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Monday
Jan072013

Cultural vs. ideological extremists: the case of gun control

Look what those nut job socialists & libertarians are saying now: that if we really want to  reduce gun homicides—including the regular shooting of children on street corners in cities like Chicago—we should select one of the myriad sensible alternatives to our current "war on drugs," which predictably spawns violent competition to control a lucrative black market without doing much of anything to reduce either the supply or the demand for banned substances.

They just don’t get it!

So what if an expert consensus report from the National Academy of Sciences “found no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime.” Big deal that a Center for Disease Control task force “found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws reviewed”—including waiting periods, ammunition bans, child access prevention laws, and “gun free school zones”—“for preventing violence.” 

Who cares that the best available evidence clearly suggests, in contrast, that there are myriad steps we could take (“wholesale legalization” vs. “wholesale criminalization” is a specious dichotomy) that would very appreciably reduce the number of homicides associated with the criminogenic property of our own drug-law enforcement policies?

The point isn’t to save lives! It’s to capture the expressive capital of the law.

Their role (real and fabled) in American history—in overthrowing tyranny and in perpetuating conditions of slavery and apartheid; in taming the frontier and in assassinating Presidents—have imbued guns with a rich surfeit of social meanings. Wholly apart, then, from the effect gun laws have (or don’t) on homicide, they convey messages that symbolically affirm and denigrate opposing cultural styles.

We are a liberal democratic society, comprising a plurality of diverse moral communities. The individual liberty provisions of our Constitution forbid the State to “enforce … on the whole society” standards of “private conduct” reflecting any one community’s “conceptions of right and acceptable behavior.”

So for crying out loud, how will we possibly be able to use State power to resolve whose way of life is virtuous and honorable and whose vicious and depraved if we don’t fixate on laws that have ambiguous public-welfare consequences but express unambiguously partisan cultural meanings?

What’s that? You say that the “war on drugs” should also be viewed as an exercise of expressive power aimed at enforcing a cultural orthodoxy?

Of course. But the partisan meanings that are expressed by those laws are ones that only “ideological extremists”—libertarians, socialists, et al.—would object to.

References

Center for Disease Control.First Reports Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Violence: Firearms Laws, Findings from the Task Force on Community Preventive Services (2003). 

Jacobs, J.B. Can gun control work? (Oxford University Press, Oxford ; New York; 2002).

Kahan, D.M.Cognitive Bias and the Constitution of the Liberal Republic of Science, working paper, available at  http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2174032.

Kahan, D.M. The Cognitively Illiberal State. Stan. L. Rev. 60, 115-154 (2007).

Kahan, D.M. & Braman, D. More Statistics, Less Persuasion: A Cultural Theory of Gun-Risk Perceptions. U. Pa. L. Rev. 151, 1291-1327 (2003).

Kleiman, M. Marijuana : costs of abuse, costs of control. (Greenwood Press, New York; 1989).

Kleiman, M., Caulkins, J.P. & Hawken, A. Drugs and drug policy : what everyone needs to know. (Oxford University Press, Oxford ; New York; 2011).

MacCoun, R.J. & Reuter, P. Drug war heresies : learning from other vices, times, and places. (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K. ; New York; 2001).

Musto, D. F. (1987). The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control (Expanded ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

National Research Council (U.S.). Committee to Improve Research Information and Data on Firearms., Wellford, C.F., Pepper, J., Petrie, C. & National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on Law and Justice. Firearms and violence : a critical review. (National Academies Press, Washington, DC; 2004). 

 

 

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Reader Comments (10)

"..The theory behind this policy prescription is that illegal markets breed competition-driven violence among suppliers by offering the prospect of monopoly profits and by denying them lawful means for enforcing commercial obligations..."

Most murder tends to be in "hot spots", which are poor as I understand it. I would think legalizing the drug trade and getting rid of the the turf wars to control the drug market would do wonders for the overall murder rate. I understand that the murder rate even for Chicago, where the rate is quite high, is not that high if one tosses the "hot spots". Most of the city is not affected by the turf wars and are quite calm overall.

As to killing rampages at schools, these are not new and little can be done to protect against them. Cost of doing business in an open society.

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Good point that apart from any impact on violence, gun laws make a statement about what sort of society we are. But does the proportion of hierarchical-individualistic types in your survey data equate to the surprisingly low (and declining over time) level of support for gun control? Might there be some dissonance between people's personal beliefs and their buccaneering, cowboy image of the American ideal?

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Keyfitz

@Robert Keyfitz: That is such an interesting question.

