More Quora Debate

I recently received an invitation to answer a question over at Quora because another contributor had used a previous answer of mine in his response.  Instead of answering the question, I directly engaged the other contributor.  The question was, “Is there a rigorous, logical and consistent way to define what firearm constitutes an ‘assault weapon’ and what doesn’t?” The answer by Mr. Dave Consiglio that started all of this was:

This answer:

Kevin Baker’s answer to Are the differences between assault weapons and sporting weapons merely cosmetic?

Perfectly illustrates the problem we currently have with a vague definition of assault rifles.

Is there a rigorous way to do this? Sure. There are dozens of rigorous ways to do this. How would I do it?

I’d define (and ban) any weapon that can fire more rapidly than the weapons available when the 2nd amendment was passed. If it was good enough for Madison and Jefferson, it should be good enough for us.

I’ve heard estimates between 2 and 5 rounds per minute for a musket of that era. Please feel free to correct me if that number is in error. But anything faster than that is an assault rifle in my book.

That takes all semiautomatic weapons off the table. Handguns are mostly out, too. What’s left are single shot hunting rifles. Slow ones.

So I responded:

Each time I come across this answer, I find it amazing that the author thinks it’s original to them, and has never been proposed before.

Let me quote from one of my favorite legal dissents once again:

“Judges know very well how to read the Constitution broadly when they are sympathetic to the right being asserted. We have held, without much ado, that ‘speech, or…the press’ also means the Internet…and that ‘persons, houses, papers, and effects’ also means public telephone booths….When a particular right comports especially well with our notions of good social policy, we build magnificent legal edifices on elliptical constitutional phrases – or even the white spaces between lines of constitutional text. But, as the panel amply demonstrates, when we’re none too keen on a particular constitutional guarantee, we can be equally ingenious in burying language that is incontrovertibly there.

“It is wrong to use some constitutional provisions as springboards for major social change while treating others like senile relatives to be cooped up in a nursing home until they quit annoying us. As guardians of the Constitution, we must be consistent in interpreting its provisions. If we adopt a jurisprudence sympathetic to individual rights, we must give broad compass to all constitutional provisions that protect individuals from tyranny. If we take a more statist approach, we must give all such provisions narrow scope. Expanding some to gargantuan proportions while discarding others like a crumpled gum wrapper is not faithfully applying the Constitution; it’s using our power as federal judges to constitutionalize our personal preferences.”

If you apply your logic to the First Amendment respectfully, this is the only technology you are Constitutionally guaranteed:

The quill pen:

The hand-operated printing press:

The soap box in the public square:

And hiring a town crier:

After all, if they were good enough for Madison and Jefferson… Right?

Oh, and were you aware that individuals could purchase cannon back then? Even cannon-armed ships used a privateers to harass enemy shipping?

No licensing, no registration, no tax stamp.

Good enough for Madison and Jefferson, right?

He responded rather swiftly:

I’d be OK with legalizing period cannons. It would be inconsistent for me not to be OK with it, wouldn’t it? But black powder only, and you’ll have to use traditional packing and lighting methods. Also, police will be armed with the latest weapons because the 2nd amendment only applies to common citizens, not to the military or police forces.

I would also oppose licensing or registering cannons, muskets, and related devices. I would posit that ships would have to be registered, though, as flags and other insignia were required on ships in those days. Similarly, docking and transporting were regulated, even during the revolutionary war. Thus, privateers would face some small regulation.

Oh, and they’d have to be sailing vessels only. Of course. Wood and canvas.

As for the 1st amendment, I would gladly give up the internet in exchange for the more than 30,000 people dead each year in this country at the hands of modern firearms. The post office existed in those days, and we could return to writing letters. Since I allowed for modern guns with similar firing rates to muskets, I think it’s fair that modern pens are allowed, though quills would certainly be permitted. Similarly, electric presses that printed at a rate similar to those available in 1791 would be permitted.

