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Diffusion of Responsibility on Steroids

One of the more annoying things about the gun control debate is the phrase, "gun violence."  The phrase is used by gun control advocates to imply that the problem is the gun, not the person doing the shooting.  They might just as well call it "finger violence," since the finger to pull the trigger is needed just as much as the gun. Oddly, I have yet to hear anyone complain about "finger violence."

The displacement of responsibility onto something  --  anything  --  else is one of the favorite tactics of criminal defense.  After all, if the gun did it  --  or the brain lesion, or the botched Head Start program 30 years ago, or that one Twinkie too many  --  then it would be unfair to send the defendant to the slammer.

Overlawyered has an example of an attempt, fortunately unsuccessful, to blame a barroom fight on what I guess should be called "beer bottle violence":

A Texas appeals court has affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit seeking to hold Anheuser-Busch liable for an assault suffered by a bar patron. The suit alleged that the long-neck design of the bottle made it too attractive for assailants seeking a weapon; the court agreed with the brewer that the plaintiff had failed to make out a sufficient case to avoid summary judgment. 

You really do have to be creative to think of this stuff.


I think you far too blithely dismiss violence committed with guns. I believe the problem consists of both the perpetrator and the gun. I, for one, am a proponent of both the death penalty and gun control. In my opinion, whoever murders another should almost always be dealt with harshly. Yet, this doesn't mean that the "gun" part of "gun violence" isn't of critical importance.

And, sure, there are a myriad of conceivable ways to kill people. The fact is, however, using a gun, one person can (and, unfortunately, often does) take out multiple people in a very short time. Mass stranglings and mass fatal stabbings are much rarer and generally harder to perpetrate (and, yes, one can point to a mass killing of schoolkids in Japan by one man several years ago or the Speck murders in Chicago in 1966).

The fact remains, though, that guns, whose main function is killing and maiming (target shooting aside), are a readily available method for a lone killer to end the lives of lots of people in a very short time. So, it shouldn't be surprising that the proliferation of guns is a cause for great concern among many Americans (and not just knee-jerk and/or bleeding-heart liberals).

Guns are also easier to use physically and, probably, psychologically. My hunch is that many people who would use a gun to murder someone would be much less likely to use knives or their hands. What do you think? Maybe you would know more about that given your background as an AUSA.

I just don't think that the desire of many for gun control can easily be dismissed as mere liberal claptrap or some weird, obsessive hatred for guns as physical objects.

I think gun control is oversold, simply because I have never been able to figure out the answer to the notion that, "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns."

I personally am not a gun owner, and am somewhat uneasy around them. But I can see why others would want them for self defense.

My main point, however, was simply that the focus of responsibility should remain on the person illegally using the gun, rather than being diverted to the weapon. Guns do not have volition; people do.

Self-defense is a basic human right. And the reality is that being armed helps with that. I don't own a gun, but I am glad that law-abiding people do.

I also believe that an armed society is a bulwark against tyranny.

Are there any hard numbers on how many people are murdered by gunshot each year by legal gun owners and how many are shot to death in legitimate self-defense by legal gun owners?

"Guns do not have volition; people do." Fine, but neither do anthrax, rocket-propelled grenades, machineguns, etc.. When people get a hold of such things and use them on others, are we really going to say "people kill people, not anthrax"?

"If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns." Generally, in western countries with gun control, law enforcement, the military and hunters continue to bear arms. It's undeniable that under gun control professional criminals and very determined unprofessional criminals will get a hold of firearms somehow.

In western Europe, murders with firearms are quite limited (at a far lower rate than in the United States) and usually involve gangsters offing gangsters--and, actually, in Italy (where I'm living), off-duty police officers murdering their spouses...seriously. In other words, western Europe mostly seems to be getting along well with gun control because there just aren't that many criminals using guns in muggings, convenience-story robberies, break-ins and random shooting sprees--in other words, crimes that scare the bejesus out of ordinary law-abiding citizens.

However, realistically, the genie was long ago let out of the bottle in the USA. There are so many guns around that I think European-style gun control would be extraordinarily hard to implement at this point. Plus, the Supreme Court has made clear that blanket bans are unconstitutional although "reasonable" regulations will pass muster. Amending the Constitution would be well nigh impossible as well. But can we maybe keep people from stockpiling weapons and having clips that can hold more than, say, ten rounds?

Well, the stats you seek aren't going to tell the full story. Deterrence of crime is an important part of the story.

In any event, everyone in Israel is armed. Gun violence is low. The point, of course, is that there are different societies have different issues when it comes to criminality.

You're absolutely right about Israel--and Switzerland and Canada too. It'd still be interesting to know those numbers though.

Apropos your last sentence, what do you think the difference is with the US societally with regard to criminality? I teach English over here and when my students ask me about it I blather something about the frontier mentality and then, occasionally, very delicately broach some demographic realities while trying my darndest not to come out sounding like a racist to said students.

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