Crazy people doing crazy things

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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137 Responses

  1. Avatar Steven Donegal says:

    “… but we could start by not portraying our political opponents as enemies who must be destroyed at all costs in order to save America.”

    The Becks, Limbaughs, Coulters, Hannitys, ad nauseum, are making millions of dollars by portraying “liberals” in exactly that way. As long as the money is flowing, they won’t stop.Report

  2. To expand the list, iirc, the unabomber had a copy of Al Gore’s book on his shack desk. And Jim Jones was certainly on the far left, though few dare paint a picture of his political theology.Report

    • Avatar gregiank in reply to Collin Brendemuehl says:

      I have bible in the house, that doesn’t make me a christian.

      This kind of tit for tat is the most pointless and boring of conversations. If you want to defend Coulter, etc then do so. Coulter has said various things about liberals or the NYTimes or others she doesn’t like being killed. If you can’t defend it, and really who can, then the finger pointing at somebody else is wasted hot air. The knee jerk tendency to shout at the other side when you side is caught at something indefensible is what leads these conversations nowhere and settles nothing.Report

      • I’ve yet to meet a lib (though there certainly are some) who understand Coulter’s satirical skills. But if you watched her interact with Joy Behar, that would be a better example of her intellect apart from her satire.
        Yes, this does boil down to tit-for-tat. But right now the vilification is going too far. Unless one really thinks that Palin is responsible … somehow ….Report

      • Avatar Hedgehog in reply to gregiank says:

        While owning a bible may not make you a Christian, preaching what is in the bible certainly does, and Unabomber preached the gospel of Earth in the Balance. You are being dishonest if you don’t see the similarities in Gore’s writings and Deadly Ted’s. This doesn’t mean Gore is any way responsible for the Unabombings, but they are on the same side of the ideological aisle.Report

    • Avatar Gary Williams in reply to Collin Brendemuehl says:

      Oh C’mon! The Unabomber’s Manifesto was a diatribe against the left from from beginning to very, long and far end.
      Did you know the bible of capitalism Das Kapital, was written by Karl Marx? Does that somehow make capita;ism left-wing? Or every single economics PhD out there who advocates free-market capitalism with no regulations whatsoever? Because they all own at least the first volume (its a 3 volume monstrosity of dead-dry reading)Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    While I can appreciate the idealism of the Founding Fathers, surely they could not have foreseen a bunch of crazy people wanting to overthrow the government passing around stuff that they’d printed in their basements.Report

  4. Avatar MFarmer says:

    What kills me about this whole deal, and in spite of all the hateful, empty-headed rhetoric from the left, is the absolute insistence, the stubborn insistence, that the last word is that the right is somehow, some way, worse and guilty of something of which the left is not.Report

    • Avatar Jon H in reply to MFarmer says:

      A Republican candidate in Florida held an event where he shot a rifle at a target which had the initials of his Democratic opponent.

      Show me a politician on the left that has done anything like that.Report

    • Avatar Chuck in reply to MFarmer says:

      The Left is not guilty of a strict originalist interpretation of the 2nd amendment which operates as a prior probability to the tragedy in Tuscon.

      The Right wants guns as available as vending machine candy bars and then when someone takes advantage of that laxity, the right acts as if their policy position has nothing to do with the carnage.Report

    • Avatar Francis in reply to MFarmer says:

      I’ll take that challenge. One title per author only, here’s over a dozen full-length books filled with ‘hateful, empty-headed rhetoric’ from the right.

      Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism — Ann Coulter

      Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies — Michelle Malkin

      Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto — Mark Levin

      Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism — Sean Hannity

      The Real America: Messages from the Heart and Heartland — Glenn Beck

      Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama — Bill O’Reilly

      Shut Up & Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics, and the UN are Subverting America — Laura Ingraham

      A Slobbering Love Affair: The True (And Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media — Bernard Goldberg

      Fleeced: How Barack Obama, Media Mockery of Terrorist Threats, Liberals Who Want to Kill Talk Radio, the Do-Nothing Congress, Companies That Help Iran, … Are Scamming Us … and What to Do About It — Dick Morris

      Crimes Against Liberty: An Indictment of President Barack Obama — David Limbaugh

      Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism — Stanley Kurtz

      The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 — Dinesh D’Souza

      Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning — Jonah Goldberg

      The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Churches, Schools, and Military — Michael Savage

      To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine — Newt GingrichReport

      • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Francis says:

        The right is guilty of writing more best selling books? I really am growing weary — very weary — and so is most of America, in my humble opinion. Back to the Auburn game. All we can do here in the Land of Objectivity is “sigh”.Report

        • Avatar Gary Williams in reply to MFarmer says:

          Then maybe this from the Oklahoma Prisons Deptwill cheer you up:
          “It appears that conservatism has pathological dimensions manifested in violence and distorted psycho-sexual development” (Boshier, 1983, p. 159). This is supported by a study conducted by Walker, Rowe, and Quincey (1993) in which there was a direct correlation between authoritarianism and sexually aggressive behavior. An investigation done by Muehlenhard (1988) revealed that rape justification and aggression toward subordinate individuals was much higher in traditional (conservative personality) than non-traditional personalities. It is postulated in this paper that the offender has a conservative personality and, therefore, manifests that violence.”

          Too boring? Then how about “Conservatism is not the doctrine of the intellectual elite or of the more intelligent segments of the population, but the reverse. By every measure available to us, conservative beliefs are found most frequently among the uninformed, the poorly educated, and the less intelligent”. McClosky, H. Conservatism and personality. American Political Science Review, 52, 27-45.
          http://www.doc.state.ok.us/offenders/ocjrc/95/950725C.htmReport

  5. Avatar Chuck says:

    Loughner benefitted from the gun policies touted by the right. He was able to purchase a semi-automatic hand-gun with no waiting period and carry it concealed without a permit. This seems like a reasonable externality for those who tout Libertarianism.

