Monday, June 13, 2016

Gun control debates and the universality of "derp"

Continuing on yesterday's theme, let's talk about gun control.  Or rather, let's talk about how people talk about gun control.  There is no issue about which public debate is more universally absurd in a specific, technical way.  Here is where I borrow a term heavily used in the economics blogosphere.  Perhaps you have encountered it.  "Derp."  It's true origins are unclear, but best stated, it translates to: responding to counterarguments or counter-evidence by loudly restating your "priors."

Priors:  a term from Bayesian statistics, meaning your initial beliefs before observing evidence.

So, "derp" means imperviousness to logic or evidence.  And on gun control, derp is universal.  Yesterday, I picked on the liberals a bit harder, so I'll start with the conservatives today.

The standard conservative argument on gun control generally goes as follows.  Gun control is a slippery slope.  Once you start, the inevitable result is the Third Reich, concentration camps, the whole deal.  There is, of course, a big problem with this argument.  Nearly every industrialized country in the world has much stricter gun laws than we do, and despite decades of such laws, they haven't slid into fascism.  Point this out to NRA members, and they simply have difficulty wrapping their brains around the concept.  Instead, they revert to Nazi references.  Derp!

Now it's time for your medicine, liberals.  The liberal line these days is that background checks are just obvious and indisputably a good idea.  Here's the problem.  So, a convicted criminal, prone to reoffend in a violent way goes to buy a gun from a legal dealer, and is turned away.  So, he leads a life on the straight and narrow because that violent crime he would have committed?  Doing so would have required going to a black market gun dealer rather than a legal gun dealer.  Well, sure, more violent crime would be a great idea, but not if I have to buy that gun illegally!

The ridiculousness of background checks, of course, is that the people who are affected by them are the very same ones who know how to skirt them.  Convicted criminals are the ones who have the easiest time finding black market dealers.

Point this out to a gun control advocate, and what do you get?  "People are DYING!!!!!!"  We need to do SOMETHING!!!!!!!!  Why can't we just have background checks?!  They're so simple and obvious!"  Derp.

Why does gun control bring out the derp in everyone?  I don't know.  I'll think about it.


  1. Perhaps a person's willingness to break the law can't be unfailingly plotted on a spectrum. My guess is Bernie Madoff wouldn't have shoplifted gum from the Kwik-E-Mart even if he had walked barefoot three miles through a snowstorm just to get a pack of Big Red only to realize he had left his wallet at home.

    Take a look at the statistics surrounding who commits gun violence against women, and the murder rates in situations of domestic violence when guns are and are not present, and the justifications of the liberal arguments might become more clear.

    1. I'm not sure I follow. Bernie Madoff appears to be a red herring in this argument. Consider the domestic violence perpetrator with a criminal history. Let's call him Scumbag. Scumbag gets out of prison and hooks up with Victim. If Scumbag has a gun, Victim is more likely to die. True. You assert, though, that background checks keep Scumbag from getting a gun, and the point of my post is that there is no logical reason to believe that. If Scumbag wants a gun, and background checks exist, Scumbag has two choices. Don't get a gun, or get one from a black market dealer, of which there are many, whom Scumbag certainly knows because he is a convicted felon, which is precisely what would bring him into contact with black market dealers. You may not know how to buy a black market gun, but convicted felons almost certainly do. And the ones who want one? They really almost certainly do. So, why would one believe that Scumbag would choose to forego the gun rather than buy one from the many black market dealers whom he knows? The basic problem with background checks is that the people they are supposed to inhibit are the very same people who know how to skirt them. Logically, they just make no sense.
      Now, there are plenty of other forms of gun control, but most similarly strike me as fantastical. Attempting to round up the guns the way they did in Australia just isn't the same task with as many guns as we have here in a culture built around Ruby Ridge, Waco, and so forth. Get rid of every gun in existence and sit around singing kumbaya? Sure. Let's throw away the nukes too, and pollution, and while we're at it, I'd like a billion dollars, my 20 year old body back but without my 20 year old stupidity, and the Russian spy out of the White House. I just don't see the logic behind background checks for people who know exactly how to beat them, though. If you want to institute a policy that stops me, specifically from doing something, don't make the obstacle a test of basic political knowledge. I'm a political science professor. I'll pass it. Background checks have the same basic logical flaw. The people who can get around them are the very people you are trying to stop.