Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Bullets don't kill people....

 I'm trying to think of an analogy for the gun debate that's precise enough to be useful.

The NRA's argument is that that arming more citizens enables preventative-discharge (if only the school teachers were packing, they could have dropped the gunman... etc.). The assumption is that this would be legal, since it's self-defense (though, as an aside, there should rightfully be a different phrase for stopping _mass_ shootings... group-defense, single-agent mass-defense, etc.).

But that line of reasoning needs to be unpacked a bit before it can be codified (or at least, justified). I don't know the answer right now. This is me, thinking aloud (a-wrote?).

A gun is just a tool, sure. But one with a pretty niche utility (unless you're prone to busting padlocks with a shot-gun). You can own a gun, but you can't use it to kill or harm people all willy-nilly. Application of guns against other humans is, then, a highly regulated space (law enforcement and military are sanctioned practitioners).

So what other tools are freely available, but whose specific applications are highly regulated? A scalpel, which doctors can legitimately use for cutting into people. Radio transmitters, to some extent (since unlawful broadcasts interfere with first responders). Speech: 'Fire' in a crowded theatre.

Some things can be home-brewed (enough combustibles to break a damn, say). Speech is arguably of a different class, since it's an in-built tool. So then, more precisely, something which can be obtained, probably purchased, pre-built and off-the-shelf, but whose use is not unfettered (fettered?).

Ok, a scalpel. I can go out and purchase one of those somewhere. I could even collect them, and spend hours telling visitors to my house about the nuanced differences between the stainless-steel scalpel in current use and the heavier, curved-bladed scalpels used during the civil war by field medics.... whatever.

But if a scalpel-owner shows up some day and starts slashing achilles tendons en-masse at a shopping mall.... And I, being a licensed concealed-scalpel owner, am able to stop this person, by response in-kind.... Does this then prove, on the one hand, that we need more scalpel-regulation or, on the other hand, less regulation and easier access to scalpels?

Possibly notable that enabling access has been shown to successfully lower incidence of HIV infection due to re-use of needles. But that is an asymmetric effect (more needles didn't lower the use of needles, it lowered correlated side effects: disease spread).

So, there again, is a detail that the analogy (a model) needs to preserve: symmetric-effect. If item A is more prevalent, item A will be used less. And in absolute terms: lowering per-item utilization is not relevant, but the overall use of the whole class of A-items goes down.

I think that is to say, the median goes down, not the mean. But that's the rub, really. The original NRA argument smacks of an appeal to emotion, or beliefs ('my cold, dead fingers' reasoning), rather than evidence-based policy (what needle exchanges are, in fact). As catchy as 'don't take my guns' is, I don't immediately see how that equates to 'less mass shootings' (whereas 'raise mental health awareness' or 'proliferation of counseling services' at least hints at a logical and effectual decrease in mass-shootings).

We're not an Anarchist republic. I can't spark up a doobie just whenever, no matter how much that impinges on my inalienable rights. You can't smoke a cigarette on a commercial flight, period. So the unencumbered call for 'less regulation' just doesn't fly.

If the motivation is truly 'freedom' (ole cold-dead-fingers again), then drop the 'save innocent babies' line. That reasoning doesn't follow and it isn't evidence-based (though I'll eat my pixels if someone can produce such a controlled study). If the motivation is 'prevent shootings', then drop the 'my gun collection' line, cause that's only one possible fix for a fairly systemic set of symptoms. In the latter case, there is a fair amount of prior effort on what works.

If intervention is the goal, firing back in a crowded public space would be, I don't know, the absolute worst and last chance you had in a process that surely started months or years, earlier. But heck, I haven't thought of the proper tool analogy yet, so I'll just keep digging.

Friday, February 03, 2012

A Neighborhood Novella

Shortly after midnight a while back* I heard people talking out on the street. I looked out my window to see a guy and a girl walking back to a car that I had earlier noticed parked on the street in front of my house. Nothing too unusual about that. I saw the guy open the passenger door for the girl before I closed the blinds. I heard the door close and listened for the driver's door to close, expecting them to drive away at that point. That second door didn't sound, though.


Monday, January 02, 2012

States of Depravity

In talking with friends last night, I caught a thread among different events and places from my life to date. I'm documenting the bits here so I don't forget them, but this post is only the opening of a conversation. Your welcome responses will be cherished.

Where I grew up, in southern Appalachia, a strong and deep-running ethic ties the rural communities together. I've touched the periphery of this subculture over the years, through friends of family and acquaintances, though I have no true, direct knowledge of it. As best I can discern, it grew up of necessity, rooted among the state boundaries in the region. The driving force was, for a while at least, shining work: the production (and distribution) of grain spirits — hooch. For various reasons, backwoods distilling isn't quite as bigtime anymore, but nothing has been forgotten. Some of that work has mutated to similar activities around other products, but mostly, the core values — self-sufficiency, quiet determination, etcetera — took root and persist independent of any specific activity, at this point.

So, in the best light, subversive actions may foster sustainable communities. But often, quite the opposite happens. What emerges in the latter cases are population centers, or geographic areas, bereft of any meaningful narrative. In these cases, it doesn't make sense to talk about 'communities' at all, since the ethics and activities which remain work quite explicitly against community building. A better name would look something like 'concentrations of disorder' or 'disunities'.

What came up last night, though, is how examples of these exist throughout the US and how distinct in character each is. Ignoring any tired generalities of extant nomenclature (e.g. red-neck), what interests me is the possibility that the various examples can be viewed in terms of their differences from each other and whether they could be shown to share common features in spite of the surface dissimilarities.

All of this, I assume, is well researched and documented among those who care. I'm just not familiar with any of that work yet. Most of my (mis)information comes from movies and such — a situation no doubt itself so common as to be trite — but the profusion of such examples that I could think of off-hand speaks quite clearly to that.

There's a fair bit more that I hoped to sketch out, but this much has already taken me several hours to draft. So without commentary, here are several links to apropos movies:
What most bewilders me is that so many instances can be found around the US alone. Each so well-defined and unlike the others. Nothing yet said of the sort beyond our national border. No question that the Indian continent, or central america, or Brazil hosts as many examples. Or that, for all that is clear and known about Somali over the past four decades, surely there exists such subcultures there, as well.

I'll end this note with one final example, that brought it all home in the conversation last night, but which I know the least about. A friend who grew up in Alaska related a while back the widespread and appalling disarray of remote population centers there, due variously to geographic isolation, loss of industry, federal policies, and so on. Without wanting to butcher the description I was given, the people living in those areas huff antifreeze for want of hooch and rewrite local laws as needed. I don't know of any representative work for this one, so please share what you have.