Chad Perrin: SOB

18 May 2006

Gun Control Legislation and the Principle of Inclusion

Filed under: Cognition,Liberty — apotheon @ 03:47

In a recent SOB entry, titled glass houses, I posted what I have arrogantly decided to call Perrin’s Principle of Inclusion. It goes a little something like this:

The strength of any system is directly proportional to the power of the tools it provides for the general public.
This is a principle that seems generally applicable across all forms of complex systems design. It seems to apply equally well to programming language design, operating system architecture, sociopolitical systems, economic systems, and development methodologies. I don’t believe it’s a magic bullet, but rather a simple observation of correlative characteristics. It does not, in and of itself, imply a causal relationship, though it is my belief that greater permissiveness, through a sometimes very complex relationship to the system of which it is a characteristic, has a causal effect on the robustness of the system.

I brought it up at PerlMonks, as it relates to the Perl programming language, in a root node titled merely Principle of Inclusion. I made some brief mention of the fact that it’s applicable across other domains than language design, with some particular attention paid to how it relates to operating systems and a very brief, off-hand remark about it applying to sociopolitical systems — a very ignorable remark, all things considered. Oddly enough, however, the very first comment touched on the issue gun control (in a somewhat flippant manner), which is the very first sociopolitical application of the principle that occurred to me when I first conceived the thing. A bit of a minor gun control debate has sprung up in the wake of that, now, and I suspect it will continue for a bit.

It is common for people who favor strong gun control legislation, or even firearms prohibition altogether, to quote gunshot wound and gunshot death statistics. The implication, of course, is that all these gunshots are preventable if only guns didn’t exist. That’s true, as far as it goes, but doesn’t address the real issue: whether people would be injured, threatened, or killed, regardless of the presence of guns — and how often it would happen. This seems to be a common tactic of the left wing, to cherry-pick a statistic that suits their agenda and present it in a vacuum so that available context and relevance to the argument are vague at best, and more likely entirely misleading. (Note that the right wing has a tendency to simply ignore statistics and base arguments on what “everyone knows” is true, so really neither side is doing much better for argument tactics than the other in most debates.)

Overall, statistical evidence suggests that more lax firearms laws lead to reduced violent crime rates. In fact, violent offenders tend to be more afraid of private citizens with guns than they are of the police. “Getting rid of guns” doesn’t seem to help with the crime rate at all, despite all the claims to the contrary.

An example of the common statistical proclivities of the gun control crowd is embodied by the statements of a PerlMonks user calling himself BrowserUK:

In 2001, the USA suffered 29,573 deaths by gunshot from a total population of 285,317,572.

In 2001, the UK suffered 167 deaths by gunshot from a total population of 58,789,194.

In 2000, 75,685 people were treated for non-fatal gunshot injuries in the USA.

In 2000, 102 people were treated for non-fatal gonshot injuries in the UK (England and Wales).

You might feel you are safer due to your right to bear arms, but you aren’t.

Of course, as you might notice, those statistics are almost useless as presented. How many gunshots were inflicted in self-defense? How many would-be violent offenders were stopped by the brandishing or use of a firearm? How many of those wounds and deaths would have occurred anyway, by other means? His statistics address none of these questions, and these questions are far more relevant to the advisability of gun control legislation than raw numbers of gunshot injuries and firearms-related deaths.

Useful statistics include stuff like these, from Kennesaw, GA, which enacted a law in 1982 requiring heads of households to maintain a firearm:

  • Total Part 1 crimes (consisting of “violent crimes” plus Burglary, Larceny, Auto Theft, and Arson) have dropped from an absolute number of incidences of 228 in 1981 (the year before the ordinance was passed) to 165 in 1982.
  • Total Part 1 crimes reached 227 in 1998, which is still lower than pre-ordinance figures and constitutes a rough decrease of 72% by population density — an even lower per capita crime rate than in 1982 — due in part to explosive population growth in the area (normally associated with increasing crime rates).
  • Burglaries dropped from 54 in ’81 to 35 in ’82.
  • Only one more burglary occurred in 1998 than in 1982, which means that there was a decrease in the incidence of burglaries in Kennesaw of 81.6% by population density.
  • Since the institution of Section 34-1, not one accidental firearms-related death of a child has been reported in Kennesaw.
  • In the period between 1982 and 1998 only two murders were committed, both with knives.

Similarly, the increased relaxing of concealed carry permit issuing regulations in Florida has seen a decrease in crime rates. In 1987, a law was signed by the Governor making it possible for anyone statewide to get a concealed carry permit after a fingerprint-based background check — no “demonstration of need” or other California-esque restrictions existed. Before the law, Floridians were about 36 times more likely to be murdered than Americans on average. After it, comparative murder rates have dropped to below national averages. That’s a decrease of more than 3,600% in comparison with nationwide crime rates.

By contrast, California has a per-county policy, similar to (but slighlty less onerous than) Minnesota’s. In a study performed by David Kopel and Clayton Cramer, it was found that more liberal concealed carry permit issue policies had notably lower average crime rates than those with more restrictive policies. Meanwhile, those with restrictive policies likewise had notably lower crime rates than those that generally prohibited concealed carry altogether.

A study conducted by University of Chicago law professor John Lott and David Mustard, examining crime statistics for more than 3,000 counties, found that rural communities with changing gun control laws experienced little or no variation in crime rates in general, but urban communities experienced substantial declines in robbery, homicide, and other violent crime rates where concealed carry permit issue policies were made more permissive. Non-confrontational crimes such as larceny and (non-carjacking) auto theft increased in frequency in some counties, however — indicating a notable preference for criminals to avoid confronting a potentially armed victim.

As of 1992, Lott and Mustard estimated, based on their statistical data, that a nationwide adoption of concealed carry permit issuing policies would result in 1800 fewer murders and 3000 fewer rapes annually. This seems to be borne out by the fact that between 1992 and 1996 more than a dozen states started issuing concealed carry permits, and national murder rates declined. While concealed carry permit issuance is likely not the only factor contributing to that decline, it seems doubtful that it didn’t contribute at all.

A study conducted by Psychology Today determined that, of “good Samaritans” who came to the aid of victims of violent crimes, 81 percent were gun owners and many carried firearms in their vehicles or on their persons.

The conclusions seem pretty clear to me: damn right I feel safer due to legal protections of my right to keep and bear arms. I feel safer because I am safer.

The end result is this: the state of gun control legislation and its effect on violent crime rates seems to bear out my Principle of Inclusion in several different ways. I call it a success thus far. As I said in relation to the Perl programming language, by providing the tools, you empower those who know how to use them to do great things. Those who are both incompetent to use such tools effectively and too irresponsible to avoid dangerous tools when they should do so become victims of their own willful ignorance. It requires a little bit of willingness to take responsibility for one’s own actions to avoid being a menace, but when others who have that sense of responsibility have the same tools they provide sort of an insulating layer against the behavior of the irresponsible few, and the system as a whole is strengthened.

NOTE: There’s a fair bit of copy-and-paste from previous writings of mine to this, so if some of this sounds familiar, you may have seen me say it before/elsewhere (including in discussions to which I’ve linked from here).

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