their and their children’s safety, and the drug ban advocates refuse to accept personal responsibility for their and their children’s actions. I will accept sensible restrictions and regulations on both, but those are to improve the community’s good not an individual.

    The “War on Drugs” and the “War on Poverty” are destroying poorer communities and families. These tend to be folks with darker skin, but it is not racially motivated. Many of these reasons are based upon historic government sanctioned and sponsored racism.

    Middle and upper income/class folks have insulated themselves from the results of these noble efforts. When gangs begin conducting turf wars in middle class communities, when middle class children begin getting shot in the crossfire, when the police begin shaking down middle class folks, when middle class begin being getting killed because a comb or bag of skittles is mistaken for a gun, the nobility will be questioned, but until then, “too bad, so sad”.

    @Steve Verdon

    I will leave the civil liberties to you, but I will note that when police begin shooting middle class pets in mistaken raids, things might change.

  • Andy

    Michael,

    Ok, you’re for a prohibition of guns, but against a prohibition of drugs. Why wouldn’t a gun prohibition cause all the same sorts of problems that alcohol and drug prohibition did and do?

    Again, any problem with any of those conclusions?

    As an academic exercise, no. One could switch “guns” to “drugs” or “military force” or “nuclear weapons” or any number of other things and come to similar conclusions. Of course the problem is that it’s easy to fantasize about such things, but it’s much more difficult, if not impossible, to turn the fantasy into reality or even a close approximation.

  • If anyone can disprove any of the above, please do so.

    Do you even read what people post Michael?

    1. Removing all guns from the U.S. is not possible since we don’t have your magic wand.
    2. Countries that do have high gun ownership rates and/or lax gun laws have significantly lower murder rates.
    3. The costs involved are going to be extremely high and not just dollars and cents costs either.

    Seriously Michael do you want your creative works reviewed for the appropriate forms of violence/aggression? Are you going to be happy with a significantly higher level of censorship? And is gun violence always depicted in a positive way? Is the movie Unforgiven the same as Bad Boys? Personally, I’d be fine without movies like Bad Boys, but Unforgiven was an awesome movie and I doubt it would make anyone want to buy a gun. So you are treading on very dubious ground, IMO.

    I agree with Michael that stigmatization is likely to be more effective than prohibitions. Where I think I disagree is that I don’t believe you can effectively stigmatize something while promoting it in movies and videogames.

    I think it depends, some movies, books, television shows and other forms of media may have a promotional effect. Some wont even if they show gun violence.

    For example, video games are becoming a “cause” for Newtown, but the research on video games and aggression is not so clear cut. Some games show increased aggression amongst players while others show more cooperation. The cooperation games are ones where players are encouraged to work in a team. And the link between increased levels of aggression and mass murder is at best probably extremely tenuous.

    I have no problem with legalizing marijuana. I think that legalizing all Schedule I drugs or, worse, all drugs would create far more misery than it would alleviate.

    I think you could simply decriminalize the drugs and go with the stigmatization approach would work much more easily and quickly than with guns. But our current approach to drugs is undoubtedly creating both crime and violence, and lots of it.

    When Prohibition ended the organized criminal gangs didn’t just disappear or take up needlepoint. They turned their attention to other illegal activities including extortion, drug trafficking, prostitution, illegal gambling, and corruption in government and unions.

    I think you need to re-work your time line there a bit. Organized crime has a very long history. It did not start with prohibition, although the latter may have given them a financial boost that allowed the mafia to further entrench itself into our society. For example the Cosa Nostra (Sicilian Mafia) pre-dates prohibition in the U.S. by at least 50 years. It almost surely was exported to the U.S. during the 1800’s via imigration, much like how Mara Salvatrucha started in Los Angeles in the 1980s and spread to other countries via deportations.

    As far as we know he was not crazy.

    He absolutely did have a mental health problem. Aspergers/autism are not medical conditions like appendicitis where you can excise the problem organ and there you go, no more problem. While the majority of people with aspergers/autism are non-violent it is quite possible that the condition Lanza had played a very significant role in his decisions to kill. Almost surely more so than playing WoW or some other video game.

  • PD Shaw

    Tastybits, heavy use of cannabis is associated with severe mental health problems, and believed to be a contributing risk-factor to at least some forms of schizophrenia. I support de-criminalization, but do so primarily from a cost-benefit analysis that it’s not worth putting potheads in jail. And I don’t believe the money will be freed up for additional mental health care; we will just have more mental illness in society. Since susceptibility to mental illness is a matter of genetics, social/economic support and recency of immigration, most Americans will be unaffected and unconcerned.

