The thing about guns

This is one of those blog posts that get me into trouble. It’s one of those posts that (probably) blend in with all the other junk that is out there on the web about opinions and politics and on and on and on. I probably shouldn’t add to the noise, but I’m writing a MS thesis and applying for PhD programs and getting married in 8 months, so… oops.

So here’s the gun debate in a nutshell:

One side says gun violence is driven by gun ownership. Proponents of this side point to countries (like those in Europe) with low rates of gun ownership and low gun violence as an example in their favor.

The other side says gun violence is driven by all sorts of other things. Proponents of this side point to countries (like Canada) with high rates of gun ownership and low gun violence as an example in their favor.

Here’s the thing: both sides are right AND wrong… at the same time. In reality (and this almost becomes immediately obvious) gun violence is driven by both gun ownership (a.k.a. all the guns in circulation) AND all sorts of other things.

Here’s a quick tangent on the two different ways things can relate to each other in the real world:

The first way is called an additive relationship. This sort of relationship characterizes questions such as: How much of professional success is driven by nature and how much is driven by nurture? In this case the two components of interest simply add together to determine the outcome of interest. Nature could be zero or nurture could be zero. It doesn’t matter, though, because the inputs are simply added together to produce the output.

The second way is called a chain relationship. This sort of relationship characterizes questions like our present question: How much of gun violence is driven by gun ownership and how much is driven by “other stuff”? In this case the additive approach doesn’t work well. The reason being, to have gun violence you need BOTH a gun and a person willing to pull the trigger with the gun pointing in the direction of human being. If either is taken away, gun violence disappears. In this application if EITHER gun ownership or “other stuff” is zero then gun violence is also zero. Adding the inputs together doesn’t lead to any output. There will just be either a pile of guns with nobody to shoot them with violent intent at other people OR a bunch of people who want to shoot someone with no guns in which to do so.

So, it conceptually doesn’t matter what side of the debate wins. What matters is we (as a nation) need to pick one. We either need to reduce the number of guns in circulation or reduce the amount of “other stuff” that contributes to gun violence.

But here’s the kicker, we don’t know what the “other stuff” is. It’s not clear what makes the United States different from Canada. So for my money I’d say we focus on the thing we actually know how to do.

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