It really was good enough for Madison and Jefferson…and it is still good enough for me. I knocked on doors this weekend, campaigning for a future congressperson who will begin the dismantling of the murderous modifications to our laws undertaken by the NRA. It is my hope that we will soon return to a time when ordinary people could not own weapons that could slaughter crowds of people in mere seconds.

And you should want that, too.

OK, it was ON.

Someone once observed that there can be no useful debate between two people with different first principles, except on those principles themselves.

Since that’s not what is happening here, I’d like to explain what I am doing: Mr. Consiglio represents one side of a rather intense debate in this country. I represent another. In keeping with Quora’s BNBR policy, I think Mr. Consiglio is an outstanding example of his side, and appreciate his participation in this forum, but I’m not here to change his mind. I’m here for those not committed to one side or another to witness two opposing views and decide for themselves which better reflects reality.

Let us begin:

“…I would gladly give up the internet in exchange for the more than 30,000 people dead each year in this country at the hands of modern firearms.”

Note his anthropomorphism of the firearm – “at the hands of modern firearms.” The guns are at fault. They are the active vector causing death. Yet a gun cannot load itself, aim itself, or pull its own trigger. That requires, well, actual hands – the hands of a human being.

And of those 30,000 annual deaths? Nearly 2/3rds of them are suicides. About as many more people commit suicide without firearms annually. Generally, when someone has decided to take their own life, they find a way to accomplish it. Yet we’re not seeing marches in D.C. to end suicide.

And the United States with all of its guns ranks about 48th for suicide behind such gun-controlled nations as Japan and Belgium.

The remaining 10,000 annual deaths? Overwhelmingly homicide, true. But the U.S. ranks around 100th worldwide for homicide rate. Nothing to be proud of, but 10,000 deaths isn’t nearly as scary a number as 30,000 is it?

Next: “Also, police will be armed with the latest weapons because the 2nd amendment only applies to common citizens, not to the military or police forces.”

Just for the sake of argument, let’s stipulate that we suffered (a wildly excessive) 30,000 firearm deaths annually since passage of the 1934 National Firearms Act. That’s been 84 years x 30,000 = 2,520,000 deaths in the United States at the hands of private citizens – either their own hands, or the hands of another.

During the 20th Century alone, governments caused the deaths of something on the order of 200,000,000 of their own citizens.

China: 76,000,000

USSR: 62,000,000

Germany: 21,000,000

Cambodia: 2,000,000 (over far less than 84 years)

Etc. etc. etc.

But Mr. Consiglio sees absolutely nothing wrong with ensuring that the agents of government have overwhelming superiority over the average citizen – for our own good, of course. After all, nothing like that could possibly happen here. Right? And after all, what are we mere citizens going to do against nuclear-armed bombers?

Ask the Vietnamese and the Afghans.

As a friend puts it, “Faith in government defies both history and reason.”

And, finally: “I knocked on doors this weekend, campaigning for a future congressperson who will begin the dismantling of the murderous modifications to our laws undertaken by the NRA.”

Thank you, Mr. Consiglio, for participating in our Representative Republic. But somehow I doubt you aware that those supposedly “murderous modifications of our laws undertaken by the NRA” have corresponded with a dramatic decline in gun crime specifically and violent crime overall?

Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak; Public Unaware

What’s Behind The Decline In Crime?

Pssst: Crime May Be Near an All-Time Low

The worst thing you can say about things like expanded “shall-issue” concealed carry laws, for example, is that they might not have contributed to these remarkable declines. Oh, and over the same period the number of firearms in private hands has skyrocketed, finally putting a stake in the heart of “more guns = more gun crime” mantra.

Too bad that only works on vampires.

P.S.: “It is my hope that we will soon return to a time when ordinary people could not own weapons that could slaughter crowds of people in mere seconds.”

We’ve never lived in a time like that. One black powder Napoleonic cannon loaded with grapeshot fills that bill. And I find it disturbing that you want such power to be only in the hands of the government.

