Sunday, February 27, 2011

More guns for a sick, sullen society?

One of my Twitter followers wondered when I would post something on guns and "gun control" in Latvia.  He linked to a Libertarian Party (?) position advocating more or less unrestricted gun ownership. The issue came up after the movie theater shooting in Riga on Saturday, February 19, when a well-educated, seemingly stable person with a legal weapons permit pumped four rounds into a father of four who had objected to his loud munching of either potato chips or popcorn and generally disruptive behavior during a showing of "The Black Swan".
The issue of gun laws in Latvia is a rather difficult one, because there is more too it than legalistic or libertarian arguments. Indeed, the murder suspect was a doctoral student in law who had written in a Latvian law journal arguing for very liberal gun laws like those in many US states. The man even advocated free ownership of fully automatic weapons.
I think the issue of firearms in any society is not so much a legal or philosophical issue (although there are important points in this regard) as it is about the fabric (or lack of it) in any particular society or country. There is merit, in the abstract, to the argument that an armed citizenry is theoretically better protected against an oppressive government, foreign invaders, or crime waves, than a society where only the state, criminals or invaders have guns. However, as "future scenarios" dictatorship, foreign invasion and wild-in-the streets crime are not likely or frequent occurrences if we take a relatively stable, democratic society as a starting point.
I would instead argue that the likelihood of tyranny or mad-dog crime has its roots in the nature of the society we are dealing with. The nature of the society, its "health" or whatever you want to call it, also determines the real consequences of any given weapons control policy. In short -- the reason there is relatively little gun violence (aside from a few spectacular incidents) in heavily armed Switzerland and Finland is because these societies do not have  a "gun culture".  Firearms are not used for everyday dispute resolution, they are generally not carried around on a day-to-day basis and while accessible, their only thinkable use is for military (Switzerland) or hunting (Finland, if I am not mistaken) purposes.
So we have the rather paradoxical situation that there is proliferation of legal military assault rifles in Switzerland, but almost no drive-by killings. In the US, fully-automatic weapons are banned, I believe, by federal law, yet there are places where killing and maiming with automatic weapons (drive-by style) is a routine occurence.
In armed countries with no "gun culture" we see the kind of outcomes that gun control advocates in the US and elsewhere want -- very little gun crime. In places with patchy, but sometimes severe gun laws (parts of the US with handgun restrictions, registration, etc.), we still see crazed gun crimes and automatic weapons firing on the streets. The difference is cultural and the lesson is that the nature of a particular society, its health or illness, trumps any laws or lack of them.
In Latvia, we do not have a "gun culture" and except for the actions of a psychopath in a movie theater, we have very few crimes involving firearms (indeed, many robberies are done with "objects resembling firearms" and there is little actual gunplay -- the recent battle between "good cops"  and "robber cops" in Jekabpils being an exception).  In this regard, Latvia feels safer than the US. Any everyday dispute between strangers here is unlikely to end in a shooting. In the US, one never knows. Of course, the crime news here in Latvia does carry stories of knifings and deadly beatings and other forms of non-firearm violence, but nothing can turn a bad situation to the worst possible than using a high-powered firearm.  Knives, clubs, even fists can kill, but a hollow-point 9mm round is very lucky if it DOESN'T kill.
My impression of Latvian society is that it is anomic (people trust no one), depressed, distressed and in a state of passive-aggressive anger (people vent their hostility by non-cooperation rather than direct action). I don't know if I would want to spread more firearms in such a societal environment. I fear there could be a quick adoption of a kind of gun culture, of using firearms to vent the simmering anger and the collective inferiority complex (left over from Soviet times and augmented by what has happened since) that one senses here.
Another matter is that most people are not trained or skilled at using firearms. This explains the number of accidental shootings in countries where guns proliferate. One can also imagine what would happen if there were more gun battles between untrained, poor marksmen in situations where rage, rather than cool training (as with professional military and police) was the driving force of a conflict.
It is difficult for me to imagine that allowing everyone in Latvia to own guns would result in the creation of a noble "armed citizenry" that used its weapons with restraint and skill, that intimidated both state authorities (the parts of the police that are little more than armed gangs) and criminals in order to maintain  both freedom and order. I just don't see that happening. More firearms in this society would simply increase the level and lethality of senseless violence.  That is, perhaps, an inadequate but best effort answer to the issue raised in a "tweet" last week.


Reinis Lazda said...

The person named as "One of my Twitter followers" in the article is obviously me. Well, thanks you wrote the article after all.

The reason why I engaged in a Twitter discussion with Juris Kaža on that topic is that he is definitely a noticeable and perhaps the most noticeable supporters of libertarian ideas in Latvia. And, as the author correctly states, the issue came up after a recent shooting in movie theater in Riga. What the author does not clearly state is that a consequent debate in Latvia for tightening gun laws is a hot topic. So, for me, it seemed obvious that a remark from Juris Kaža is a must in this situation. I wrote in Twitter: "Does that mean that the stronghold has fallen?"

Indeed, Kaža's article is not to be considered purely libertarian. The argument of full individual rights has been replaced with an argument of "gun culture" - i.e. he might as well be saying that some countries do not deserve democracy as it could bring adverse effects.
Yes, that's a way a moderate democrat would think (including me). In this aspect, Juris has done a great job to analyze causes of gun crimes. So - does this mean Juris Kaža is giving up his libertarian views?

Juris Kaža said...

