Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mark Shea

Mark Shea is on a rant about guns. I read his recent post the single most important thing about our gun culture and as is sometimes the case, Mr. Shea is demonizing anyone who isn't a Mark Shea mind clone. Rather than post there, where I will be attacked mercilessly, I am posting on my own blog, where both my readers are gentle people.

So according to Mr. Shea "the single most important thing about our gun culture is 30,000 corpses every year. This is an outrage, and so guns should be abolished, or at least gun owners should take any suggestion non-gun owners come up with to try and stop this insanity.

Before I start dismantling his arguments, let's just note that the single most important thing about our car culture is 35,000 corpses every year. But those corpses don't bother Mr. Shea one bit.

Now, on to the dismantling. For those coming in without having heard the news, there is a law on the books in New Jersey that says when "smart" guns become available commercially, no guns may be sold in New Jersey that do not have that technology. A company, Amatix, has come out with a commercially available gun, which a Maryland store was considering selling. The owner claims to have received death threats over it, and has decided not to sell it, after a drunken social media rant. You are now up to date.

I covered many of the problems with the Armatix gun in a previous post.

According to Mr. Shea
Note that: these are not people coming to steal our guns and leave us all prostrate before the Nazi, Communists, and criminal hordes who haunt the imagination of the NRA. These are just people who want to sell guns that, like your car, computer, and front door, can’t be used by people you don’t want using them. An eminently common sense effort to make gun security tech better. Who could object to that? 
Insane gun culture, that’s who. So instead of supporting smart gun research, insane gun culture makes death threats. And when I pointed this out on Facebook, the response from the gun culture was that the people claiming to be threatened were like abortionists claiming to be threatened by prolifers. That’s a special kind of crazy.
Right off the bat, gun owners are crazy and unreasonable, and paranoid to boot. But let's look at some facts (which are sorely lacking in Mr. Shea's emotional tirade).

You see, the problem is that Mark Shea is smart. And like most smart people, he can see holes in arguments that the average person doesn't see. And like most smart people, he assumes falsely that (1) his abilities extend to areas of knowledge about which he has no clue and has done no research and (2) because the average person can't articulate a reason to him, nobody can and therefore that reason doesn't exist.

So let's say we destroy all the guns we have and replace them with Armatix technology. Would the death toll go down? I doubt it. I think the facts show it would go up. And I'm not just saying that as someone who wants to "give Adam Lanza as much access to the technology of mass death as possible" as Mr. Shea accuses.

First off, the vast majority of gun deaths are suicides (19,392 of them). Sad, but true. But if I'm going to kill myself, the fact that I don't have a gun doesn't stop my death, it just means I will use a different method. The US ranks 33rd in suicide rate, despite ranking 1st in gun ownership, and many of the countries "ahead" of us in suicides have gun bans or strict gun control. So access to guns do not equal suicides.

Now we're down to a much smaller number. The next highest use of guns for homicide is violent crime (11,078). Well, putting Armatix technology in guns s not going to affect this number either. It's pretty trivial to defeat such technology if you have physical access to the gun, but even if you didn't, many criminals and gang members actually use guns which are illegal. I know, shocking, isn't it?

In fact, the only cases where the technology will be effective is the case of someone taking a gun from its legal owner, then backing away and shooting them from a distance, and someone finding a gun and shooting someone by accident. I don't have numbers on the first, but I would bet it is small. If I were a criminal and I got a  hold of a gun I would not move away before shooting. And as for the accidental shooting, according to the CDC this happened 606 times in 2010.

So let's be generous and call it 1,000 theoretically preventable deaths. I say theoretical, because it's still possible to shoot someone accidentally with a smart gun, especially if it's your smart gun. Still a horrible thing (though it pales in comparison the the 35,000 automobile deaths). Shouldn't we do what it takes to prevent the 1,000 deaths?

Let's look at the flip side of the coin, though. There are between 55,000 and 2.5 million defensive gun uses per year in the US. for the purposes of argument, let's guesstimate 250,000. What are the odds that in some percentage of those cases the technology will fail? First off, as I've pointed out, it is easy to defeat the RFID technology of the Armatix gun using a commercially available RFID jammer. They are cheap, can be bought on ebay, and the effective range is longer than that of a handgun. So any criminal with $200 and half a brain can know that no honest citizen (or cop) could ever shoot him.

But even if we look at alternate technologies, they all have problems. Biometric measures, such as fingerprints, are also easily fooled and do not work well if the user is under stress, sweaty, bloody, or dirty - things likely to be the case in a defensive firearm use.

In short, the technology will make defensive use of guns less reliable, which will result in more deaths. As the Forbes' article  Why You Should Be Concerned About The New 'Smart Guns' (Whether You Love Or Hate Guns) puts it "How many fire codes allow fire extinguishers that require a battery to operate?" Go read the whole article, it's a well reasoned examination of the issue.

Now, why don't we mandate all cars be driverless to stop the horror of 35,000 automobile deaths every year? Because, you know, the single most important thing about our car culture is 35,000 corpses every year.

By the way, all these numbers are for the year 2010 and are from the CDC website


Nice job, Mike. Mark is never so dangerous as when he only has a sliver of the picture. A clear warning for all of us the next time we want to launch into a semi-informed broadside.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. You obviously hate children and you're probably in favor of charter schools and vouchers... You hater you!

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