  • jan

    TastyBits,

    Changing “drugs” to “guns” is the gun control/ban people’s argument.

    I’ve read that statement several times, and don’t understand the inference.

    Smoking weed does not turn one into a flesh-eating maniac.

    I never said it did.

    There is a difference, though, between the effects of guns and drugs/alcohol on a person. The former you hold, rather than injecting, popping or smoking. The latter is taken into their body and can distort reality and impair judgment. If you put the two together, drugs and weapons, it raises the probability that the weapon will be in more mentally unstable or emotionally immature hands causing a greater possibility of harm to others. It’s simplistic, but when looking at criminal behavior it’s frequently attached to some kind of history of substance abuse.

    According to studies done, alcohol is far and away the substance most involved in violence from one person to another. However, the component which ties alcohol and drugs together, warranting some kind of regulation, IMO, be it banning or age- restricting them, is a human being’s individual propensity for addiction. In other words, some people can take or leave, both alcohol and drugs, use them recreationally with no harm or foul involved. Others can not. If you believe the medical model describing addiction as a ‘disease,’ then it puts the exposure of these substances to the masses on an entirely different level — acknowledging good parenting has far less jurisdiction and/or influence over their son or daughter’s life path with a disease-oriented malady

    Furthermore, if your child has addictive tendencies, and if drugs/alcohol legally abound in the culture around them, the possibility of them becoming hooked becomes far more probable than if they weren’t born with these temperament tendencies inculcated in their genetic code. For instance, walking down Venice Beach boardwalk there are marijuana hawkers along the way enticing teens to come in and get their doctor’s prescription for cannabis. I don’t think this is right on two counts — one involving the immaturity of the potential user, and the other involving the trigger effect it has on addictive personalities.

    Like PD Shaw, I support decriminalization for drug users. However, I do not extend this to drug pushers. There have been some good court-mandated programs that have been of great benefit for drug rehabilitation, in lieu of jail time — and, I support more of these programs.

  • TastyBits

    @jan

    Those who advocate gun bans also claim guns are linked to crime, mental health, impulse control, self-discipline, etc. The family is also destroyed by guns. I will let @michael reynolds make the anti-gun case, but from what he has written, I think he has touched on many of these connections. I do not agree with him, but he is making an argument based upon the negative consequences of guns.

    The anti-gun advocates also make the argument that because guns are readily available, enable individuals with a propensity for violence the ability to engage in this destructive activity. Some people are able to use guns responsibly, but some cannot. Outlawing guns will keep these people from acting irresponsibly.

    The “War on Drugs” has created criminals out of drug users, and therefore, it should be expected to have higher numbers of abusers. Criminals will abuse anything, but that should be expected. They have a lot of downtime, and they fill it by getting high. I would be wary of any studies including self-reporting by criminals.

    If your child has a propensity towards substance abuse, they are probably already abusing some substance. Huffing is a problem. Why are bags and spray cans not outlawed? Prescription drugs are a problem. Why are medications not outlawed? Alcohol is a problem. Why is it not outlawed? Children are able to obtain these easily.

    I refuse to have my behavior proscribed because somebody may not be able to control themselves. I would suggest the problem is the abuser/killer, and their behavior should be limited. Part of the problem is parents who refuse to discipline their children. I would suggest more parents try spanking. If done correctly, a spanking should be effective for about two years. If your child needs a more frequent dose, you have a problem child.

    Finally, what would a child (under 18) be doing at Venice Beach unsupervised? I would think most parents would choose the VB stoners over the LBC gang-bangers. Personally, I’ll take the gang-bangers, but I cannot stand patchouli.

  • TastyBits

    @PD Shaw

    If marijuana were legal, the number of non-mentally ill people smoking weed would increase, and the high percentage would be lowered.

  • TastyBits

    @Steve Verdon

    To my knowledge, the studies showing increased aggression after playing violent video games are based upon answering questions. The subjects have not done anything aggressive, but they have picked the more aggressive answer to a question.

  • I think everyone commenting here should go read Eudora Welty’s “Why I Live at the PO Box” and report back after New Year’s.

  • I might go a little insane once in a while, but I ain’t crazy.

    I agree with TB. The War on Poverty hurt blacks tremendously.
    Mainly because it compensated them while people persistently despised them, and still do.

  • Just to round this out, The Pointers, 1974:

    http://youtu.be/FVxv6AFt7YM

  • steve

    Steve V- lott’s work has been debunked. Countries of similar economic development with more guns, have more homicides. Bob Ehrlich had a very nice analysis at Reason a few years ago. Very heavy on the math.

    http://reason.com/archives/2001/05/21/more-guns-means-more-guns

    PD- Most of the shootings we see affecting minorities are drug related, usually over sales. Anecdotally, that is what my friends see also.

