Creative Destruction

April 21, 2007

Compare and Contrast

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events — Robert @ 1:51 pm

Meet Venus Ramey, the 82-year old former Miss America (1944) who recently confronted thieves on her Kentucky farm. Caught in the act, the men offered to leave; Miss Ramey declined their offer, shooting out the tires of the car to prevent them from driving away and holding them at gunpoint until police arrived.

She had to balance on her walker to get her gun in firing position, but she managed.

Is any further comment required?

41 Comments »

  1. Interesting report. Funny even. However, considering the relatively relaxed nature of the crime (hauling away scrap metal from a farmhouse, which the story reports is commonplace), I don’t think it’s fair to say that the same result would have obtained had the crime been more aggressive and the criminals themselves armed. I doubt I would have to look far to find evidence of a hardened criminal who wasn’t effectively thwarted by a gun-toting homeowner. Maybe the number of shootings in bars resulting from arguments over whose penis is bigger ought to be considered as evidence that lots of folks who legally own guns probably lack to self-control to act responsibly.

    Comment by Brutus — April 21, 2007 @ 7:08 pm | Reply

  2. Maybe the number of shootings in bars resulting from arguments over whose penis is bigger ought to be considered as evidence that lots of folks who legally own guns probably lack to self-control to act responsibly.

    What number is that, roughly?

    Comment by Brandon Berg — April 21, 2007 @ 8:07 pm | Reply

  3. I’ve personally killed at least a dozen men for their temerity in suggesting they had me beat in the trouser snake displacement department.

    And that’s just this year.

    Comment by Robert — April 21, 2007 @ 8:12 pm | Reply

  4. Brandon Berg:

    What number is that, roughly?

    More than the number of former beauty queens who run interlopers off their tree farms.

    Comment by Brutus — April 21, 2007 @ 8:44 pm | Reply

  5. Brutus – the number of established defensive uses of firearms massively swamps the instances of firearm homicides.

    Like, two million of one and about ten thousand of the other.

    Comment by Robert — April 21, 2007 @ 10:30 pm | Reply

  6. The crime statistics Robert links to go a lot farther describing the issue than do a couple anecdotes. The second link shows crimes using firearms hovering between 300,00 and 400,000 per year since 1973 except for a large swell to almost 600,000 in 1993. The first link says that approx. 2 million defensive gun uses per year by law-abiding citizens occur. However, that second stat appears to be controversial, as it purports to correct much more modest estimates (as low as ca. 108,000 uses per year according to the National Crime Victimization Survey).

    These data call for a much more sophisticated treatment than I can perform, but I don’t think it’s fair to conclude that they show on their face that guns usually work defensively as intended. Doubtlessly, they sometimes do, maybe even often do. But their use may also not work out as intended. I find it odd that the number of defensive uses so greatly outstrips the number of crimes committed with guns. As with the beauty queen anecdote, does that mean that lots of folks are using or threatening lethal force against criminals whose crimes are unarmed and (relatively) nonaggressive? Some may find that admirable, I suppose, but I’m not so sure myself.

    Personally, I think the videocamera has done more to discourage crime than any other device. But that’s just an opinion (and acknowledged as such).

    Comment by Brutus — April 22, 2007 @ 10:41 am | Reply

  7. does that mean that lots of folks are using or threatening lethal force against criminals whose crimes are unarmed and (relatively) nonaggressive

    No, it means that there are a lot of crimes that are stopped by gun use – i.e., that then never make it into the statistics as crimes. You start to mug me, I show you my rocket launcher, you fade gracefully into the night, fin.

    Comment by Robert — April 22, 2007 @ 12:23 pm | Reply

  8. Robert, why do you think that attempted crimes aren’t included in crime survey statistics?

    Let’s say you try to rob me but flee like a coward once I unsheath my +3 sword of gratuitous smiting. Six months later, I’m asked in a survey if anyone has attempted to rob me in the past year. My most likely answer to this question is “yes.”