    It’s not my political “theology” (whatever the hell that is) but for those who don’t want government intervention then you need to accept that these kind of folks will have the means to wreak havoc.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Chuck says:

      @ Chuck

      > He was able to purchase a semi-automatic hand-gun
      > with no waiting period and carry it concealed
      > without a permit.

      Neither of which is going to stop someone who is mentally unhinged and obsessive for years.

      Now, you might regard a mental health exam as a reasonable background check requirement, but Arizona’s lack of a waiting period and CCW laws are very likely to have had zero effect on this particular event.Report

      • Avatar Chuck in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        Loughner was forcibly removed 5 times by Pima County Community College police which of course was irrelevant because there aren’t background checks or waiting periods for semi-automatic weapons in Arizona.

        Loughner’s decision was enabled by a specific policy position. I could a rip about the rhetoric. I think that it is beyond a doubt that the lax gun laws helped make this event probable.Report

  6. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Just to be very clear: i do not blame anyone on the right, including Palin or Beck, for what happened Saturday. The Unitarian church shooting is much more suspect.Report

    • You might not blame them ED but why even bring up the discussion? It plays right into the hands of anyone on the Left who would exploit this for political purposes…

      Wouldn’t it be more logical to discuss mental health issues, failures in the system to get this guy off the streets, etc?Report

      • Look, I really can’t catch a break you know? If I write at Balloon Juice and say “This is crazy to blame the right for this shooting” I’m told that I’m making false equivelancies and such. If I bring up a different shooting and note that it might very well have been instigated by right-wing radio and books and such, but that this Loughner affair certainly wasn’t, I’m told I shouldn’t even bring it up. Okay. Fine. But I’m not worried about ‘playing into the Left’s hands’ here. I’m not a fan of the talk-radio right and I’ve made that known plenty of times. But I never once said it was the fault of them or Palin that Giffords was shot. Still – isn’t the Unitarian shooting relevant? How do we answer that one? Obviously not with doing anything but I do think it’s relevant. I do think a critique of the national discourse can be healthy and good. And I could very well be wrong.Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        Mike, this is the point I was trying to make about E.D.’s post!Report

      • Avatar Gary Williams in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        The right is exploiting the very sensible calls for a decrease in vitriol over the airwaves because it may have unintended results in the minds of our less rational citizens!! I tell you! The sensitivity to threats that so many conservatives seem obsessed with has you believing that news media in a right-of-center nation, controlled by some very conservative CEOs and board members, and broadcast using anchors who know their job depends on not alienating their audience…is somehow lying to you by telling you all left-liberal ideas! Why would they do that??? And why would academics go to university for ten years to get their degree and become an authority sought out by those looking for truth and facts on a matter, suddenly all be wanting to forget that in favour of telling you all lies?
        Clearly, obviously, and blatantly, you are the ones who create these ideas as a way of avoiding having to accept that what they are saying may be true. Rather than accept that you are now going to have to reassess your beliefs about who the good guys and bad guys were during particular events through US history, having to admit you are wrong about certain things you long held to be true….you invent self-serving lies about what the “left” is up to, or why your jobs are now in third world countries despite your constant assurances that capitalism and US corps would never let you down, Instead of accepting blame you tell yourselves the campesinos for ed out of work south of border are somehow to blame for the decisions of giant food processing corps. WRF is the matter with you people? Grow up and accept the fact that the fairytales your father told you as a child might not always be true…that things have changed and conserving old beliefs will destroy you and America to boot!Report

    • Avatar Chuck in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      You don’t blame anyone on the Right? What are the policy arguments made by these folks in relation to gun rights and what is the context they describe in which lax gun rights are necessary. I think an inference can be made that the political philosophy of Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, Glenn Beck and others helped frame the social conditions which allowed a disturbed young man easy access to a semi-automatic weapon.Report

      • Chuck – that’s a political philosophy also shared by literally millions of registered Democrats and the Congresswoman that was shot herself (she was pro-gun). So why only single out conservatives?Report

      • Avatar Scott in reply to Chuck says:

        If this guy’s mental problems are at the root of his actions then Dems should propose that you must get a mental eval before purchasing a firearm. However, none of them do that, like McCarthy they just keeping humming the gun control tune. Personally, I expect people to responsibly exercise their rights and be punished when they don’t.Report

  7. Avatar mistermix says:

    Well put.

    Here’s the thing — whatever the causal role of the rhetoric, which we can argue about all day, is it necessary or even helpful? Do we really need to demonize and dehumanize opponents in order to make political arguments and win elections?

    And if it isn’t necessary or helpful, why bother?Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to mistermix says:

      Because it drives up votes?Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        Politics is messy business. Riling up the base is very helpful to those who are doing it.Report

        • Avatar mistermix in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          Yeah, because they pay no price for it, because the current media environment doesn’t make a distinction between harsh rhetoric (which is fine) and threats of bloody violence (not fine).Report

          • Avatar MFarmer in reply to mistermix says:

            The purely cynical and unnuanced answer is that it drives up votes, but is it at all possible that we now have a more open market of ideas and that although there are charlatans everywhere, many people have strong beliefs and want to share these beliefs with others, influence them and thereby affect change? Is the cynical answer the only possible explanation — I can see using the cynical answer if your purpose is to marginalize certain groups, but certainly there are sincere people in the political realm in leaderhip positions who are attempting more than just votes for the sake of votes. Wouldn’t it more beneficial if we debate the ideas rather than continuously apply nefarious or base motives to those who are passionate about their ideas?Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to MFarmer says:

              > Many people have strong beliefs and want to share
              > these beliefs with others, influence them and
              > thereby affect change?

              Sure. That gets you so far. You know who else wanted to share strong beliefs with others, influence them and affect change?

              No, not Hitler. Progressives! Well, okay, Hitler too. Motivations matter. Tactics matter.

              > Wouldn’t it more beneficial if we debate the ideas
              > rather than continuously apply nefarious or base
              > motives to those who are passionate about their
              > ideas?

