Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Problem of Violence

I am going to present an exchange of letters between myself and two right-wing nuts in northwestern Ohio. The appeared in recent months in The Bluffton News.

The letters deal with the problem of violence on a personal level, but as I pondered this issue it struck me that the problem of violence is essentially the same on a national and international level as it is on a personal level. This therefore ties together several issues I have been interested in in recent times.

Relevant here is the groundbreaking research done by Robert Axelrod on the problem of the Prisoner's Dilemma. Axelrod set up a simple game illustrating the Prisoner's Dilemma paradox, and invited people to submit computer programs to play it on an iterated basis. He got many varied programs submitted, but when the tournament was over the clear winner was a very simple program, called "Tit for Tat", which offered cooperation the first time, and then every time after that it did whatever the other player had done the round before (i.e., either cooperate or defect).

This is much like our interactions in real life; when we meet someone, or encounter any sort of new situation, we initially offer cooperation, assuming the other will cooperate also. If he or she "defects" instead, then we modify our own behavior accordingly. The whole Cold War came about because the Truman administration failed to offer cooperation initially to the Soviet Union. Instead, it "defected", by assuming the worst and proceeding accordingly. Information that has become available more recently has verified that the Truman assumptions were wrong, in that the goals of the Soviet Union were political and not military. This makes sense when you consider how horribly the two world wars impacted Russia. The last thing they wanted was another war. But once the US defected the Soviets felt they had to follow suit and we had the horrible arms race. Both sides would have been better off spending all that money on making a better life for its people, but it went the other way. Axelrod's book "The Evolution of Cooperation" explores the issues involved with cooperation in society, and his follow-up books elaborate on his original 1984 work.

With that introduction, here is the first letter, from someone calling himself "Pastor Bob Wood":

“No guns allowed,” is a sign you often see or a symbol you observe on the doors of various establishments. I wish people would stop to think about what this says to the individual who is about to use a weapon to commit a crime, to kill someone, or to terrorize a group of people..... This sign says this: “NOTICE TO THE CRIMINAL ELEMENTS OF OUR SOCIETY....This establishment wants you to know that it's safe for you to go ahead and commit your crime of passion. We're guaranteeing your safety by letting you know that all of the law-abiding citizens who have taken and passed a course and been certified as capable of responsibly owning and using a fire-arm, and then have been finger-printed, gone through a background check and been carefully scrutinized by our local sheriff and the F.B.I. …. all of these people have now left their firearm locked up at home or in their vehicle, and you don't have to worry about any retaliatory action on their part. Just go right ahead and kill, rob, or shoot. You're safe in our establishment. The worst thing you can expect is that some law-abiding citizen will use his cell phone to call 9-1-1, and you'll have plenty of time to escape.”

Now, if the above possible scenario makes you a bit ill, it really bothers me too. It disgusts me that the liberal element of our society begins to push for greater gun control laws almost before the crazed idiot in Tucson has been handcuffed and put in the police cruiser. I have just a couple of questions to ask: “Does anyone think that if hand-guns were outlawed and/or confiscated, that the criminal element would turn theirs in?” “Does anyone really believe that it would become impossible for the wrong people to obtain fire-arms if 'gun shows' and 'gun shops' were made illegal and shut down?” "Does anyone really think that the worst elements of our society would pay the least bit of attention to any gun control changes?" "Are we so naive that we think that tougher laws would really cut down on such "crimes of passion?" I remember seeing a large sign, years ago, that said, “When guns are outlawed, only the outlaws will have guns.” There is so much truth in that statement that a liberal can't even understand what it means. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) has proposed to ban possession of firearms within 1,000 feet of the President, Vice President, Members of Congress or federal judges. Does anyone really think that a person intending to harm a government official would stop and say, “Well, you know, it's against the law to have a gun within 1,000 feet of this person. I'd better take my tape-measure with me, for I certainly wouldn't want to break the law while I'm attempting to assassinate this person.” If I sound a “bit” sarcastic, please forgive me. This is just how ridiculous most of these gun law proposals are. The Bill of Rights gives us the right to “keep and bear arms.” Please, let's not tamper with one of our most basic rights. Let's not put ourselves in the position of other countries who have been taken over by whatever dictators or political systems because the citizenry was unarmed. Let's treasure our 2nd Amendment rights. While I agree that there are places where guns should not be allowed (such as in the presence of high-ranking government officials, etc) I still understand that we can never guarantee that warped and/or crazed individuals won't try to harm others. Let's not throw away our rights and freedoms in a useless attempt to do the impossible."

My response:

A recent letter-writer spouted a bunch of right-wing rhetoric on the issue of gun control.

Unfortunately for the writer, his rhetoric does not stand up to careful analysis. The writer talks about the issue of personal safety, and also the advantage he supposes dictators have when the citizenry is unarmed. Let us examine these propositions in turn.

Regarding personal safety, I simply ask this question: would you feel safer in a room full of people if everybody was carrying a firearm, or if nobody was? I submit that the answer to this question is obvious.