    Comment by Ampersand — April 22, 2007 @ 2:39 pm | Reply

  9. I’m sure some of them would appear in the stats, Amp, particularly in surveys, but many defensive gun uses are simply brandishments that result in no police contact or crime report.

    I hope you have a CCW permit for that sword, bucko. Portland cops are pretty picky about such things, I hear.

    Comment by Robert — April 22, 2007 @ 2:56 pm | Reply

  10. I’m sure some of them would appear in the stats, Amp, particularly in surveys, but many defensive gun uses are simply brandishments that result in no police contact or crime report.

    Yes, but the comparison people are using, to contrast how many crimes are committed with how many DGUs there are per year (according to Kleck), is the NCVS – a survey.

    Not police reports.

    I don’t need a CCW for my sword — you attacked me at home, in my own living room. You’re such a cad.

    Comment by Ampersand — April 22, 2007 @ 3:02 pm | Reply

  11. The page linked indicated the problem with the NCVS – that many, many people are unwilling to disclose their (sometimes illegal) defensive weapons use to Federal law enforcement. I certainly wouldn’t. I won’t tell the government anything I’m not bound by law to tell them.

    Comment by Robert — April 22, 2007 @ 4:10 pm | Reply

  12. Here’s an interesting counter-example. Here are the important paragraphs:

    Australia had a spate of mass public shooting in the 1980s and ’90s, culminating in 1996, when Martin Bryant opened fire at the Port Arthur Historical Site in Tasmania with an AR-15 assault rifle, killing 35 people.

    Within two weeks the government had enacted strict gun control laws that included a ban on semiautomatic rifles. There has not been a mass shooting in Australia since.

    Comment by Brutus — April 22, 2007 @ 7:11 pm | Reply

  13. The page linked indicated the problem with the NCVS – that many, many people are unwilling to disclose their (sometimes illegal) defensive weapons use to Federal law enforcement.

    By “many, many,” you must mean 95%. For Kleck’s figures to be true, it must be the case that approximately 95% of people who use a gun defensively and are interviewed for the NCVS didn’t mention it when asked how they defended themselves — and yet are willing to tell Kleck’s interviewers. This seems implausible.

    We also, to believe Kleck’s figures, must believe that there are between 400,000 and a million homicides prevented by defensive handgun use, for every 27,000 homicides that actually happen. (And yet, other studies haven’t found that gun owners are less likely homicide victims!) This seems implausible.

    We also, to believe Kleck’s figures, must believe there are about twice as many criminals shot by civilians ins self-defense every year, than the total number of gun wounds known to doctors and hospitals per year. This seems implausible.

    What seems more plausible then all of that combined, is that approximately 1% of people, when asked by a stranger on the phone about if they’ve used a gun in the last year to defend themselves, are willing to make up a story (or exaggerate, or fudge the date) because they sense “yes” is the answer the interviewer is looking for. If so, that 1% would almost entirely account for the huge discrepancy between Kleck’s 2.5 million defensive gun uses per year (which is the number Kleck himself usually gives) and the NCVS’s 88,000 defensive gun uses per year.

    From what I’ve read, I think it’s likely that the NCVS undercounts significantly — but not by a factor of 28 times. Kleck’s figures aren’t plausible.

    Comment by Ampersand — April 22, 2007 @ 7:32 pm | Reply

  14. By “many, many,” you must mean 95%. For Kleck’s figures to be true, it must be the case that approximately 95% of people who use a gun defensively and are interviewed for the NCVS didn’t mention it when asked how they defended themselves — and yet are willing to tell Kleck’s interviewers. This seems implausible.

    That’s an absurd number of bricks! Why, if you combined the Empire State Building with Lenin’s Tomb and added on the Pyramid of King Tut, you still wouldn’t have 3,873,000,000 bricks! Clearly, the methodology used by that study is flawed beyond belief.

