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Feb. 14th, 2008 @ 08:34 am soldiers in the war on the unexpected
I just commented in schneier's blog so I may as well reproduce it here. In response to this comment:

I remember a debate after the Virginia Tech shooting, basically the 'if everyone was armed this wouldn't have happened" argument.

Both the tripod and mp3 cases are prime examples of why allowing the general population to run around armed is a bad idea.

Over and over it's been shown that people misjudge what they see, make bad assumptions, jump to false conclusions, and react inappropriately.

Look how bad it is now. Imagine how badly these cases would have turned out if anyone of the helpful bystanders involved had pulled out a gun.


You have this 100% backwards.

Ordinary individuals have extremely powerful incentives not to shoot people on mere suspicion. The prospect of going to jail for the rest of one's life tends to encourage armed citizens to double-check whether that's a gun or an MP3 player.

The police? We know of many cases where people have been murdered by the police for wielding a wallet, for looking too much like the wrong guy, for failing to follow instructions quickly enough, for defending their own home against armed intruders who turn out to be cops at the wrong house, and too many other variants to count. What have the consequences been for those police? They have varied from the typical "absolutely nothing" to "light reprimand" to, at the absolute worst, getting fired.

Who is more likely to pull the trigger too fast, the man who is at worst risking his job or the man who is definitely risking his freedom? But you don't have to take my word for it: how many cases do you know where an armed citizen shot an innocent because they saw danger where there was none? You know that at least tens of thousands of ordinary people carry concealed firearms, right? Where is the carnage that you presume must result?

In the US, when someone wielding an MP3 player in a public place is taken down by a SWAT team, more than likely several armed individuals had a chance to draw on him and somehow managed to restrain themselves. The police of course could not since they treat every such situation as one threatening imminent violence.

An armed populace can respond to a violent altercation much, much faster than the police ever can, are much more likely to witness the precipitating events directly, and have everything to lose when pulling the trigger. The police come into a situation late, cold, and with get-out-of-jail free cards for all the officers should they happen to murder an innocent. I know who I would bet on to make fewer mistakes, and it's not even close.
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From:madfilkentist
Date:February 14th, 2008 04:57 pm (UTC)
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Nicely put.
From:wealthandtaste
Date:February 14th, 2008 05:29 pm (UTC)

agitator

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The Agitator blog by Radley Balko is an incredible resource for all things SWAT/Police abuses.
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From:extempore
Date:February 14th, 2008 05:34 pm (UTC)

Re: agitator

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Indeed, I have masochistically read it for years. I never tire of the "New Professionalism Roundup".
From:whiskycrow
Date:February 14th, 2008 05:44 pm (UTC)
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Gun control is a tough one for me.

The libertarian in me recognizes the value of many of paul's points, and the anti-authoritarian in me would love to reduce the cop/non-cop power ratio.

The scientist in me, though, knows that the very presence of guns makes us more aggressive and violent. This seems inherently bad.

So...I don't know.
From:zeeke42
Date:February 14th, 2008 06:01 pm (UTC)
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Does the "scientist" in you have any evidence to back up your assertion? All of the people I know who own and carry guns are the most rational and non-confrontational people I know. Also, more scientifically (from gunfacts.info):

People with concealed
carry permits are:
• 5.7 times less likely to be arrested for violent offenses than the general public
• 13.5 times less likely to be arrested for non-violent offenses than the general public

In Texas, citizens with concealed carry permits are 14 times less likely to commit a crime.
They are also five times less likely to commit a violent crime.

Of 14,000 CCW licensees in Oregon, only 4 (0.03%) were convicted of the criminal (not necessarily violent) use or possession of a firearm.

In Florida, a state that has allowed concealed carry since late 1987, you are twice as likely to be attacked by an alligator as by a person with a concealed carry permit.
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From:extempore
Date:February 14th, 2008 06:07 pm (UTC)
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I'm a little curious about the scientist in you, too. Your choice of the term "scientist" and not, say, "gut feeling" or "personal experience" would tend to imply a raft of objective evidence to that point, something I do not think you can provide.
From:mandelbrot_
Date:February 14th, 2008 05:47 pm (UTC)

Simpler Solution

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The police? We know of many cases where people have been murdered by the police for wielding a wallet, for looking too much like the wrong guy, for failing to follow instructions quickly enough, for defending their own home against armed intruders who turn out to be cops at the wrong house, and too many other variants to count.

