Home > Politics (general) > An inconvenient gun fact for Nicholas Kristof, and David Leyonjhelm

An inconvenient gun fact for Nicholas Kristof, and David Leyonjhelm

January 17th, 2016

Nicholas Kristof has a column in the NY Times, headlined Some Inconvenient Gun Facts for Liberals . The headline, though presumably not chosen by Kristof, is a pretty accurate summary of the article, which berates liberals for proposing various ineffectual gun control measures, and concludes:

Let’s make America’s gun battles less ideological and more driven by evidence of what works.

If Kristof wants to be taken seriously, he ought to acknowledge the actual evidence of what works, namely, measures that drastically reduce the number of guns and restrict their availability. I discussed the evidence a bit more in this post, with links.

Of course, such measures aren’t politically feasible in the US, and have to be disavowed by politicians seeking even limited progress. But if Kristof started by admitting this, he’d end up with a very different analysis than the one he’s putting forward. The primary criterion for any gun control policy in the US has to be to maximize the ratio of long-term harm reduction to political cost. I don’t have any particularly good ideas about political strategies. Still, it’s clear that Kristof’s operating assumption that sweet reason will be sufficient, or even helpful, is way off the mark.

In the Australian context, it’s notable that the only people who deny the obvious facts about gun control are those who have a strong ideological or personal motive for doing so. It’s scarcely surprising that gun enthusiasts want to resist any measures that would inconvenience them, and are willing to employ spurious arguments to do so – that’s true for just about any group.

What’s more striking is the attitude of David Leyonjhelm, the Senate representative of the Liberal Democratic Party. When dealing with something he doesn’t like, such as wind turbines, he’s willing to accept utterly bogus claims of health risks. When it’s something he likes, such as guns whose only purpose is to kill, he’s just as happy to reject the evidence.

Unfortunately, this combination of attitudes is very common among self-described libertarians. The implication is that, as a libertarian, you can oppose any government restriction you dislike, while supporting any you favor – you just need to make up your own facts.

Categories: Politics (general) Tags:
  1. GrueBleen
    January 17th, 2016 at 16:39 | #1

    ” Kristof’s operating assumption that sweet reason will be sufficient, ”

    Aah, epistemic closure version 3765 (or thereabouts).

  2. Ikonoclast
    January 17th, 2016 at 16:47 | #2

    The two most dangerous inventions:- gods and guns.

  3. Ken_L
    January 17th, 2016 at 17:44 | #3

    American liberals should either openly campaign for the repeal of the 2nd amendment and/or the appointment of Supreme Court judges who will interpret it in the context of some more recent era than the 18th century, or just shut up about guns altogether. The same arguments from both sides have been trotted out every few weeks over the last few years, everyone knows them by heart together with the ritualised rebuttals, so that it’s become a meaningless call and response in which nobody is remotely willing to consider shifting position.

    If they’re not prepared to do a health care and force a radical change by brutal weight of numbers – assuming they can muster them – then just accept that 30,000 Americans will be killed by guns every year and it’s the price the country pays to let right-wingers cuddle their deadly toys while they dream of resisting a tyrannical government. The Groundhog Day “debates” after every mass shooting have become boring beyond description.

  4. James
    January 17th, 2016 at 21:20 | #4

    I still think compulsory third party insurance for gun owners is the way forward. To misquote the Google definition for motor vehicles: ‘It indemnifies firearm owners who are legally liable for personal injury to another party in the event of a firearm event’. Would cover all non-military firearms, including law enforcement.

    As for Senator Leyonjhelm, sure he has some wacky ideas, but if one is looking for evidence based policy and outstanding political acumen in implementing such policy then I would conjecture that the senator probably sits somewhere near the middle of the bell curve as far as Australian politics is concerned.

  5. Sancho
    January 17th, 2016 at 22:11 | #5

    I’m a minor war nerd and I’ve spent a fair bit of time around gun-oriented bits of the internet.

    From what I’ve seen, Australians who want laxer gun laws are generally young Tories in a libertarian phase who think firearmds would be fun toys to collect, or full-on conspiracy theorists who believe, with all sincerity, that John Howard was a leftist plant working for the UN with the sole mission of implementing gun control.

    We don’t really have the sort of jingo fantasist that America hosts by the million, but only because the political ecosystem can’t sustain them.

  6. Luke Elford
    January 17th, 2016 at 22:34 | #6

    “I don’t have any particularly good ideas about political strategies.”

    Here’s my half-baked analysis and suggestion.

    Opposition to gun control is emphasised by Republicans because it’s an issue which pushes the buttons of authoritarian followers, who live their lives terrified by other people and the world in general. Their political support can then be relied upon to enact policies which further enrich the one percent. This strategy has obvious synergies with the use of racism to exploit the ethnocentrism of authoritarian followers.

    The first response should be to emphasise the fact that the world is not, on the whole, a dangerous place and is generally becoming safer over time. Kristof suggests that a falling gun homicide rate is an inconvenient fact for liberals seeking tighter gun controls, perhaps because he is too stupid to understand multivariate relationships and the concept of ceteris paribus. But less crime means less reason to keep a gun for self-defence.

    Obama has repeatedly stressed that the world is safe and becoming safer. Republicans respond with their fear-mongering, of course, but it’s a message he should keep repeating.

    The second response is to exploit authoritarian followers’ disposition towards fear by emphasising the suicide risk associated with guns, as mentioned in the Leigh article. His line ‘the person most likely to kill you with a gun is yourself’ is very effective.

