About Me

My photo
Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Who can believe some people?

Try for size this sick comment on Tom Brevoort's Formspring page, obviously referring to the massacre in Colorado by a crazed gunman. Words fail me (as Brevoort says in his response).

I'm not much more impressed by weirdos who want to blame the terrible events on atheism, abortion, or evolutionary theory. Frankly, I think we should all shut up until more is known. Alhough I do think it's legitimate to ask whether any civilized country should really be allowing its individual citizens to arm themselves to the teeth in the way that the killer was able to do. Guns don't kill people without human shooters to fire them, but they do kill people quite directly.


Greg Camp said...

I'm an American gun owner, so I must take issue with your statement. An incident like this grabs lots of attention, but what gets ignored is that the vast majority of us with firearms aren't like this person.

Someone who puts as much time and effort into causing mass deaths will find a way. As long as gasoline is legal, a crazy person could make Molotov cocktails. That's but one example. Fortunately, most people in a society are sane and decent. Taking away their freedoms to control the rare exception is a fool's errand.

Beros Black said...

Your freedom to shoot people, means you live in a society where you are more likely to be shot.
I cannot understand a society that allows weapons designed to kill people to remain within it. Gasoline and bottles are not designed to kill people.
Guns have no place in modern society. It is a form of vigilantism and circumvents the law.

ColinGavaghan said...

In all honesty, Greg, Holmes is a 'rare exception' only in the sense that he carried out a high-profile spree killing. Homicides with guns are not particularly rare at all, accounting for c.10,000 deaths/year in the USA.

The cost/benefit analysis for allowing people to own, say, gasoline seems rather different when we consider that (a) unlike assault rifles, gasoline has a number of legitimate, even socially valuable uses, and (b) hardly anyone gets killed with molotov cocktails, even in those crazy countries that restrict access to guns.

Beros Black said...

What strikes me as really ugly from the people arguing for guns, is that their argument is always about MY RIGHTS, MY freedoms, MY gun, MY protection, MY hobby. it's never about what is good for their society as a whole.
We see this again and again in the US in debates on healthcare, pensions, assisted housing, "why should MY tax dollars fund that."
It's time the US stopped stomping it's foot like a spoiled 4 year old and grew up. Took some responsibility for the society they have made. To live in a society is a privilege that must be paid by contributing to it, and taking ownership of the things that aren't working.
It's time they stopped asking 'What can I HAVE!"
And started asking "What can I GIVE? How can I make this better for EVERYONE?"

Lee said...


There's a time for community, and a time for individual responsibility. To abrogate gun privileges from the millions who responsibly own guns, because some thousands can't manage it, is not justice. Just because some act like children, doesn't mean you treat everyone like children.

Beros Black said...

Children do not carry weapons that kill other children.

Greg Camp said...

I heard calls for non-explosive jet fuel after 9/11. Of course, it's the energy density of that fuel that makes it work, so there is no "safe" kind. Gasoline is the same. Both can be used responsibly, but both are inherently dangerous. We accept the risk because at the moment, we have nothing better. If you add in the environmental and public health costs of burning such fuels, they look more and more dangerous.

But it was said that gasoline has legitimate uses. So do guns. Hunting is one of those. Target shooting is another. And yes, self defense is also a legitimate use.

To answer the question of rights specifically, though, I do take a more individualistic view on the subject than a collective one. There's too much evil done for the collective "good" for me to be entirely supportive of every new proposal. Beros Black names pensions as an example, but look at what's happening with the debt crises in Europe right now.

If you consider the numbers of firearms and owners in America, you'll see that all shootings--homicides, suicides, police actions, accidents, injuries--are about a third of one tenth of one percent of the total number of guns and one tenth of one percent of gun owners. It makes more sense to focus on the causes of these incidents, not on the tool used.

Beros Black said...