    We also, to believe Kleck’s figures, must believe that there are between 400,000 and a million homicides prevented by defensive handgun use, for every 27,000 homicides that actually happen. (And yet, other studies haven’t found that gun owners are less likely homicide victims!) This seems implausible.

    Weren’t you listening? More bricks than the Empire State Building, Lenin’s Tomb and a pyramid combined!

    Comment by Daran — April 23, 2007 @ 7:52 am | Reply

  15. If you’re inclined to listen to individual annecdotes, check out the This American Life show on guns.
    Act Four features two accounts of real people who nearly die in gun battles. One, a cop, nearly dies in the line of duty while patrolling a crime-ridden neighborhood. The other, a Texas civilian, nearly dies when a guy goes psycho in a restaurant. Guess which crime is more common? And guess which crime drove public policy?

    (By the way, I don’t know of a way to listen to Act Four without first playing through Acts One, Two and Three.)

    Comment by nobody.really — April 23, 2007 @ 10:29 am | Reply

  16. Daran writes:

    Weren’t you listening? More bricks than the Empire State Building, Lenin’s Tomb and a pyramid combined!

    So you’re saying that because I once disagreed with people who said that high mortality numbers for Iraqi civilians are inherently absurd, I must be a hypocrite to ever find any high numbers implausible, even in a completely unrelated context?

    And if that’s not your argument, what is your argument, precisely?

    Comment by Ampersand — April 23, 2007 @ 10:58 am | Reply

  17. If gun ownership were important to crime control, shouldn’t the U.S. have one of the lowest crime rate in the world, since it has very high levels of gun ownership.

    (I’ll admit, I’m surprised to see the U.S. at higher levels than Switzerland and Israel, perhaps fewer households there have multiple guns, and a higher percentage have at least one).

    Comment by ohwilleke — April 23, 2007 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

  18. The article linked notes that by-household gun ownership has slid to an all-time low (only about one in three), even as the raw number of weapons has reached an all-time high. One guy with ten guns does not have the same crime-deterring power as ten guys with one gun.

    Comment by Robert — April 23, 2007 @ 2:22 pm | Reply

  19. One guy with ten guns does not have the same crime-deterring power as ten guys with one gun.

    Well, if I knew in advance which of the ten guys had the one gun, that would greatly ease my mind while I mug the other nine.

    Comment by Ampersand — April 23, 2007 @ 2:25 pm | Reply

  20. A nimbus of blue fog descends on the party. While most of you are unharmed, the fog swirls around Amp’s character. He cries out in confusion as the fog seems to whirl around him in a vortex of ever-increasing light, so bright that you all have to avert your eyes. When the light finally dims, Amp has disappeared, leaving his +3 broadsword of gratuitous smiting rocking gently on the stone floor.

    Comment by Robert — April 23, 2007 @ 2:27 pm | Reply

  21. So you’re saying that because I once disagreed with people who said that high mortality numbers for Iraqi civilians are inherently absurd, I must be a hypocrite to ever find any high numbers implausible, even in a completely unrelated context?

    And if that’s not your argument, what is your argument, precisely?

    My point is that your argument appears to be indistinguishable from the one you used the GWoC fallacy to rebut. I’m not saying that you’re a hypocrite for finding those numbers implausible. I’m saying that I find your argumentum ad implausium unconvincing.

    Comment by Daran — April 23, 2007 @ 4:07 pm | Reply

  22. My point is that your argument appears to be indistinguishable from the one you used the GWoC fallacy to rebut.

    I think you’ve misunderstood what the Great Wall of China fallacy is. In that post, my example of the GWoC fallacy was Gateway Pundit saying that the Lancet report had to be wrong, because if it were true then many more people have died in Iraq than died in Hiroshima.