              Holy crap, dude, listen to yourself. Re-read that last paragraph, and then read *this*, which *you* wrote four hours earlier:

              > The intellectual emptiness among liberals is painful
              > — they’ve been socially blackmailed by progressives
              > /State power-mongers, and this social block to
              > anything “right” ,whether it’s intelligent right or
              > not, keeps them in a state of babbling obscurantism
              > and submission to a dying statist ideology.

              There so many blanket assertions, implicit attacks on your opponent’s base competency, and bald claims set forth in that paragraph I literally don’t understand how you could be the same person writing both statements.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                I was talking about intellectual emptiness, not the nefarious nature of their motives — the LACK of idea. I don’t see them as evil, just empty of ideas and afraid to be associated with ideas from the right.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer says:

                But, obviously, you chose to not understand my opinion, but rather try to show me as hypocritical — see?Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to MFarmer says:

                A liberal wants to help the poor; a progressive thinks he can cure poverty.

                I understood Mr. Farmer to be making a necessary distinction between liberals and progressives, between safety nets/[Christian] charity and the European-style social democrat state.

                If I understood him correctly.

                After all, we are not communists. But we are all liberals, are we not?Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Yes, I make a distinction between liberals and progressives — I think liberals are caught up in old ideas which don’t work and never have – they need innovative thinkers unafraid to use some of the better economic ideas from the right as a springboard to creative private sector involvement. The progressives aren’t confused — they know what they want even if the economic results are not what many of us would like, but I think liberals are just tapped between the progressives and conservatives and haven’t broken out. I’m not cynical about motives — many people want what they think will be best for society — just concerned about the ideas, or lack of ideas. The ideas and the systems we have in place deserve more attention — cynicism just writes it all off as base self-interest. There is a lot of self-serving manipulation going on, but it’s not our only problem — we need new ideas and creative action, because even the sincere political actors appear to be caught in a circular Keynesian/statist nightmare.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to MFarmer says:

                Let me start over.

                To me, a debate of ideas requires that we acknowledge that we’re thinking, not knowing. When I find something foolish, I say, “I think that is foolish”. When one side or another has a policy position, I say, “I don’t think that works”. It is very, very rare that I will use declarative statements, particularly class- or domain- specific declarative like, “That is foolish”, or “The intellectual emptiness among liberals is painful”, because I usually don’t know for certain that an entire class of things *is* foolish, and I don’t know all the liberals.

                But you generally choose language that is language of knowing, instead of language of thinking. You speak with declarations, very broad class-based declarations like the passage I quoted above. Unlike Bob, you don’t seem to be trying to do so as tongue-in-cheek; I don’t see it as a constructed persona.

                That is not the language of debating ideas or discussing opinions. That’s the language of preaching the truth. Note: this is not a value statement about either type of speaking.

                However, speaking like this while decrying the lack of debate does indeed seem very odd, at least to me. Do you see why? Whether or not it is hypocritical depends on why you’re saying what you’re saying, and I can’t see inside your head so I have no idea if it’s hypocritical or not. However, in the interest of figuring out what makes Mr. Farmer tick, so that I better understand the entire context of what you write, I pointed it out.

                Maybe it’s just your particular manner of speaking, and it’s possible I’m judging you unfairly. Maybe your writing style varies by what you’re reading, and you read this blog in conjunction with a bunch of other blogs and in-between post #1 and post #2 you changed mindframes because of something you were reading about/writing about elsewhere. I don’t read your blog, so my absorption of The Farmer is limited to the commentary here; you might not even write like that most of the time. It might be observer bias; maybe I just notice your declarative commentary more than your discussing commentary. Hell, I might even be full of shit about how I talk.

                I just found it to be a really astonishing juxtaposition.Report

  8. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    I think ‘political correctness’ is a disordering force that inhibits the life of reason. E.D., I love ya dude, but this blog represents, for me, a perfect example of what Voegelin referred to as something derived from the ‘climate of opinion.’

    If it’s not too much trouble could you cite me examples of Beck and Palin’s ‘hate’ speech or vitriol or inflammatory rhetoric?Report

    • I never said they had any hate speech. I said they were vitriolic, which they can be. All the best talk radio people are a bit vitriolic at times. Actually, what bothers me most about Beck is his insincerity. I’ll take O’Reilly or Limbaugh over Beck any day. At least I believe that they believe what they’re saying. Same goes for Palin. She strikes me as wholly in it for herself, no first principles, no deeper purpose. There are plenty of conservative politicians I admire, but Palin isn’t one of them.Report

    • Avatar Craig in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      Robert,

      seriously? you can’t think of any examples of hate speech by Glenn Beck? How about when he said he wanted to kill Michael Moore?

      http://www.blippitt.com/glenn-beck-threatens-to-kill-michael-moore-video

      GLENN BECK: “I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out of him. Is this wrong?”Report

  9. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “While I would never advocate censorship…”

    Ah-heh. This sounds like “I’m no prude, I’ve got nothing against gays, but there’s some places that you have to draw the line!” Or maybe “It’s not racist to say that some people are just intellectually inferior.”

    You want right-wing pundits to tone it down? Fine; make sure that door swings both ways. I look forward to your angry–er, not angry, reasoned and rational and not-angry-but-terribly-terribly-hurt denuncation of these guys.

    Or is it only influential when someone whose name you recognize does it?Report

    • It doesn’t matter. The old mores are gone, and while we’re here pretending to hash out the new ones, Morality 2.0 is already extending its tendrils through every aspect of our lives.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to DensityDuck says:

      I did say the left’s jumping on this and blaming the right for the shooting was wrong, DensityDuck. I am simply making two separate critiques here. I think the Unitarian shooting is relevant now. I also brought up the Discovery Channel guy, who was obviously more closely tied to the left.