  7. James Wimberley
    January 17th, 2016 at 23:51 | #7

    Obama floated the idea of adding IT to guns so that they are technically locked to a registered owner. This looks clever politics to me – I have no standing on the technical feasibility. Gun manufacturers make up a significant part of the NRA’s funding. Their interest is in selling new guns. The huge existing stock of guns in the USA, and their very long usable life, are bugs not features to gunmakers. It would be a bonus to them to force a large buyback or surrender of old guns not compliant with a new standard. This fits in with Obama’s salami tactics on ACA and the CPP: he bought the acquiescence of Big Pharma and the electric utilities respectively by strategic concessions.

    A more progressive approach to the gun manufacturer problem is nationalisation. This would loosely follow the example of the successful de-gunning of Japan by the Tokugawa shoguns in the 17th century, first making the musket-makers move to Edo close to the court, then whittling away their number.

  8. James Wimberley
    January 17th, 2016 at 23:59 | #8

    It is legal in most US states to buy a .50″ calibre military sniper rifle. With high muzzle velocities and a heavy bullet, these are accurate up to a mile: the assassin’s perfect weapon. The explosive armour-piercing ammunition (such has the Norwegian Raufoss round) available to the military is illegal for US civilians, but many gun nuts would be capable of making a working approximation at home, good for taking down a helicopter. It’s only a matter of time before there is a horrible incident. There are of course barriers of cost (the Barrett costs ca. $8,000) and skill.

  9. January 18th, 2016 at 01:16 | #9

    The state of California banned .50 calibre rifles. As a result of this ban, good old American ingenuity has resulted in .51 calbre rifles being sold in California. I would say this suggests that California has extremely stupid lawmakers, but in America, when it comes to guns, I have learned to never posit stupidity for something that can be explained by evil. Repeatedly supposed restrictions on guns only appear to have the purpose of selling more guns or hurting competing gun manufactures.

    Also .416 calibre rifles are sold in California. While considerably lower in power than a .50 calibre rifle, it is still considerably more powerful than what even legitimate hunters of kevlar wearing dinosaurs require. I presume the only reason the President’s helicopter hasn’t been shot down yet is because most of the loonies who think assassinating a President will increase their freedom prefer to talk big than shoot big.

    And really, they are free to buy .416 calibre, .50 calibre, and .51 calibre rifles; so just what extra freedom are they wanting to kill for? The right to buy nerve gas canisters? Tactical nuclear weapons?

  10. Jonathon Tran
    January 18th, 2016 at 03:29 | #10

    I used to support tight gun control but after living in the States for a couple years I changed my mind. Having access to guns for recreational activities like hunting and range shooting was cool. I loved it. Sadly, many cool things like alcohol and cars and step ladders result in deaths, but we don’t ban them. I’m not saying any one else should agree with me. I also accept John’s argument that most people in the pro-gun lobby fudge the figures. I think we all have different risk tolerances; I’m happy to accept that I will have a tiny extra risk of death or injury in exchange for freer gun access.

    At this point people often point to the gun death rate in the US. But once you take black-on-black gun deaths and suicide (free choice) out, the death rate per 100,000 drops to what I would call comfortable range. Compared to things like cancer, it is peanuts.

  11. Moz of Yarramulla
    January 18th, 2016 at 07:08 | #11

    Jonathon Tran :
    I used to support tight gun control but after living in the States for a couple years I changed my mind. … once you take black-on-black gun deaths and suicide (free choice) out, the death rate per 100,000 drops to what I would call comfortable range.

    That’s perhaps more revealing than you intended. Did you think black people shouldn’t count before you went to the US?

  12. jon tran
    January 18th, 2016 at 08:03 | #12

    Moz, I’m sorry for my words were too big for you to understand. I’m making an argument for Australia, which doesn’t have an analogous minority of a similar size (approx 12% US population) with a high rate of violence. That is why I mentioned it. My surname should give away my own minority ethnic status, which in the US has an even lower gun violence rate than whites, by a considerable margin.

    I have no interest in discussing US black-on-black gun crime as it has no relevance to Australia other than to thwart what may be your next gambit, which is to say the issue is one of poverty not ethnic subculture. If so I suggest you look at gun death rates in the 98% white Appalachian counties that have mean disposable incomes in the bottom 5% for the US. Some white folk in Appalachia are so poor they don’t have running water or electricity and drugs are a big problem but the gun death rate is relatively low. Since I’m bound to be trolled further by things like Moz I’ll leave you’ll too it. Take care.

  13. Ikonoclast
    January 18th, 2016 at 08:23 | #13

    Fortunately, the civilian gun problem is not like the CO2e problem. When it comes to guns, I can ignore the general US position on this issue and just be thankful Australia has more sensible gun laws. The people of the USA have to sort this out… or not. It’s their problem, not mine, and there is no way I can conceivably help them.

    I am sure this has been said before. The genesis of the US gun problem is the wars on its own soil. First, the War of Independence and then the Civil War. Along with the frontier or Indian Wars and border wars with both Mexico and British Canada, this normalised gun violence as THE way to solve problems. It also desensitised American culture to gun violence at a fundamental and continuous level. The US is a culture which glorifies war, guns and violence in totality. It is a central part of their national psyche. Feeding into their gun fundamentalism and being fed by it in turn is their right-wing religious and political fundamentalism. The problem is so deeply rooted it is simply never going away under current conditions.

    The USA is large enough, extensive enough and diverse enough to consist of several major culture types simultaneously. Thus it is possible to say the USA is a Warrior Culture without precluding that it is or has other cultures too. However, being a Warrior Culture is one of the central pillars of US society and state. It is a profoundly different state and society from Australia in that respect. The sharing of language and broad economic system with Australia is superficial by comparison. I also exclude political systems as any point of similarity. Australia is a representative democracy, albeit a bourgeois (capitalist) one. The USA is an oligarchic republic. Its constitution and systems of government are expressly and carefully designed to keep power from working and poor people and retain real power only for the capitalist, propertied and rentier class(es).

