Streetwise Professor

December 9, 2015

Guns, Laws, and Money

Filed under: Politics,Regulation — The Professor @ 8:49 pm

The San Bernardino massacre unleashed an all-too-common phenomenon: literally (and I am using the word properly) before the bodies were even cold, politicians, pundits, and the hoi polloi (especially on Twitter) were using the atrocity to advance their own preferred narrative. The most common of these on the left was the gun control narrative. Hillary Clinton was one of the first off the mark to use San Bernardino to call for more stringent gun control measures. You know, before anyone–most notably one Hillary Rodham Clinton–knew anything about what had happened, beyond the fact that more than a dozen people had died. Obama was actually somewhat reserved, by his standards on this issue, and unexpectedly soft-pedaled his gun control message in his Oval Office speech on Sunday. But on the left the gun control drum was pounded for all it was worth, notably in a New York Times front page editorial.

Mass shootings like San Bernardino and Colorado Springs catalyze a flurry of calls for further restrictions on gun ownership, though these calls are frequently lacking in specifics, and are often more like ritual acts and political signaling of right-thinking (or should I say left-thinking?) views than concrete proposals. Moreover, mass shootings also unleash a volley of bad and misleading statistics. So bad, in fact, that those using them are almost certainly doing so in bad faith.

This phenomenon is not limited to activists, or the left generally. Even allegedly reputable mainstream publications like The Economist also peddle agitprop. The MO is to claim that mass shootings occur almost daily in the US: when brought up in the context of a Newtown or Aurora, the clear intent is to suggest that these types of mass shootings are representative. But even a cursory look shows that this is definitely not the case.

The mass-shooting-a-day statistics are based on a very expansive definition of mass shooting, such as three or more victims (not necessarily fatalities). Moreover, they lump together a very heterogeneous collection of episodes, which differ materially from the mass shooting events like those that have occurred in San Bernardino and Colorado Springs. For instance, they include gang drive by shootings or the likely gang-related shooting at a park in New Orleans 3 weeks ago. They also include a brawls at biker bars and other such criminal mayhem involving more than two people.

The one-size-fits-all term “mass shooting” doesn’t fit such varied phenomena, and one-size-fits-all-policies are unlikely to work either.  Indeed, even the most deadly mass shootings that get the most attention, are highly idiosyncratic. Newtown is very different from Colorado Springs is very different from San Bernardino is very different from Charleston is different from Fort Hood in terms of the perpetrators, methods,  and targets.

Contrary The Economist’s risible claim that “such atrocities are still drastically underreported,” the attention that  they get may arguably overstates their importance. The Newtown-type attacks  kill about as many Americans in a year as the average daily homicide toll. The United States does have a high murder rate (both gun and non-gun) compared to other high-income nations, although the rate has about halved in the last two decades.

Furthermore, murder, including murder with firearms, is not uniformly distributed across the US. To the contrary, it is highly concentrated geographically, and demographically. The statistics are quite shocking.

About 75 percent of murders occur in 3 percent of the counties in the US. Demographically, the concentration is even more pronounced. It is not exclusively, but overwhelmingly, a young, black, male phenomenon. The white murder rate is about 2.5 per 100,000. That’s roughly double of European rates, but not nearly as anomalous as the US rate overall. Indeed, white murder rates outside the South and Southwest are pretty much the same as European rates.

The truly horrific rates are among young black urban males, with especially high rates in Southern cities. Whereas the US firearms homicide rate is about 4/100,000, among African American men 20-24, it is almost 90. Yes: more than 22 times higher.  Even black women in that age cohort have a high rate, 7 per 100,000, or about 5 times the white female murder rate.

In sum, gun laws are fairly uniform across the United States, and gun ownership is widespread, but gun murder is not: if anything gun laws are most restrictive in places where gun crime is most rampant. Therefore, relatively easy access to guns is not sufficient to explain America’s elevated (compared to other OECD countries) murder rate. The regional and demographic variation shows that cultural and socioeconomic factors are important drivers. (The fact that non-firearm murder rates in the US are high compared to other countries, and also exhibit similar geographic and demographic variations reinforces this point.) Again contrary to The Economist, it is not true that “the link between guns and gun violence” is obvious. There are a lot of guns where there’s not a lot of violence. Guns don’t exercise a malign mesmeric effect on anyone who touches them. There is a mixture of social and cultural factors and guns that produce violence.