    My point was not that comparisons to establish plausibility are always wrong (which is how you seen to have taken it). My point was that you can’t logically establish that a number is too large with an irrelevant comparison. There is no relationship between how many people are killed in an atomic blast and how many people are killed in an entirely unrelated war; there’s no logical contradiction between believing that 60,000 people died in an atomic blast, and also that 600,000 people died in a years-long ongoing war.

    On the other hand, there is a relationship between how many murders take place in the USA in a year, and how many attempted murders take place in the USA in a year. If 400,000 to 1,000,000 attempted murders in the USA are prevented every year through defensive gun use; while only 27,000 actual murders happen each year; and there is no overwhelming correlation between lack of gun ownership and being murdered; then that brings up a logical contradiction.

    Similarly, it’s impossible for both Kleck’s study and the NCVS to be correct (although it’s possible they’re both incorrect). That’s a real contradiction; not an irrelevant one like Iraq vs. Hiroshima. I’m really surprised you have trouble telling the difference.

    So contrary to your claim, it’s easy to distinguish my argument here from the “let’s compare Iraq to Hiroshima” argument I used the GWoC fallacy to rebut.

    [Edited to cross out an irrelevant, snarky sentence.]

    Comment by Ampersand — April 23, 2007 @ 6:29 pm | Reply

  23. I think you’ve misunderstood what the Great Wall of China fallacy is. In that post, my example of the GWoC fallacy was Gateway Pundit saying that the Lancet report had to be wrong, because if it were true then many more people have died in Iraq than died in Hiroshima.

    In that post, you said: ‘The most intelligent version I’ve seen is the “reality check” press release from Iraq Body Count. All of these critiques exhibit what I think of as “The Great Wall Of China Fallacy.”’ My emphasis. It was the similarity between your treatment in comment 13 and IBC’s ‘reality checks‘ that prompted my comment. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    Comment by Daran — April 24, 2007 @ 4:09 am | Reply

  24. Okay, point well taken. Contrary to what I wrote back then, the IBC reality check isn’t an example of the GWoC fallacy; I overreached in that post by including that link.

    The basic problem with the IBC reality check, in my view, isn’t the Great Wall of China fallacy. It’s that the statistics they were comparing the Lancet numbers to are completely useless, due to the utter collapse of information-gathering mechanisms in Iraq.

    In contrast, the information-gathering mechanisms in the USA are — while not 100% accurate (nothing’s perfect) — quite good by most standards, and can provide a legitimate basis for comparison.

    Comment by Ampersand — April 24, 2007 @ 4:27 am | Reply

  25. by-household gun ownership has slid to an all-time low (only about one in three), even as the raw number of weapons has reached an all-time high.

    If gun ownership or at least gun ownership per household discourages crime, shouldn’t crime be reaching an all time high rather than, as it is, being at a historically rather low point?

    Comment by Dianne — April 24, 2007 @ 5:15 am | Reply

  26. Gun ownership acts to deter crime – but more importantly, contributes to a culture of self-reliance. However, the root causes of crime have nothing to do with guns, and cyclical changes in the crime rate are not going to track gun ownership rates.

    Comment by Robert — April 24, 2007 @ 11:09 am | Reply

  27. Crime is, of course, multifactorial. Demographics may be a factor; the bump in the murder rate came just as the baby boomers were hitting peak killing years.

    Also, I don’t think gun ownership as such does much to decrease any kind of crime except those involving breaking and entering while the homeowners are home (and in fact, I believe that this is much rarer in the US than in the UK). The key thing that you need to reduce other kinds of crime is to have people carrying weapons around with them. Guns can’t serve as deterrents to mugging or rape if everyone’s leaving them at home.

    It may be worth noting that the decline in violent crime in the US (which began around 1990) coincided with the spread of liberalized concealed carry laws. Or it may not; again, the whole thing could be due to other factors like demographics. What we do know is that the bloodbath that was predicted by opponents of concealed carry liberalization has failed to materialize.

