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(A response to Steve Rendell at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a media watchdog organization.)

Steve Rendell (FAIR.ORG),

Re: “The Self-Defense Self-Delusion: Owning Guns Doesn’t Stop Gun Violence

Your faith is that the several allegedly scientific tests and studies mentioned on gun violence and training have relevance to the real world, that they model actual situations as occur regularly. On faith you believe they are valid and true and beyond question.

But it appears as though you decided the conclusion and then cherry picked pseudo-science to support that conclusion. Real incidents are not able to be reduced to statistics. The actual actions, motivations, causes, participants, outcomes and reporting methods really do matter. Self-defense across the entire population is not a simple issue to put on a data chart. That’s asinine.

The roots of America’s gun violence stem primarily from something you don’t even mention at all. The drug war. Forty plus years ago the federal government declared war on the citizens of the United States over prohibition. The extreme wealth disparity, lack of job prospects for large swaths of the largely minority populations, is also central, crucial, intrinsic, fundamental to this violence. You have previously heard of gang wars and the competition for turf in the cities? That this doesn’t even warrant a mention in your slanted piece is quite telling.

As for your bogus college classroom shooting setup… if the shooter fires shots in a different location, such as another classroom first, thus alerting the students all over the campus, it’s obviously a different scenario than having a trained marksman bust in and surprise people sitting at their desks. Oh, but far more likely.

Your false blanket statement about the people automatically being helpless in the face of the military ignores realities on how wars unfold and how people make decisions. According to you, “no sane person believes individuals armed with handguns and rifles would stand a chance against a trillion-dollar 21st century military backed by vast surveillance systems.”

An armed population, however Steve, is less likely to be occupied by their own military in the first place, because the costs of such occupation are much greater than rolling over an unarmed population. Ergo — it is less likely to happen, something that apparently never occurred to you. Your supposedly all-powerful techno military has been effectively defeated by the Taliban, who at one point numbered a couple of thousand guerrillas at most. The prospect of military occupation and civil war also implies multiple sides to the conflict, where military units would also face the choice of which side to throw in with. Any casual examination of modern conflicts should make that point clear.

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This issue of gun rights is simply not as you presented, and I find your biased appraisal dishonest in its smug self-assuredness. Would you declare null and void the right of people to defend themselves? In their own homes? Is that not a right you believe in?

Even the framing of your title is loaded. “Owning guns doesn’t stop gun violence,” but that’s a straw man. It doesn’t “stop” gun violence, but it would take a highly deluded person to assume that home firearm ownership cannot serve to defend individuals and their families — at all. You do seemingly acknowledge that a gun does not need to be fired to be used defensively. You do so by trying to dismiss the other side’s data however, without a convincing logic to support your own position.

Your piece attempts to present nearly half of the nation (the armed half) as inept buffoons only capable of shooting themselves and their loved ones, but never to use a gun responsibly as clearly you believe the police, military and security guards do. Far from “fair and accurate” this is one of the least fair or accurate assessments I’ve seen from your organization.

Your implied conclusion is disarmament. Your article leads to the idea that guns should be removed from private hands. This has happened before. The gun lobby likes to mention Nazi Germany, although I haven’t verified that claim. Other nations have done similarly, and these are always lauded as successes. But we don’t live in any of those countries.

I made a point about Rwanda once, as in the genocide of 1994. The weapon of choice, used to murder the bulk of the 700,000 victims, was the machete. Had that targeted population been armed, large numbers could have survived, and even more likely: the rampages wouldn’t have happened in the first place. You don’t charge a house with a machete when bullets can be returned.

The United States has its own social problems. The nation is a global military empire which has finally decided that the people are negligible and little more than subjects of the empire. The Constitution is actively being canceled out, and real tyranny accompanies the power grabs of the state. This state now claims the power to torture, indefinitely detain and murder whomever it decides to kill, all in the name of “national security.”

This is the very same state you want to entrust with absolute monopoly on force by disarming the entire population? These are large questions, and they need much more attention than blog posts or emails.