Looking at it on a national level, I point to the following list of successful nonviolent revolutions which have occurred in my lifetime: 1947 Satyagraha movement in India, 1974 Carnation Revolution in Portugal, 1986 People Power revolution in the Philippines, Singing Revolution in the late ‘80’s in the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, 1990 Golaniad Revolution in Romania, 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia, 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, 2005 Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, 2005 Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, and of course the recent nonviolent revolutions which toppled the governments of Tunisia and Egypt. Anyone examining what happened in these revolutions cannot help but conclude that guns and violence are not the key to political reform, as the writer intimates.

Rather than heaping scorn on those who seek to limit guns and violence in our society, we should be asking ourselves why the homicide rate in this country is several times higher than that of every other developed country in the world. I submit that part of the solution has to be ending our love affair with guns.

A response from Bob Amstutz:

I would like to offer some common sense advice to the “Letter to the Editor” sent to the Bluffton News, March 17, 2011. Mr. Weaver seems to think that the second Amendment the United States Constitution means nothing. The left wing progressives are implying that their ideas are sound and better than what our forefathers put in our great United States Constitution. They seem to think they know what is good for everybody else. If we would honor are Constitution we would not be in the trouble we are in today.

The answer to Mr. Weaver’s question is not obvious. His question was, “Would you feel safer in a room full of people if everyone was carrying a firearm, or if nobody was?” That is a terrible question. How would it be if you were in a room full of people and one nut case had a firearm? How would you know that no one else had a firearm? When you enter a public place that has a no firearm sign on the door, you can be almost sure there are no legal firearms. Most people that have been schooled on concealed weapons obey the law. That is why they went to the trouble of obtaining a permit. What you don’t know is that there could be any number of illegal weapons.

Mr. Weaver’s analysis does not stand up to common sense. The purpose of a concealed weapon permit is to prevent the problem. If the nut case knows that no one else has a weapon he has no fear. If he thinks one person may be carrying a concealed weapon he would not be so intent on causing harm. It is the person that is carrying a concealed firearm that has not been through the training, may be unbalanced, have a felony record, which would have restricted him or her from having the permit to carry. I would feel very safe in a room full of people with concealed weapons permits and each having a firearm. I would feel unsafe in a room with a nut concealing a firearm, but then, I would not know would I?

To answer Mr. Weaver’s so called non-violent revolutions abroad; this is one to think about. During the war years, the NRA magazine, The Rifleman, regularly included pleas for American sportsmen to "send a gun to defend a British home”. {American Rifleman, Nov. 1940} British civilians, faced with the threat of invasion, desperately need arms for the defense of their homes." Indeed, the New York Times carried the same solicitations. After two decades of gun control, British citizens now desperately needed rifles and pistols in their homes, and they received the gifts with great appreciation. Organized into the Home Guard, armed citizens were now ready to resist the expected Nazi onslaught.

Meanwhile Hitler unleashed killing squads called the Einsatzgruppen in Eastern Europe and Russia. As Raul Hilberg observes, "The killers were well armed . . . . The victims were unarmed."{Raul Hilberg, {The Destruction of the European Jews (New York: Homes and Meir, 1985), 341, 318, 297}.The Einsatzgruppen executed two million people between fall 1939 and summer 1942. Their tasks included arrest of the politically unreliable, confiscation of weapons, and extermination. {Yitzhak Arad et al. eds., The Einsatzgruppen Reports (New York: Holocaust Library, 1989), ii.}

It is easy to look at our way of life in America because we do have our Constitution and we do not worry so much that our Government will take us over by anarchy. We will be safe from that as long as our Constitution is adhered to. The progressives, note I did not say democrats, in our country, are working hard to weaken the greatest country in the world by weakening the greatest Constitution. I apologize to no one for being an American.

I have one more observation; if a restrictive gun law would become law, it is naiv—Ď to think that everyone would register or turn in their weapons. A law like that would let the Mafia and others make millions of dollars by selling guns on the black market as they now do drugs and did booze during prohibition. Criminals will always find a way to steal or buy guns. Law abiding Americans would be defenseless and would not able to hunt or participate in other shooting sports.

And finally, my response:

I feel compelled to respond to the letter from Bob Amstutz in the March 24 issue. Mr. Amstutz presupposes a black-and-white world in which everyone is either law-abiding or a criminal. Unfortunately for his simplistic analysis, the world comes to us more often in shades of gray, not in black and white. Most of us are not entirely law-abiding or law-breaking, but rather we area combination of the two. And most of us are subject to getting angry, losing our temper and doing things which we regret later.

Is Mr. Amstutz proposing we all carry loaded firearms around with us every day of our lives because of the infinitesimal change that we will find ourselves in the same vicinity as some nut case who undertakes to shoot innocent victims? If so, this is a pretty pathetic way to live.

As to the idea advanced by the writer that those with concealed carry permits are law-abiding and not to be feared, I suggest that he look the families of Cameron Justus and William Stiltner in the eye and tell them that concealed carry permit holders are not dangerous. Mr. Justus and Mr. Stiltner are the two Virginia Sheriff’s Deputies who were killed in March of this year by a concealed carry permit holder. They are the 10th and 11th law enforcement officers killed since May of 2007 by concealed carry permit holders, and the total of police and civilians killed by concealed carry holders since then now stand at 194.

I agree with Mr. Amstutz that America is a great place. And I think we are at our greatest when we eschew violence and adhere to good, strong Christian values.

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