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Harry Binswanger on Gun Control

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CrowEpistemologist
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http://www.forbes.com/sites/harrybinswanger/2013/01/01/with-gun-control-cost-benefit-analysis-is-amoral/

(Thought this should get its own thread).

Here's my criticism of this article and his stance.

In the article, Harry states:

"The government may coercively intervene only when there is an
objective threat
that someone is going to use force. The remaining issue is: what constitutes an objective threat?

An objective threat is constituted by specific evidence of a clear and present danger to someone’s person or property. For instance, waving a gun around (“brandishing”) is an objective threat to the individuals in the vicinity. Having a rifle at home in the attic is not. Carrying a concealed pistol is not (until and unless it is drawn). Yes, there are always borderline cases, but rational standards, such as “clear and present danger,” can be set."

The key phrase being borderline cases. Any government is full of borderline cases and we need elected representatives to make a judgement call on those borderline cases. That judgement call--like all judgement calls--should be based on the entire context our knowledge.

By essentially calling for the elimination of all aggregated data from decision making, Harry confuses individual justice with epistemology.

We know from aggregated statistics, for instance, that far more accidents happen when people are allowed to drive at higher speeds even though many individuals are perfectly safe at these speeds. We place rules on our roads (public and private, doesn't matter) accordingly. The answer to the question, "how fast should we let people go on this particular road" is a judgement call. Since we are not omnipotent, and we cannot predict the future, then we need to guess what will work the best--what will produce the best overall product (which in turn would entail of balance of safety versus convenience).

There are thousands of these sorts of decisions that need to be made by any proper government.

When we guess we may be wrong in a lot of individual cases. No form of government is perfect (and this continues to be something Objectivists have a hard time dealing with). Personally I think capitalism is the best form of government, not a "perfect" government.

Harry is right in saying that, "the government has no right to initiate force against the innocent" in relation to taking weapons away from citizens. Yes, that is wrong, but we will never ever completely eliminate judgement calls--and therefore, errors--from any human-formed government.

Harry's conclusion is not only false, it's lazy and self-contradictory. He says that "Laws prohibiting or regulating guns across the board represent the evil of preventive law and should be abolished". He says that already having said that there are edge cases where guns should be regulated ("brandishing" and so forth). The conclusion is lazy in the sense that the word "gun" is an extremely broad term that opens the door to all kinds of objections and "edge cases" which is core premise attempts to gloss over.

The gun debate is a "judgement call" and there is no exactly right answer. I don't think any Objectivist--and probably very few Americans--would want an across-the-board ban on hunting shotguns or deer rifles, for instance. Most would agree that we can't have fully armed fighter jets flown around by civilians (the mere act of flying the plane would be "brandishing" and threatening). The proper government should regulate weapons and make a judgement call based on the full context of our knowledge at the time (and then change those regulations as our knowledge is increased).

Harry has fallen victim to imagining humans as omnipotent. However some things are "black and white" and we can say with absolute certainty. Chief among those is that human beings are not omnipotent.

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By essentially calling for the elimination of all aggregated data from decision making, Harry confuses individual justice with epistemology.

No, Harry understands the difference between the possession of an inanimate object and an individual acting in a threatening manner. You don't, you conflate the possession of an object with a threat.

Possession alone is not a threat. Ever. Outlawing the possession of an object (any object) is never a logical response to a threat. What the government needs to do instead is treat American citizens as individuals, and only interfere with their freedom to act if it can prove that the person is acting in a manner that constitutes an objective threat.

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Crow, you're drawing his "borderline" statement out of the context of individual behavior and into the context of demographics/statistics. I consider this to be a pretty eggregious error, considering that the whole point of his article was to explain the difference. The type of borderline case Binswanger was talking about was how to identify whether one individual's behavior with a weapon constitutes a threat. It was not to say that there are some borderline cases where violating individual rights is ok. Here's a short sampling of the continuum he was alluding to:

Obviously threatening: I yell, "D'Artagnan, Mother %U*#($," and start waiving my loaded gun at a line of children waiting to see Santa.

Borderline: I take out my gun to clean it while admonishing someone for inappropriate behavior with my daughter.

Not threatening: I keep my loaded pistol concealed inside a waistband holster while I enjoy a movie.