My final point on self-defense in the home is to simply quote a man named Nicholas Johnson, a law professor at Fordham University:

“For those who need a refresher, the state loses its monopoly on legitimate violence in that window of imminence where government cannot act and people must protect themselves… Surely most gun owners, but perhaps many others will acknowledge that when seconds count, government is minutes away. This means that in those critical moments when violence sparks, you are on your own.”

I’m afraid, Steve, that is just basic objective reality. If we can’t get down to physical reality, the real world where the rubber meets the road, then dialogue is pointless.
 

Comments
  1. Kieran Kelly says:

    I’m sorry, but I couldn’t disagree with you more. I live in a country where the whole focus of gun laws is on safety and and the responsibility of the owners to protect others. There are plenty of guns here, but nobody has a “right” to such things. Unless they are being employed for some lawful purpose, guns must be secured to prevent injury or death because they are incredibly hazardous things. It is no different than crossbows, for example, or dangerous animals. These things are regulated. Unless there is some reason to deny possession you are allowed to own them but have cast-iron responsibilities to protect others.

    One of the results of this is that we are one of only a handful of countries that have an unarmed police force – something that personally makes me feel much much safer.

    You criticise Rendell for misuse of “pseudo-science”, but you are not giving this sort of study its due. It is true that a statistical study can’t tell you anything about a given hypothetical scenario, nor about the abilities and character of a given gun owner. But Rendell doesn’t actually make claims that the data don’t support apart from a couple of logical inferences that he clearly signals as such. It is clear that positive self-defence outcomes are very much less significant than the negative outcomes of gun ownership when taken as a whole. That is true here also.

    You cite occupations also. The US/NATO has never actually stationed an occupation force in Afghanistan – more of a garrison. An occupation under normal circumstances would aim at pacification, but the NATO presence in Afghanistan is a tool of destablisation both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, so them being “defeated” by the Taliban is a bit of a moot point. And then there is Iraq (a country where they sent roughly one third of the troops estimated as being necessary for pacification). In Iraq, as you know, Kalashnikov assault rifles were ubiquitous, and under very confusing and opaque rules, Iraqis were in some times and places allowed by the Occupation forces to retian possession of these military weapons for “self-defence” purposes. This very fact, coupled with the US imposed disintegration of law and order which necessitated this sort of self-defence, must directly and indirectly have brought about untold thousands of Iraqi deaths. Combined with the doctrine of “force protection” the presence of assault rifles constantly caused pressure for liberalisation of ROEs. And what did all of these weapons avail the resistance who faced the US military might? Very little. As we are all aware, the primary effective weapon for the resistance against the US was the IED. Other effective systems were car bombs and mortars. The only firearms of any real efficacy were sniper rifles. But on the whole the Iraqi resistance was not able to inflict many casualties on the US forces at all.

  2. Editor says:

    Your catch-all disagreement is disagreeing with things I didn’t say in the first place.

    “These things are regulated.”

    Various states here also regulate firearms, and there are thousands of differing laws about this. You are under the impression that there is no regulation and that somehow I argued for no regulation at all. Something I never said in the letter. As for rights, we can agree to disagree on what a right means in this context.

    “Unless there is some reason to deny possession you are allowed to own them but have cast-iron responsibilities to protect others.”

    Sounds like a good idea. You can show me where I allegedly disagreed?

    “One of the results of this is that we are one of only a handful of countries that have an unarmed police force – something that personally makes me feel much much safer.”

    Never going to happen here.

    It is clear that positive self-defence outcomes are very much less significant than the negative outcomes of gun ownership when taken as a whole.

    No. No it is not clear at all. Self-defense can be discounted as trivial and unimportant, until it’s your turn.

    My point on resistance in Afghanistan was about the cost of doing war there, not the specifics of the conflict. The Taliban, a much smaller, weaker, less sophisticated force, has fought the Nato forces to a standstill for over a decade. It remains to be seen if they will simply take over again as the US pulls out. A lot of people say it seems quite likely.