      And the left just sucks at talk radio and this sort of punditry. They deserve plenty of criticism, but not necessarily for all the same things.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        ” I think the Unitarian shooting is relevant now. ”

        But this just seems a back door to make the association with “heated rhetoric” — why bring this up in relation to Arizona? Besides, all it does is ask the question, are mentally disturbed people really influenced to kill by a few books — if these books had not been written, and the political discourse was much milder, would this person go through life as a non-violent critic of liberals? To what extent do we have to change the words and ideas in books and speech to accomdate the mentally ill, and would it matter if we did? And if no one knows to what extent language and the expression of ideas has to be changed, then what is this all about? Menchken certainly stirred a few crazies in his day, I’m sure. Our rhetoric is no more heated than it has been in the past – look back at some of the political battles and most of what we’re saying is mild. Just because the Untarian shooter had different books than Loughner doesn’t make it a different situation, even if they were all conservative authors with the Unitarian shooter — each author has different ideas, just commonly conservative — but it just doesn’t make sense to suggest a connection — the stretch is too far — these actions of murder are way beyond the pale, and much too deranged to say a political philosophy set them off..Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to MFarmer says:

          > Besides, all it does is ask the question, are mentally
          > disturbed people really influenced to kill by a few
          > books

          Yes and no. Yes, they probably are. No, you can’t know ahead of time which ones they’ll be influenced by. Although apparently Catcher in the Rye is a downright manifesto for batshit crazy people. Maybe we should add “check out Catcher in the Rye at the local library” to the list of things we don’t want the people on the list of maybe crazy people to do.

          > — if these books had not been written, and the political
          > discourse was much milder, would this person go
          > through life as a non-violent critic of liberals?

          No. Well, maybe. But probably not. Although they might decide to focus their crazy on the postal service or people who clean pools for a living instead of a political party.

          Crazy people are *crazy*. They do things (by definition!) for illogical reasons.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

            “Crazy people are *crazy*. They do things (by definition!) for illogical reasons.”

            No shit.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to MFarmer says:

              Surprisingly, lots of people are failing to realize this when they discuss this particular incident. So yeah, I’m up next on State the Obvious… but apparently not enough other people play this game show 🙂

              “If (something) contributed to (crazy person’s crazy), then we ought to be careful about how we use/say/do (something), on account of look at the consequences!”

              But that line of reasoning only works if the (something) is *predictive*. And it really can’t be, when each crazy person is crazy in a different, logically oddball way. Their craziness doesn’t generalize. If it did, it would be… tah-dah! Normal behavior.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        “I also brought up the Discovery Channel guy, who was obviously more closely tied to the left.”

        Ah-heh. Yes, yes you did, and in fact what you said was “the Discovery Channel hostage taker…was more identifiably ‘left-wing’, but he was so fringe it’s impossible to accurately lump him in with the American left.”

        So you brought him up just to claim that he wasn’t Of The Left. Nice balance!Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to DensityDuck says:

          Hey, you have your mind made up! I’m so glad for you.Report

          • Somebody got the better of this exchange, but it would be uncivil to say who.

            The Unitarian shooter. 1-0 for Mr. Kain. Oh wait!

            http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2009/09/antiabortion_activist_shot_in.html

            The problem here is epistemological. Nobody even remembers when the anti-abortion activist James Pouillon was killed by a wacko who resented his pro-life [why didn’t the papers write “pro-life] activities.

            It took me awhile to find it on google. Frankly, I forgot about it, as do the prevailing talking points. The Tiller thing, pages upon google pages, however.

            1-1.

            Oh, wait! The abortionist George Tiller’s killing! 2-1.

            But wait! The Unabomber! And what about the Discovery Channel guy?

            The real story is that we’re in the low single digits on all this stuff in a nation of 300 million people. I could be wrong about this, but I think statisticians and social scientists would consider these figures “statistically insignificant.”

            Blips. Shit happens. Maniacs happen. Even if it were 10-1 one way or the other, as long as the numbers are this low in a nation of 300 million, we are talking nothing significant, only debating points.Report

  10. Avatar greginak says:

    All we can do as individuals is to set a standard for our own behavior. We can’t control the Left, Right, Middle, Libertarians, Orthodontists with dimples, etc. We can make a commitment to—-holy crap did you see that play by oregon—–treat each other respectfully, not slander or misrepresent the other persons beliefs or engage in hysterical name calling. We can choose not to be douchbags.Report

    • Avatar Chuck in reply to greginak says:

      We can also be vocal about sane gun control policies that offer controls so unstable people can’t get semi-automatic hand guns. This event is probably not driven by the Tea Party rhetoric but it was enabled by their political philosophy regarding how government works and it’s role in regulating behavior.Report

      • Avatar Tony Comstock in reply to Chuck says:

        Unstable people with single-action revolvers is cool?Report

        • Avatar Chuck in reply to Tony Comstock says:

          No Tony but reasonable back-ground checks for those looking to buy handguns is. If there was a policy position that linked crime data-bases as a feasible check-point prior to the purchase of hand-guns then Loughner would not have been allowed to buy what he bought. The kid was forcibly removed by Campus Police 5 times over the course of the past year. That should have been a considered input into the selling the gun. It wasn’t because that type of regulation amounts to “Big Brother” in the mind of Libertarians. It is bullshit to ignore the fact that the only way the paranoid rhetoric of anti-government Libertarians has power is that it is a tool to further a Constitutional position that originalist to the point of being irrelevant to the meaning of the 2nd Amendment.Report

          • Avatar Tony Comstock in reply to Chuck says:

            I don’t yet know enough about the details of Loughner history with mental illness and/or law enforcement, or Arizona’s gun purchasing regulations to offer an opinion on whether or not his being able to purchase a firearm (long gun, handgun, semi-automatic or otherwise) was a failure of an egregiously flawed system, or a product of terrible misfortune, or something else.