Let's not compare the US with tiny European countries. Let's compare it with larger countries that have a "gun culture."
How about South Africa? South Africa is described as: high crime rates, ethnic tensions, great disparities in housing and educational opportunities, and the AIDS pandemic. It is ranked as an upper-middle income economy by the World Bank. About a quarter of the population is unemployed. They have things worse than the US, and not surprisingly more people are killed by guns each year than in the US. Oh but wait, in South Africa there have only been 2 rampage killers in the last twenty years and they killed 20 people. So what is the problem US?

Greg Camp said...

Beros Black, South Africa's homicide rate--thirty-two per hundred thousand--is many times higher than that of the United States--4.8 per hundred thousand--and yet the firearms laws in South Africa are draconian. Gun control is about controlling law abiding people, not about stopping crime.

You put importance on spree killings, but those are rare. You also dismissed "tiny European countries," but consider the Czech Republic. It's gun laws are liberal, even by the standards of much of America, and lots of people own guns there, yet its homicide rate is low.

It's not the tool being used, but the person using it that determines the act.

March Hare said...

Guns (and weapons generally) have one of two main purposes:
1. To protect the individual, their property and innocents against aggressors;
2. To enable the people to stop a tyrannical force - domestic or foreign.
Other arguments (hunting, collecting etc.) are sideshows that detract from the point of the 2nd Amendment.
Democrats/progressives seem to think only point 1 applies, Republicans seem more attached to point 2.

If you want to ban guns then you have to trust that the police/authorities will protect you once you've given up your own means of doing so (they are not legally bound to do so!) and you have to trust that those in power (or the power structure itself) will be amenable to non-violent popular change (it isn't).

Us citizens have to decide if they're willing to sacrifice their (probably outdated) rights in order to increase the likely safety of them and their fellow citizens. This has rarely worked out well (cue obligatory Ben Franklin quote...) It should require a Constitutional Amendment and those perpetrating this 'death by a thousand cuts' regulation should be struck down at every turn by the courts.

Beros, this is one of the scariest things I've read (possibly because it seems reasonable on the face of it): "... always about MY RIGHTS... It's never about what is good for their society as a whole" Society only prospers when the individuals prosper. There is no society without individuals, unless you think that the collective mass that is the US (govt. corporations etc.) is more important than the individuals and the rights that make up those United States?

Dick Alstein said...

There is something I find deeply disturbing about the pro-gun mindset. I live in NW Europe, where giving up the option to use deadly violence is generally considered a first, natural step towards a civilized society. If a country has a large number of gun owners, then that's a sign that it's a failing society, like you may find in Third World countries.

I would hate to live in a place where my neighbour acts friendly but still reserves the right to shoot at anyone whom he thinks is threatening him (which might include me). Much less would I want to own a gun myself: should I lose my nerve some day, then it's much better that I vent my rage using my fists than to commit the unthinkable.

If people refuse to give up their guns, then they show a deep mistrust of their fellow citizens and of society as a whole. At the same time, they express a certainty that they will never lose their cool. But if their judgment fails then it's others who will pay the price.

Greg Camp said...

Dick Alstein, I see things differently.

First, guns are not exclusively used for killing human beings. They're also used in hunting and target shooting, and many have value in a collection. They're mechanically fascinating machines.

But yes, they do also have value as tools of self-defense. I don't want to shoot anyone. I don't think about my guns as a first response. At the same time, I recognize that some people will not listen to reason and will not respect the rights of others. Anders Breivik is an example of that. He's from a civilized society, one whose gun laws are much stricter than America's. And yet, he's an example of how the ugly side of human nature sometimes comes out and expresses itself, no matter how carefully the rest of that society has sought to control it.

Dick Alstein said...

Greg, I'd rather not go into all the pros and cons of guns. The debate could go on forever.

My aim was to express my bewilderment and horror that, in the US, so many people view the posession of guns a matter of principle, not as the means to an end (living safely). I see no willingness to investigate if, say, tasers or pepper spray could be just as effective as defense. I see mostly talk about Constitutional Rights and "cold, dead hands".