    On legalizing drugs, drug costs in real terms, have changed little over the years. We have higher rates of use than almost any other country. Look at it this way. Suppose drugs were legal and you had to make a case for making them illegal. You propose a War on Drugs. Suppose we know the results ahead of time. Millions in jail at great expense. Thousands of shootings. Hundreds of raids on wrong homes by the police resulting in many deaths. No change in rates of drug abuse. Would you go for it?

    Steve

  • jan
  • steve

    Jerry Brown elected governor. Deaths fall.

    Steve

  • I agree, steve. Post hoc propter hoc. However, it does draw one to the reasonable conclusion, as I have been saying, that there is no direct causal relationship between increases in the number of guns owned or registered and increases in homicides. If there were, increases in guns would always lead to increases in homicides. It’s more complicated than that.

  • PD Shaw

    steve, I would use the same arguments that people use who want to ban guns, cigarettes and fatty foods. Its about the children. Legalization of all drugs will increase usage by children since opportunities for access will increase. We will have awful stories and a demand to do something about it. (Note, people don’t care much about the stories about bad things that happen to criminals from the cops)

  • jan

    Its about the children. Legalization of all drugs will increase usage by children since opportunities for access will increase.

    Brains for boys don’t stop changing until around 25. Until then they are exercising free choice and free will that is not entirely based upon sound judgment. That’s why drugs for adolescent boys/ girls and young adults can handicap them for many years, delaying maturity and extending them into a phase now commonly known as arrested development. This is what concerns me the most — not banning these substances for all, but at least for young people who still haven’t been able to grasp how this stuff effects their growth and eventual ability to function in the world.

  • steve

    PD- You think kids cannot get drugs now? They are very easily obtained. Given that they are illegal, it puts your kid at risk of an arrest and never being able to obtain a decent job in the future. It puts your kid in contact with people you probably wish he/she would avoid. By your logic, we should make alcohol illegal. It consistently ranks as more dangerous than pot.

    Just for full disclosure, I have some reservations about meth. Unlike most drugs, I think it may really lead to more crimes when people are under the influence.

    Steve

  • So, at coffee yesterday, I thanked Father O’Connor for the lovely service at St. Mary’s on Christmas Eve.

    He told me that he had based his sermon on the Theology of the Body. He had stressed that in the coming year, we should care for our own health, pay attention to our bodies’ signals, and respect the bodies of others (drone attacks, anyone?). That in so doing, we come closer to realizing our connection to God’s creation and the message of Christ — i.e. the word in the flesh.

    Could be our social disease is a disconnection from “the life of the body,” and consequent moral fragmentation. We are not treating ourselves or seeing others as fellow creatures of the divine spirit.

    And you needn’t go down a Catholic road to arrive at something of the same conclusion. We are all of us natural children bound together within this universal chaos. Maybe it would behoove us to become for ourselves and those close to us, and give those less close to us the benefit of the doubt.

    Recreational drugs are fine. It’s when they aren’t recreational anymore that they become a problem.

  • …to become more responsible for ourselves…

    The drug thing is a side note. Damn things, like alcohol, are ultimately boring when they take over someone’s life.

  • PD Shaw

    steve, why would you think making something easier to obtain would not increase its use? Legalization will increase the number of people using currently illegal drugs, it will decrease price, and increase the usage of those already using. The goal of legalization cannot be to reduce drug problems, they will increase. The goal has to be to reduce crime (by eliminating the laws), and the law enforcement costs associated with it. (BTW/ the successful drug program alternatives Jan mentioned earlier are the result of judges giving criminals the choice of jailtime or succesful rehab, so legalization will eliminate those approaches) As I said, I’m fine with decriminalization of marijuana.

  • jan

    I’m curious, how many people here have any personal experience with addiction — either themselves, close family members/friends, or as a counselor/social worker etc.? How many people have gone to AA meetings and al-anon meetings, listening to the up front and personal stories of addiction, the real back drops involved? There are some things, IMO, that can be theorized at a distance, and other circumstances or realities that defy such conjecture, when it comes from a mind that first hasn’t wrestled with such issues or scenarios first-hand.

    I am in the arena of Andy in believing that a greater ease of attainment will lead to greater usage. Consequently, greater usage will lead to more people developing drug habits, especially if these habits are formed early in life where immaturity tends to mute and/or override cautious behavior.

    As for marijuana, it is beneficial to many medical/emotional maladies, and IMO should not be restricted in those areas. However, once again, if it is left openly unrestricted to adolescent populations, it can set into motion destructive habits that are difficult to break. I admit to having fewer answers to the questions of drug regulations, than I have reasons why simplistic legislation (legalizing all drugs) to a complex problem should be avoided.