    The USA is a capitalist warrior culture committed to maintaining and augmenting its own wealth and rights to the exclusion of all others and all else. A lot of other things would have to change first before its attitude to guns and force in the military and civilian contexts changed. Gun control in the US is a lost cause until and when their culture is completely transformed in other, fundamental ways. I can’t see that happening in the next 30 years at least.

  14. January 18th, 2016 at 10:25 | #14

    “However, being a Warrior Culture is one of the central pillars of US society….” Given that US culture feeds directly into Australian culture, we should note that Australian entertainment culture is just as prone as US to go gaga about handguns. Our difficulty with maintaining a genre ilm industry arises largely out of the fact that Australian frontiersmen didn’t carry revolvers. My generation, however, where playing cowboys and indians was universal (don’t see it much in the streets now), didn’t shoot many more people than the current generation. Perhaps guns are like religions; the difference between us and the US isn’t so much that more people there than here believe in them, it’s that Australians feel very much less pressure to change their behaviour to conform to their nominal beliefs.

  15. GrueBleen
    January 18th, 2016 at 13:11 | #15

    @jon tran

    Just before you “leave you’ll too it” Jon, perhaps you could advise on this:
    “Having access to guns for recreational activities like hunting and range shooting was cool. I loved it.”

    Are you saying that you couldn’t get access to firearms in Australia for “hunting and range shooting” ? What was the problem – were you prevented by Australia’s overly strict laws on gun ownership or what ?

    There are several people I know who own and regularly use firearms for hunting and range shooting, so what prevented you ?

  16. jungney
    January 18th, 2016 at 16:38 | #16

    Basically, I agree except that there are other dimensions to how effed the place is. Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that the US economy is built on, get this, the bodies of African-Americans, as a mineable or exploitable resource (gaols, cheap/slave labour etc). His magnificent, thunderous prose brooks little to no argument. Highly recommended for a contemporary black take on the US. Watch that space. He thinks that the moment of peaceful civil rights style of protest is over because the bare bones of the killing machine, for black bodies, of Afro-Americans has been exposed and it is now understood that decency has been abandoned, that war is being conducted already, in fact it never stopped, and that the only reason we don’t recognise the war is that, so far, it is only that blacks are being killed.

  17. James Wimberley
    January 18th, 2016 at 21:07 | #17

    @Ronald Brak : I avoided mentioning your examples in a possibly vain attempt to keep off NSA watch lists.

  18. Ikonoclast
    January 19th, 2016 at 06:19 | #18

    Reply to ChrisB and jungney,

    I also belong to the generation that played cowboys and indians as kids. The thing is we did not see guns as toys. We saw toy guns as toys. Even as 6 year olds we knew the difference between toys, serious objects and toys of serious objects. We knew our toy cars were toys too. The thing we didn’t see as kids was our parents and other adults gloating over real guns, taking us to gun shows, taking us to gun ranges or to the country to blast wildlife for entertainment. IIRC my father and my uncle permitted me to fire a .22 at a makeshift target on my uncle’s farm when I was about 12 to 14. The way they instructed me, their seriousness and the very limited shots permitted impressed the seriousness and danger on me. My uncle owned the weapon as a farmer (for vermin and injured stock). My father was a WW2 veteran.

    As children we take our attitudes about real things and real matters from our parents, teachers and exemplars. A large swathe of US culture and US adults worships real guns and the power they feel, or think they feel, when they handle one. This is the “attitude field” that US children grow up in. An “attitude field” is kinda like a magnetic field. The filings (kids) mostly align and line up in the force field .

    I agree with jungney. There are many other reasons too that the US has deep-seated problems. Attitudes to guns are just one part of the deep, extensive, complex and connected cultural field of US culture. There are a great many aspects to the oligarchic, patriarchal, racist and violent attitudes and the way they intersect with religious fundamentalism, self-righteousness, entitlement and so on.

    Australia and Australians are far from perfect too. Our continuing racism towards aboriginals and immigrants has been and is a disgrace, for example. We are less skewed towards oligarchic power and far less religious. Being much less religious is a key factor in my opinion. I think this is THE key factor and force for good in making us a genuinely secular and humanist nation. I agree with ChrisB: “Australians feel very much less pressure to change their behaviour to conform to their nominal beliefs.” This perhaps means that the normative pressure from outside individuals here is less or felt less for some reason.

  19. John Quiggin
    January 19th, 2016 at 08:37 | #19

    I’ll leave you’ll too it.

    Jon Tran, I think you’ve done a more than adequate job in demonstrating the link between racism and pro-gun attitudes. So I’m taking you at your word and will delete anything further from you.

  20. J-D
    January 19th, 2016 at 11:50 | #20


    The effective tactic for changing the composition of the Supreme Court is not to campaign around nominations for the Supreme Court but to campaign around Presidential elections and also (less critically) around Senate elections. If the next nominations to the Supreme Court are made by a Republican President, the nominees are extremely likely to have significantly different positions on a range of issues, including the Second Amendment, from the positions held by the nominees if the next nominations are made by a Democratic President; a Senate with a majority of the opposing party is likely to have some counterbalancing effect.

  21. TerjeP
    January 21st, 2016 at 07:51 | #21

    What’s more striking is the attitude of David Leyonjhelm, the Senate representative of the Liberal Democratic Party. When dealing with something he doesn’t like, such as wind turbines, he’s willing to accept utterly bogus claims of health risks.

    I’m not sure which bogus claims you are so sure he has accepted. What he has done is get the government to formally respond to complaints about wind farms. Given that they are built off the back of government mandates it’s the least they can do.

    As for firearms we have debated this before. I don’t think you’ve added anything new here. You’ve looked at the arguments you like, declared them to be facts, and moved on.

