Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Guns of New York

For reasons that escape me Gail Collins was once the Editorial Page Editor of the New York Times.

Apparently, I was not alone in thinking that she was not up to the job, because she was gently eased out of it and given an op-ed column as recompense.

Normally, I do not read her column, because it is not very interesting. Collins makes an occasional attempt at humor, but clearly it is not her strong suit. I do not read columns to see what happens when someone who is not funny tries to be funny.

In many ways Gail Collins is what is wrong with the New York Times. The newspaper pretends that people with limited talent are serious writers and thinkers, and then it doesn’t understand why no one buys the newspaper.

Anyone who wants to read some intelligent liberal commentary will turn to The Economist before the New York Times. The British weekly is serious, intelligent, thoughtful and well-written.The Economist is thriving while the New York Times is floundering.

This morning Collins offered us her thoughts about yesterday’s shooting at the Empire State Building. As might be expected she favors gun control.

She does not really present a convincing case for her ideas. Worse, she fails the first test of a serious thinker: the ability to take an opposing position seriously.

Collins caricatures those who have a different position as dummies and presents her viewpoint as the so obviously true that no sensate soul could possibly disagree.

In her words:

Nine passers-by were also wounded, and it seems almost certain that some or all were accidentally hit by the police. This isn’t surprising; it’s only in movies that people are good shots during a violent encounter. In 2008, Al Baker reported in The Times that the accuracy rate for New York City officers firing in the line of duty was 34 percent.

And these are people trained for this kind of crisis. The moral is that if a lunatic starts shooting, you will not be made safer if your fellow average citizens are carrying concealed weapons.

Of course, that is not the issue.

Collins might have mentioned that on Thursday evening, in Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago, in a city that has such strict gun control laws that you can be sure that “your fellow average citizens” are disarmed, 19 people were shot.

Under the Emanuel regime, Chicago has become the gun violence capital of America.

Collins offers no information about the rates of gun violence in cities and states that have concealed carry laws. It would certainly be relevant to the debate.

Collins does not face facts; she relies on what social scientists call anecdotal evidence.

She explains that the man who opened first in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin lived in a state that has lenient gun control laws.

That is an anecdote, not a fact. Perhaps if Collins were willing to compare the rate of gun violence in Milwaukee with that of, say, Chicago, she would be able to present a cogent argument.

What happened at the Empire State Building happened in a city that has strict gun control laws. Average citizens in New York City are not carrying guns.

To use the incident as an argument against concealed carry laws does not persuade.  

Hopefully, Collins does not mean to suggest that the police should be disarmed too. If the fact that the police carry guns does not deter a lunatic, why, following her logic, would the police be allowed to carry weapons?

Of course, lunatics, by definition, are impervious to reason and to deterrence. It’s part of the definition of insanity.

It’s also the reason why people suggest that the best way to stop a lunatic is to shoot him as soon as he starts firing.

Collins suggests that if moviegoers in Aurora, CO had opened fire in a dark theatre they might have produced more damage than James Holmes did.

They might, but then again, they might not. We do not know.

Most incidents do not take place in dark movie theatres, so I fail to see the pertinence of her complaint.

For all Collins or I know, the non-lunatics out there might very well be deterred by the fact that they know that some of their citizens are carrying concealed weapons.

Collins does not consider that, in cities like New York and Chicago that have the strictest gun control laws the people who have guns are mostly gang members.

I am not qualified to say whether a better trained police officer would have a better accuracy rate in the middle of crisis unfolding on a busy Manhattan street.

If 34% is a bad rate, then perhaps the NYPD needs to offer better training in firearms use. How many rounds did the Navy Seals fire in the bin Laden compound and how many of them hit a target?

But, if 34% is the rate for trained police officers, wouldn’t that argue for guns with larger magazines.

No one, Collins suggests, needs a magazine that holds 100 rounds. If his aim is worse than that of a member of the NYPD, then maybe he does.

While Collins is willing to allow hunters to keep their guns she says nothing about people who live in isolated areas of the country and who believe that they need guns for their personal protection.

Many Americans do not live in doorman buildings with 24 hour security.

For all the fulminating against guns, the fact is, there are more than 200 million guns in America today. The idea of taking them away seems a bit delusional.

Of course, the courts may very well place new restrictions are placed on gun ownership. After all, Justice Antonin Scalia recently pointed out, roughly speaking, that the right to bear arms does not give any citizen the right to own a bazooka or a heat-seeking missile.

So, there is room for debate and discussion. Gail Collins might have contributed. She chose not to do so.


JP said...

Guns are some sort of weird emotional hot-button for some people, and I don't really get it.

The biggest problem with guns is that thugs have them and use them to kill people.

However, for some reason, certain officials seem to think that the solution is to restrict the guns from everyone.

I worked with a law partner who always had a concealed gun on him. My concern that he would use this gun for any reason other than self-defense was precisely zero. I also knew that if I were in the room with him and he was shooting the gun, the bullet was extremely unlikely to go into me.

Nick Carter M. said...

Here in Wyoming, you don't need a concealed carry permit. You can bring a gun with you anywhere - just the way it should be.

Recently, my neighbor chased out two men who broke into his apartment. Luckily he had a rifle.

Jim said...

I recently read that the LAPD is requiring more range practice for police officers. 34% is not good for a cop, and one out of 16 shots is worse. I take my wife and sons to the range several times a year and we all shoot at better than 34%, and we're not that good. The statistics do prove that concealed permits reduce crime. Even crazy spree killers are rational enough to pick "kill zones" or places where concealed weapons are not allowed. They may be crazy but they are not stupid. A few years ago a stupid spree killer tried to do his thing in a Texas Baptist church. Although he managed to kill two people he could have killed a lot more except for the church lady who pulled out her handgun and killed him, right there before God and all the people. Needless to say, baptist churches in the South are a lot safer than any NY office!

Dennis said...

The 34 percent figure does not surprise me. It is one thing to shoot a gun at a firing range and another when someone can or will shoot back. The pressure that goes along with maybe having to shoot or kill another human being is something that affects each of us differently.
As with all things one needs to constantly develop "good" habits practiced diligently and often in oder to react naturally when under pressure.
Obama has had one affect that is positive. He has really improved the sale of guns to the point that violent crime has gone down except in those places with gun control. Gun control, and those who forward it, are the friends of every criminal especially violent ones whether they accept responsibility or not.

George Boggs said...

The example of the shooter in Wisconsin is just another instance of Left Logic and the triumph of inductive reasoning: begin with a general proposition and work backwards through the facts to support it. In some circles, it's called the Red Queen Gambit: "Sentence first - verdict afterward."

Jim said...

But these cops fired 16 rounds in order to stop the suspect, wounding many others in the process. There are ways to simulate combat-like targets in training and the NYPD needs to refocus their time allotment on that. Not only will they stop their targets faster, they will avoid hitting bystanders. We also need to expand concealed carry permits to reduce the threat from spree killers and terrorists. Your child is safer in an Israeli school than any American school - because in Israel, the teachers are armed!