Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Among Thomas Sowell's latest "random thoughts" is the following profound observation, in the form of a couple of questions:

Have you heard any gun-control advocate even try to produce hard evidence that tighter gun-control laws reduce murder rates? Does anyone seriously believe that people who are prepared to defy the laws against murder are going to obey laws against owning guns or large-capacity magazines? [bold added]
No, and I seriously doubt it.

It is interesting to consider, along the lines of an introspection technique designed to detect "secondary gain", what such advocates have to gain when they push such measures. (Note that it will be impossible to determine, merely from performing such an exercise, whether there is a moral or a psychological flaw -- an ulterior motive or some subconscious reason -- at play for any individual here.) But to do that, one must first consider the astounding lack of thinking at play here, which Sowell's questions help along quite well.

I could go on about the many other things that aren't being thought about here, such as: whether our murder rates are historically high; if so, why they are high; whether some other weapon will simply replace the guns that have been banned; whether other means of reducing murder rates might be more effective; whether the high murder rates are uniformly so; and so forth, but there really is no need. In many cases, what one has to ignore to advocate such a position are of a variety and kind that they seem symptomatic to me of a general mental laziness, or at least poor training or practice. (This would not include, for example, a very busy person who defaults to such a position or accepts it due to some intellectual he finds credible,)

For a mind so unaccustomed to careful deliberation, big problems requiring careful thought will often look more insoluable (and thus, frightening) than they really are. A quick fix, particularly if it sounds logical at first glance, will appeal to someone with a fear of thinking. "If they didn't have guns, they couldn't shoot people," will sound great to someone who isn't in the habit of asking questions or integrating knowledge.

The question just about answers itself: What is being gained here is a safety from having to think too much about something that may well be terrifying if thought about just a little. The inquiry doesn't end here for at least a couple of reasons, though. Some anti-gun activists clearly attempt to argue around objections such as Sowell's, and, more to the point, these laws limit what other people can do. My short, off the cuff answer to the next obvious question is that the "freedom from thought" sought includes the thoughts of others. The logic might run, "Cut off their options and they can't frighten or harm me."

That most people will obey a proposed law that is passed  seems to offer a feeling of control, which is what most eludes those who refuse to think. In the meantime, advocating such a law helps perpetuate the illusion that one is "doing something" and, perhaps better yet, occupies time that an otherwise idle mind has to frighten itself.

-- CAV

P.S. This post is not actually about the psychological condition of the same name.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

I've always considered the Left's assertion that guns cause people to commit crimes to be a variant on the Communist credo that workers are conditioned by the tools of production. A gun is a tool to kill. Therefore, people with guns are conditioned to kill.

I don't think that this is the only reason that such folks push for gun control as there are many secondary payoffs for that endeavor, but I do think that it is the root of the notion that guns kill people.

And as to the question as to whether another weapon will be substituted, Don Kates did a pretty good job of answering that question in his edited work, "Handgun Control: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out" that was published in the 1970s and is now out of print. Contributors point out that handgun control leads to other weapons of physical force being substituted for guns to the particular detriment of the small statured, elderly, and women; those who cannot defend themselves with such weapons requiring considerable physical prowess. The particular instances discussed were in Jamaica and in Yorkshire, England after the restrictions on gun ownership went into play.

I know that you were writing to a much broader issue here but I thought that these particular concretes might add something to the discussion.

c. andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for mentioning the Marxist roots of the notion that weapons cause violence. I certainly could have stood to mention it, perhaps as an example of an intellectual making the idea sound credible.

You remind me of something that might have been lurking around subconsciously that might have made the Hurd post on "secondary gain" seem so appealing to me: A friend and I recently speculated on why so many ridiculous ideas have such wide currency. In other words: What makes them so appealing?

Rand's arguments -- such as those found in her West Point talk, "Philosophy: Who Needs It?" are spot-on. Abstract ideas, acknowledged or not, profoundly influence people via the culture. But I think elements of human psychology (often crippled by these very incorrect beliefs) compound the problem. I think that being aware of these additional problems could help one become more persuasive in arguing for better ideas.