  22. BilB
    January 21st, 2016 at 08:42 | #22

    One rock solid claim of the gun lobby is that guns “make people safe”. The reality is that they never actually do that. In all of the US massacres I am struggling to remember a single event where a member of the public pulled a gun and prevented a death. Massacres are essentially ambushes and surprise attacks for which the public is neither trained, equipped or psychologically organised to deal with. Where attacks are thwarted it is usually achieved be several people wrestling an aggressor to the ground.

    What looms loudest in the gun lobby’s mind is the Clint Eastwood style standoff where someone is saying “get off of mah property of I’ll blast yaw to kingdom come” typified in the promotional spiel for the FMG9


    Yes indeed, “get down to business!!” The business of blowing your neighbour away.

    And then there is the other one where they claim that every American has the right to hunt for their food. The fact with that one is that if every American shot an animal a day for a week there would be no animals left in the entire county larger than a rat. It is all just a bit paranoid and sick (in the original sense), and probably the consequence of way too much Liberty.

  23. Ikonoclast
    January 21st, 2016 at 09:04 | #23

    TerjeP is arguing that had he been in the Lindt Cafe and permitted a concealed-carry handgun;

    (a) he would have been carrying a gun;
    (b) he would have been a practiced shooter;
    (c he would got close enough to the perp to set up a safe shot;
    (d) he would have had the courage to draw the gun;
    (e) he would have had a steady enough hand to aim the gun;
    (f) he would have hit the perp with one or more shots;
    (g) he would have avoided hitting anyone else with shots;
    (g) he would have been prepared to continue his shots to the perp’s death or immobility.
    (h) he would have walked away and lived without psychological after-affects.

    I wonder TerjeP, do you think all the above (close quarters combat after being ambushed) is easy to do? You must be a returned Vet with a VC and no PTSD. If not your position is hot air.

  24. John Quiggin
    January 21st, 2016 at 09:22 | #24

    Terje is giving a neat illustration of the final point in the post: being a libertarian is easy if you get to make up your own facts.

    Leaving aside the gun nonsense, the fact that wind farms are associated with an interventionist policy Terje dislikes justifies, in his mind, making stuff up. Conversely, overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change is rejected if a handful of hacks disagree.

    And, as self-described libertarians go, Terje is open-minded and reasonable. You only have to look a the comments section of any libertarian site to see what I mean.

  25. Ikonoclast
    January 21st, 2016 at 11:21 | #25

    Yes, looking at a Libertarian website is terrifying. One can only hope that a certain natural force will deal with big “L” Libertarianism.

    To demonstrate. I once related to my medical doctor brother a news story about a punk headbanger who headbang-danced all night and died the next day or so from brain swelling basically (brain bruising from repeated shaking trauma). My brother tersely replied, “Natural selection.”

    Libertarian policies are so stupid, that if enacted in full, they and, a lot of innocent people unfortunately, will die in droves.

  26. TerjeP
    January 21st, 2016 at 12:19 | #26

    BilB asserted some things as if they are facts. For instance it is suggested that nobody is ever saved or no killing ever prevented due to somebody having a firearm. Obviously you can’t look at a particular massacre and claim that it was prevented by any measure. By definition it wasn’t prevented. The perpetrator was not deterred. But there are certainly plenty of cases where thugs have been chased off or even shot and stopped by private citizens with guns. If you start from the position that this never happens you’ve given up on facts.

    Guns will sometimes save innocent lives. They will sometimes take innocent lives. Neither of those statements should be in dispute. If they are then there is no point continuing the discussion.

    The public policy question out to be about the balance between those two things and what measures can make a meaningful difference in altering the balance.

    For what it’s worth my personal view is that people should be allowed to own firearms, including for self defence. They should be allowed to carry them securely in public. However there should be some exceptions based on people’s background (violent past, unsound mind). The way to administer that process is with a system of licensing with background checks and a mandate for basic safety training. None of those measures are incompatible with the policy position of the Australian Liberal Democrats.

    Once people are allowed to have firearm the discussion of what sort or what quantity is kind of pointless in my view. Two hands can only handle two firearms and you can do lots of lethal damage with the most basic of firearms if that is your intent.

    JQ says it is a fact that less weapons in society means less violence. If that is a proven fact, and he can establish that laws can achieve such a reduction, then he ought to just beat that drum. Good luck. Without cherry picking the data I don’t think any such proof is possible.

    On the flip side claims that more firearms mean less violence are also unprovable without cherry picking what you look at.

    Should we compare all nations, OECD nations, US states or something else? Should we look at total homicide, firearm homicide, or some wider definition of violence. Do we look at massacres and how do we define a massacre? Is it four dead or four shot or the current vogue of two dead.

    We can look at data and agree on some facts. But simplifications such as “banning guns makes us safer in all times and places” or “liberalising gun laws make us safer in all times and places” will always be contestable claims. They are not facts. And if you think they are then you are bonkers.

  27. January 21st, 2016 at 12:44 | #27

    I know a Japanese dude who recently moved to Alabama. He is living in a share house with an Alabaman dude who is big into hunting. The dude has 5 guns, which he keeps in an unlocked cupboard accessible only through my friend’s room. Every time he wants to go huntin’ he has to knock on my friend’s door to get the guns. Which are unlocked.

    My friend is Japanese, so knows nothing about guns. It’s perfectly possible that, knowing nothing about guns, he would take them out to play with them and accidentally shoot someone. It’s also perfeclty possible that he knows a lot about guns, gets drunk and angry one night and just pulls one out of the cupboard and gets to work. Or that he has a drunken party and his friends just find the guns and start foolin’ around.

    This is a responsible American gun-owner’s approach to guns: keep them in an unlocked cupboard in the boarder’s room, without any knowledge about whether that boarder or his friends are unstable, dangerous or ignorant.