If you want to get a laugh, take a look a this . Actjually, I was positive that was a stupid post (or at least way to frame it) as soon as the Trayvon Martin tragedy happened & saw how guns (& "stand ground") played into the subsequent public debate .

But it is really interesting question to see how apparently declining support for gun control plays out culturally. I will have to feature this in a WSMD? JA! episode (one like this one)!

@Ed: No question that drug-war homicides are disproportionately visited on African-Americans. One has to wonder whether that explains why dozens & dozens of kids killed in Chicago registers about 0 on the emotional richter scale. People remote from inner-city might in fact feel bad but they don't imagine *themselves*, their families & neighbors, when they hear the stories about Chicago kids getting shot... STill it's interesting to consider the ambivaldent attitudes of people in those same communities toward drugs. Very very complicated issues, ones that demands lots of democracy & on a very local level, I think. Gotta disagree w/ you on the "business as usual point. (A) surely things can be done to make schools safer. (B) The response "nothing to be done" & "cost of business" don't reflect the emotional engagement that I associate with the character of a *virtuous* citizen in an open society; virtuous citizens in a liberal society are reciprocally motivated to secure the conditions of one another's liberty, safety & happiness

January 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

First I need to see a realistic, sensible, affective, and tailored solution for the school attack issue. Going after the tool is neither affective or realistic. do you really expect the US to ban and confiscate firearms? Not going to happen.

The risk of mentally unbalanced doing harm is a very old problem. One of the worse insidents aginst children was by someone wielding a knife. Weapons are not dangerous, people are dangerous.

The risk of mentally unbalanced persons doing harm has increased considerably with the reduction in Mental health involuntary commitment. Emptying the mental hospitals was done for two main reasons: Civil rights for the left and to save money for the right. The nation made a choice and decided the risk of harm was not worth the cost. So yes, it is the cost of doing bussines as usual. Not one I particularly agree with, but such is life.

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

But it is really interesting question to see how apparently declining support for gun control plays out culturally.

Dan - I'm trying to figure out what your thesis is in this post. It seems to me that it is hidden beneath sarcasm in a way that leaves me unclear.

To elaborate:

In the name of more data, I offer some examples. Not poll data, not controlled data, not numerical data, but evidence of cultural frameworks:

One frame:

http://americansforresponsiblesolutions.org/

Another frame - please look at the comments:

http://weaselzippers.us/2013/01/08/gabrielle-giffords-the-nra-is-an-ideological-fringe/

(ratdog and chickadee are among my favorites)

Now reconsider your first paragraph -

Look what those nut job socialists & libertarians are saying now: that if we really want to reduce gun homicides—including the regular shooting of children on street corners in cities like Chicago—we should select one of the myriad sensible alternatives to our current "war on drugs," which predictably spawns violent competition to control a lucrative black market without doing much of anything to reduce either the supply or the demand for banned substances.

My guess is that while there is little cross-over between socialists and the evidence of how it is playing out at either of those links, there is cross-over with "libertarians" at weaselzippers. So when I work back to your first paragraph, I find generalizations that I find fairly useless. What do socialists and libertarians say and argue? Their arguments are not monolithic. Seems to me your characterization needs a bit more fleshing out. Further, there are many, who don't march under socialist or libertarian banners, who favor drug decriminalization - in particular as a way to reduce urban violence.

And what's up with this?:

So for crying out loud, how will we possibly be able to use State power to resolve whose way of life is virtuous and honorable and whose vicious and depraved if we don’t fixate on laws that have ambiguous public-welfare consequences but express unambiguously partisan cultural meanings?

If I'm reading you right, and please correct me if I'm wrong, you're arguing that the (uniform?) goal of people who favor gun control is to have "State power resolve whose way of life is virtuous..."? I believe that there are many who advocate any number of varieties of measures of "gun control" - even accepting the premise that it is flawed as an evidence-based approach - other than those who hold a "statist" view of solving societal problems. Consider, for example, members of my community who struggle with the reality of gun violence on a daily basis, and who wish to limit legal gun purchases to one per month, or who wish to have tougher laws to address a common problem where owners of guns that were used in violent criminal activity claim that their guns were "stolen" from them, even though they never reported the theft. Along similar lines, I do not buy a generalization that the "war on drugs" is merely the advocacy of using excessive power to enforce cultural orthodoxy. Despite my personal assessment that the "war on drugs" is an ill-advised policy, I believe that at least for some, it is considered a valid approach to addressing a vexing problem; and certainly decriminalization is problematic, and not a panacea or a quick fix.

