Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | December 19, 2012

Hitting a Nerve

The comments on my last few posts have been running about 3-to-1 against my position. I take this to mean I am hitting a nerve.

I make it a personal policy not to get into extensive exchanges in my comment section. If I have an involved response, I make it into a post. Here’s the latest comment:

No, Dr. Dino, you’re right. Living as I do in Israel, where we often see the real results of violence, we not only have firm gun control, we have a very low incidence of crime-connected gun violence. I often think that one of the problems in the US is that very few people actually witness carnage caused by guns — it’s all “fake violence” in movies or TV with lots of ketchup thrown about and the “corpses” are decorously draped here and there [always with their eyes closed, ever notice?] Very few Americans, relatively, even see carnage of other types, such as the results of car accidents, up close, unless they are accompanying someone to an Emergency Room. News programs do not usually show the really gory pictures. It therefore seems that owning a gun, and shooting it, is really a rather sterile exercise [marksmanship targets don’t bleed or scream], dehumanized in fact. In reality, I would expect most of these “if we only had more guns someone would have taken that shooter out” sorts would panic in the heat of the moment, and probably have made the situation a great deal worse.

First, thanks for your support. I agree that I’m right (obviously, heh) though not for the reasons you describe.

Many of the responsible gun owners to whom I refer have indeed seen carnage. Maybe not from bombs and guns, but real live horror nonetheless. They know that people die with their eyes open. They also hunt, so they know that targets bleed. The problem is that from these experiences, they surmise (incorrectly) that carrying their guns with them at all times makes them safer. They use them more like a talisman than an actual weapon, but their presumption that everyone who carries is as responsible as they are is flawed.

Another major difference between Israel and the US is size and diversity. Israel is about the size of New Jersey, but with fewer people (about 7.7 million for Israel vs 8.8 million for the Garden State.) Across this great land approximately three thousand by one thousand miles wide are found habitats ranging from congested urban centers where millions of folks constantly rub shoulders, to wide open expanses where the people are few and far between. Gun laws that make sense for isolated areas where the nearest police officer is an hour away make no sense on the streets of the big city, and vice versa. Children continue to die in cities (see Camden) because gun proponents refuse to allow any further regulation, whether or not it actually affects them.

We could probably get everyone in New Jersey to agree to Israeli style gun regulation, if that’s what we decided we really wanted to do (relatively small, homogeneous population) but to many people in the rest of the country have never met a regulation they supported in their heart of hearts.

Limit sales of high capacity ammunition magazines? No way! Why not? They claim that any number of rounds used to define “high capacity” will necessarily be arbitrary. It’s their refusal to even admit the existence of such a number that gives them away.

Register every gun? Hell no; that’s just the gubbmint’s first step towards confiscating all of them. (Right. That’s why they insist that you license your cars.) You keep your guns safe at home, and of course no one will ever break in there (when you’re away, of course; the whole point is to be able to blow them away if you’re there) to steal your guns and use them in a crime; whereupon said registration will allow the perp to be caught and punished.

Limits on ammunition? Even if we accept the premise that hollow point and other bullets designed to ensure death instead of just damage are necessary for adequate protection (from the mythical attacker who can’t be talked down), how many of them are needed? It is claimed that this is a rare occurrence. Why hoard hundreds or thousands of them?

Israelis are serious about protecting their citizens. Americans don’t seem to be. Until everyone is willing to talk about sensible regulation of firearms, nothing will change.


  1. If I may, your posts have commented on a field, the psychology of how we perceive and respond to risk, that has been richly studied by a number of disciplines. You intuitively comment on only a small bit of what we’ve learned about why some risks feel scarier and some less so, and why we respond to risks the way we do.
    There are many resources from which to learn much more about risk perception. I’ve tried to bring the research together in “How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts”, chapters of which are available free on my website, for anyone interested.

    As for guns in particular, see; “The Gun Control Debate. It’s Not About Guns as Weapons, but Guns as Symbols”

  2. There are a lot of different things to consider here. For one thing, nearly all Israelis serve in the armed forces. Before induction, the highly unstable ones are weeded out [we’ll leave the ultra-Orthodox out of this discussion for the time being] and given exemptions. Both boys and girls are taught the safe use of guns during their IDF service, and that bearing arms is a heavy responsibility. As with driver ed in the states, the goal is not to move a vehicle from A to B but to indoctrinate the student driver in the proper way to drive, obeying the laws and so on. In order to get a gun license, one has to show that one was in the IDF. Private citizens can only get a license, in any case, for a pistol, and are limited to 50 rounds of the appropriate ammunition for the model they have a license for. Nowhere, in Israeli law, is there anything resembling the 2nd Amendment, which, IMO, is badly abused to justify private gun ownership in all circumstances. It was meant to address the situation where the British had tried to disarm colonists and prevent the creation of militias.

    No gun control law is going to totally control the gun situation. There will always be illegal ways to get guns and/or ammunition. But it can be made a LOT tougher, and if the penalties for illegal gun ownership are tough enough, some people will think twice before breaking the law. It is also much easier, in this computerized age, to track weapons and who is licensed to have what. An ex-British SAS soldier, on Sky News, noted that when he was in service, EVERY weapon had a serial number, and was logged. There needs to be a NATIONAL database that can be accessed by law enforcement officials anywhere, and which will alert them if a person is attempting to create an arsenal by buying in different states.

    I’ve been noticing that political cartoonists, among others, have been making a point about mental illness and these horrible shooting incidents, as if sane people never commit crimes or kill people. It is quite true that certain types of mental illness can make people dangerous to themselves and others, and we are failing them by curtailing mental health and medical services to them, and there is a real question about the trend to close hospitals and turn possibly violent people onto the streets, or to not supervise them well enough [to make sure they are taking medication, for example] is a contributory factor. But I cannot think that simply arming everyone in sight is a viable alternative either.

    Unfortunately, America has been here before, repeatedly, and after lots of talk and publicity, nothing substantive has been done. I confess I’m not optimistic now.

    [Oh, and while Israel is shaped rather like New Jersey, it’s actually only the size, in square kilometers, of Vermont. :-)) ]

  3. All I’ve got to say at this point is that you certainly have a hell of a lot of patience. Being one who cannot understand the need for a gun, much less guns, this whole debate has me quite frustrated. I read something on another blog that reminded me of my father who was a career Army officer and had fought in WWII as the Captain of a tank group (I don’t know what you call these groups – squads, battalions, or whatever and don’t really care. It was a group of tanks is all. ) Anyway, as a child I remember him always keeping his guns and other weapons locked up in the garage and he taught us early on that guns were not a good thing. My guess is he only had them as something akin to souvenirs. His lesson to us was that we did not need to have them to be safe, and that they were only meant for war. And so I do not understand why people think they need to have them and fear they only want guns in order to feel powerful. No sensible person would think they are a means to an end.

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