    No debate could be complete without this contribution from the Daily Show on how to be a “good guy with a gun”.

  28. Ikonoclast
    January 21st, 2016 at 13:14 | #28

    “Banning guns makes us safer in all times and places” is a straw man argument.

    Strongly restricting ownership of guns, physical possession of guns and carrying of guns in civil life in public and domestic contexts demonstrably makes most of us safer, most of the time in most places. The data on this is very clear to all but complete deniers of the extensive, statistically valid data.

    If most or even a significant minority of civilians carry arms in civilian life then the civil field becomes in potential a martial field. There is an evocative passage in Tolstoy’s War and Peace where he describes what it is like to leave civil life and become a soldier. In particular he mentions how roads, buildings and houses with their hearths become not places of every day life, of travel, commerce and domestic comfort; instead they become routes of attack and retreat and “ambush positions”. That is already the way some suburbs are in the USA and have been for some time.


  29. January 21st, 2016 at 14:52 | #29

    Come on, Terje’s just trolling. Don’t enable him.

  30. J-D
    January 21st, 2016 at 15:04 | #30


    It looks as if you’re saying that public policy decisions about what restrictions (if any) with which to encumber gun ownership should be based on evidence about what measures are likely to make us (on balance) safer and what measures are likely to make us (on balance) less safe.

    But it also look as if you’re saying that it’s impossible to tell whether any such decision/measure is likely to make us (on balance) safer or less safe.

    And if you’re saying both those things it looks as if you’re contradicting yourself, on the principle that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’.

  31. TerjeP
    January 21st, 2016 at 16:56 | #31


    When courts deny individuals of liberty they do so on the basis of evidence with a presumption in favour of the individual remaining free. In my view public policy makers should likewise place the onus of proof on those that would restrict or reduce liberty. So if you want restrictive gun laws you need good evidence. If the evidence is flaky or indeterminate then freedom should prevail. When it comes to most aspects of firearms regulation I think the evidence is indeterminate. There is some data that shows that widespread ownership of firearms reduces crimes. And other data that shows otherwise. JQ likes to stamp his foot and claim the facts are settled but I call bullshit. The facts are not clear cut at all. The only way you can get a clear picture that suits the agenda of JQ is with cherry picking. But he will bang on that I’m just in denial and of course he is allowed to carry on like that if it makes him feel good. Lots of people like him pick the data they prefer and declare it as the final fact of the matter. I think it’s rather arrogant but lots of people are very sure of themselves so it’s hardly unique.

    There are areas of public policy where the evidence is pretty clear cut and mostly undisputed. For instance the data around seat belts making car passengers safer is generally undisputed. Of course there is a separate issue then around personal choice. The doctor does not operate to save the patience life if the patient does not give consent. Public policy makers should also keep that principle in mind.

    Another example would be drunk driving. It’s pretty clear that driving drunk imposes a significant risk to the safety of others. So making it illegal to drive a car on a public road whilst intoxicated is uncontroversial.

    There are such instances where the evidence is clear and people agree to restrict liberty. But there are times when the evidence is not clear and we should presume in favour of liberty.

  32. TerjeP
    January 22nd, 2016 at 00:27 | #32

    p.s. I decided to try and follow all the links in JQs blog post in case the valuable “facts” he keeps talking about were hidden down one of those rabit holes. Nope. It’s mostly just more arguments by jQ with no data sets or anything substantially beyond strong assertions. Strong assertions are not facts. JQ is entitled to his personal opinions (hey we all have them) but should not be citing his own opinions as facts.

  33. Collin Street
    January 22nd, 2016 at 06:44 | #33

    > Come on, Terje’s just trolling. Don’t enable him.

    Or he could be acting in genuine good faith.

    Here, look. This is randomly grabbed, but it’s pretty typical.

    JQ says it is a fact that less weapons in society means less violence. If that is a proven fact, and he can establish that laws can achieve such a reduction, then he ought to just beat that drum. Good luck. Without cherry picking the data I don’t think any such proof is possible.

    On the flip side claims that more firearms mean less violence are also unprovable without cherry picking what you look at.

    Note the shift between the last sentence of the first paragraph — “I don’t think you can do this” — and the next sentence — “consequently you cannot do this either”. Normal people don’t write like this; they know the difference between what they know to be true, what they’ve concluded, and what they’ve assumed, and — because language derives from thought — this difference is reflected in the language they use.

    Things like people tagging stuff. “If so”, or “thus”. Sure, not all the time, and I’ve only cited one example, but… you look closely, and most of what Terje writes is structured like it; there’s a whole sort of general “what I think is right” mish-mash, and another one for “what I think is wrong”, and within each category knowledge, supposition, and assumption are all jumbled together, there’s no trace of the distinction that you’d normally expect. People don’t fake this sort of thing; they don’t by-and-large know they do it, so they can’t control doing it differently, and in any case there doesn’t seem to be any plausible motivation for faking being a crazy person.

  34. Ikonoclast
    January 22nd, 2016 at 07:20 | #34

    I don’t think TerjeP is trolling. I think he genuinely believes what he writes. He is also doing something I would not be willing to do. He is posting ideas on a blog where he knows he will be in tiny minority, very likely a minority of one. I would not post on a Libertarian blog. I know it would do no good.

    Two person’s ideas seem to need to be within a certain distance of each other’s, otherwise there is no common ground for debate at all. There needs to be common ground somewhere, even it is simply an agreement on what constitutes reasonably reliable facts and how facts can be validly marshaled in debate (used logically). If there is not that common ground then debate is fruitless.

    All of the above does not mean I resist the temptation to debate TerjeP on this blog. I am not that sensible and restrained. However, I have the sense to not go seeking debate on Libertarian sites.