Hence the widespread promotion of tasers. Curious to know if anyone thinks that has been a successful trend.
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From:extempore
Date:February 14th, 2008 06:01 pm (UTC)

Re: Simpler Solution

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If tasers were used only in situations that would otherwise merit a gun, it's hard to see an argument against them.

Instead, and depressingly predictably, they have become a very effective new way for cops to intimidate everyone else. Despite my massive distrust of the police I've never been overly concerned I'd either be shot or beaten up for being insufficiently cooperative. Yet there's no doubt in my mind that being tased in a serious threat for anyone who questions the actions of a police officer. The chilling effect on the law-abiding, and the concomitant expansion of assumed power on the part of the police, is in my opinion quite large. It's just another aspect of the overall conditioning effort... and we are being conditioned quite rapidly now.
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From:d_c_m
Date:February 14th, 2008 06:29 pm (UTC)
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Amen!!!!
From:mosch2000
Date:February 14th, 2008 06:41 pm (UTC)

Counterpoint

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How many cases do you know where an armed citizen shot an innocent because they saw danger where there was none?

In 2005, 789 people were accidentally killed by firearms. I'm not sure how many fall into the bucket of "thought I was in danger", but surely it's a non-zero amount.

An increase in gun prevalence is almost a lock to increase that count, unless it's accompanied by some serious mandatory training in the care, feeding and use of guns. Said mandatory training is almost certain to be opposed by the NRA, etc, and thus is unlikely to happen.

Beyond that, while it's true that guns could reduce harm in a few instances, it's almost a guarantee that high gun ownership rates in colleges would simply mean that every campus could expect an accidental gun death every year or two, and a few drunken, angry gun deaths per year.

The calculus on these issues is not simple or one-sided. If you want to argue the benefits of universal gun ownership, you should also admit that it is not some sort of problem-free panacea.
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From:extempore
Date:February 14th, 2008 06:55 pm (UTC)

Re: Counterpoint

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In 2005, 789 people were accidentally killed by firearms. I'm not sure how many fall into the bucket of "thought I was in danger", but surely it's a non-zero amount.

Are you sure that would even be counted as an accident? Doesn't sound right to me. It's not an accident when you point your gun at someone and shoot them. A mistake, but not an accident.

Either way, I bet the frequency with which citizens shoot other people because they imagined a harmless object was a gun is way, way lower than the frequency with which cops do it, as a percentage of total opportunities, for the reasons stated before.

Said mandatory training is almost certain to be opposed by the NRA, etc, and thus is unlikely to happen.

You obscure the fact that the NRA is by far the largest and most effective advocate of gun safety training. Somebody might think you are implying the NRA opposes training, which is kind of shady on your part. As I'm sure you know, they oppose mandatory training because it is invariably used to implement de facto gun control - "gee, only two cops in the state who can sign off on this and they're both out sick."

The calculus on these issues is not simple or one-sided. If you want to argue the benefits of universal gun ownership, you should also admit that it is not some sort of problem-free panacea.

It is not some sort of problem-free panacea, but as I've written before, it's not a very close call either. I don't really consider it my job to lay out all the arguments for all viewpoints. Since I believe the right answer gets an undeservedly bad rap, I try to bring attention to aspects of the question that are too frequently overlooked.
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From:hgfalling
Date:February 14th, 2008 08:03 pm (UTC)

Re: Counterpoint

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Since I believe the right answer gets an undeservedly bad rap,

I feel like my circles must be pretty insular, because I virtually never hear any actual person arguing that we need stronger gun control. I know they're out there, but I seem to have successfully separated myself from them. I don't know if that's good or bad, really.
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From:m_fallenangel
Date:February 14th, 2008 07:07 pm (UTC)
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Brief, eloquent and spot-fucking-on.
From:nahmiase
Date:February 14th, 2008 08:21 pm (UTC)

CCW

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I once had a License to Carry a Concealed Weapon (CCW) in southern California, for about 3 years. I was a deputy district attorney and figured the time would come someday when I would want to have that gun handy and not have to wait however long it took to get me some protection. Threats of death and other violence were a routine part of the job. The problem was you never knew which one was serious and which was just some guy grandstanding.

