Guns. Where is the harm?

The debate on gun control in America is raging at the moment after the tragic Sandy Hook shooting. It is interesting to see the reaction of the intellectual segment of society responding. It is a fiercely polarised debate and I have found it impossible just to have a serious calm conversation about it. I am in support of more stringent gun control.

Liberty is an important topic in modern society. It is also a topic of constant debate. The issue is where to draw the line. At what point does someone have too many rights? Many libertarian and other types of anti-statist thinkers believe that control is the predecessor of tyrrany, but I disagree. People forget that liberalism did not always exist, and that there were theories laid down to guide liberal society. There is a point when someone has too much liberty.

The harm principle of John Stuart Mill perfectly guides the limits of personal liberty. If something does not harm others, then it is fine if you do it. If you like to asphyxiate yourself or collect my little pony dolls that does not harm those around you. According to Mill that means you can do it to your heart's content.

This is where things get hairy. In order to justify more stringent gun control you must be able to prove that it does harm to others. The harm principle does not stipulate that something should be considered based on the numbers game of determining more harm than good. For instance if that was the case it would be okay for poor people to steal, because the damage done to a shopkeeper is less detrimental than the positive effect of someone getting food to eat. Let me rephrase that in the context of guns. According to the harm principle it would not be okay to have lax gun laws if more people are saved through self defence than those who are killed accidentally or by unstable people, often children who get access to guns stored in sockdrawers.

Guns harm people that don't have them. It really is that simple. In a society where every single person owns a gun but you, you are in a bad way. You need to own a gun to protect you from all the bad that could happen. In the US the NRA are suggesting an armed guard at every school. This seems reasonable at first, but what about movie theaters or universities? You will have to arm everyone, and in doing that bad things are bound to happen. In a society where guns are given to people as christmas presents you are in a constant latent danger of becoming a victim of the incidence of violent gun crime in groups.

Non gun owners then suffer under the tyranny of the majority,  the exact thing that Mill set out to prevent in the first place.

"Still, America sees far more gun violence than countries in Europe, and Canada, India and Australia, which is perhaps how it gets its bloody reputation among comparatively peaceful nations.
When a person kills another in the United States, though, he or she generally uses a gun: 60 percent of U.S. homicides occur using a firearm, which is the 26th-highest rate in the world. (In other gun-permeated countries, such as Finland (45.3 guns per 100 people), only about 19 percent of homicides involve a firearm. " [1]

"
We compared the United States to the other First World countries. We looked at both genders and all ages, but here are the statistics for 5- to 14-year-olds. A child in the United States compared to a child in Finland or France or New Zealand is not 20 percent more likely to be killed in a gun homicide, or 50 percent more likely, or twice as likely, or five times as likely. It’s 13 times higher.
Our gun suicide rate for these children is eight times higher. Our non-gun suicide rate is average. For unintentional gun deaths, we have 10 times the likelihood of death [compared with other developed countries]. These children are at risk. When you do surveys across states or cities or regions, you find that where there are more guns and more permissive gun laws, people are dying." [2]

What I see from this is a general pessimism about government control on things. That is understandable in light of how badly governments can screw things up, but it is not a reason to deny the events that cause unnecessary deaths. You cannot claim that your individual liberty is at stake and leave your gun in your underwear drawer to be found by someone who may not be qualified or ready to handle the responsibility of having others' lives at the tip of their fingers. 

That is not to say that guns should be banned outright. Compromise is always better and guns do have a place. Shooting is fun, it is something I have enjoyed every time I did it.

Mill had this to say about liberty versus social responsibility:"Whenever, in short, there is a definite damage, or a definite risk of damage, either to an individual or to the public, the case is taken out of the province of liberty, and placed in that of morality or law." [3]

[1] - http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/12/14/schoo-shooting-how-do-u-s-gun-homicides-compare-with-the-rest-of-the-world/

[2] - http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/12/looking-for-lessons-in-newtown/

[3] - http://www.gutenberg.org/files/34901/34901-h/34901-h.htm#Page_154

An answer to CARM's Questions for atheists.

Today +Rob Minnaert shared a set of questions posed by +matt slick of CARM. These are nasty questions that stink of piety and condescension, but I decided to answer them in kind.

I thought these questions special because they follow a new sneaky tactic I have not yet encountered. The major assumption that you smell after reading these questions is... well I'll let you see, and then tell you what I think.

1. How would you define atheism?
Lack of belief in gods.

2. Do you act according to what you believe (there is no God) in or what you don't believe in (lack belief in God)?
It doesn't require me to act in any specific way.

3. Do you think it is inconsistent for someone who "lacks belief" in God to work against God's existence by attempting to show that God doesn't exist?
No, because it is merely pointing out the evidence or lack thereof.