    Comment by Brandon Berg — April 24, 2007 @ 12:14 pm | Reply

  28. Robert wrote:

    cyclical changes in the crime rate are not going to track [to] gun ownership rates

    Isn’t this the opposite of what you’ve been arguing, that more guns in the hands of more people would deter crime? And isn’t this the opposite of the effect noted in the article linked to in my comment 12? I’m unable to prove correlation or causation, and you appear to be retreating from that as well. What’s left, then, is simple argument regarding the sort of society we wish to live in.

    Comment by Brutus — April 24, 2007 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

  29. Isn’t this the opposite of what you’ve been arguing, that more guns in the hands of more people would deter crime?

    There’s no contradiction. It isn’t a one-variable equation.

    Jump out of an airplane. When you’re about to hit the ground, shake up a Coke can and open it with the lid pointing downward. The fact that you still splatter gruesomely into the ground isn’t proof that Newton’s laws don’t work; it just means that one factor was swamped by another factor. If we enact universal shall-issue concealed carry and simultaneously import a million petty criminals, the crime rate is going to skyrocket despite the mitigation provided by an armed citizenry. If we ban all weapons and simultaneously start executing people for every crime, the crime rate will nosedive.

    Comment by Robert — April 24, 2007 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

  30. For what it’s worth, in AIMING FOR EVIDENCE-BASED GUN POLICY, a 2006 review of 300+ published gun studies, the authors found (among other things) that widespread gun ownership does not reduce residential burglary rates or home invasion robberies.

    Comment by nobody.really — April 25, 2007 @ 10:55 am | Reply

  31. Comment no. 30 by nobody.really confirms my unscientific suspicions. So we’re back to arguing in favor of peaceful, gun-free coexistence or a society full of pistol-packin’ mamas and fully loaded dudes.

    Comment by Brutus — April 25, 2007 @ 11:03 am | Reply

  32. So we’re back to arguing in favor of peaceful, gun-free coexistence or a society full of pistol-packin’ mamas and fully loaded dudes.

    No. Peaceful, gun-free coexistence is not on the table. Nobody has demonstrated how to achieve it for a large society. It would be nice, but it isn’t currently one of our choices.

    The choice is between a society of victims who rely on others to provide them with physical security, or a society of citizens who take responsibility for their own.

    Comment by Robert — April 25, 2007 @ 2:12 pm | Reply

  33. Peaceful, gun-free coexistence is not on the table. Nobody has demonstrated how to achieve it for a large society.

    So? No one’s demonstrated how to cure HIV, cancer, or heart disease either, yet large institutions are dedicated to working on how to cure each of them. If a peaceful gun-free existence is a wothwhile goal, why not work on figuring out how to acheive it rather than simply declaring it impossible because it has not yet been acheived?

    Comment by Dianne — April 26, 2007 @ 3:15 am | Reply

  34. Dianne, my statement was not intended as a general declaration of impossibility, but a refutation of Brutus’ specific rhetorical trick/device of framing the choice as being between a utopia and the Wild West. The Wild West, possibly, could come into being and is thus a fair exemplar; the utopia isn’t happening.

    Comment by Robert — April 26, 2007 @ 4:04 am | Reply

  35. the utopia isn’t happening.

    That’s ok. A world without guns (or with guns as a quaint toy used at shooting gallaries only) still wouldn’t be utopia. Not even if guns were no longer used in conflict resolution because people had found fully effective peaceful ways of dealing with conflicts. Think about the amount of time everyone would spend in conflict management classes and arbitration…er, about those guns again…

    Slightly more seriously, your comment to me seemed to express some level of “learned helplessness” on this issue. I personally think that non-violent conflict resolution on a large scale is a difficult, but not completely intractible problem and therefore want to see it researched. Incremental progress, ie reducing the number of people who felt the need to resort to violence, would be progress, even if it didn’t result in instant utopia.