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Crow, you're drawing his "borderline" statement out of the context of individual behavior and into the context of demographics/statistics. I consider this to be a pretty eggregious error, considering that the whole point of his article was to explain the difference. The type of borderline case Binswanger was talking about was how to identify whether one individual's behavior with a weapon constitutes a threat. It was not to say that there are some borderline cases where violating individual rights is ok. Here's a short sampling of the continuum he was alluding to:

Obviously threatening: I yell, "D'Artagnan, Mother %U*#($," and start waiving my loaded gun at a line of children waiting to see Santa.

Borderline: I take out my gun to clean it while admonishing someone for inappropriate behavior with my daughter.

Not threatening: I keep my loaded pistol concealed inside a waistband holster while I enjoy a movie.

I said nothing of the kind. Harry certainly did not imply that the government is fallible in its protection of our rights--which of course is my point. Harry hung his argument on a government which is "perfect" and has rules which will produce perfect outcomes all of the time and in every context. This of course is impossible. It's doesn't mean we shouldn't try to get as close as we can, but actually achieving perfection is impossible.

As for taking Harry out of context, let's try this again:

1. Harry said there are "borderline" cases--and there are. He also implied that the government should rightly deal with those "borderline" cases. I don't think Harry would pretend to know exactly where that "borderline" is in every single context. As such, the implication is that the government needs to make a judgement call which can potentially be wrong. I did not say--and neither did Harry--that being wrong is "okay" and it's not.

2. I surmised that the government should use every bit of knowledge we have to define the proper rules in the proper context. Some of that knowledge can and should include aggregated data since there is nothing wrong with aggregated data.

To be sure, Harry's attack here was not really on gun laws, it was actually the use of aggregated data in order to make informed decisions. It is he who switched the context of somebody using aggregated data in order to make a decision and made the magical jump to a social context to imagine that such a use of data is "collectivist". Aggregated data is just data. It says what it says. When we say, "Americans love beef" in that context we don't mean every single solitary American, we mean some majority of them (and that context does not imply precision, it's a summary which is fine in many contexts). A restaurant owner deciding what should be on the menu is not engaging in a "collectivist mentality" when using aggregated data. They are using the full context of their knowledge, as should we all, as should a proper government.

Your judgement call above was just that: a judgement call. All three of your examples could result in people's rights being violated in either direction. We have to guess what set of rules should be enforced in what context in order to try to get the balance as right as we can. We won't always do so, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't try and it doesn't mean we imagine ourselves omnipotent when we come up with a set of rules that we think is the right one.

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Same reason why an apple is not a melon. The law of identity.

Err, I could say the same thing. You're wrong, because of the law of identity. If anything, you conceded that *depending* upon an individual, sometimes possession is a threat. Is that true?

Edited by Eiuol
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No, Harry understands the difference between the possession of an inanimate object and an individual acting in a threatening manner. You don't, you conflate the possession of an object with a threat.

Possession alone is not a threat. Ever. Outlawing the possession of an object (any object) is never a logical response to a threat. What the government needs to do instead is treat American citizens as individuals, and only interfere with their freedom to act if it can prove that the person is acting in a manner that constitutes an objective threat.

Well... maybe. Possession isn't usually a threat. But how far are you willing to take that argument?

Is possession of a nuclear weapon a threatening gesture? That is "any object." I would say that if somebody is obviously insane, possessing a nuclear weapon presents an inherent threat. And then you can go on down the list - how about possession of enough artillery guns to basically mimic a nuclear weapon? How about a chemical weapon? A tank?

Consider this a thought experiment.

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Binswanger:

The fact that a certain percentage of domestic quarrels end in a shooting is no grounds for saying your ownership of a gun is a threat to the members of your household.

I think Crow has hit the nail on the head with the car speed limit analogy. To apply it to Binswanger's statement:

The fact that a certain percentage of people who drive above the speed limit crash and die, is no grounds for saying your driving above the speed limit is a threat to the passengers in your car.

Now is this good logic to scrap speed limits? Of course not. Except if you have a cultural bias which leads you to justify your preconceived conclusion. Ie if you are German you are likely to support no speed limits on highways which is a risk to life. For example bike speeds clocked at 290kph (180mph) are legal -

I look at this as a Brit and think "Crazy Germans!" in exactly the same way I look at gun massacres in the States and think "Crazy Americans!". In both cases you are exposing yourselves to objective risks for nothing more than your cultural biases. Germans like fast cars as Americans like big guns. Germany even has it's own NRA, the German Auto Club which campaigns for speed limit reductions claiming they make roads safer. I repeat, this is an entirely cultural phenomenon, exactly like the US fetish with guns.

