Chad Perrin: SOB

9 April 2008

examples of security vs. feeling secure, part one

Filed under: Cognition,Liberty,Security — apotheon @ 11:58
The following was adapted from a reddit comment.

Security and feeling secure are often not the same thing. It is entirely possible to be more secure while feeling less secure, or to be less secure while feeling more secure. Many examples of this concept in action exist, including the “security theater” practices of the TSA vs. personal protection measures, security “features” integrated in Microsoft Windows Vista vs. secure system architectures like the Unix “Platonic ideal”, and obscurity vs. visibility in dealing with security vulnerabilities.

Right now, I’m going to discuss how the feeling of security often doesn’t match up with the reality in the example of gun control legislation.

Feeling Secure

Democrats are famous for their opposition to the individual right to keep and bear arms, as laid out in the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. Feinstein, Clinton, Moore, and Obama have all made their opinions known, and all place themselves politically to the left of center. The entire city of San Francisco is significantly left of center — so much so that its political constituency sometimes regards famously left-wing Nancy Pelosi (House Representative from CA 8th Congressional District, which makes up most of the city and county of San Francisco) as leaning too far to the right.

Politicians in the Democratic Party play on the fears of the people. As part of the Democratic political niche, the party courts the votes of those who are afraid of firearms, and wish them to be banned outright. These people feel less safe when others (or even they themselves) have access to guns — and, thus, feel more safe when guns are taken away from private citizens.

Politicians in the Republican Party play on the fears of the people as much as the Democrats do. In the case of gun control legislation, however, they tend to play both ends against the middle. On one hand, they pledge undying support for the Second Amendment, and on the other they concede to background checks, press for concealed carry licensing, and even in some cases (such as John McCain) co-sponsor bills that restrict the free trade of small arms. Democrats are not alone in catering to the votes that may be gained by playing upon the fears of those who feel more secure in the absence of legal ownership of firearms.

Actual Security

There are a few steps that must be taken to assess the actual, practical security of a given policy. In the case of the availability of firearms, they might look a little like this:

  1. Figure out what we really want to measure. I don’t think the meaningful measure would be firearms ownership — it would be the legality of firearms ownership. For one thing, it’s almost impossible in many cases to measure actual possession rates. Illegal possession is very rarely reported, for instance.

  2. Figure out how to come up with actually meaningful comparative measures of violence correlated with legality of private firearm ownership, minimizing the interference of other factors in your statistics. Different places with different laws tend to lose meaningful data in the midst of a sea of undesired variables that skew the results. The only reasonably effective way to measure things is to choose a place where the law changed significantly, and measure the violence rates shortly before and shortly after.

  3. Find places that provide useful data along these lines. A couple that I’ve found instructive are Florida and New Jersey.

Florida‘s was the first statewide “shall issue” concealed carry permit policy in the nation, which makes it a particularly relevant case. The result was a precipitous, and notably disproportionate in comparison with the rest of the country, drop in homicide rates statewide. Over the course of the following decade, only a single permit holder (out of 350,000 issued permits) was convicted of a homicide. That’s significantly lower than the rate of murder convictions amongst the US population as a whole, according to statistics I found in a law and criminal justice textbook I found from the mid-1990s, and as stated at the linked page “If the rest of the country behaved as Florida’s permit holders did, the U.S. would have the lowest homicide rate in the world.” In 1992, halfway through that decade after enactment of the “shall issue” policy, the US murder rate was about nine per hundred thousand, while the Florida murder rate in ’92 was three per million, making the national average in 1992 about thirty times that of Florida the same year. (See Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, p 370. Walter de Gruyter, Inc., New York, 1997 for more on Florida concealed carry and violent crime statistics.)

Meanwhile, New Jersey adopted what was called the “most stringent gun law” in the nation in 1966. Within two years, the murder rate had climbed an alarming 46 percent, and robberies had doubled. (See Morgan O. Reynolds, Crime By Choice: An Economic Analysis (Dallas: Fisher Institute for Medical Research, 1985), pp. 165-68.)

Other negative examples:

  • In 1968, Hawaii enacted a series of strict gun control laws in quick succession, resulting in murder rates tripling from 2.4 to 7.2 per hundred thousand by 1977.

  • In 1976, Washington, DC enacted even stricter laws than the above examples, becoming the new “strictest” in the nation on gun ownership. The result is more than doubling the murder rate in the nation’s capital while the nationwide average has dropped.

If you’d like a location vs. location comparison, despite the dubious qualities of such comparisons, let’s examine three sets of numbers for the year 2006 (the most recent year at that page).

  • US Average: 4.7 violent crimes permille

  • Vermont Average: 1.3 violent crimes permille

  • Washington, DC Average: 15 violent crimes permille

Not only does DC have (some of) the strictest gun control laws in the nation, and not only is it the murder capital of the United States (as well as the political capital), but Vermont — its southern border only about 400 miles from DC — has some of the most lax gun laws in the country. In fact, the only law Vermont has about carrying a firearm, last I checked, basically says that when transporting rifles or shotguns in your pickup truck gun rack they must be unloaded. Both open and concealed carry are entirely legal, without any permits or restrictions or, in fact, any laws regarding the matter at all.

Gun Control and Security

The truth of the matter is that violent criminals and burglars fear good, law abiding private citizens with access to firearms far more than they fear law enforcement personnel (see the section “Criminals Fear Armed Citizens More Than The Police” at Taking On Gun Control). Furthermore, a culture of responsible gun ownership lends itself to greater interpersonal respect, greater care with the lives of others, and greater competence in handling dangerous technologies (firearms, cars, et cetera), as demonstrated by the example of Kennesaw, Georgia.

Your first instinct when you examine a matter of security should be re-examined before any decisions are made. It may lead you astray.

All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License