  35. BilB
    January 22nd, 2016 at 07:40 | #35

    I don’t have that restraint, Ikonoclast, and consequently have been banned from three Libertarian sites. Libertarians don’t really believe in Liberty.

  36. TerjeP
    January 22nd, 2016 at 07:45 | #36

    I have a comment up thread that is stuck in moderation.

  37. Ikonoclast
    January 22nd, 2016 at 08:08 | #37

    If I were to conduct a study on small arms versus gun-related deaths (which I am not) I think the following method would be most valid. However, the data collection or data estimates would almost certainly be impossibly difficult.

    The first thing to do would be to compare the two (small arms numbers and gun-related deaths) globally and then country by country. Initially one should make no assumptions and no other data divisions. Thus, gun deaths would be compared to extant numbers of firearms with absolutely no consideration of who owned these firearms (civilian or military), no consideration of peace zones and war zones, and no consideration of whether these firearms were “in circulation” or in long term storage.

    Then one step at a time, make one assumption and then break the data down according to that assumption. Thus an assumption would be made that long-term storage/stockpiling of weapons (usually by military) could have an effect. The next assumption might involve a divisions into war zones (including civil wars) and peace zones. Of course, you would need explicit definitions for these characterisations. The third parameter would probably be military firearms versus civilian owned firearms. Then one continues with finer and finer divisions. Finally, divisions would include categories that involved socio-economic factors.

    All of this retained in a database would mean you could iteratively search every possible permutation of categorisations, solo and in combination. The automated, iterative search would find the correlation coefficient for all combinations. Of course this would be an enormous research process and would require a large database. Ultimately, it would be the only scientific way to decide the question, albeit it would be subject to data collection problems (probably relying on national data, UN estimates etc.) and categorisation problems.

  38. TerjeP
    January 22nd, 2016 at 09:12 | #38

    If reatrictive guns laws lead to less gun related deaths, but more deaths over all, would you consider it a success?

    Secondly point. A country might have very few guns because people are banned from having them. Another country might have very few guns because there is very little crime and people just don’t feel much need for having a gun. One is a product of policy. The other is a product of circumstance. Simply comparing gun numbers does not let you make conclusions about policy. Built into your methodology is an assumption about causation. You assume from the outset that low rates of gun ownership are a product of policy and any crime figure is a product of that policy. When in fact it could be the other way around in that crime rates influence gun ownership.

    If you genuinely want to prove things one way or the other you need to revise your methodology.

  39. J-D
    January 22nd, 2016 at 09:40 | #39


    ‘If reatrictive guns laws lead to less gun related deaths, but more deaths over all, would you consider it a success?’

    If relaxing restrictions on the ownership of guns causes the moon to fall out of the sky, would you consider that a success?

  40. TerjeP
    January 22nd, 2016 at 18:40 | #40

    No. I like the moon being in the sky.

    I take it you don’t think guns can reduce crime. Okay then you can start with that hypothesis. But if you embed that assumption into your methodology then you’re not actually fair dinkum about testing your hypothesis. Your just interested in making a circular argument with statistics for garnish.

  41. Ikonoclast
    January 22nd, 2016 at 19:45 | #41


    No, I did not assume anything at the outset. I only “assumed” guns cause gun-related deaths. This an axiom of course, not an assumption. It is axiomatic by definition that guns cause gun-related deaths.

    Then I suggested with all the data in hand, globally and then country by country, one could start making “assumptions” (I should have said hypotheses) about what causal connections might exist. The method would be to makes multiple hypotheses of correlation and then test them individually and in combination in the data base via gathering the new necessary data and analysing it. One would eventually get some correlations. Further work would be needed after this to determine if correlations are the result of causation (in either direction). This is where the method no doubt gets tricky and is beyond my educational “pay-grade”.

    How would restrictive gun laws lead to less gun deaths but more deaths overall? I know this is theoretically possible but I find it hard to imagine a real mechanism or series of social causation that would lead to this outcome in practice. Perhaps you can suggest a way this unlikely outcome could eventuate.

    You also say, “A country might have very few guns because people are banned from having them…. (This) is a product of policy.” Correct. So far I agree.

    Then you say; “Another country might have very few guns because there is very little crime and people just don’t feel much need for having a gun… This is a product of circumstance.”

    Well…, correct but only because “circumstance” is such a broad and fuzzy definition. The circumstance might be that low crime is the outcome of policy and then people feel little need to own a gun.

    Thus both could be policy outcomes but you simply assumed that the second could never be a policy outcome but just an outcome of broad and undefined “circumstance”.

  42. TerjeP
    January 23rd, 2016 at 08:26 | #42

    How would restrictive gun laws lead to less gun deaths but more deaths overall? I know this is theoretically possible but I find it hard to imagine a real mechanism or series of social causation that would lead to this outcome in practice. Perhaps you can suggest a way this unlikely outcome could eventuate.

    Restrictive gun laws might lead to not only more deaths overall but also more gun deaths specifically. It may depend on the nature of the “restrictive gun laws”. I accept that you have difficulty seeing this possibility. But before dismissing the hypothesis perhaps we could try and envisage some methodology for testing it. One that might let us refute it, confirm it or at least class it as inconclusive but possible.

    In terms of mechanisms the primary one is deterent. It’s the reason nations have armies even if they are not waging a war. Just because you have an army it does not mean you are thinking of invading your neighbours. But likewise if your neighbours are contemplating invading you then the presence of an army gives them a reason to ponder the idea a little harder and perhaps abandon it.