Anyway, when I was in possession of that CCW, I often carried my 9mm on my person, or in my briefcase, or in my car. I carried whether I felt threatened or not. I carried to the grocery store, the movies, work, parties, wherever.

And without question, when I had it on me I was a more careful, deliberate, conscientious citizen. I found myself in one or two situations where I would have been legally justified in, at a minimum, displaying the gun to a crowd in order to calm down a pretty tense scene and protect myself. But each time, I thought slowly and clearly, weighed the pros and cons, digested all the information around me and decided against drawing the gun...all in a split second.

I agree with Paul here. I'm no gun freak, and since leaving that profession I haven't owned a weapon nor renewed that CCW. Ordinary citizens with the proper training and a decent head on their shoulders will nearly always act rationally in those situations. And the mandatory training will mostly weed out the nutjobs.

A colleague of mine saved his own life one morning when confronted by two criminals who he personally sent to jail. They were getting out of jail that morning at 6:30 a.m., and he was walking to work. There was no one else around at that hour. They made a move to jump him, he reached into his coat jacket, they saw the flash of the chrome plated weapon, and they high-tailed it. He never even had to remove the weapon from the holster.

Guns in the hands of the average citizen would undoubtedly prevent far more violent crime than would occur as a result of those legal guns suddenly out amongst the population.

From:david_j_parker
Date:February 14th, 2008 11:07 pm (UTC)

Re: CCW

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The one thing I've always been told by people who carry is that you never pull your weapon out unless you mean to use it. I don't have any stats, but I've always been told that if you carry, you're far more likely to be hurt or killed with your *own* weapon than with someone else's. This is because your assailant may not have a gun of his own, but if you pull yours and just brandish it around trying to scare him off, he may take *yours* and beat you with it or shoot you.

Sometimes just the sight or threat of a gun will scare someone off, but usually those are either the people who weren't going to actually hurt you in the first place, or bullies who are cowards at heart and hightail it at the first sign that they've lost dominance of the situation. But just brandishing your gun at a thug who means to hurt you is only likely to get yourself hurt worse if you're not actually prepared to use the gun.

That's one of the reasons why, although I support gun rights and concealed carry rights, I'm very hesitant to actually carry myself. I'm not sure I've ever been in a situation where I felt like using deadly force was justified. It could just be that I'm 6'2" and 280 pounds and thugs and drunks don't tend to mess with me. But it's something I think about a lot, and wonder what kind of situation (short of an actual firefight or home invasion) it would take for me to really consider carrying a gun
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From:polarbear
Date:February 14th, 2008 11:20 pm (UTC)

Re: CCW

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The one thing I've always been told by people who carry is that you never pull your weapon out unless you mean to use it.

It's a two-step saying, at least the way I learned it. You never ready your weapon unless you're going to use it, and you never use it unless you're going to kill. There are no warning shots given. And your finger shouldn't be on the trigger until you're pulling it.

As for the "if you carry, you're far more likely to be hurt or killed with your *own* weapon than with someone else's." I was told that this made invented out of the statistics war that goes along with GC arguments.
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From:slawson01
Date:February 14th, 2008 09:48 pm (UTC)
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There's so much comedy on TV, does that cause comedy in the streets?

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From:jonsan
Date:February 15th, 2008 05:45 am (UTC)
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I agree with pretty much everything you wrote, but I really take issue with your attitude toward police. I began a career in law enforcement primarily as a way to serve my community, and while I receive substantial legal protections while in my professional capacity (provided I am acting in good faith), I can't imagine myself or any officer I have come into contact with thinking "cell phone or gun? doesn't matter, either way I don't go to jail! *Blam*".

I understand being apprehensive about the authority of law enforcement becoming too pervasive. I agree that the war on drugs is ridiculous. But the idea that any police officer would treat taking another human life lightly is both unrealistic and offensive.
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From:booklegger
Date:February 15th, 2008 08:13 am (UTC)
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You wouldn't think that driving a car with seatbelts and airbags, etc. would make you more likely to drive recklessly and get into accidents than if you were in a car without them, but the statistics bear out the claim.

To say that the police don't consciously think "well, nothing bad's going to happen to me if I pull the trigger" is fair enough, but to claim that the lack of punishment for a 'clean shoot' doesn't affect them subconsciously is to ignore human nature.