    Comment by Dianne — April 26, 2007 @ 5:10 am | Reply

  36. Incremental progress, ie reducing the number of people who felt the need to resort to violence, would be progress, even if it didn’t result in instant utopia.

    Probably. The trouble comes in that when we set out to “reduce the number of people who [feel] the need for violence”, what we often end up doing is reducing the number of people who can effectively employ violence – whether for good or for ill. And that doesn’t create progress; it creates a rich pool of victims for the violent people who remain.

    Comment by Robert — April 26, 2007 @ 8:42 am | Reply

  37. Robert wrote:

    my statement was not intended as a general declaration of impossibility, but a refutation of Brutus’ specific rhetorical trick/device of framing the choice as being between a utopia and the Wild West.

    As Dianne points out, a peaceful, gun-free society isn’t utopean. It’s merely the opposite pole of the continuum Robert espouses, the one where everyone is packing. In the interest of general safety, I think the gun-free option is preferable; Robert thinks America Fully Loaded is preferable. As it happens, I agree with Robert insofar as acknowledging that Americans will probably never relinquish their guns. The genie is already out of the bottle.

    A friend told me a story about some wisdom he took from being an aikido instructor. At the early stages, most students want to study to avoid being easy prey to bullies and criminals. In the event of, say, a mugging or a bank robbery, those without skills stand to be injured, victimized, and traumatized. Those with some skills — who are willing to engage — still stand to be injured, victimized, and traumatized, but they are less helpless. However, they may also have to deal with the possibility that in using force (or lethal force) against an aggressor, they will inflict harm or kill the aggressor, which can be difficult to deal with. Those with significant skills know that they could very likely prevail in a conflict but would again have to deal with the psychology of injuring and/or killing others. So those with the greatest confidence and skills may ironically choose instead to yield the cash in their possession or take a couple blows rather than fighting.

    In short, owning a gun (and being able to aim and shoot) doesn’t make one a gunfighter. The movie Unforgiven has some very interesting insights regarding the gravity of doing violence and killing a man.

    Comment by Brutus — April 26, 2007 @ 10:53 am | Reply

  38. I really love this Ozzie Osbourne (!) quote, from the paper that N.R. linked to:

    I keep hearing this thing that guns don’t kill people, but people kill people. If that’s the case, then why do we give people guns when they go to war? Why not just send the people?

    Comment by Ampersand — April 26, 2007 @ 2:36 pm | Reply

  39. I’ll just note that Robert is likely wrong about the admission of petty criminals. A number of U.S. states and Australia were settled to a great extent by mid-level criminals exiled for their crimes, and this did not have a great impact on crime rates in either place.

    While some high level criminals (e.g. serial killers) may be inherently criminal personalities, most crime is economic and driven by the offender’s social circumstances. If not shut out of the economic system, most petty criminals swiftly reform.

    Comment by ohwilleke — April 26, 2007 @ 2:49 pm | Reply

  40. As it happens, I agree with Robert insofar as acknowledging that Americans will probably never relinquish their guns

    Maybe, maybe not. The Japanese gave up guns at one point in their history. One could argue about whether or not it was a good idea and certainly one could argue that the means and ends in the Japanese example weren’t the best, but just to point out that there is at least one historical example of a society giving up the use of guns in favor of less deadly weapons. So it’s not completely utopian to think that a society might do so.

    Comment by Dianne — April 27, 2007 @ 4:15 am | Reply

  41. Ohwilleke wrote:

    I’ll just note that Robert is likely wrong about the admission of petty criminals. A number of U.S. states and Australia were settled to a great extent by mid-level criminals exiled for their crimes, and this did not have a great impact on crime rates in either place. (emphasis mine)

    That was a very special case: all those armed petty criminals arrived to a whole world full of people who owned vast natural resources but had no access to guns.

    I suppose you could call the heart-warming and predictable results of this combination an “economic system”.

    Comment by Marcus — April 27, 2007 @ 8:32 am | Reply


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