4. How sure are you that your atheism properly represents reality?
How sure are you that your theism is correct?

5. How would you define what truth is?
The truth is "what is definite and accurate". Read a dictionary?

6. Why do you believe your atheism is a justifiable position to hold?
Why do you believe theism is a justifiable position to hold? How can you judge my way of life by suggesting that it is unjustifiable and asking me to defend it.

7. Are you a materialist, or a physicalist, or what?
Maybe a naturalist, not that labels matter much, I am more complex than a label.

8. Do you affirm or deny that atheism is a worldview?  Why or why not?
In the context of majoritarian belief it is a world view. In a world built on reason it is a default, and wouldn't be considered a world view.

9. Not all atheists are antagonistic to Christianity, but for those of you who are, why the antagonism?
Replying in kind I guess. If you can't stop meddling and "praying" for us, talking down to us, repressing science and social progress, then you should expect a push back.

10. If you were at one time a believer in the Christian God, what caused you to deny his existence?
Evidence points the other way, to the non-existence of god.

11. Do you believe the world would be better off without religion?
The world would be better off without dogma, and religion is a type of dogma, so yes.

12. Do you believe the world would be better off without Christianity?
Yes.

13. Do you believe that faith in a God or gods is a mental disorder?
No.

14. Must God be known through the scientific method?
No, but it would help his cause.

15. If you answered yes to the previous question, then how do you avoid a category mistake by requiring material evidence for an immaterial God?
I will answer anyway. Material evidence is not the problem, it is philosophical and logical inconsistencies that make the idea of a god absurd.

16. Do we have any purpose as human beings?
I sense another loaded question, but I will answer anyway. We have a purpose if we choose to have one, and that is the purpose we choose to have. Predestined purpose makes no sense.

17. If we do have purpose, can you as an atheist please explain how that purpose is determined?
By ourselves, because we don't need a baby sitter. The stuff in our skulls work just fine.

18. Where does morality come from?
It is a neurobiological trait of the human brain that likely resides in the frontal lobe. Damage or malfunction of the human brain has been proven to have direct causal effects on moral reasoning in psycopaths.

19. Are there moral absolutes?
This is another loaded question, but I will opt for "no". It is okay for a policemen to shoot a dangerous criminal pointing a gun at him, regardless of the "thou shalt not kill" rule for instance.

20. If there are moral absolutes, could you list a few of them?
There probably aren't any so no.

21. Do you believe there is such a thing as evil?  If so, what is it?
Yes. There are evil acts, but not evil people. People are a consequence of their biology and upbringing.

22. If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is morally bad, by what standard do you judge that he is bad?
Killing everyone except Noah is a start. This should be obvious.

23. What would it take for you to believe in God?
A miracle, and no not a reported miracle, a scientifically verifiable miracle. Rabbit fossils in the Cambrian maybe.

24. What would constitute sufficient evidence for God’s existence?
Must this evidence be rationally based, archaeological, testable in a lab, etc. or what?
In the definition of god being omnipotent and omniscient the paradoxical nature of god makes his existence logically inconsistent. I don't actually know what it would take, but all of the above would probably be a good start.

25. Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer?  Why?
Neither. Society should be run by well meaning people secularly. There are many dogmas besides religion that could corrupt a society. The misleading element of atheism today is that it is often adopted by intelligent liberal thinkers. In that context if the leadership today were to switch to the atheist thinkers we have today the world would be a better place, because liberalism is generally stronger amongst atheists, and so is higher levels of education.

26. Do you believe in free will?  (free will being the ability to make choices without coersion).
Yes, although your mind is not a completely free agent. It is bound by it's neurology. What sometimes seems like free will is actually a short circuit. There is no homunculus spirit driving the human body, the brain is final frontier.

27. If you believe in free will do you see any problem with defending the idea that the physical brain, which is limited and subject to the neuro-chemical laws of the brain, can still produce free will choices?
As previously stated, we live only under the illusion of free will. It is however materially unimportant that we do not have free will from outside agency, because we still have the ability to assimilate information and change our minds.

28. If you affirm evolution and that the universe will continue to expand forever, then do you think it is probable that given enough time, brains would evolve to the point of exceeding mere physical limitations and become free of the physical and temporal, and thereby become "deity" and not be restricted by space and time?  If not, why not?
Is it probable? I don't know. If I had to guess I would say we are confined to die when spacetime ends if we manage to survive that long.

29. If you answered the previous question in the affirmative, then aren't you saying that it is probable that some sort of God exists?
Even if I did say yes then it doesn't make that a god by the definition of that god being omniscient and omnipotent. It would just be a very advanced being.

That smell is self righteousness. The questioner seems to make the assumption that if we cannot answer any unanswerable question, then god must exist. This line of reasoning was present in the days of moon gods, sun gods, and all the other gods of the elements. Here it is just related to the cosmos. It's clear that the questions are aimed at trying to lead an atheist to doubt the validity of atheism itself because nobody knows all the answers. Question 6 is despicable!