ETA: I stumbled across this after writing this comment – An Assault Weapons Ban For the IRS (And Other Federal Regulatory Agencies)

Pullquote:

“In 1996, the Bureau of Justice Statistics officially counted 74,500 federal officers who had arrest and firearm authority. By 2008, the Bureau quantified over 120,000 such officers. Newly updated counts were supposed to publish by this July but the Bureau now admits that over 80% of federal agencies ignored or stonewalled responses to their latest survey. What are they trying to hide?

“Even though our organization at Home Page | Open the Books estimated the number of non-Department of Defense federal officers at 200,000+, the current number of non-military federal officers and security personnel could be much larger.”

I think Dave pulled a frontal lobe:

You make the usual compelling but incorrect arguments. People really are much more likely to kill themselves if they have a gun. And we are marching against suicide by marching for universal healthcare, which would help prevent it. And I don’t care what the murder rate is in Cambodia – I’m talking about America and you change the subject. And a Napoleonic cannon weighed a ton and needed horses to move it but the Las Vegas shooter easily carried his arsenal into a hotel room and killed dozens. And the government could already vaporize you with a drone or a tank or a nuclear weapon regardless of your gun.

The list goes on and on.

The truth is that you like guns and so in your mind you should have a right to own them. Anyone who suggests otherwise is just wrong.

I would just remind you that slave owners really liked owning slaves and thus felt they should have a right to own them. All their arguments and statistics and logic were just rationalizations of what they wanted to be true. They started a war to defend their beliefs. We had to outnumbered them and then amend the Constitution to finally put an end to their dominance over national discourse.

We will do the same again. It will take time. We have time.

I’ve been pretty busy, so I let that sit and stew for a bit, then responded:

Sorry for the delay in responding, but I’ve been busy with work. Thanks again for continuing the discussion. Let’s begin:

“People really are much more likely to kill themselves if they have a gun.”

And you can point to which studies that prove this statistically? The study performed at the behest of the Clinton Administration by the National Academies of Science indicated that five-day waiting periods had only one statistically provable effect – it changed the method, but not the rate, of suicide in men over the age of 50. This has been the case for multiple studies conducted in multiple nations over multiple years. So in order to bolster your claim, I think we’d need multiple studies saying what you’re asserting. I haven’t seen them.

“And we are marching against suicide by marching for universal healthcare, which would help prevent it.”

Japan has universal health care. Their suicide rate far exceeds our own. Again, I think you’re making assertions that the facts don’t necessarily back up. And I don’t recall seeing a “Universal Health Care” march on Washington. Perhaps I missed that one.

“I don’t care what the murder rate is in Cambodia – I’m talking about America and you change the subject.”

No, you deliberately dodged the subject – retail death at the hands of criminals, vs. wholesale death at the hands of government. You insisted that the government wasn’t affected by the Second Amendment and could have all the mass-murder-capable firearms it wanted while we mere peons should be limited to 3–5 rounds a minute, tops. You stated that you wanted our military and law-enforcement members to have that kind of firepower. I pointed out that – historically – mass murder by governments exceeds mass murder by individuals by a couple of orders of magnitude at a minimum.

And you responded with “I don’t care what the murder rate is in Cambodia….”

The Khmer Rouge killed those 2,000,000 victims in a mere five years – from an overall population of 7.5 million – about the population of Dallas-Ft. Worth.

Then you said: “And a Napoleonic cannon weighed a ton and needed horses to move it but the Las Vegas shooter easily carried his arsenal into a hotel room and killed dozens.”

Yes, dozens. As opposed to millions. Or merely hundreds of thousands. Yet you’re OK with private citizens possessing Napoleonic cannon that they can move around with, say a truck.

Something tells me that your concern about the capability of mass-murder isn’t really what we’re discussing here.

“And the government could already vaporize you with a drone or a tank or a nuclear weapon regardless of your gun.”

Sure, if they want to declare all-out war on the citizenry. But they have to leave the drone shack, climb out of the tank or get out of the nuclear bomber some time. And the people they take orders from aren’t exactly invulnerable either.

