The Psychopathology of a Hoplophobe

When I read the October 27 Quote of the Day my first thought was “physician heal thyself” (right after “somebody call the guys in the white coats!”). Anyone who can equate the ownership of semi-automatic weapons with the abuse of children is obviously teetering on the edge. Little did I know just how out there the good doctor really is, though. The quote came from Ronald Pies’s, Why Psychiatrists Must Confront Gun-related Violence. And as I started reading the whole thing, it became obvious that Dr. Ron may have suffered what those in the head shrinking biz call a break with reality . . .

During my recent stay in Scotland, I had a most peculiar experience while walking through the streets of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Stirling, late at night: I felt safe. This is a sensation I almost never have while walking in American cities of comparable size.

It’s nice to know that you felt safe, Ron, but the fact of the matter is that (apart from homicide) the violent crime rate in Scotland is almost eleven times that of the U.S. According to the Scots’ own government website, there were “[a]pproximately 220,000 violent crimes of assault or robbery” committed in Scotland in 2011. So given that the population of Scotland is about 5.2 million, that gives us a violent crime rate of 4230.8/100K. Then we look to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report and find that in 2011 the US’ violent crime rate was 386.3/100K.

And this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon either. As pointed out in a 2000 article by Paul Gallant, Joanne Eisen and Dave Kopel,

To the great consternation of British authorities concerned about tourism revenue, a June [2000] CBS News report proclaimed Great Britain “one of the most violent urban societies in the Western world.” Declared Dan Rather: “This summer, thousands of Americans will travel to Britain expecting a civilized island free from crime and ugliness…[But now] the U.K. has a crime problem….worse than ours.”

As the 12-steppers say, denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. But then Ron explains how his freedom from fear came to pass:

As my wife and I learned during our stay there, Scotland has a violent and bloody history, going back many centuries. And, to be sure, modern-day Scots—a remarkably friendly and civil people—must deal with crime, drugs, and violence, just as Americans do. But they do not worry much about gun-related violence.

And there you have it; a tenfold increase in his chance of being robbed, raped and beaten is just fine as long as there aren’t any of those horrible, nasty, evil guns involved. I know man is a rationalizing animal, but how in the name of all that is holy can you rationalize that?

At least the good doctor admits that headline grabbing mass shootings aren’t really an issue:

Why should psychiatrists care about firearms regulation? The reason that might first come to mind—the putative role of mental illness in several recent mass shootings—is actually the least important. (As I write, reports of a new mass shooting in Wisconsin are trickling in). Aurora, Colorado-type mass shootings—horrific though they are—actually amount to a minuscule percentage of gun-related deaths in the US. There are more compelling reasons why psychiatrists should be involved in the gun control debate.

Thanks for that tidbit of honesty before drifting back off into la-la land.

First, psychiatrists are experts in assessing risk factors for suicide, and gun possession is a major risk factor for completed suicide.

No. No it isn’t. The fact that people who are contemplating suicide often obtain firearms in order to carry out their plans is completely divorced from the root causes of suicide; primarily untreated depression. And as I have mentioned before and no doubt will again, while restricting “access” to firearms may reduce firearm suicide rates, study after study has shown that it does not affect overall suicide rates. Ron even goes on to prove my point.

One study of handgun possession in California found that,  in the first week after the purchase of a handgun, the rate of firearms suicide among purchasers is about 57 times as high as the adjusted rate in the general population.

I’ll give you a hint, Ron; the evil Dark Jedi mind-control power of the firearm had nothing to do with those suicide numbers. Once someone has makes up their mind to commit suicide, they’re gonna find a way to do it unless they get help.

The US has a firearm- suicide rate almost 6 times higher than comparison countries.

And the point is…what exactly? Japan (which has insanely restrictive gun laws) has an overall suicide rate that’s almost four times our firearm suicide rate. Or our non-firearm suicide rate for that matter. According to Wikipedia, Lithuania, South Korea, Guyana, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Japan, People’s Republic of China, Hungary, Sri Lanka, Russia, Ukraine, Serbia and Montenegro, Estonia, Belgium, Latvia, Moldova, Slovenia, Finland, Uruguay, South Africa, Poland, France, Croatia, Hong Kong, Suriname, New Zealand, Austria, Czech Republic, Sweden, Cuba, Bulgaria and Romania all have higher suicide rates than the US. And most have much stricter gun laws and less access to firearms than we do.