    The ability to resist changes the calculus of the would-be oppressor. That is the point.

  3. Kieran Kelly says:

    I wasn’t writing a refutation, hence I didn’t intend to only voice disagreements, though I do disagree on the fundamental issue at stake, I was offering a different perspective with different emphases such as one would normally find in many places outside of the US. Believe me the resultant regulatory regime in NZ is very very different from US gun laws in any state. We have a lot of guns because we have a lot of farmers and hunters. A desire for “self-defence” would not be seen as a legitimate reason for owning a gun, more as evidence of a difficulty in separating reality from fiction. You would probably consider our laws utterly draconian.

    You are undoubtedly correct in asserting that US police will always be armed, but they won’t be able to use concealed carry laws as an excuse or reason to gun people down. Your guns make you more vulnerable, not less. They make you less free, not more. Gun ownership went up slightly under Hitler. You are absolutely right to highlight the drug war as a mnajor source of gun violence – it needs to be ended – but restricting access to guns ameliorates this. NZ has recently made high-powered gas/air propelled projectile weapons subject to the same restrictions as firearms. A policeman was killed with one by drug growers, and believe me there was considerable pressure to arm the police after that. You can imagine the rants no doubt: “how can we send our brave police into harm’s way…” etc etc. But once again, restriccting access to deadly weapons is actually keeping us more free.

    As for 2nd Amendment weapons-possession-as guard-against-tyranny arguments – it may be time that you admitted that the fact that the US is awash with privately owned firearms doesn’t seem to be doing much good in protecting you from tyranny. If anything it has crucially abetted the rise of paramilitary police forces.

  4. Editor says:

    “You are absolutely right to highlight the drug war as a mnajor source of gun violence – it needs to be ended – but restricting access to guns ameliorates this.”

    Again, you keep disagreeing with things I never said in the first place. There are lots of gun control laws that restrict the purchase of firearms by felons and people with a history of mental illness. I never said there shouldn’t be such laws. At least stop trying to put me into some preformed box that exists in your mind.

    “…the US is awash with privately owned firearms doesn’t seem to be doing much good in protecting you from tyranny.”

    The US has supported fascists and mass murderers around the world for many decades. The American people at home are not receiving the same treatment. There are erosions, little cuts that add up daily, but the majority are on board with the status quo, because they have not opposed the state. They are co-opted and indoctrinated to mindlessly wave flags. If or when the government decides to impose actual tyranny here, as it has supported covertly in numerous places, there will be resistance.

    Personally I’d rather live in New Zealand, but being stuck here you must try to understand it is a fucking mess. Violence is pervasive, and threats are real. Self defense is quite a rational endeavor. Lip service about ending the drug war isn’t really doing anything to change the situation on the ground.

    Your experience is to compare placid New Zealand to violent America. My experience is to compare semi-violent America to bloodbath Mexico. America is never going to be New Zealand, and many parts of it are more like narco war zone Mexico. There are many different types of threats, and even the police are a militarized occupation type force when they choose to be. You say this is because of the amount of guns here, but I say it is more because of:

    • 1) The drug war (billions of dollars for weapons and toys)
    • 2) The terror war (infinite dollars for weapons and toys)
    • 3) Endemic corruption, the prison-industrial complex
    • 4) Racism, the minority neighborhoods targeted as enemies to be controlled rather than citizens with rights
    • 5) Beyond corruption, the covert support of drug trafficking by shadowy government agencies like the CIA, and now apparently the BTF (giving assault rifles to drug cartels)
    • 6) Desperate people with nothing to lose in a society that despises them
  5. Kieran Kelly says:

    I wouldn’t overdo the “placid New Zealand” line if I were you. Admittedly I live rurally now and my life seems like a Flight of the Conchords joke (as I write this I can actually here the sounds of sheep being milked). But I was brought up in the city and as a young adult was more affected by serious violence than the vast majority of US citizens would ever experience.