I'm struggling with how to see this post as an argument about motivated reasoning, or even about gun control or drug decriminalization. It looks more to me like a polemic that incorrectly characterizes the social, cultural, and ideological "motivated reasoning" that plays out in the debates.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua:

1. Theses w/o sarcasm: (a) Anyone concerned with gun homicides should be expected to recognize that changing the drug laws would do more to reduce them than any of the possible gun control or de-control measures now being advanced by those on both sides of gun debate. (b) Not recognizing this --not seeing that drug law reform should be included in a discussoin of gun homicides -- is a predictable consequence of the impact that antagonistic social meanings have in narrowing attention & distorting processing of information. (c) When this happens, people who are politically ordinary—who aren’t “doctrainaire,” “dogmatic,” “zealous,” “ideologues” –get turned into cultural zealots. (d) Libertarians & socialists—wqho tend to be ridiculed as zealoius ideologues etc.—actually furnish us an example here of what things might look like if we could dispel the self-deception & engage the problemm thoughtfully: they are able to agree on the facts and thus on the solution to a problem they both care about despite being 180 degrees apart ideologically.

2. On generalization & correcting you if wrong: I am addressing what strikes me as associations -- between values, perceptions, positions -- that are true generally. I don't understand myself to be saying "every person who supports/opposes gun control is participating in expressive zealotry" or that *every* socialist & libertarian believes that it makes more sense to focus on drug law policy than on "shall issue" laws. I've already indicated *I* would be in favor of prohibiting sales of assault weapons & don't like that my state is a "shall issue" state. I've said too that I see how the attitudes of people for whom the cnsequences of these policies are in fact higher than they are for me are ambivalent, and that I believe *self-govt* is at stake in complicated ways here. So I don't feel that I'm criticizing people for holding positoins; I'm crticizing them for deficits in reflection & perception -- and why and when it's correct to make moral judgments about people for such deficits are issues that I acknowledge are filled w/ complexity. I might be "correcting" you, then, although if you had (or even still have) a "wrong" understanding, the source of the problem is more likely imperfections in my ability to communicate than any problem you might have in comprehending my meanings.

3. On sarcasm: I’m angry, particularly b/c I see all around me what strike me as sanctimonious people simultaneously claiming to be concerned about suffering while ignoring it, claiming to rely on the best available evidence while abusing it. Expressing anger, particularly in that way, is unlikely to persuade anyone. That in itself doesn’t make me feel so bad; if I’m right to be angry, then it’s okay for me to *be* angry—to engage the world in a way that shows that I see & value what that emotion shows I see and value—rather than choose to contribute to the good of "changing minds," something my contribution to which is likely to be completely inconsequenitial no matter what I do or don't say & how I do or don't say it. I do, however, want to engage other people in thoughtful exchange – because that just is what I want to do, and because if they engage me that way, then I ought to reciprocate. My sarcasm – and my condemnation of those who can understand me to be commenting on their engagement with the issues – are likely to piss off people who maybe I otherwise could have engage thoughtfully. That’s a cost – and that I have to weight against whatever benefit being publicly angry conferred on me. Right now, that benefit seems smaller than I thought it would be and the cost clearer & higher than it occurred to me at the time.

I apologize for causing foreseeable insult to you & people as undeserving of insult as you.

But I am still angry.

January 8, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

“..3. On sarcasm: I’m angry, particularly b/c I see all around me what strike me as sanctimonious people simultaneously claiming to be concerned about suffering while ignoring it, claiming to rely on collective knowledge while abusing it…”

Dan, welcome to politics.

What you wrote applies to global warming, guns and violence, genetic modification, and a host of other “hot button” political issues.

When I went back to school for my MPA, “hot button politics” was emphasized throughout the Public Admin and Poli Sci classes. Find the “hot button” to fire up the base and the base will turn out to vote and give money to a MUCH higher degree than if one sticks to “boring” issues of government. If one was to be successful in Public Admin and Politics, one must be able to recognize the “hot buttons” and must be able to either defuse the heat from the “hot buttons” or fan the flames.

Private organizations ride the coattails of the “hot buttons” to increase funding, so tend to be in front of most politicians and fanning the heat of the “hot buttons” as they do not have to govern, just collect the check.

January 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Talking about "hot buttons"...GMOs affect penis size.,......

Professor John Vandermeer challenges environmentalist Mark Lynas on GMOs
http://www.foodfirst.org/en/GMO+uproar+in+EU

"...He [ Mark Lynas ] will discover that a bunch of scientific studies have linked Glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup) to endocrine disruption and he will come to realize that endocrine disruption can sometimes have negative consequences, things like birth defects and cancer, and I can’t wait to see his response to the well-know effects on penises..."