    With personal firearms the deterrence for a criminal is not necessarily just from knowing that a particular target is armed. Merely the risk that they are armed can act as a deterent. So if every tenth person has a concealed firearm it may create a deterence that lowers the rate of victimisation for everybody. Of course there is an influence running the other way which you and JQ point out which is that more firearms means more chance of them being used to victimise others. You have to add up the vectors pulling in different directions to see what the reality is. Just as an airplane is influenced by lift and gravity, thrust and drag, you have to add up the vectors to see the outcome. Of course if you just assume that lift does not exist at all you will never accept that airplanes sometimes fly.

    It’s worth stating that others take the idea seriously. Brazil has very restrictive firearm laws and yet it’s murder rate is more than ten times that of the United States. In contending with this high rate of murder some legislators there have proposed liberalising firearm laws. You may not agree with the idea but they did not arrive at this idea by tossing a coin. They clearly think there are possible mechanisms by which it might make a difference. Of course there are other intelligent people who think it will make things work. What is needed is a hypothesis testing methodology that accounts for both gravity and lift.

  43. totaram
    January 24th, 2016 at 08:26 | #43


    The link is from “ammoland”. No need to say more!

  44. Julie Thomas
    January 24th, 2016 at 09:28 | #44


    Did you know that there is a 17-year-old ban on using any government funds for research into lessening gun violence in the US?

    I’d say the gun nuts in the US support this ban and I’d guess they did not arrive at their decision to support the ban by tossing a coin. What is your hypothesis about this and are you or any other gun nut libertarians funding the research that is needed to ‘prove’ that your beliefs about guns reducing crime are ‘true’.

    Do you think the Brazilian legislators who have suggested liberalising their restrictive gun laws are actually are basing their suggestions for lessening gun violence on some research that they have but are keeping secret?

  45. John Quiggin
    January 24th, 2016 at 09:57 | #45

    Just to repeat myself, Terje, this kind of thing is why (US-style) libertarians have ceased to be taken seriously by anyone. It’s silly enough saying this nonsense in the US, where there is a significant constituency for it. In Australia, it invites, and receives, nothing but derision, even from rightwing papers like the Telegraph


    Here’s a suggestion for how to think about this. Suppose the evidence went the other way: that is, that gun deaths had risen following Howard’s ban, and that all the published analysis was the same, except for the reversal of sign. Suppose further that the US had far lower gun deaths than other countries in the world. Would you be saying that the evidence is inconclusive, more studies are needed, and so on? I doubt it.

  46. TerjeP
    January 24th, 2016 at 10:01 | #46

    Julie – I don’t know much about it but I think the ban only applies to the Centre for Disease Control. Which makes sense given firearms deaths are not a disease.

  47. Ivor
    January 24th, 2016 at 10:45 | #47


    You can get better deterrence by other mechanisms.

    Murders have other causes than guns.

    Brazilian murders would be higher if restrictions were lifted.

  48. John Quiggin
    January 24th, 2016 at 10:57 | #48

    @Terje More silly-clever stuff. Don’t you ever get tired of it?

  49. Ikonoclast
    January 24th, 2016 at 11:07 | #49


    The gun laws are not working in Brazil. The country is awash with guns. Its borders are porous and it manufactures lots of guns itself. It also has major ghetto and drug problems even worse than the states. This is the crux of these problems. Liberalising guns will lead to virtual civil war in Brazil. What liberalising guns means is that you have given up controlling the nation in legal, civil ways and by police / paramilitary means. You then outsource control to civilians all with guns which basically leads to civil war.

    Brazil is a mess. I see no way out for it. Long term I see failed state and collapse. Flooding the country with guns, legal or illegal will accelerate the process.

  50. TerjeP
    January 24th, 2016 at 14:37 | #50

    Ikonoclast – yes you disagree with me. We know that. But what of a methodology that tests the hypothesis. If you simply declare that my side is wrong or invent a methodology that can never test if my side is right then I don’t think you’re genuinely interested in truth. Just sides. 🙁

  51. TerjeP
    January 24th, 2016 at 14:38 | #51

    John Quiggin :
    @Terje More silly-clever stuff. Don’t you ever get tired of it?

    When I get tired of the silly stuff on this site I take a break from it. But occasionally I’m a sucker for punishment and I visit again.

  52. January 24th, 2016 at 15:02 | #52

    TerjeP, you might be surprised to discover that the methodology for proving these things has been developed and used. To quote the suicidals, “Just because you don’t understand it don’t mean it don’t make no sense”. Here is an example of a statistical comparison of mass shootings in NZ and Australia from my blog. It shows that if there are no mass shootings in Australia by 2017 or 2023 (depending on your required degree of rigor) we can conclude that John Howard’s scheme prevented mass shootings.

    I could probably include data from the USA, in which case I’d be able to show without a shadow of a doubt that the gun buyback scheme prevented mass shootings. I’m thinking of updating it from its bodgy current form to a full formal difference-in-difference analysis, but I really don’t think it’s worth it. Everyone knows that controlling gun use reduces gun deaths, which is why all your arguments rely on suppositions and fantastical examples rather than concrete research results.

  53. TerjeP
    January 24th, 2016 at 15:29 | #53

    From your blog:-


    It is not possible to conclude at this stage that the National Firearms Agreement reduced the rate of mass shootings, and we will need a much larger period of study before we can.

    Fair enough. So lets scrap it.

  54. January 24th, 2016 at 16:25 | #54

    You really don’t understand how to assess these things do you TerjeP? The events are rare, so we need long periods of time to study the effect. This isn’t a flaw of the scheme, it’s a simple statistical fact of life. I wrote that post in, what, 2014? We’re one year away from the point where we can conclude an effect. One more year without mass shootings adn we can conclude it had an effect. As I said above, we’d likely be able to get the conclusion sooner if we included a time series of US mass shootings in the data, since that time series would boost the numbers and give a much larger difference in outcome.

    I am not surprised that you would cherry pick the finding and twist the implications. It’s your style, isn’t it?