The facts are clear: (http://www.etsc.eu/d...act_Sheet_1.pdf) Speed is a basic risk factor for your family, cut speeds and you protect your family.

The facts are clear: (http://www.nejm.org/...199310073291506) Guns are a basic risk factor for your family, cut guns and you protect your family.

This couldn't be more contradictory of Binswanger's statement above.

Edited by Kate87
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Err, I could say the same thing. You're wrong, because of the law of identity.

You just did. But, from the law of identity one can conclude that if A is different from B, then 'A is B' is false. One cannot conclude that A is B. That's why I'm right and you're wrong. Possession is different than threat, therefor possession alone is not threat.

Banning the possession of any object, in the name of protecting someone from threats, is ignoring some very basic logic.

If anything, you conceded that *depending* upon an individual, sometimes possession is a threat. Is that true?

Yes, of course. But that's because of the individual's actions. Possession alone is never a threat. Banning possession, for all individuals, is never legitimate.

Requiring a license and registration might be legitimate (for objects that are not normally used for life sustaining action, like a tank, nuclear devices, etc., and are dangerous if mishandled or lost). But the notion that there ought to be a law against private individuals owning a tank or Gatling gun (that would prevent anyone from getting them, for any reason, including any number of perfectly legitimate reasons, like recreating a battle scene, filming a TV show), or even a nuke (for using it somewhere in space, obviously, not on the planet), is not justifiable.

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Binswanger:

I think Crow has hit the nail on the head with the car speed limit analogy. To apply it to Binswanger's statement:

Now is this good logic to scrap speed limits? Of course not. Except if you have a cultural bias which leads you to justify your preconceived conclusion. Ie if you are German you are likely to support no speed limits on highways which is a risk to life. For example bike speeds clocked at 290kph (180mph) are legal -

I look at this as a Brit and think "Crazy Germans!" in exactly the same way I look at gun massacres in the States and think "Crazy Americans!". In both cases you are exposing yourselves to objective risks for nothing more than your cultural biases. Germans like fast cars as Americans like big guns. Germany even has it's own NRA, the German Auto Club which campaigns for speed limit reductions claiming they make roads safer. I repeat, this is an entirely cultural phenomenon, exactly like the US fetish with guns.

The facts are clear: (http://www.etsc.eu/d...act_Sheet_1.pdf) Speed is a basic risk factor for your family, cut speeds and you protect your family.

The facts are clear: (http://www.nejm.org/...199310073291506) Guns are a basic risk factor for your family, cut guns and you protect your family.

This couldn't be more contradictory of Binswanger's statement above.

I could prove you wrong on your claim about the German Autobahn as easily as I proved you wrong about US gun ownership: by using the science of Statistics properly. But I'm not going to bother , because you'd just ignore it and continue posting the same lies and fake statistics over and over again.

Edited by Nicky
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I could prove you wrong on your claim about the German Autobahn as easily as I proved you wrong about US gun ownership: by using the science of Statistics properly. But I'm not going to bother , because you'd just ignore it and continue posting the same lies and fake statistics over and over again.

I'm morbidly curious - do you support no speed restrictions on stretches of US highways?

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Statistics are like ownership, they represent a potential for something to happen. What they do not say is what actually causes them or even if they will. It’s important to remember that statistics are not science but generalized observations usually detached from actual causes.

To put it in Objectivist language, statistics talk about metaphysical facts while knowledge of actual cause and effect is epistemological.

The faster a car goes; it has the potential to be in an accident. This is not fact or science however, just a generalized statement. What ACTUALLY causes any accident is a separate issue. In this case I know for a fact that most accidents are caused by one party being careless and distracted. The second most common issue is improper space management of vehicles and the third is improper lane changes. Actual observation and induction of the facts quickly reveal that speed only reduces reaction in proportion to space while increasing stopping distance, all controllable factors and ultimately meaningless to the generalized statistic about speed. Speed doesn’t cause accidents. At best it aggravates the real causes.

Another good example is the bad generalization “Most accidents happen close to your home”. Driving near your home is not more dangerous however as the statistic suggests as real observation of cause and effect on the actors involved reveals that most accidents happen close to the home because most people spend most of their time driving close to their home. The statistic is meaningless since there is no causal relationship between your home and accidents.

