This is another archival repost from the old blog — this time from July 2008.
So, the following video was brought to my attention, and I was so impressed that I had to share. Admittedly, it took me some time to getting around to the sharing bit: it’s difficult to find the motivation for an argument as patently absurd as that over gun ownership.
This is truly the most marvelous case study in rhetoric that I’ve seen all year. For those Americans who are unfamiliar with contemporary (and recent historical) British politics and society, allow me to dissect for you some of the more remarkable examples.
The video starts with Britain’s “largest peacetime protest” (the untruth in this statement is only trivial). Primed with a title containing the word “guns”, American viewers could be forgiven for assuming this protest had something to do with guns. It did not. The law was about hunting with dogs.
“Many are asking: where were these voices six years ago, when there was an outright ban on handguns?” Indeed. The fox hunters were largely apathetic towards a ban on handguns because you don’t hunt foxes with handguns; but they got upset about the ban on hunting with dogs because they like hunting with dogs. Hence the protest regarding hunting with dogs, and the absence of the protest about owning handguns. Do you see?
But why was there so little opposition to the tightening of laws on handgun ownership? Because they came in the wake of the mass-murder of children with legally owned handguns. You can argue that this was an irrational reason to ban handguns, but it’s the answer you’re looking for.
“There has been a forty percent increase in gun crime since the law was introduced…” Wow. Crime statistics rise when something goes from being legal to illegal. I guess the ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants has similarly failed, since we’ve seen an increase in illegal smoking. This factoid is mediocre and meaningless: what do the real outcomes look like?
“The use of weapons in crime has risen dramatically,” says Frank Cook MP. Actually, lets listen to that that again: “The use of weapons in crime has risen dramatically” (his emphasis, not mine). That presumably includes knife crime, the big one as far as popular discourse in the UK is concerned (though that too is largely a media fabrication, and the data demonstrate a falling rate of violent crime). I’ve no idea what Frank Cook’s views on handgun ownership are, so I quickly searchedTheyWorkForYou .com for Frank+Cook+gun and, so far as I can tell, he has mentioned guns once in parliament during the timeTheyWorkForYou.com has been tracking debates. In a November 2005 session, Cook mentioned, as an aside, that the post-Dunblaine restrictions on gun ownership were knee-jerk. And he’s right. But it doesn’t paint a picture of a man tirelessly crusading for a fundamental right on which our safety and liberty depends.
More soundbites: police morale is “at an all time low.” Wow. I didn’t even know there was an objective rolling record of police “morale”! Police morale has been a little low lately: they have a pay dispute. Not a gun dispute, you understand. A pay dispute. Police safety (and rate of assaults against police officers, which is a slightly different question) is an empirical question which is not measured in “morale”.
Next it’s over to Tony Martin — the poor defenceless old farmer who shot violent intruders in self-defence. Er… yeah. Not the Tony Martin with paranoid personality disorder who shot a fleeing teenager dead, hid the weapon, and went to the pub, then? Tony Martin is not a good poster boy for the right to bear arms.
I don’t think we saw a single datum in the video. There were a lot of anecdotes and soundbites, a lot of selective footage and an absurdly crude misrepresentation of the situation in the UK. But the issue surely just rests on empirical questions? Where are the data on this issue? Well, so far as I have been able to ascertain — and it’s difficult to be sure of anything on the topic when there are two polarised dogmas desperate to make the loudest and most preposterous noise — neither side have much going for them. Being armed does nothing to make you measurably safer; but then, neither does a gun ban or amnesty. Arguments on this issue tend to be about simple solutions to complex social problems, and each side seem quite content to defend their positions with arguments as flawed as those above. They’re the best arguments they’ve got.