            I do know that 1993 I was forcible removed from The Valley Center Mall in Eugene, Oregon. You can read the entire account here:

            How I got arrested for loving a gay man, a remembrance

            How long after this incident do you suppose it would be appropriate to make me wait before I purchased a weapon. Certainly if I had gone out the next day and wanted to buy a Rugar Redhawk and a half-dozen speed-loaders, a prudent person would draw inferences…Report

            • Avatar Chuck in reply to Tony Comstock says:

              Tony,

              Loughner was removed 5 times this past year by Pima County Community College police and there is no waiting period, back-ground check or need for a permit to purchase a semi-automatic hand-gun or carry it as a concealed weapon. You don’t even need to register it.

              Your personal story is a red herring to distract from the originalist Libertarian gun policy that empowered Laughner to butcher his fellow citizens.Report

              • Chuck – what if he had only killed one person and did so with a baseball bat? Would you be calling for a waiting period on those?Report

              • He killed 6 and wounded several others with a gun. Kinda hard to do that with a baseball bat.

                Just sayin’.Report

              • Chris –

                So…

                1 murder with a baseball bat = no need for concern.

                6 murders with gun = we need new laws.Report

              • Mike – following this logic pretty soon we’re saying “Killing fifty people with a bomb = we need new laws” and implying just the opposite. The right to bear arms does not include an unfettered right to any weaponry at all. I think there is legitimate reason to survey the laws in place across the country in light of events like this to see whether they are at fault or whether we need a better understanding of felons, the mentally ill, etc. There is certainly room to wonder at the ease at which someone can slaughter their fellow citizens with modern weapons. There would be no need for new bat laws because, honestly how could anyone commit mass murder with a bat? This is just silly. Likewise, we don’t let normal people drive around in tanks.Report

              • The point is ED you can’t let he numbers skew the discussion. One murder with a baseball bat is just as tragic as 6 murders with a gun. If people want to discuss gun control, so be it but to do so in the wake of a tragedy like this is to debate inside of a tempest.Report

              • Mike, that’s not what I said, and I’m going to assume that you know that (if not, what’s the point of talking to you, eh?).

                My point is this: just about anyone can kill a person, maybe even two, with just about any object that’s sufficiently heavy or sharp. Guns are unique in that they can kill large numbers of people in a short period of time. Not surprising, since killing is what they were created for. So there’s an obvious and relevant difference.

                If a guy kills 6 and wounds several more with a baseball bat in a short period of time, it would probably be better to outlaw super ninjas with baseball bats.Report

              • > Guns are unique in that they can kill large
                > numbers of people in a short period of time.

                Chris, let me be clear, I’m not necessarily against the idea of waiting periods and background checks, per se.

                However, this claim is just ridiculous. Guns are “unique”?

                You know the *easiest* way to kill a bunch of people at a political rally in a parking lot? I’ll give you a hint: they can weigh a couple of tons, and nearly every adult person in the country has access to one. Without a background check into their sanity (which, by the way, is a logistical nightmare, but that’s for a different thread).

                If a panicked old man can kill 9 by accident, an actual loon could get dozens on purpose. Google “Santa Monica Farmer Market Car Accident”.Report

              • It’s certainly not ridiculous. I agree that a car is capable of killing large numbers of people at one time, though unlike a concealed weapon, there is at least the possibility of getting out of the way in most cases. However, the car does a whole lot of things by design (transport people, transport cargo, shelter people and cargo from the elements, etc.), whereas guns do one thing (or perhaps two, since many guns were designed to serve as effective melee weapons as well): shoot targets. Granted, not all targets are living things, but again, unlike cars, they (at least most of them, along with their projectiles) were designed to (shoot projectiles that) hit and seriously wound or kill living things.

                Also, in addition to not owning a gun, I don’t own a car. ?Report

              • > However, the car does a whole lot of things
                > by design (transport people, transport
                > cargo, shelter people and cargo from the
                > elements, etc.), whereas guns do one thing

                Chris, you’re suffering from a catastrophic lack of imagination.

                What does the purpose of the item (even assuming that you’re correct, which is a stretch) have to do with it’s possible use? Something is dangerous because it *can* be used as a weapon, not because it was *designed* to be one.

                Hey, are you saying that if we’re making ammonium phosphate for fertilizer… we should treat it differently than ammonium phosphate that we make solely for the purpose of making big booming things out of it? Because it’s purpose is different?

                I can kill people with a sword. I can kill people with an axe. I can chop down trees with an axe, though.

                Does this mean that we ought to regulate swords differently from axes? Yes, I know we do. Ought we?

                Why? Isn’t this utterly pointless and stupid?

                Are you seriously suggesting that if we just do away with things that are designed to be a weapon, people won’t improvise them?

                Is there some higher moral purpose attached to this decision? Do you think it’s society’s place to be disapproving via the legal code?

                To be clear again, I have nothing against reasonable limits on weapons. My definition of “reasonable” is “effective within an appropriate scope”. I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable to have lower capacity limits on civilian firearms, even though I really doubt a lower capacity magazine is going to reduce the frequency or impact of these sorts of events, when they occur. I don’t own any guns. I find most pro-gun arguments to be weak, at best.

                But most anti-gun arguments aren’t standing on solid ground, either.Report

              • It’s not a lack of imagination, it’s a lack of inference, and it’s not on my part.

                Banning cars, or certain kinds of cars, would limit car deaths, but it would limit a whole hell of a lot of other things (like access to work and goods). Banning guns, or at least certain kinds of guns, would limit gun deaths and injuries, but aside from target shooting, not much else. Do you see the point now? If not, I’m not sure how to make it any clearer.Report

              • Chris – are suggesting that there is no harm in removing a hobby for something like 34 million Americans? Not to mention the constitutional arguments about an armed populace preventing government tyranny.Report

              • Well, we can put aside constiutional arguments, because that’s a different discussion (whether it was a good argument then and now, e.g.), but the hobby shit, sure as hell.