“The truth is that you like guns and so in your mind you should have a right to own them.”

The truth is that I have a right to defend myself and my family, my neighbors, my state, and my nation. It just so happens that for an individual a firearm is pretty much the best tool for that defense. Denying me those tools while ensuring that others have them puts me at a severe disadvantage. The people who founded this nation understood that an armed populace was the last, best bastion against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and thus they wrote a guarantee into the founding legal document establishing our form of government ensuring that the government would not have the power to disarm the people wholesale.

Now we’re hearing calls to repeal the Second Amendment because – at last – The Other Side™ has acknowledged that prohibition. But they neglect one further bit of recognition: The Second Amendment protects a pre-existing right, stating that right “shall not be infringed.” Repealing the Second Amendment won’t overturn the right to keep and bear arms, it’ll just make confiscation “legal.”

Like slavery used to be. Remember, slaves weren’t allowed to possess arms, either.

He responded almost immediately. Sorry for his lack of formatting:

Sorry for the delay in responding, but I’ve been busy with work. Thanks again for continuing the discussion. Let’s begin:

. “People really are much more likely to kill themselves if they have a gun.”

. And you can point to which studies that prove this statistically? The study performed at the behest of the Clinton Administration by the National Academies of Science indicated that five-day waiting periods had only one statistically provable effect – it changed the method, but not the rate, of suicide in men over the age of 50. This has been the case for multiple studies conducted in multiple nations over multiple years. So in order to bolster your claim, I think we’d need multiple studies saying what you’re asserting. I haven’t seen them.

Guns and suicide: A fatal link

Guns in the Home and Risk of a Violent Death in the Home: Findings from a National Study | American Journal of Epidemiology | Oxford Academic

There are more. The Clinton study was about waiting periods. I’m talking about an absence of guns.

. “And we are marching against suicide by marching for universal healthcare, which would help prevent it.”

. Japan has universal health care. Their suicide rate far exceeds our own. Again, I think you’re making assertions that the facts don’t necessarily back up. And I don’t recall seeing a “Universal Health Care” march on Washington. Perhaps I missed that one.

That is correct. But their murder rate is far below ours. Also, many countries have universal health care and a lower homicide and suicide rate. The average for countries with universal health care is much lower on both counts.

. “I don’t care what the murder rate is in Cambodia – I’m talking about America and you change the subject.”

. No, you deliberately dodged the subject – retail death at the hands of criminals, vs. wholesale death at the hands of government. You insisted that the government wasn’t affected by the Second Amendment and could have all the mass-murder-capable firearms it wanted while we mere peons should be limited to 3–5 rounds a minute, tops. You stated that you wanted our military and law-enforcement members to have that kind of firepower. I pointed out that – historically – mass murder by governments exceeds mass murder by individuals by a couple of orders of magnitude at a minimum.

Yes it does. So what? Our government doesn’t engage in mass murder. We’re talking about homicide and suicide.

. And you responded with “I don’t care what the murder rate is in Cambodia….”

The Khmer Rouge killed those 2,000,000 victims in a mere five years – from an overall population of 7.5 million – about the population of Dallas-Ft. Worth.

Yes they did. Our government does not do that. Off topic.

. Then you said: “And a Napoleonic cannon weighed a ton and needed horses to move it but the Las Vegas shooter easily carried his arsenal into a hotel room and killed dozens.”

. Yes, dozens. As opposed to millions. Or merely hundreds of thousands. Yet you’re OK with private citizens possessing Napoleonic cannon that they can move around with, say a truck.

How could one man with one cannon kill millions? He’d have a hard time killing a few. Then, people would restrain him.

. Something tells me that your concern about the capability of mass-murder isn’t really what we’re discussing here.

You’re the one who thinks everyone should have access to a portable cannon (aka AR-15)

. “And the government could already vaporize you with a drone or a tank or a nuclear weapon regardless of your gun.”

. Sure, if they want to declare all-out war on the citizenry. But they have to leave the drone shack, climb out of the tank or get out of the nuclear bomber some time. And the people they take orders from aren’t exactly invulnerable either.