    Also, once again, I was not structuring the last comment as a point by point refutation so I am not disagreeing with things you “never said in the first place”. However, I will point out that “restricting access to guns” is meant to indicate a correspondence of lessened violence relative to the level of restriction. The context should have made this obvious.

    As for tyranny, you describe it perfectly: “…the majority are on board with the status quo, because they have not opposed the state. They are co-opted and indoctrinated to mindlessly wave flags.” Other places where this could have been said were Chile under Pinochet; the USSR during the purges; Iraq under Ba’ath rule; the Third Reich; and Argentina under the military junta. The tyrannies where everyone feels tyrannised and terrorised are actually the less successful and less stable ones.

    You mention these elements of US society:

    1) The drug war (billions of dollars for weapons and toys)
    2) The terror war (infinite dollars for weapons and toys)
    3) Endemic corruption, the prison-industrial complex
    4) Racism, the minority neighborhoods targeted as enemies to be controlled rather than citizens with rights
    5) Beyond corruption, the covert support of drug trafficking by shadowy government agencies like the CIA, and now apparently the BTF (giving assault rifles to drug cartels)
    6) Desperate people with nothing to lose in a society that despises them

    Add to that a toothless and feckless legislative arm; an imperial presidency which openly flouts the law; the brazen corruption of bail outs; and fact that the US political elite likes to rub people’s noses in the fact that they really don’t give a fuck about ordinary peasants, then you have what should be called a tyranny. Look at your prison population. The vast majority of prisoners are not culprits anywhere near so much as they are victims of a crushing and inhuman justice system of a sort that the rest of the developed world hasn’t seen for a century. Some of these long sentences for minor crimes are a profound and extreme form of state violence, unparalleled anywhere else in the world. The widespread use of “supermax” or “control unit” solitary confinement is like nothing that has ever existed anywhere but in the pages of dystopian science fiction.

    And then there are the political prisoners. How can you look at the cases of the Cuban 5, or the Holy Land Foundation, or Lynne Stewart and say that the US isn’t a tyranny. What about Bradley Manning’s treatment? What about the use of torture that was happening in Chicago police cells? And what about all of those deaths at police hands? It is common to say that one dies every 36 hours, but based on the 2012 figures (which are incomplete) one dies every 15 hours at the hands of US police forces.

    Even your phrase: “Violence is pervasive, and threats are real.” is redolent of the new forms of neofeudal tyranny that plague the world today. Tyrannies where the social and communal connections are severed and even state governance is restricted. These are corporatist tyrannies; liberal authoritarian tyrannies where non-state actors assume regnal rights. At one end of this spectrum lies somewhere like the Eastern Congo, and not far from it Haiti. But this is no different in ultimate substance to Sheldon Wolin’s “inverted totalitarianism”, which quite adequately describes the tyranny afflicting the US. And then there is Mexico.

    I think you even unconsciously contradict yourself when you write of Mexico. I bring this up not to score points by going “aha! but before you said….” I raise the issue because I think that a more dispassionate part of you can recognise that there are other perspectives on this issue, other perspectives that might actually give a fuller picture in which you would acknowledge that Rendell was not wrong in writing what he did. There are truths about the role of firearms possession in the broader picture of violence and accidents in society which you are not addressing when you refer to your feelings and analysis about your personal circumstances. In the case of Mexico (though you don’t necessarily perceive a link) it is noteworthy that you reference the massive levels of violence in Mexico and also reference the BTF giving assault rifles to drug cartels. The drug related violence in Mexico is a cover for political repression which includes extrajudicial killings by security forces and death squad activity. The reason they can get away with this is because of the widespread presence of gun violence. In other words the presence of guns aids the state repression.
    Cast your mind back to the beginnings of the unfolding evolution of the violence in Mexico. Remember that before the Cartel violence exploded into a permanent war system, there were the sexual murders which began in Juarez in 1993. At first it seemed as if a serial killer was at work, then more than one serial killer, but then it became clear that at least some of these murders were a systematic group effort, and the pattern spread from Juarez. In the meantime Cartel violence began its seemingly endless climb. In 1999 some highly trained elite special forces members became Los Zetas and from that time the violence climbed even more astronomically. What this achieves is not merely the enhanced ability to target dissidents and kill them, but it spreads the stupefying shock of random violence and eliticidal killing. It achieves the same ends as a “culture of terror” induced by death squad activity, but it does so whilst seeming utterly apolitical (just like the oppression in Haiti, or the US mass incarceration). What is happening in the US is the same thing at a lesser intensity and the presence of guns in neighbourhoods abets the spread of this numbing terror – the fear that has allowed the imposition of tyranny.