                I can think of all sorts of hobbies that I wouldn’t care how many people took them up, should still be illegal. So yeah, if it’s just a hobby we’re losing, sure, I have no problem with depriving however many million people of it if it prevents deaths. Or, to put it in your inflammatory terms, you think the hobby of 34 million (not sure where you got that figure) people outweighs the deaths of 1? 6? 100? 1000? 10,000 per year?Report

              • > Banning cars, or certain kinds of cars,
                > would limit car deaths, but it would limit
                > a whole hell of a lot of other things (like
                > access to work and goods).

                Sure would. But it would cut down on pollution, urban sprawl, and a host of other things that are bad. If you want to engage in full bore benefits analysis, go ahead. I know a couple of urban planners and I have yet to meet one that thinks that cars are, on net, a positive good outside of rural areas. I’m sure there are some, though. Please bring references to this fight, if you want to have it.

                > Banning guns, or at least certain kinds
                > of guns, would limit gun deaths and
                > injuries, but aside from target shooting,
                > not much else.

                You obviously have never used a firearm to defend yourself against anything. Note: neither have I, and to be honest in the main I find this line of argument to be weak. However, I know people that have used firearms to defend themselves from both animals and people. While a statistical analysis doesn’t seem to support this as a wholesale method of defense, it is impossible to argue with someone that has personal experience of this sort. So, they’d rather vehemently argue against your “not much else” premise.

                Okay, but let’s just assume that this is the case. I’ll leave aside for the moment the fact that “limiting gun deaths” doesn’t mean anything if you’re correspondingly increasing “death by anything else”.

                Now it’s time to talk about Bayesian reasoning again.

                The probability that something is good is equal to the probability that you get a good outcome, times the good outcome (summed across good outcomes) minus the probability that you get a bad outcome, times the bad outcome (summed across bad outcomes).

                Between 12,000 and 16,000 people are killed each year by firearms. Now, some of those are accidental deaths, and some of them are purposeful homicides, and some are suicides. I think we can all agree that some small percentage of the accidental deaths would occur anyway (by some other agent), many of the suicides would occur anyway (also by some other agent), and at least some of the homicides would occur anyway. You can quibble about the amount, here or there. For the sake of argument, let’s just say half of the “gun-related” deaths occur anyway, by one agency or another.

                That means that you’re willing to halt an activity based upon 6,000 to 8,000 deaths. I would like you to go study the CDC website for a bit, search for statistical causes of death, and let me know if you’re really comfortable with that number. What if it’s smaller? At what point do we start regulating and restricting all the other things that kill people? Death by drowning… do we get rid of public swimming pools? Heck, why allow people to swim at all? It’s just a hobby for 99% of the people on the planet. Unless you’re a fisherman or a cargo transport captain, you don’t have a practical need to *know* how to swim. It’s just a hobby!

                Now let’s talk cost. To halt this activity, you are going to have lots and lots and lots of costs. You’re going to have to deal with the legal hassle, but we can leave that aside for now; let’s pretend we live in a world without the second amendment. You’re going to have to halt the importation and construction of firearms. You’re going to have to hire more police. You’re going to have to confiscate guns, destroy them, etc. You’re going to have to audit all this to make sure that the guns are actually collected and destroyed. You’re going to have to take all sorts of economic steps to stop this activity.

                Tell me why you spend *any* of this money to halt something that kills a *vanishingly* small percentage of the population when you could turn around and spend that exact same amount of money on research into cancer, heart disease, or stroke… all of which combined kill people on a rate that’s two orders of magnitude greater that our back-of-the-envelope cost of private gun ownership.Report

              • Chris – I assume you discount the self-defense rationale, and I personally think that rationale gets a bit overblown since it’s fairly infrequent that firearms are successfully used for that purpose. But isn’t there also independent value to a gun owner to the extent the mere ownership of a particular firearm makes him feel more safe and secure? And of course let’s not overstate the likely effects of gun bans – the experiments with gun bans in the US do not seem to have produced any demonstrable results. And if we want to look to a more analogous national context, we can look at the case of South Africa, which has extraordinarily tight gun control laws, with a waiting period of around 2 years to obtain a license to own a gun, and with 98% of applicants from the black majority seeing their license applications rejected (I don’t know the comparable statistics for white gun owners). While the murder rate in South Africa has – finally – started to come down significantly, the percentage of all murders which involve a firearm has remained steady between 45 and 50 percent both before and after the new gun control laws were put in place, suggesting that severe restrictions on gun ownership have not played a meaningful role in the decline of the homicide rate. This past year, they had a huge decline in the murder rate, but literally every single story I came across attributed that to dramatically improved policing, with not a single mention of gun control laws. What wound up happening is that a lot of guns got stolen from the police and military.
                Similarly, the usual case for the benefits of tight gun control typically uses Germany as a good comparison, since Germany’s murder rate is about 1/4 of the US’ murder rate. But statistically firearms are still used in about 40% of homicides in Germany, as compared with 65% of homicides in the US. That’s certainly a significant difference, but it’s not so significant as to allow for a conclusion that gun control is the primary difference-maker (and doesn’t tell us what percentage, if any, of German murders without firearms involved would have involved firearms had they been more readily available).

                All of this suggests that the explanation for our comparatively high homicide rate rests more in our culture than in our laws and gun ownership rates, although those may play a small role nonetheless.Report

              • It’s really not. We all drive deadly weapons to work. We keep any variety of deadly weapons in our homes. We work with deadly weapons. I mean, I work in an office that’s 70% women and has one exit. I could wreak havoc with a field hockey stick.

                The point isn’t to ban guns but to do more to get crazies off the street.Report

              • So you’re proposing a regulatory scheme similar to what we have with motor vehicles? :-/

                You and Chuck with the inferences. It’s frustrating. Put your cards on the table, boys!Report

              • Avatar Chuck in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Mike,

                Let me see if I understand your argument.

                Material goods operate in a physical space and as such can cause harm to other matter that shares that space.