Thanks. If we are going to frame the debate in strictly libertarian terms, we have to address the issue of transition to a more or totally libertarian society, and in that case, you cannot, among other things, ignore the culture and socio-economic heritage of a society at the starting point. The issue also comes up in posts I wrote earlier about how the austerity program was forcing Latvia to become a minarchy (through budget cuts) with no conscious preparation to go there.
I do believe that an alternative track societies can follow, when authority and government collapses (or de-finances itself) is one of pernicious anarchy, of a war of all against all or a retreat into conflict/competition between voluntary or semi-voluntary associations of individuals driven by irrational common goals -- plunder, local domination, blood lust, whatever). In other words, I don't discount "Mad Max" or Somalia as forms of statelessness. To create a truly peaceful and prosperous libertarian society, we have to avoid that.

Reinis Lazda said...

Thank you for clarification, that makes sense and helps to understand your views.

I started to analyze them in this comment, but then gave up understanding it would take much more than one comment to do it satisfactory. In short, what you just said about your views, makes them utopia, as society will never be able to reach the necessary level.

Adam Mullett said...

How are guns related to democracy, in your view Reinis?

An imaginary situation:
Agressor: "Do what I say!"
Other person: "I choose not to. I choose to do what I want and I choose to be free from your agression."
Agressor: "Fuck you. I will shoot you now and take away your personal freedom of choice (among many things) and therefore your democracy. I win, you lose."

Shooting people is not democracy. Democracy is everyone having a vote and a voice to say what they feel is right. It's not about about power and fear belonging to one person (the gun holder). Thats the opposite of democracy.

Jē Rōņins said...

Adam, I think Reinis referred to the kind of situations where one could use the gun to protect himself against the kind of violence you mentioned.

It's about how you use the gun, not about whether you have it or not.
Therefore, there should be more emphasis on the training of the use of weaponry, and on education about thinking processes and behavior in general. So that people would know that irrationally (based on emotion, in this case, being annoyed by someone) made decisions might end up badly.

Lysis said...

Indeed, advocating unrestricted gun ownership (among other things) is like the ultimate "ticket into the libertarian club" like an initiation ritual that sets aside "real libertarians." Reinis' point as far as I understand.

But then again you can just read the title of the previous post - "popcorn critics overwhelm murder critics." Read it slowly and let it echo in your head like a mantra.

"Popcorn critics overwhelm murder critics."

And here comes Juris point of "f*ckwit ape-brained monkeys" (ironically some close people to me know me for commenting "the missing link between chimpanzees and homo sapiens" whenever there comes up yet another local news story with yet another oh so familiar scenario.) It's the homo sovieticus (subspecies lettonicus)inherent inability to bring forward something that would at least remotely resemble *analysis*. Passing out knee-jerk bans on Leģionāru diena to somehow try to "sweep the 'uglies' under the rug"... and one could go on and on and on with examples.

So while libertarians may be advocating something that could be perceived as lax gun control laws I doubt that libertarians would agree that monkeys should be allowed to own guns as well. Well that is not the most PC thing to say but Juris still managed to put it down in this blog post.

Anonymous said...

This article seems to be joke, it clears nothing and is confusing about real situation in Latvia. I haven't red larger piece of water in long time. Nothing much to expect from Juris Kaža.

Anonymous said...

Adam Mullet: you are spot on with your observation - and you drew a bad conclusion from it, as most people who call themselves "democrats" or "progressive" do.

You see, the problem is that the agressor always manages to get that gun. In Weimar republic, unlawful possession of firearms was punishable by death - and still it didn't prevent first the communists in their Bavaria utopian dystopy and then Hitler to possess illegal guns and oppress the others.
In Britain, handguns are outlawed for many years and despite that, even BBC states that gun crime is on the rise all the time:
Because "if you outlaw guns, only people possessing them will be the outlaws". Thugs ignore laws and attack people, because that is the nature of their "job". It is illegal already to attack people, burglarize them or shoot them. And if someone decides to break such a law, one more law is not going to stop him, is it.

The knowledge that the desired victim might have a weapon does, though. While gun crime skyrocketed when Britain banned guns, it fell down immediately in each US state which allowed Concealed Carry. This is statistically proven.

The solution to your model situation is the victim saying: "I shall not do what you want me to; and if you attempt to force me by shooting on me, I will shoot back. Do you consider your aggression against me to be worthy of your life?"
That works, also: the FBI "Reports on critical policing" state that in 91% of encounters of self-defense gun uses, criminals flee without any shots being fired.

~~Libertarin just passing by

Anonymous said...

" My impression of Latvian society is that it is anomic (people trust no one), depressed, distressed and in a state of passive-aggressive anger (people vent their hostility by non-cooperation rather than direct action)"

Im f fuming , im sorry but if you can say that about Latvia its a f joke!

Latvia has been in far more worse political and economical situation and still our people carry on. We work hard for what we have and we survive the best we can , what carries us on is that we have always been able to see the silver lining and enjoy the simplest things in life without money!

" Failed State Latvia?"

the only thing that has failed is the dead beat Russians who think its theirs and live off it, left behind as left overs from war and who keep raising their kids with that mentality as well.


Anonymous said...

Dear Anonimous, I'm not latvian but I live in this shithole since 5 years.Coming here to work has been the worst mistake of my whole life.People are generally a bunch of greedy bastards.Workers are usually idiot or thieves (typically when they steal or make idiot things they say always I dont know, it's not my fault or it is your problem) , same in the case of any kind of professional from lawyers to architect....The latvian system protects and enhance this idiocracy and survives as a parasite of foreign investments...My suggestion is to stop making carrot sculptures and vote the right government, try to be at least more polite one to each other and honestly admit this latvian language is only a matter of business.Life is hard for everyone on this planet.