  55. John Quiggin
    January 24th, 2016 at 16:56 | #55

    As ought to be clear by now, there’s no point debating Terje on anything. His political analysis is the following form, made famous by South Park

    (a) Libertarian policy axioms
    (b) … ???
    (c) Predetermined policy conclusions

    You fill in the dots by inventing whatever facts are needed. If you want to justify the use of deadly force by individuals against others, invent the fact that guns don’t kill people. If you want to stop action on climate change, invent your own climate science. If you want to ban something for culture war reasons, invent science to show that it is harmful.

    Debating the facts is pointless. As shown above, if the facts don’t stand up to statistical scrutiny, you just invent your own statistical theory (see, for example, “no warming for 18 years”)

  56. Ikonoclast
    January 24th, 2016 at 18:36 | #56

    @John Quiggin

    Thanks, that has saved me from gnawing off my typing fingers at the knuckles. It was the only way I was going to stop myself from making a post I would regret.

  57. TerjeP
    January 24th, 2016 at 20:21 | #57

    You fill in the dots by inventing whatever facts are needed.

    You’re the one who calls “debate over” on account of “facts” you invented. All your reference links circle back to earlier opinion pieces by yourself. You’re either blinded by your own arrogance or completely duplicitous. I suspect it’s the former, proped up by echo chambers such as this place. But I don’t rule out the possibility that it’s the latter.

  58. Julie Thomas
    January 25th, 2016 at 07:23 | #58

    This is Terje.
    Terje is a libertarian
    Terje doesn’t know that he has ‘issues’ and personality problems
    Terje thinks other people are the problem
    Terje is an unhappy man
    Don’t be like Terje.

  59. TerjeP
    January 25th, 2016 at 07:30 | #59

    Shall we exchange insults? I thought it was against the rules of the site but maybe the rule expired or some such thing.

  60. Julie Thomas
    January 25th, 2016 at 07:43 | #60


    Hey you talking to me?

    Define insult and then compare and contrast your last comment about “arrogant and/or duplicitious” with my little funny internet thingy – have you been to the site where you can find these silly little funnies?

    And do remember that you can’t sue me because I own nothing; I told you that last time you threatened me. Do you think calling someone like JQ arrogant and/or duplicitious could be an inappropriate thing to do as well as revealing how needy and irritated you are lately?

    What are you doing here? Why not get a life, redeem yourself for your bad choices, concentrate on raising your children better than your were raised and that way we can make all people free.

  61. John Quiggin
    January 25th, 2016 at 08:07 | #61

    Terje, this is a waste of all our time. I previously banned you because you lined up with pro-Pinochet MP Peter Phelps. I’ve seen nothing from you that suggests you have distanced yourself in any way from Phelps, or, for that matter, Pinochet.

    So, in the absence of a statement explicit enough to show that you repudiate both, I’m going to reinstate the ban.

  62. TerjeP
    January 25th, 2016 at 12:45 | #62

    Pinochet I will happily distance myself from. He was brutal and immoral and ultimately a tyrant. But I’ll stand with Phelps regarding his criticism of Allende. It was right to topple Allende. Allende was a criminal who flouted the constitution. He too was a tyrant.

    Thanks for that clarification, and goodbye – JQ

  63. January 25th, 2016 at 16:59 | #63

    Four people were shot in a gun store in the United States in an argument over a $25 fee. The gun store owner and his son were shot dead by their customers: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article56350305.html

    This tragedy does make me wonder how many guns I need to have in the United States before people will be deterred from shooting me. If n represents the number of guns in a gun store then presumably it would have to be at least n+1.

  64. Ikonoclast
    January 25th, 2016 at 17:39 | #64

    @Ronald Brak

    I agree, that sums it up.

    It seems to me that any country could be said to have a good civil order situation (say Japan) or a bad civil order situation (say Brazil) if one used the metric of murders and suicides. These good or bad situations could arise due to any number of factors but I suspect that poverty and inequality would be high on the list of causes for a bad civil order situation.

    Then, in any given national civil order situation one could, theoretically, add a lot of gun ownership as a thought experiment. It is very hard to see how making citizens more lethal to each other (guns instead of fists, knives and iron bars) or to themselves (guns aid impulsive suicide) would reduce the death rate. The deterrence theory is not credible as multiple events in the US demonstrate, including the one Ronald Brak mentions.

  65. TerjeP
    January 25th, 2016 at 18:07 | #65

    Ikonoclast – I think that if you’re interest in civil order, as measured by murder and suicide, then firearm control laws, whether positive or negative, are a long way down the list of significant factors. Even within the USA there is a vast variation in civic order by those metrics when you divide the country by locality (eg New Hampshire very civil) or by race (eg Black America very violent). Some of that can no doubt be explained by poverty but also by culture. And I think other policies like the war on drugs also matter.

  66. TerjeP
    January 25th, 2016 at 18:09 | #66

    p.s. Just saw editorial comment by JQ above. Goodbye.

  67. January 26th, 2016 at 17:48 | #67

    On Friday in the US a man was shot dead after stopping to help another driver whose car had spun out on an icy road: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/crime/article56234845.html

  68. Collin Street
    January 26th, 2016 at 19:03 | #68

    JQ: if you’re going to ban the man actually do it. Edit them to say, “deleted because he doesn’t get to say anything here any more”, and stick to that. Don’t let him do things you’ve asked — told — him to stop doing.

    Otherwise it won’t stick. Boundary-pushing, see. You’ve drawn a line and he steps over it. And you let him, and then he knows you won’t stand by what you say.

    Edit the posts. Please.

  69. Ikonoclast
    January 26th, 2016 at 20:48 | #69

    @Collin Street

    JQ has implemented full bans before on certain commentators. Have no doubt he will do that if it becomes completely necessary in his view.

Comments are closed.