Real Security is a Girl with a Gun

Among the many astounding, double-speakish things Donald Trump has said on his campaign trail is the suggestion that readier access to guns, and looser laws about who can carry these and where, would somehow make us safer. Trump commented on the Paris terrorist attacks of November 2015 with the following words:

“When you look at Paris — you know the toughest gun laws in the world, Paris — nobody had guns but the bad guys. Nobody had guns. Nobody. … They were just shooting them one by one and then they (security forces) broke in and had a big shootout and ultimately killed the terrorists. …  You can say what you want, but if they had guns, if our people had guns, if they were allowed to carry — it would’ve been a much, much different situation.”*

*reported by Jeremy Diamond at CNN, November 2015

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Sarah Conner from Terminator 2. Image borrowed from Rachel B’s 2010 post on women in Sci-Fi.

My sense is that the statistics are very much against that proposal. The U.S. has some of the most lenient laws regarding guns, and some of the highest rate of gun-related violent crimes, among similarly situated countries (e.g. Canada, France, Germany, etc.). For a quick version of the argument, read John Donahue’s October 2015 piece in Newsweek.
Trump’s argument to the contrary employs a common statistical fallacy: focusing on a single event, rather than the aggregate of events of a certain type. It’s like people who are scared to fly, yet not afraid to drive or ride in cars, despite the fact that each hour in a moving car is far riskier than each hour on an airplane in flight. (To be fair, similarly fallacious arguments have been offered by gun control advocates who seek to draw their conclusions from reflection on single events.)

At the same time, I’m willing to consider well-reasoned and evidence-based arguments, such as that of John Lott in More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 2010), that readier access to guns does lead to greater safety in many circumstances. Whatever the outcome of that discussion, however, I’d like to “trump” Trump’s trumpism with a radical proposal of my own: If greater legal access to guns would make all of us safer, yet the vast majority of violent crimes are committed by men, why not restrict the legal use of guns to women?** We could even initiate public training programs for such women, who would thereby become better protected against violent attacks (such as rapes and muggings) from men with or without guns. Such women could also take protector roles in rogue shooter scenarios.

**For statistics regarding male and female violent crime, at least in the US, see the 2011 data compiled by the FBI and a nice interpretive post by Jennie Ruby

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Trinity from The Matrix. Image borrowed from Rachel B’s 2010 post on women in Sci-Fi.

Such a policy, I reason, would kill two birds with one stone (if you’ll forgive the metaphor): (1) If Trump or Lott are right (though of course they might not be), then it would “make all of us safer” in situations like those of the Paris attacks; and (2) it would especially protect a class of human beings that are so often (and so asymmetrically) the victims of violent crimes such as rape, murder, and assault.

Though a mere feeling is not a satisfactory argument, I (who am male) would personally feel much safer to live in a world where only women had legal access to guns. The vast majority of violent crimes are committed by men. Men, with or without guns, are statistically a serious threat to the well-being of all citizens. I’m not at all comforted by the thought that I or the men around me could have more guns than they currently do. How well have the men been doing with the guns so far? Not well, statistically speaking. If the women around me were more fully equipped and trained than the men, however, I would feel that the firepower was in better hands. Women, after all, are so rarely the perpetrators of violent crimes; and any rogue male or female that went on a spree would quickly be put in check by his or her sisters.

Most importantly, if women were the only ones allowed to legally own and operate firearms, this additional power would significantly even the playing field between men and women: that is, between a class of people that are more often the perpetrators of violent crime than the other, and a group of people that are rarely the perpetrators yet frequently the victims. Anytime a man sought to intimidate a woman with physical force, he would be roundly put in check.

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Sigourney Weaver in Alien. Image borrowed from Rachel B’s 2010 post on women in Sci-Fi.

Of course I’m not entirely serious in this proposal. And certain aspects of the argument don’t quite make sense. For instance: If more guns really do make us safer (which, again, has not been established), what would a criminally threatened man do, in my imagined scenario, when no gun-toting women were around?

Nonetheless, the proposal is worth considering, if only as a thought experiment. Those who object to the policy may implicitly reveal their investment in male privilege by doing so. Statistically speaking, men with or without guns are dangerous. Women bear almost no responsibility for the threats of violence that we face, yet they are often its victims. How can we solve the problem? Restricting male opportunities for violence, and enhancing female protections against that violence, does sound like a good policy.

Fake Carnage and Real Carnage

In the USA, we watch action movies for fun, confident that the carnage they portray is something that never really happens: buildings explode, but the good guy escapes, rescues the girl, saves the innocent townspeople from the bad guys, and everyone leaves the theater with a smile on their face.