                Because material goods can cause harm they need to be regulated.

                Consumer goods are material goods and therefore can cause harm.

                We should regulate all consumer goods with the potential to cause physical harm.

                The safest regulation in regards to physical harm would be to ensure security to the maximum probable damage.

                We should ensure that consumer goods be equated with weapons because they can cause physical harm and that would provide insurance security to the maximum probable damage.

                Is that your argument?Report

              • It’s not my ‘argument’ but it is the logical conclusion of regulatory rhetoric. When we focus specifically on the tools and not the people we are looking in the wrong place.Report

              • Mike,

                We are having a discussion on gun rights over at my blog and would love to share your thoughts, if that’s okay.Report

              • Avatar Chuck in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Why is the logical conclusion to regulatory rhetoric the equalization in purpose of all consumer goods?

                The purpose of a baseball bat is to hit a sphere in a game of play. If someone chooses to murder someone with that then we consider the prior probability of its posterior probability relative to its purpose.

                The purpose of a Glock 30 is to create as much physical damage in the shortest amount of time possible with minimal interference to its operation and transportation. If it is used to murder someone then we can estimate this prior probability relative to posterior probabilities and consider purpose when proposing regulation.

                Maybe we need to discuss the meaning of substance as it applies to purpose.

                Your argument seems paranoid and suffering from equivocation. I don’t see its logic and don’t see how regulating an instrument whose sole purpose is destruction is equivalent to a sporting good that might be used as a weapon.

                And I haven’t even addressed the inequality in form between a baseball bat and a Glock relative to transportation and concealment.Report

              • Chuck – a bullet is only destructive based on the target. If you want to call shooting a target destructive because the paper gets a hole in it, you’re welcome to make that leap.

                A baseball bat would certainly destroy a skull with enough force behind it.

                I might buy a gun to kill animals, you might buy one to keep unloaded in your nightstand as a deterrent. Someone else might buy it to shoot targets.

                The point is that intent is not embued by the manufacturer but by the person pulling the trigger.Report

              • Avatar Chuck in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Mike I think you need to review the logical fallacy known as equivocation before we continue.Report

              • Chuck – if you focus on the tools used in murders, why stop with guns? It’s logical that we would look at ALL tools which have been used in mass killings. In that respect you see why box cutters are banned from planes.Report

              • Avatar Chuck in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Because substance matters when considering form.

                Re-read a little Aristotle.Report

              • Avatar Tony Comstock in reply to Chuck says:

                You really love that word, semi-automatic, don’t you?

                The gun laws of Arizona were enacted by the people of Arizona via their elected officials. The last time I was out that way I heard an interview with a law enforcement official encouraging citizens, given the vast distances, to carry handguns in their cars.

                You won’t hear police talking that way here on Long Island. Our gun laws are different too.

                Call my story a redherring, but you seem to be inferring policy changes are in order, either at a state level, or federal level, but haven’t made clear what you think they ought to be. I’ve offered an example and asked where it fits into your rubric.Report

              • Avatar Chuck in reply to Tony Comstock says:

                Tony,

                I believe it is sound to name things for what they are so we can have a discussion as close to reality as possible. I use the term semi-automatic because that is the instrument Loughner used and whose sole reason for being is to cause as much violent damage as possible in the least amount of time with as little inconvenience to its operation and transportation.

                I am inferring policy changes need to be made and I spoke to them. Coordinated data-bases between law enforcement and dealers of fire arms. Waiting periods on the purchase of hand-guns. Registration of all weapons that can be concealed. A legal permit with further back-ground check to carry a concealed weapon. Heavy prohibitions on the right to buy semi-automatic weapons (for the reasons I stated above).

                Yes, Blue Dog Democrats argue for liberal gun policy as well but that isn’t my point. The guiding political philosophy of the Tea Party is a Libertarianism that hues to an originalist Constitutional interpretation. That political philosophy informs policy that must admit externalities if it wishes to be logical. What happened Saturday is a posterior probable externality given the prior probabilities of the Tea Party philosophy yet no one from the Tea Party is willing to admit that. My argument is pretty simple. A philosophical position makes rhetoric relevant. The philosophy of the Tea Party that advocated no regulation on the purchase and practice of hand-gun policy made violent sniper/insurgency rhetoric viable. We are focusing on the rhetoric when the more interesting and useful conversation should be on the philosophy.

                Does a prior probability of anti-regulation in regards to powerful concealed weapons create a greater probability for gun violence in society?

                I say yes.Report

              • Chuck – I hardly think that the Tea Party has made these types of incidents more common. There were plenty of mass-killings prior to 2008. You’re reaching.Report

              • Avatar Chuck in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                I’m not saying that the Tea Party is making these incidents more common. Where did I argue that.

                I’m saying the philosophy the Tea Party promotes creates prior probabilities that intimate posterior probabilities and we need to discuss those.

                That philosophy existed before the Tea Party existed but it is one they’ve embraced which makes their insurgency rhetoric more relevant to their cause.Report

  11. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    The point is ED you can’t let he numbers skew the discussion. One murder with a baseball bat is just as tragic as 6 murders with a gun. If people want to discuss gun control, so be it but to do so in the wake of a tragedy like this is to debate inside of a tempest.

    I’m not saying that I think any reform to current laws would have made a difference, but I’m also not an expert on this and think it’s reasonable to ask these sort of questions. Also, no, six murders is more tragic than one murder. It is a tragedy magnified six times, touching a multitude more people. There is something that makes me very nervous about the ease at which a man who once could only commit one murder can now commit six or twelve or twenty. Again, I’m not sure that gun control laws are the answer, but I’m deeply troubled by the implications of our modern killing technology.Report

    • The exact same thing could have been accomplished with any number of guns produced 100 years ago.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_August_Wagner

      If anything has changed it’s that the information age has created a lot more copycat situations and perhaps modern society has created a lot more disaffected individuals that feel violence is the only solution to fix their problems. The tools being used are in my opinion irrelevant.Report

      • Avatar Chuck in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        I don’t buy your argument Tony. What were the circumstances of the murders? He killed his family first. We don’t know what those circumstances were.