    I also think the same caution can be directed towards legislation aimed at gun ownership. Too little regulation can lead to isolated abuses. But, too much, over-zealous restrictions can also jeopardize some of the inalienable rights inoculating this country from going beyond the innumerated powers of government.

    Balance is the key. But, that’s not always an easy fulcrum point to find….

    BTW, Janis, I enjoyed reading your post on the Theology of the Body sermon you posted.

  • It was interesting, Jan. Father O’Connor has such a thick Irish brogue that he sounds Spanish or something. And his vocal tone was just lovely in that church.

    What little I’ve read of the Theology of the Body has to do with sexuality (and the immorality of contraception and homosexuality), so his sermon was not at all run of the mill.

    I’d like to speak more to him. If he has time, I guess he’d make himself available.

  • I don’t think he’s the type to rail much against homosexuality. Some of the best voices in his choir are gay.

  • Speaking of addictions, I haven’t had a cigarette in a week.

    Oh, yes, I’m using a techno-crutch, but it has been something like 37 years.

  • jan

    Good for you Janis. Cigarettes are more addictive than heroin to get free of. Although it takes will power, it’s the committment to personally change a habit (any habit) that has to be particularly strong. I wish you well….

  • Thanks.

  • Who can afford to smoke at these prices?

  • It is price. You can stuff your bluestockings up your nose.

  • I don’t mean offense, Jan. But it is one of those things that really doesn’t cause others much harm, done right.

  • For cripes’ sake, I live on an acre.

  • I mean really, I went as a red ant to a Halloween party in New York City in what, ’81? Where y’all think I come from?

  • Great bargains on fabric and stuffing on lower Broadway in those times.

    I actually sewed and sold handmade stuffed satin Christmas ornaments to pay my way home on a streetcorner in NYC. A guy had a license for Christmas trees and wreaths. He liked my presence.

  • TastyBits

    Mamou?

  • Doves and bells and stars and sliver moons.

  • Sold a lot of doves. I had actually stitched a touch of greenery to their beaks. We weren’t far from one of the hospitals.

  • Happy New Year, TB and family. I’m proud to be close to y’all, at least geographically.

  • I got my first sewing machine from my brother Bill for Christmas when I was six. A Singer chain-stitch.

    I’ve never gone long without one since. It’s almost as bad as losing my wedding ring.

  • My husband’s boys were malicious impediments to the simple life.

  • Steve V- lott’s work has been debunked. Countries of similar economic development with more guns, have more homicides. Bob Ehrlich had a very nice analysis at Reason a few years ago. Very heavy on the math.

    I never referenced Lott, so WTFAYTA? It is an empirical fact, Sweden has high gun ownership and a low murder rate. Same with Norway. I believe the same holds for Switzerland. Again these are empirical facts. It is not correct to extrapolate that more guns cause less crime as per Lott, but it does provide a problem for the more guns more crime (murder) claim as per Michael.

    To my knowledge, the studies showing increased aggression after playing violent video games are based upon answering questions. The subjects have not done anything aggressive, but they have picked the more aggressive answer to a question.

    OMFG…look out. Deadly questionnaire respondents! They’ll kill you by answering ‘C’!!!!

    GMAFB. Calling it now, junk science.

  • BTW, read Ehrlich’s article. This part,

    Since random data would show a drop or a rise equally often at t=0, we have a 50 percent chance of finding a drop — not a very good argument for the drop being real.

    No. This is true if data in question are like coin flips, but I doubt that the number of gun related crimes are like coin flips.

    The fact that all categories of violent crime (murder, rape, assault, robbery) show drops is also not particularly surprising, since the causes of violent crime (whatever they are) probably affect the rates in all the separate categories

    That sentence puts the lie to the previous one (which I quoted above).

    As for the list of omitted variables, that is interesting and a possible source of bias, but the idea that you keep including variables you think might have an impact could actually adversely impact your results as well. It is fairly well known in regression analysis that including even insignificant variables that have a t-statistic greater than 1 will improve the R-square (but not the Adjusted R-square) and in modelling you eventually have to go with what you got. For example, nobody may have state level data on alcohol sold, media violence, and average summer temperature (wtf?).

    This doesn’t mean Lott is correct, but the reasoning in that part is faulty. And also, noting that Lott is wrong because his reasoning is wrong is fallacious reasoning, it is the fallacy-fallacy. You can still get the right answer even if you have the wrong reasoning. Granted incorrect reasoning should make one suspicious of the results, but not dismiss them out of hand.

Leave a Comment