Guns are the same issue. Metaphysically they have the potential to be used for many things. The potential is not a fact and only through the actions of an outside force (i.e. us) does any one possibility happen. A gun doesn’t cause murder any more than the car causes speeding. What causes them is actors acting upon inanimate objects. Guns can be used for many things metaphysically, but there is no causal relationship between gun ownership and murder. Guns do not implant cause (motive and action) upon their owners. It’s the owners they do this and what causes them to do this is a separate issue independent of the object owned.

That is why discovering the murder weapon in a mystery is part of solving the crime of who done it instead of vice versa. It is simply a link to the cause (the murderer) but otherwise is no different than other factors of solving the mystery like access to the crime scene or motive (which ironically has also been criminalized by progressives in the form of “Hate Crimes”).

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That is why discovering the murder weapon in a mystery is part of solving the crime of who done it instead of vice versa. It is simply a link to the cause (the murderer) but otherwise is no different than other factors of solving the mystery like access to the crime scene or motive (which ironically has also been criminalized by progressives in the form of “Hate Crimes”).

If the weapon itself had culpability then too should the murder victim, "I'm not entirely to blame, had he not existed I would not have killed him"

And maybe to try and bring in the other point, if we are to fine people for driving fast and incorporating a danger purposely, then perhaps we should mandate bullet proof clothing.

Edited by tadmjones
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Crow, if your sole point was that the government is fallible, then I'd agree. But you go on to say that because of this, a broad statistical analysis can justify bringing government force down on innocent people. But those stats don't tell you how to make your judgment call. Principles do.

In the "Tragic and Self Explanatory" thread I offered a substitute for that type of mixed-context injustice. I proposed a way to bring objectivity back to the discussion by framing it in terms of retaliatory versus defensive force. I thought it would be a good idea to examine how different weapons could be used defensively, so we could get a clearer picture of which regulations and bans are appropriate. I ended up having a conversation with myself. I don't want to appear like I've got a mouthful of sour grapes, because I'm really not hurt by the lack of interest. But I think it strange that the gun control proponents would pass on the opportunity to convince me that we should restrict some guns. In light of this last bit about where statistics enter the picture, I think it would be even more useful to do what I suggested - so we don't feel like our only resort is to make a judgment call about which innocent people to put beneath the hammer of the state.

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Banning possession, for all individuals, is never legitimate.

Requiring a license and registration might be legitimate (for objects that are not normally used for life sustaining action, like a tank, nuclear devices, etc., and are dangerous if mishandled or lost). But the notion that there ought to be a law against private individuals owning a tank or Gatling gun (that would prevent anyone from getting them, for any reason, including any number of perfectly legitimate reasons, like recreating a battle scene, filming a TV show), or even a nuke (for using it somewhere in space, obviously, not on the planet), is not justifiable.

I doubt that Eiuol's conception of "gun control" extends to someone filming a movie not being able to use a tank in the shoot, or (should this ever prove feasible) use of nuclear weaponry in like outer space mining or something.

Instead, it sounds like you are here conceding to those very kinds of things that Eiuol would actually put under "gun control," i.e. license and registration -- that if you'd like some certain kind of rifle or what not, you must first demonstrate your "perfectly legitimate reason" to the state.

This is unlike how we approach, say, a Pez dispenser. You may buy a Pez dispenser over the counter, and there is no license required, and neither should there be. Gun control is, in essence, treating these weapons ("objects not normally used for life sustaining action, like a tank, nuclear devices, etc., and are dangerous if mishandled or lost") different than Pez dispensers with respect to law; the subject of discussion does not need to be a wholesale ban of any or all to agree in principle that there ought to be some measure of gun control.

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This is unlike how we approach, say, a Pez dispenser. You may buy a Pez dispenser over the counter, and there is no license required, and neither should there be. Gun control is, in essence, treating these weapons ("objects not normally used for life sustaining action, like a tank, nuclear devices, etc., and are dangerous if mishandled or lost") different than Pez dispensers with respect to law; the subject of discussion does not need to be a wholesale ban of any or all to agree in principle that there ought to be some measure of gun control.

Is not the idea of rational governemnt to recognize and protect individual rights in a societal context? Is it not true that only way to violate rights is an initiation of force? Isn't the idea of governemnt then solely based on actions of individuals? What principle of rational government would deal with physical objects per se?