Please. Drones are in the sky 24/7. Nukes haven’t been dropped from bombers since the 50s. The president pushes a button and you die. Your gun is useless.

“The truth is that you like guns and so in your mind you should have a right to own them.”

The truth is that I have a right to defend myself and my family, my neighbors, my state, and my nation. It just so happens that for an individual a firearm is pretty much the best tool for that defense. Denying me those tools while ensuring that others have them puts me at a severe disadvantage. The people who founded this nation understood that an armed populace was the last, best bastion against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and thus they wrote a guarantee into the founding legal document establishing our form of government ensuring that the government would not have the power to disarm the people wholesale.

Now we’re hearing calls to repeal the Second Amendment because – at last – The Other Side™ has acknowledged that prohibition. But they neglect one further bit of recognition: The Second Amendment protects a pre-existing right, stating that right “shall not be infringed.” Repealing the Second Amendment won’t overturn the right to keep and bear arms, it’ll just make confiscation “legal.”

Pre-existing rights aren’t a thing. When the 2nd is appealed you will have no right. The sooner the better.

Like slavery used to be. Remember, slaves weren’t allowed to possess arms, either.

Nope. And you can’t possess a slave anymore. Soon it’ll be slaves and guns.

Oy, this is really getting good, so I decided to tweak him again and see what else I could get him to say:

“The Clinton study was about waiting periods. I’m talking about an absence of guns.”

No, the Clinton study was about ‘gun violence,’ including suicide. The study overall said “We find no statistical evidence that gun control has any effect – positive or negative – on the rate of gun violence, but five-day waiting periods have this interesting statistical effect of changing the method of suicide for older males.” The study was Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review.

Your second link – “Guns and suicide: a fatal link” was a survey. It shows what in statistics is known as correlation, but not causation. The majority of vehicles owned in Wyoming are pickup trucks. This correlates with the suicide rate, but does not cause suicide. Connecticut and New York are both anti-gun states and their “Gun Ownership” numbers look approximately the same, but Connecticut has a much higher Suicide rate than New York. Massachusetts has the lowest “Gun Suicide” rate and is the most gun unfriendly state in the country, yet California and Illinois – also very gun-unfriendly states – have much higher rates of suicide by gun. Why? Strain all you wish, but you haven’t proven causation.

Your first link was from a 2004 study that – once again – correlated gun ownership with the risk of dying by gunshot. That being the case, why is the homicide rate in Washington D.C. where guns are very difficult to get legally so much higher than right across the river in Virginia where they’re practically unregulated? Correlation does not equal causation, either here or worldwide.

Next topic: Government. “Our government does not do that. Off topic.” Our government supported slavery for its first 100 years. Our government put Japanese-Americans in concentration camps and stole their property. There’s a lot of things our government hasn’t done – yet. But “It can’t happen here” is a mantra I fully expected.

“How could one man with one cannon kill millions?” One man can’t. But an army can. Which is why one man with an AR-15 rifle concerns me less than an entire police department equipped with the full-auto version.

“Pre-existing rights aren’t a thing.” Tell that to your neighbors. See how they react.

Once again, thank you for being such a sterling example of type.

He popped back immediately with this:

You, as well. A perfect example of blind faith in the 2nd amendment in the face of incredible evidence to the contrary. The cult of gun is strong indeed.

And I am telling my neighbors, with my vote. My candidate supports strong gun control. So will the majority of the House of Representatives by this time next year.

In the end, your arguments won’t matter. Your vote won’t be enough. We are coming for your guns because your “right” to own one doesn’t trump our “right” to not be slaughtered by the members of your cult who keep demonstrating with crystal clarity that we should not allow citizens to own whatever gun they want.

I was sorely tempted to ask him – if there are no pre-existing rights, why is slavery wrong? And is lethal force in the avoidance of enslavement justified? But I’ll leave that to others.

Oh, and Mr. Consiglio is a high-school teacher. Quelle suprise.

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