Ron restates his, um, argument against guns all kinds of ways, no doubt hoping we won’t notice that:

1) Correlation does not equal causation

B} Guns, no matter how scary looking, can’t make a healthy person commit suicide, and

III] Overall suicide rates are independent of means and method.

But then it’s time to riff on “dangerousness” and how easy access to guns in this country has led to higher homicide rates than any other “high-income” countries without ever addressing why the U.S. has significantly higher non-firearm related homicide rates. In other words even if you remove gun homicides from the statistics we still have a significantly higher homicide rate than these other countries which indicates that socio-economic and cultural factors are driving homicide rates in this country, not “easy access” to guns.

But then the Doc goes for a bridge too far. He finishes with the snide, “after all, when was the last time you heard of a mass knifing?” Well Ron, August 2, 2012 leaps to mind: Chinese teenager kills 8, injures 5 in knife attack. In fact (again according to Wikipedia) there have been a number of knife/cleaver/club attacks in schools in China in the last couple of years. Then there was the Osaka (Japan) school massacre which killed eight children and wounded 15 others in 2001, or the Akihabara massacre where, using a truck and a knife, a nut-job killed 7 and injured 8 people in a shopping arcade. Or the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market incident where (albeit accidentally) 10 people were killed and 63 injured by an out of control driver.

Again, though, since there were no scary guns involved such occurrences apparently pass beneath the notice of Dr. Ron. Oh, he also has some trenchant insights into the relationship of gun ownership, firearms laws, and violent crime in the US:

Of course, proving causal connections (vs mere associations) between gun regulations and violent crime rates is exceedingly difficult, given the multitude of confounding variables. Yet one myth that continues to be proffered by those who oppose any regulation of firearms is that gun ownership decreases crime rates and “keeps people safe.” In truth, there is little credible evidence to support these claims, and considerable evidence against them.

Apparently “little credible evidence” is hoplophobic shrink-speak for “reams of data collected by Drs. Lott and Mustard correlating over a dozen factors showing more guns lead to less crime, which has been substantiated in 18 peer-reviewed studies” while “considerable evidence” is a single peer-reviewed study coming from a pair of notoriously anti-gun researchers.

Of course, laws have other purposes, beyond the expectation that they will actually reduce or prevent a specific injurious or antisocial act. Laws also represent society’s moral values, and our intention to set limits on certain types of behavior. Laws may also reflect society’s wish to reduce the likelihood of certain types of injurious behavior, even while realizing that this wish may not be fulfilled. There are, of course, always people with evil intentions who will ignore the law–but that is no reason to omit or expunge the law.

It may come as a surprise to some of my regular readers, but I am actually in favor of laws which punish injurious behavior, as long as the injury is to another (injure yourself all you want). Where I draw the line is when laws are passed in an attempt to prevent bad behavior. These mala prohibita laws, (Latin for “bad because I say so”) as opposed to mala in se (“bad in and of itself”) And just because a law represents society’s moral values doesn’t make it a good one (look up anti-miscegenation laws sometime).

The point of mala prohibita laws is not to punish bad behavior but to try and prevent it which is why what Dr. Ron says next is really kooky:

Similarly, even if we could not demonstrate that laws banning production and private ownership of rapid-fire, semi-automatic weapons actually reduced mass shootings, a civilized society would still have sound ethical reasons for retaining these laws. That is, these laws legitimately reflect society’s value judgment that no good will come from the possession of such destructive weapons by private citizens–and that much harm may ensue.

Setting aside the fact that the freedom to own and carry the weapon of your choice is a natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil and Constitutional right, what Pies is saying is that even with proof that these laws are useless (like statistics showing that in 2010 twice as many people were beaten to death with fists than were killed with any sort of rifle — “assault” or not) it’s still good to have them because it makes people feel good.

So in Dr. Pies’ orange-skied world, rights don’t matter, facts are inconsequential and reality is a trifle — as long as people feel good about their laws. And they call us nuts.