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Is not the idea of rational governemnt to recognize and protect individual rights in a societal context? Is it not true that only way to violate rights is an initiation of force? Isn't the idea of governemnt then solely based on actions of individuals? What principle of rational government would deal with physical objects per se?

Personally, I'm undecided on this issue, and my default response is precisely what you've said here. I just wanted to point out to Nicky that he and Eiuol are not (apparently) arguing, except perhaps in misunderstanding one another. Once we've conceded "license and registration" or that a nuke can be used in space, but not on Earth, or etc., then we've conceded some form of gun control.

I think that Eiuol has long attempted to phrase his argument in the strongest possible terms, and that folks have demurred from taking him up on it: but if we want to answer this question, we really should consider the nuclear weapon (which is only the most powerful weapon thus far, but not necessarily the most powerful weapon that will ever be).

If we are comfortable with an a priori restriction against possession of a functioning nuclear weapon -- if we consider its ownership alone to constitute a general "threat" subject to regulation or prohibition (let's say I have some "suitcase bomb" in my garage) -- then I think that we have already agreed with Eiuol's fundamental claims, and what remains to be worked out is the application of our rationale to smaller-scale weaponry, such as various "assault rifles," etc.

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I think that Eiuol has long attempted to phrase his argument in the strongest possible terms, and that folks have demurred from taking him up on it: but If we are comfortable with an a priori restriction against possession of a functioning nuclear weapon -- if we consider its ownership alone to constitute a general "threat" subject to regulation or prohibition (let's say I have some "suitcase bomb" in my garage) -- then I think that we have already agreed with Eiuol's fundamental claims, and what remains to be worked out is the application of our rationale to smaller-scale weaponry, such as various "assault rifles," etc.

You of course would stipulate that ownership of a functional nuclear weapon by an individual is an extreme example of hyperbole, given what is required to engineer and manufacture such a thing.

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You of course would stipulate that ownership of a functional nuclear weapon by an individual is an extreme example of hyperbole, given what is required to engineer and manufacture such a thing.

I frankly don't see much reason why an individual should ever want to own a nuclear weapon (notwithstanding asteroid mining, or what-have-you, if anything like that works out). I don't expect that it would be a common scenario, if that's what you mean by "an extreme example of hyperbole."

As to whether the difficulty of manufacturing a nuclear weapon factors in, I don't know. An individual rich enough wouldn't necessarily have to engineer or manufacture his own nuke, but could buy it from some other, specialized concern.

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Crow, if your sole point was that the government is fallible, then I'd agree. But you go on to say that because of this, a broad statistical analysis can justify bringing government force down on innocent people. But those stats don't tell you how to make your judgment call. Principles do.

Wrong! And this is the trap so many Objectivists fall into! This is pure rationalism!

Statistics are collected facts of reality, and as such are facts of reality. "Principles", in of themselves, tell you nothing. Principles tell you how to use and interpret facts, but they are not facts.

In the "Tragic and Self Explanatory" thread I offered a substitute for that type of mixed-context injustice. I proposed a way to bring objectivity back to the discussion by framing it in terms of retaliatory versus defensive force. I thought it would be a good idea to examine how different weapons could be used defensively, so we could get a clearer picture of which regulations and bans are appropriate. I ended up having a conversation with myself. I don't want to appear like I've got a mouthful of sour grapes, because I'm really not hurt by the lack of interest. But I think it strange that the gun control proponents would pass on the opportunity to convince me that we should restrict some guns. In light of this last bit about where statistics enter the picture, I think it would be even more useful to do what I suggested - so we don't feel like our only resort is to make a judgment call about which innocent people to put beneath the hammer of the state.

But your guidelines--which are a great start I think--involve making decisions about policy based on what we know. We know that nobody has ever threatened a movie theater with a big gulp, as threatening as those might look (and in NYC they are illegal don't ya know).

Perhaps one point I might have missed emphasizing in responding to HB is that aggregated data is useful knowledge, along with everything else we know. My point was not that we use statistics exclusively or even at all in many contexts, my point was that they are like any bit knowledge which we may properly employ when useful and true in the context.

All that said, your scheme would lead us, I think, to a licensing scheme in which individuals who demonstrate a needed stability to be caring a weapon would be allowed to do so. That might be a good solution.

But that would be "regulation" in HB's mind, and thus out of the question, apparently. The reason being that even though most rational people would know intuitively from watching the news that tragic violations of rights can and do occur with weapons, we are apparently not allowed to use that knowledge to make a policy decision, according to HB.

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