        We do know that Loughner was enabled to fire off 30 rounds of high caliber ammunition rapidly.

        If Loughner needed to use a Mauser then he would have a single round to fire at Rep. Giffords then would need to stop, reload and fire again. I doubt that he would have been given the time needed to reload 30 times before firing into a crowd.

        Just because people were killed with guns 100 years ago does not mean the power of those guns were equal.

        The Mauser is to the Glock 30 as the Model T is to a Ferrari.Report

        • Avatar Scott in reply to Chuck says:

          Chuck:

          Why not google Mauser c96 to learn of it capabilities before you say things that are not factually true and that make you look ignorant?Report

          • Scott – ouch. Someone should have told the folks carying Mausers in WWII that they were killing people with antiques!Report

          • Avatar Chuck in reply to Scott says:

            I don’t see how a Mauser C96 is equivalent to a Glock 30.

            Please explain how the Mauser would be as easily concealed and how its firing mechanism would be equal to the Glock.

            The Mauser magazine holds 10 rounds that need to be manually operated where the Glock has tooling that makes rapid fire of up to 30 rounds possible.

            The Mauser also only uses .25 caliber bullets whereas the Glock has caliber capability of up to .45 caliber.

            Additionally, Wagner performed his murders at 11 PM while wearing a black veil and after creating a diversion by setting fire to four barns.

            He did not walk up to a group of people in broad day-light and pull out a weapon with multiple times the strength of a Mauser from his pocket and wreak havoc in under five minutes.

            I don’t see how the circumstances are even close to being similar for you to make your argument that a Mauser is a Glock.

            Check your premises before your proof-text history to serve your conclusion.Report

            • Chuck – please take Scott’s advice and Google Mauser C96 before you keep digging the hole deeper. Maybe you’re confusing it with some kind of single-shot rifle? I clearly stated that the magazines went up to 40 ct. I also clearly stated this was a semi-auto. Being a pistol it is just as concealable as a Glock with a 30 round magazine.

              And the .30 round is, again, no joke. Calibers are like weiner size. Bigger isn’t always beter.Report

        • Maybe you’re not a gun guy Chuck but you should do your homework. The Mauser was a semi-auto pistol with optional 6, 10, 20 or 40-round magazines. The 7.63x25mm round it fired was no joke and is still manufactured today.

          We can turn this into a big gun discussion if you want (which I would love). We can talk about Tommy guns which were available to the public during prohibition. We talk about the BAR. We can talk about the M1911 which has been used by the US military since WWI and is still being made today (great gun by the way).

          The only real advancement of the Glock is the materials it is made of. As for the power of its rounds or the reliability, all that was covered decades ago.Report

  12. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Okay, I’m finding this discussion both very interesting and a bit exhausting. The only thing I’d really like to jump in on is this: while I agree that the mentally ill are too often socially isolated instead of helped, diagnosis of mental illness is still in the dark ages. So, before we start talking about more widely utilizing mental health evaluations, we should start talking about just how hard it is to diagnose mental illness. This shooter clearly seems crazy now, but to many people who knew him, he seemed like he was “messing with people”, and I’m willing to bet that, during the trial, there will be a big question as to if he’s faking mental illness for a lighter sentence. Conversely, not a week goes by that my wife doesn’t get a client who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder because they went through a major depression as a teenager and the mood elevators they were diagnosed really elevated their mood- and now they’ve got a diagnosis for a lifelong illness and meds that will eventually cause liver failure. She seends a lot of teens back to be re-screened. In fact, I posted that link about the battles over the DSM-5 recently because there are a lot of people we know in the profession who think that both autism and bipolar are being wildly overdiagnosed right now. At any rate, if there’s ever a surefire urine test that can tell the difference between lifelong mental illness and a brief bout of derangement during a hard time in life, I’d be more supportive of opening the discussion about mental health screening and the laws, but I’m still apprehensive.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Rufus F. says:

      > So, before we start talking about more widely utilizing
      > mental health evaluations, we should start talking about
      > just how hard it is to diagnose mental illness.

      This.

      Also, anyone hear of the “no-fly” list, how horribly it is implemented, and how impossible it is to get *off* of it?

      Imagine how much harder it is to get off of the “you’re officially crazy, and we need to monitor you” list. Also imagine what happens when some nut, who is actually on the list, doesn’t shoot a bunch of people with a gun but instead takes the easy way and runs over a bunch of kids waiting for a school bus. Then indeedy you’ll see calls for the “officially crazy” list to be extended out to prevent nutty people from driving cars.

      Think of the perverse incentives. If you’re a doctor who has been asked to evaluate someone for consideration to the list, and you don’t put them on the list and they do something nutty, guess what happens to your license to practice? Ya think this might lead to a certain percentage of overly-conservative diagnoses?

      > This shooter clearly seems crazy now, but to many people
      > who knew him, he seemed like he was “messing with
      > people”

      This, too.

      You can’t judge the likelihood of violent crazy by “that dude acts hinky” assessments. Jesus, just surf the internet for a while and you’ll see how much crazy people produce on a daily basis.

      Violent spree shooters are *vanishingly small* incidents. They are not worthy of an entire class of new law, with barrels and barrels of unintended consequences and red tape, to prevent. Because the mechanism of the law is not. going. to. stop. crazy people from flipping out and killing people. Period, full stop.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        Think of the perverse incentives. If you’re a doctor who has been asked to evaluate someone for consideration to the list, and you don’t put them on the list and they do something nutty, guess what happens to your license to practice? Ya think this might lead to a certain percentage of overly-conservative diagnoses?

        While there is no disincentive to list someone who’s mentally healthy, though currently a bit depressed or pissed-off. You are so right.Report

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