When I try to discuss guns, gun violence, and gun control, or when I read the thoughts of others on those issues, I feel like there is a fundamental disconnect in terms of the problem solving techniques being used. For the sake of taking a step back from particular policy proposals and their predicted efficacies, I’m just going to tell you three frames I use when thinking about guns and gun violence.
What’s a dickfor
One refrain among opponents of gun control is that it is impossible to define what an assault rifle is. That’s true if you want it to be, which is essentially what the NRA did to the 1994 assault weapons ban. If you define assault rifles with a bunch of counterintuitive exceptions, like the NRA lobbied for and got, then 1) that law doesn’t touch what common usage would identify as assault weapons and 2) you create a confusion around what is an assault weapon that you can later point to as a conceptual problem.
This is what in ancient Greece was known as sophistry. Sophists were intellectual mercenaries who bragged they could teach “how to make the weaker argument the stronger.” Real philosophers—people who love and pursue truth—hate and hated sophists. Philosophers try to discern the truth of a thing. Sophists try to win arguments and get paid for it. (Obviously there are many more sophists today than philosophers).
Aristotle, a philosopher, asks a simple question for getting to the essence of a tool. What is it’s function? What does it do that gives it a meaning for humans and makes it different from similar tools? This is one way I think about guns. Some guns are for hunting animals in the animals’ habitats. Some guns are for killing many humans under chaotic conditions. Hunting rifles are good for hunting game in the woods. It is very important to kill your target with one shot because it will run away after you hit it or make a loud noise. Also you and anyone with you will know you are a bad hunter. Assault weapons are good for military uses. Soldiers should have weapons good for what they do and hunters should have weapons good for what they do. When considering any gun I ask, “what is this gun designed to be best for.” No citizen needs guns that are best for killing many other people.
People designed guns and gun components for each purpose. People select guns to buy that are optimal for their purposes. It does not stand to reason that it is impossible to differentiate between two guns engineered by humans for distinct purposes any more than it is impossible to differentiate a steak knife from a butter knife.
I work at a game company in Silicon Valley. Like every company that has paid attention to what works in our field, we use data analytics to figure out how to improve our games. We keep track of how many people play each day compared to how many play each month, how many people spend money and how much they spend, when players quit, etc. If some number is well below the benchmarks for a game of its type, we try to figure out what we’re doing wrong and how to improve. Numbers don’t tell you the solution—that’s where creativity and ingenuity come in—but they can tell you if people are getting bored with your game or don’t have a reason to spend money. (Or they can confirm that you made a great game and people love it).
When I see a number that is worse than what I expect, the first thing I do is look at what more successful games are doing. Maybe we just left the eggs out of the cake, so to speak, and there is an easy fix. If there’s no obvious, existing, demonstrable solution, we get creative. But if there are known solutions and we are on a budget (which we always are), we do the cheapest, best thing to fix our problem.
When I look at the US’s statistics on gun violence I see a number that is not where it should be. We can try a radical solution like installing a domestic army in our schools. Or we can do what other countries that don’t have this problem have done. I know which of these proposals my boss would approve and which would make me look incompetent.
There are many possible causes that might lead someone to become an alcoholic, but I think there is generally one cause that leads him or her to become a recovering alcoholics: alcoholism creates problems you can’t ignore. America looks like it has a gun problem to me. I look at Sandy Hook and think that should be our rock bottom. From the accounts I’ve read of Australia’s gun buyback program, that was more or less what they collectively experienced before making changes that drastically reduced deaths from guns.
When I hear Americans point to other countries with equal or higher rates of gun ownership as evidence that the hundreds of millions of firearms in this country are not part of the problem, it sounds like an alcoholic pointing to other people drinking as evidence that alcohol can be enjoyed safely and responsibly. Yeah, it can, but recovering alcoholics know that they can’t do it. So they stop drinking and lead wonderful lives, minus the booze. (I mean their lives might not be wonderful but all of the recovering alcoholics I’ve listened to are happy they are sober). Guns don’t kill people; people kill people, and we are the kind of people who kill. It’s time to quit.
Sure, there is a cultural history of gun ownership in parts of the US. Personally I think guns are fun as hell. I love shooting shit. I also love getting fucked up. Sometimes you stop doing something you enjoy because it is good for other people and you care about them.