The answer in both cases is to go to the other end of the spectrum of consequences. If we put a spike on the steering column that would impale the driver in the event of any kind of accident, such drivers would be as cautious as was humanly possible. If a police offer were to be killed every time they shot an unarmed civilian, there would be quite a few less officer involved shootings. (and no small increase in dead cops, to be certain.)
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From:ronebofh
Date:February 15th, 2008 07:10 am (UTC)
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Anyway, it's quite eerie that you posted this the day of the NIU shooting. Your tin foil hat needs readjusting.
From:dontthinktwice1
Date:February 16th, 2008 04:04 am (UTC)
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This argument strikes me as being much like the argument the "terror-warriors" use in support of torture. The argument goes that torturing one ostensibly guilty individual to gain information that will save the lives of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people is a necessary evil. The fact is that for every attack prevented through torture, (if any at all are truly prevented) dozens or hundreds of other humans are tortured to reveal information they do not have. The one-time benefits of a pro-torture policy are heavily outweighed by the long-term detriment it causes to US standing and credibility in the world community. In a very similar way, the one-time benefit of an armed populace (in this case, to quickly neutralize a deranged shooter) is vastly outweighed by the collateral damage caused by a gun-rich country. How many road rage incidents would turn into homicides if we were each packing heat? How many bar fights would turn into shootouts? How many domestic disputes would leave an entire family dead? A rational human can deal with a firearm, but a frightening number of people act on passion and impulse, and there's no way that the handful of lives saved during a once-in-a-blue-moon shooting spree will outweigh the hundreds or thousands of thoughtless murders that would come as a direct result of gun proliferation.
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From:extempore
Date:February 16th, 2008 04:54 am (UTC)
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And the Academy Award for Worst Analogy goes to...

(If you think "stopping shooting sprees" is even the 37th most important reason for individual gun ownership, you must have built a whole little internal world around the five o'clock news.)
From:dhk42
Date:February 16th, 2008 12:51 pm (UTC)

You missed an incentive

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You neglected the added incentive not to pull out your gun because the police, when they finally arrive, will most likely shoot your ass the second they see it.

dhk42
From:inet_stranger
Date:February 18th, 2008 11:42 pm (UTC)
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In the US, when someone wielding an MP3 player in a public place is taken down by a SWAT team, more than likely several armed individuals had a chance to draw on him and somehow managed to restrain themselves.

While the arm-bearing public manage to restrain themselves, where SWAT, do not, the effective ROEs differ enormously between the two groups. All but the altruistic bearer of arms seeks to protect only himself & kin: the police are there for the public.

If you're in a crowd, bearing a firearm, sense a general threat, in drawing your weapon you make yourself a target and so risk more than freedom: your life. The criteria for engagement, therefore, requires not only greater certainty of the general threat, but also specific threat.

The risk/reward for the police is less attractive, and so the criteria for engagement will be weaker, as such they will have to operate under ropey conditions, since they are, in theory, bearing the public's risk as well as there own.

On the face of it, its hard not to believe "worst-case scenario: job-loss" doesn't feed unfavourably into the decision-making process; then again "a life-sentence! gulp", would undoubtedly for many induce costly levels of risk-aversion. Where's the balance.




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From:extempore
Date:February 19th, 2008 01:31 am (UTC)
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since they are, in theory, bearing the public's risk as well as there own.

A larger "in theory" has rarely loomed, because "in practice" they do not. If the police bore enough risk to get credit for bearing a share of the public's, police work would be far more dangerous than it is. In practice, like all institutions, the police are primarily concerned with the well-being of their own, and to that end they have militarized their operations to the point that they kill innocent civilians with regularity.

On the face of it, its hard not to believe "worst-case scenario: job-loss" doesn't feed unfavourably into the decision-making process; then again "a life-sentence! gulp", would undoubtedly for many induce costly levels of risk-aversion. Where's the balance.

Costly levels of risk aversion to whom? Cops should be pretty fucking risk averse to shooting the wrong guy. Risk averse enough to get killed for it on corner cases. The extra risk that might come with attaching serious consequences to a cop hurting an innocent (which personally I think is very tiny) is supposed to be factored into the job description. That's why we say "protect and serve" and not "get out of there alive no matter what."