Promotional photography for the film A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), directed by John Moore and starring Bruce Willis (depicted here)

Promotional photography for the film A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), directed by John Moore and starring Bruce Willis (depicted here)

In real wars, buildings really do explode, and the good guys don’t always (or even usually) escape. Innocent women and children die by the hundreds or thousands in such explosions on a daily basis. If you’ve ever experienced the unexpected death of someone emotionally close to you, then you know about the irreplaceable hole that their absence leaves in your daily existence. In extreme cases (for instance: the death of a spouse or a child), you may ask yourself, “How can I possibly continue?” and “What possible meaning could there be to my own life?” On the basis of this experience, one can begin to imagine what it is like to be the victim of a real war – not the imaginary war that is portrayed in the movies. What is it really like, for instance, to have dozens of the people closest to you – your family, friends, and fellow villagers – ripped from the world forever, blown to pieces in the carnage of war? Would you ever forgive the attackers? Could you ever survive, as a person, beyond this utter rape and destruction of the most basic sources of meaning of your life?

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[1st image from http://bangordailynews.com/2012/01/08/politics/iraq-war-second-costliest-ever-to-fuel-debt-for-years-to-come/, accessed 9-10-2014]
[2nd image from http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/bushandblair, accessed 9-10-2014]

In the past week, I spoke with several Iraq war veterans. Their frank recountings of their experiences in Iraq convinced me of two very troubling things:

(1) These ex-soldiers were fully aware of the horrors of war.
(2) Most Americans have no idea what such soldiers have experienced – and, relatedly, most
Americans have no appreciation of the horror of war.

I am myself a non-veteran, and item (2) applies as much to me as anyone else (though we are all able to imaginatively identify with the victims of war, in accordance with the thought-experiment I described above).

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[from Islamic State video, as posted at http://rt.com/news/176528-islamic-state-iraq-video/, accessed 9-10-2014]

U.S. officials and journalists are currently discussing the possibility that the newly formed Islamic State could carry out anti-U.S. terrorist campaigns on U.S. soil, utilizing the border between the U.S. and Mexico to gain access to the country. As security forces scramble to defend the border, a great many Americans probably have never heard of the Islamic State, or know next to nothing about its origins and aims. We are a currently a country of extraordinarily superficial minds. Compare the attention that the average American gives to their cell-phone, their car, their favorite music, or their online dating profile, on the one hand, to the attention that they give to current affairs, the history of human civilization and human conflict, the intellectual and cultural foundations of their own nation’s form of government (such as the Constitution), and philosophical questions like, “What is democracy?” “What is the best form of goverment, and why?” “What makes a human life more or less meaningful to the person living it?”, on the other.

If war hit the U.S. directly today – as it has eventually hit the territory of every empire in every part of the world for all of human history (see the histories of China, Rome, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, UK, and so on) – would Americans be even remotely prepared for it? Would they know how to respond tactically? Even more troublingly – would they know how to respond philosophically? Would they know what was worth fighting for, and what side to fight for? Or would they be so shocked that their friends and family, their public institutions, their cell-phones and their internet, had been ripped from their hands, that they would stare blindly into the black hole formed by the sudden absence of everything that they had ever known or ever cared about, and would simply whine and cajole and become “depressed” until their addictions were returned to them?

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[from http://www.blackpressusa.com/2014/02/cellphones-may-accelerate-nj-online-gambling/,, accessed 9-10-2014]

We must seriously consider the possibility that Americans are a people currently tethered to illusion. Their dependence on illusion is existential: Without the illusions provided by cellular phones, video games, television and film, they would literally have no idea who they are, and no idea of reality. Older Americans are addicted to the myth of American exceptionalism and the good old “downhome” ways; younger Americans are addicted to soft drugs and their cell-phones.

It would be self-contradictory to fault mainstream Americans for making their lives meaningful as best they can, in the ways that are available to them: I began this post by noting that the unfathomable tragedy of war is that it fatally severs such meaningful human relationships. But I am concerned that Americans’ habit of immersing themselves in the comfortable insularity of yesteryear, or the radical superficiality so abundantly (and profitably) made available to them by the design-and-marketing geniuses of Disney, Apple, Microsoft, Walmart, Nintendo, And So On, will result (if it hasn’t already) in an irremediable impoverishment of the American soul. It also portends a quick and lemming-like demise of their castles made of dreams, if and when those stronger, tougher sandstorm winds of the East blow in.

How to tell if you’re having a legitimation crisis

I’m reading Habermas’s 1973 book, Legitimation Problems in Late Capitalism (translated as Legitimation Crisis), and wondering whether the United States is currently undergoing a legitimation crisis (as well as a “rationality crisis”) in Habermas’s sense. Thoughts?

I have my own suspicions about Habermas’s positions in that book, particularly his sense of the import of “motivation problems.” But I’m impressed by the apparent relevance of the various categories of social crisis that he delineates and relates to one another. The analysis is, of course, built on a Marxist framework (the notion of the “crises of capitalism”), but Habermas updates the thesis for later developments, including the growth of administrative authority, the phenomenon of “class compromise” (basically, class conflicts mediated and lukewarmly/incompletely resolved through governmental policy), and the contribution that a bourgeois “achievement” morality, supplemented by cultural institutions like Protestantism (as Weber famously suggested), has made to the acceptance of capitalism among the middle classes.