Saturday, April 5, 2014

Allen Frances Lacked Critical Thinking Skills

Over at HuffPo, Allen Frances, Professor Emeritus at Duke, offers a less-than-scholarly opinion about guns and violence.

Let's take it one at a time:
  • "According to the Alice In Wonderland NRA logic, we need to repeal existing laws that restrict guns on military bases and make sure every soldier is armed at all times."
    WRONG - This utterly misrepresents the position of the NRA. The goal isn't to arm everyone all the time (a clue that it's wrong might be the absolutist nature of his wording) - the goal is to create an environment where it's possible - from a killer's perspective - that anyone might be armed and able to resist at any given time. In nearly all of these incidents of 'suicide theater' where a troubled man walks into a disarmed crowd and starts taking out as many as he can before he goes, he either kills himself or gives up at the first sign of opposition. There's a reason these killers target "gun-free zones". Creating the mere possibility that resistance would be swift acts as a deterrent first, and provides an avenue of active opposition second.
  • "And, following the same achieve a world in which everyone is armed and dangerous"
    WRONG - the goal would be to achieve a world in which anyone in a given crowd could be armed and thus ready to defend against the dangerous. It's difficult if not impossible to determine at what rate the possibility of an armed defender dissuades crime. What we do know is that these spree-killers target gun-free zones almost exclusively - schools and bases. We also can see multiple instances where armed resistance stopped a mass murder in progress.
    Maybe the professor could do a research project - find forty random subjects, and one at a time, show them two doors and give the subject a taser. Tell them that behind each door, there are five people in their seventies playing poker with $10k apiece, and the subject is to rob those behind door A or door B. Behind door A, there is a strict no-taser rule that the poker players voluntarily comply with. Behind door B, there is no such rule, and the possibility that at least one person has a taser. Which door do you think your subjects will choose? My hypothesis is that nearly every subject will choose door A, which holds the defenseless, rather than door B, which has only a possibility - but no certainty - of resistance. Let me bring it home for ya: without having to arm everyone all the time, simply creating the possibility that someone might put up a fight will substantially reduce the attractiveness of the target.
  • "The necessary corollary to the NRA pitch is that anyone who does kill with a gun must have been crazy....The National Rifle Association propaganda has it all wrong. Most violent acts are committed by people who are not crazy. "
    See what he did here? First talking about the NRA's response to spree-killers, and then attacking that response as an ineffective cure for all violent acts. First, I think just about every one of these mass-murderers coming to mind recently have been on meds for psychological issues. I certainly wouldn't use that as the only criteria for 'crazy', but once these people decide to start shooting herds of defenseless people, it's not too far off to say there may be something miswired upstairs. Second, are we talking about all violent acts now? Certainly not all "violent acts" are committed by certifiably crazy people. However, anyone who decides to commit a premeditated violent act against their fellow human being has long since "crossed the Rubicon" into illegality. Look at it this way - if you've already decided to violate the law in such a felonious manner as to murder someone, laws about contraband are mere speed bumps on the way to your ends. And certainly, giving potential victims access for force-levelers like handguns still acts as a deterrent first, and active opposition second. At the end of the day, the solution for rectifying our violent culture as a whole is much different than the one for minimizing exposure to mass-murder. In either case, giving potential victims a whistle and wishing them luck against the violent has not been working so far.
  • "Only one thing is predictable with statistical certainty. If there are more guns in the schools, streets, offices, military bases, and homes...more people will be killed."
    Actually, Allen, the data demonstrates the exact opposite. Violent crime, including the murder rate, has been falling year-over-year at the same time gun ownership has been skyrocketing. This isn't a recent trend, either. And while there are entire books dedicated to this phenomenon, any of us can view the data directly from the Department of Justice demonstrating that homicides are at their lowest since 1963. Gun ownership is a much more difficult thing to track objectively - surveys by Gallup asking people to fess up to a gun in their house while the government continues to vilify ownership are notoriously unreliable measures. What we do know from the ATF's data is that the number of licensed firearms dealers has been steadily increasing since the late 90's, indicating a growing market of consumers. To back this up, during the same time period, the number of NICS background checks, which happen when an individual is buying a gun from a dealer, has been increasing by orders of magnitude. Similarly, participation in the shooting sports has been increasing in the last four years, with the growth area being the young, female and urban, and 20% of these new participants having only shot for the first time in the last five years. Professor Frances proposes a correlation not supported by the objective data we have available to us.
My Take: Via the Internet, you and I have convenient access to source data and need to use that in evaluating articles like Professor Frances'. Speculation is rampant on both sides of the gun debate. Professor Frances speculates that guns in the hands of more people would result in more crime. On the other hand, the civil rights advocates speculate that the existing trends of increased liberty around self-defense and decreasing crime will continue to hold. The data we have to work with is not on the Professor's side, but on the side of civil rights.

Fundamentally, Professor Frances is arguing that policy should be written for the edge-cases, which is known bad practice and the folly of doing so is too-often demonstrated in these little labs called "gun-free zones". The Professor would speculate that we have stopped untold numbers of non-existent massacres from even happening with these laws. But when the massacres do happen and we say, look, these laws were culpable both in attracting a mass-murderer and preventing timely defense, he would have us expand the sphere and scope of the gun-free zones rather than reduce the risk exposure they entail, casting aside the concept that someone hell-bent on killing the defenseless is hardly going to let a "gun-free zone" street sign change his mind. 

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