January 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Dan -

Wow. Thanks for that thorough response. I don't have the time now to do it justice, but will get to it soon. For now, I will just say that I see no insult. AFAIC, it isn't possible to insult someone over the Internet. This is a forum for the exploration of ideas. I don't feel that anyone who doesn't know me, hasn't ever met me, can insult me; but in particular, I would never take insult from someone exploring ideas in good faith. In some ways, the distance of Internet engagement has the upside of allowing more freedom to explore our thoughts (as compared to direct dialog), it is a shame to waste that advantage by being thin-skinned. People take this shit way to seriously, IMO. This is about dialog.

January 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan - (Non-buggered formatting version)

Anyone concerned with gun homicides should be expected to recognize that changing the drug laws would do more to reduce them than any of the possible gun control or de-control measures now being advanced by those on both sides of gun debate.

Two objections: (1) Recognizing the possible impact of changing drug laws on gun homicides is not a necessary condition for being concerned with gun homicides. One would hope that people would be open to discussing the various aspects of the debate, but it seems to me to be presumptuous of you to assert what anyone concerned with gun homicides should or should be expected to recognize. You are asserting a lock tight cause-and-effect outcome from a policy change which, I think, is not adequately substantiated (I say that as someone who would support such changes and thinks they would have the effect you assert). (2) I would imagine that there might be some who would welcome a reduction in gun violence resulting from changing drug laws but who are deeply concerned about other ramifications of such changes. You seem to be ignoring that reality. You might not share such concerns, but that doesn't make them go away or make them any less impactful in how other people view this issue.

(b) Not recognizing this --not seeing that drug law reform should be included in a discussion of gun homicides -- is a predictable consequence of the impact that antagonistic social meanings have in narrowing attention & distorting processing of information.

(emphasis mine) To some extent I agree. Although I think that some resistance to a more-or-less blanket dismissal of changing drug laws does not come directly from "antagonistic social meanings." For some people, changing drug laws is a non-starter because of basic ideological premises that, IMO, are not properly described as "antagonistic social meanings."

When this happens, people who are politically ordinary—who aren’t “doctrainaire,” “dogmatic,” “zealous,” “ideologues” –get turned into cultural zealots.

I completely agree. This is the "crux of the biscuit," as Zappa would say.

(d) Libertarians & socialists—wqho tend to be ridiculed as zealoius ideologues etc.—actually furnish us an example here of what things might look like if we could dispel the self-deception & engage the problemm thoughtfully: they are able to agree on the facts and thus on the solution to a problem they both care about despite being 180 degrees apart ideologically.

Hmm. This suggests to me that you are somehow saying that Libertarians and socialists who advocate changing drug laws are doing so from a clear-eyed and completely rational weighing of the evidence, completely free from "antagonistic social meanings" and a lack of self-deception, dogmatism, zealousness, etc. I doubt that! They are advocating a social policy in conformance with their motivated reasoning - just like anyone else. That their advocated-for policy is in agreement with yours does not, certainly in a blanket sense, does not tell us anything about how to objectively measure the degree to which something like self-deception influences their reasoning. I view their agreement on this issue as more-or-less coincidental, not as somehow verification of a lack of motivated reasoning. IMO, such a control for motivated reasoning, to the extent it can me manifest, only comes through a deliberative process.


So I don't feel that I'm criticizing people for holding positoins; I'm crticizing them for deficits in reflection & perception -- and why and when it's correct to make moral judgments about people for such deficits are issues that I acknowledge are filled w/ complexity.

Yes. It is complex. I think it is difficult to ascertain where someone's opinions are reflective of deficits in reflection and perception. Such determinations are highly influenced by our own deficits in reflection and perception as a first order effect.

... I see all around me what strike me as sanctimonious people simultaneously claiming to be concerned about suffering while ignoring it, claiming to rely on the best available evidence while abusing it.

Again, that is an rather extreme claim, IMO. One can be sanctimonious about these issues without being guilty of ignoring suffering. One can even be "wrongly" convinced they are relying on the "best available evidence" while in effect abusing it - but I have to go with "best available" as being problematically subjective.

There was a bit on the radio today about "smart gun" laws in NJ - which legislate a requirement that sensor on handguns limit their usage to only registered owners (they went on the books some 10 years ago). For some reason I didn't quite get - there is some snag in the laws that have prevented them from being enforced in any meaningful way. It seems to me that the "smart gun" technology is very promising - but the researchers involved seem to have mostly given up because of the polemics on both sides. I am not diminishing the counterproductive impact of "motivated reasoning" on the gun debate - and the extent to which a poor approach to evidence is the tool of biased analysis.

January 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

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