Sunday, June 19, 2016

What we talk about when we talk about guns, and why my approach is unmutual

Readers (at least those who haven't been chased away) may notice that I approach the political question of gun control in a manner that is rather unusual.  I have pointed out that each side tends to ignore counterarguments, I then pointed out the absurdity and moral hypocrisy of obsessing over gun deaths while ignoring far more widespread deaths due to causes like waterborne pathogens, I talked about sloppy comparisons to Australia (here and here), and I addressed the fact that engineers can work around narrow restrictions.  I have tried to keep things grounded in history and economics.

What I haven't done is tell you whether or not I like guns, or whether I think we would be better off with more or fewer guns, which is ironic because that's pretty much all you get from most gun control debates.

The political debate over gun control tends to be indistinguishable from a normative discussion of guns themselves.  Guns good!  So gun control bad!  Or, guns bad!  So gun control good!





Thank you, Phil.

Therein lies the basic problem about the debates over gun control.  Advocates of gun control are motivated primarily by negative attitudes towards guns themselves.  To a gun control advocate, guns kill, so guns are bad, so anything that restricts guns is good.  Opponents of gun control like guns.  They are motivated primarily by positive attitudes towards guns.  To an opponent of gun control, guns are defenders of liberty, and since liberty is good, guns are good, and since gun control restricts that which defends liberty, gun control is bad.  Few arguments on gun control are more sophisticated than Phil Hartman/Frankenstein's argument about fire.

And people are capable of more sophistication.  This may be the most surprising thing to read from me, but think about North Korea.  Only Donald Trump could defend Kim Jong Un, and yet few are dumb enough to advocate going to war with the DPRK.  Somehow, as I mentioned in an earlier post, gun control just brings out the derp in everyone.

So, a few more observations about why gun control debates tend to be so mind-numbingly stupid.

1)  Immediacy.  The fear of guns is a more immediate fear than the fear of a nuclear attack from North Korea.

2)  Tribalism.  Guns, and attitudes towards them signal tribal membership.

3)  Nobody studies economics, or thinks to apply it as a general tool of analysis.

4)  Tradeoffs are hard to accept.

5)  Unsolvable problems are hard to accept.

6)  Some people have biases towards action.

7)  Some people have biases towards inaction.

8)  Different circumstances can cause the same people to have different types of biases re: 6 & 7

For those who want me to get back to poll-crunching and such, don't worry!  Anthony Downs once wrote about "the issue attention cycle."  We'll stop talking about gun control pretty fast, and get back to talking about the unfathomable candidacy of Donald Trump.  There!  More political science for your Sunday!

Incidentally, though, people have been reading these posts, but nobody has said anything.  I am curious how people have thought about the unmutual perspective on the politics of gun control.

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