    Finally, I have to point out that we in Western countries all face a very serious threat in the indoctrination which constantly makes us fear violence. We are deliberately and systematically made irrational by disproportionate and selective representations of violence which cause us to fear our fellow citizens and seek protection from the state authorities. Whether you believe this to be due to sensationalism or a systematic divide-and-rule strategy, the fact is that it is well established that Western citizens constantly over-estimate the dangers of violence compared with accidents and the risk of harm at the hands of strangers versus acquaintances. This is even more acute than normal in the US. Additionally, while studies have confirmed that TV violence is a driver of violence, and other studies indicate the media is causing a widespread irrational fear of violence in children, no one has yet attempted to link the two. In everyday terms, however, the fear of violence is an established cause of violence, which would explain why, as Rendell quotes: “Most self-reported self-defense gun uses may well be illegal and against the interests of society.” This would also explain why those such as the Japanese who are exposed to even more screen violence than US kids, are less inclined to violence themselves. The actual issue of gun possession in Japan may be more of a causative symptom or symptomatic cause, because it ensures that screen violence remains distinct from the mundane world. The gun culture in the US reifies the fantasies of the screen and produces distorted replications.

    John Taylor Gatto, whose video you posted, also thinks that violence is systematically introduced in the US school system for social control reasons. To put it in over-simplified terms it produces one class of thugs destined for incarceration, and one class of resentful insecure folks destined for gated communities and shooting anyone who they don’t like the colour of in “self-defence” (my personal addition would be that the latter class also likes to bomb countries whose colour they don’t like and that the whole system seem like a variant of the English Public School system which is justly notorious for brutal violence against the most vulnerable). Again, all of this suggests that the US would be safer and freer with far fewer guns.

  6. Editor says:

    Now we’re talking about a lot of things. It should be plainly apparent that this a complex issue. You argue in stronger terms than I did that the United States government is tyrannical, and yet you want to disarm the only countervailing force, the actual people. I find that a disconnect coming from your direction.

    So to say “safer and freer” is quite an assumption. Perhaps neither. The US was forged on a model of conquest and shielding from accountability. That is the founding structure. Genocide against the natives followed and expansion across the continent. When they reached the sea, they made decisions to continue the pattern south and then out to the rest of the world. With the complexity of the modern age, conquest gave way to hegemony and economic imperialism. The structure in DC remains the same, as does the shielding from accountability.

    Now you’ve obviously invested a lot in your position. I don’t think I’ve actually disagreed with most of your specific points when you turned away from generalizations. I said what I said about Rendell, and I remain unconvinced that I was in the wrong. Trying to turn America into Norway or New Zealand is just completely unrealistic. The problems here are quite different as are the populations. As are the people in charge.

    I have never argued against sensible firearm regulation, and yet this canard is still used against me in straw man fashion, which I do not appreciate. It seems to be a tried and true tactic of the gun control lobby, which attempts to reduce all comers to one-size-fits-all. If you’re going to assail me then quote what I actually say. I argued two main points in the article above. That forcibly disarming the population of America is a terrible idea, and that self-defense is absolutely a valid reason for owning a firearm. Those two beliefs stand. They are defensible and spelled out.

    Good night.

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