This tends to undercut the proposition that increasing restrictions on gun ownership will have much of an impact on murder rates. That said, even if other factors drive murder rates, greater restrictions on guns could still be beneficial: guns are complements to these other factors in the production of violence, including mortal violence, and the taxation of complements can be a way of reducing the frequency and severity of bad conduct produced using them.

But it is highly doubtful whether any remotely politically possible law–that is a law that would not have large effects on the hundred million-plus law-abiding gun owners in America, many of whom are very politically active–will have a meaningful impact on the pathologies that inflict many communities in the US.

In brief, it is evident that those who commit crimes with guns are highly inelastic demanders. Most of the high-murder rate localities already have draconian gun control laws, which include substantial penalties for violations. Furthermore, those most likely to kill (and be killed) with firearms are engaged in illegal conduct (e.g., drug dealing) that is subject to severe legal sanctions, and believe that guns are necessary for them to engage in this conduct. Thus, those most likely to kill with a firearm possess them despite the fact that they incur a large cost to do so. Further restrictions are unlikely to induce them to adjust on either the intensive or extensive margin (e.g., by changing “careers”), because they will lead to only small increases in the cost they incur to possess and use weapons.*

(Those bent on mass mayhem, be they terrorists, or psychotics, or narcissists looking for fame, or racist losers looking to spark a race war, are also likely to be inelastic demanders. These acts are the productive of obsessions that will drive those in their grip to go to great lengths to circumvent any attempt to prevent them.)

And we know prohibitionism doesn’t work. It didn’t work with alcohol in the 20s and 30s. It hasn’t worked with narcotics for decades. It doesn’t work with guns now, even in places like France, where terrorists clearly have had no problem obtaining deadly arsenals. (Take a look at reports of how many guns French and Belgian police seized in raids in the days after Friday, November 13.) The world is awash in guns. Guns that are quite functional for criminals are quite easy to manufacture. (Anybody remember the days when “Saturday Night Specials,” not Glocks or AKs were the bane of society–back when murder rates were far higher, by the way?) Those who think that passing laws against guns, including outright bans, will keep them out of the hands of those most likely to commit crimes with them–including mass murder–has their eyes closed to reality.

It is also ironic that many of those who are most vocal in calling for draconian restrictions on guns are also loudest in their condemnations of how the burdens of drug prohibitionism fall most heavily on minorities, who are imprisoned at high rates for drug crimes. Whom, pray tell, do they expect will be most frequently imprisoned for gun possession or trafficking, given that the same demographic is responsible for a greatly disproportionate fraction of gun crimes?

It should also be noted that minority communities are not enthusiastic about gun control, and for understandable reasons. Gun laws in cities like Chicago and DC are (a) almost wholly ineffective in curbing gun crime, and (b) render law-abiding people, mainly minority, defenseless against the (illegally) armed predators that live among them.

Americans recognize all this for the most part. Even though Obama and Hillary and others on the left furiously attempt to exploit any mass slaying to advance the gun control agenda, a solid (and growing) majority of Americans disagree. Indeed, they tend to vote with their wallets: a mass shooting, and political posturing about gun control, is followed by a spike in gun sales as surely as day follows night. Some wags have suggested that Obama must own shares in Ruger and Smith & Wesson, because he is so good for business.

The gun debate has become repetitive and sterile, more of a political Punch & Judy show than a constructive conversation. It is particularly appalling that innocent victims are seldom no more than political props in these debates.

Gun murders, which range from crimes of passion to political terrorism, are too diverse and complex to be addressed with simplistic, one-size-fits-all solutions. Prohibitionism, or draconian restrictions that approach prohibition–to the law abiding–despite (or is it because of?) its popularity on the left, is particularly counterproductive.

Murder, including murder by firearms, has declined substantially in the past 20 years. We should be grateful for that, and focus on ways to extend that decline: revising drug laws and punishments is likely to be a more productive way to do this than revising gun laws. But progress will at best be incremental. And the most difficult area to make progress will be mass shootings, given the extreme motivation of the perpetrators, and the diversity of their motives.

* This is related to the “Mickey Mouse Monopoly” effect that Walter Oi wrote about years ago. Oi noted that the demand for tickets to Disneyland was highly inelastic because the ticket itself contributed a relatively modest amount to the total cost of going to Disneyland. For everyone but locals, trip to the park required extensive travel (e.g., a plane trip or long car trip), lodging for several nights, dining out, etc. If the price of a ticket represented say 10 percent of the total cost of the trip, doubling the cost of a ticket only increased the cost of the entire trip by 10 percent. This made the demand for tickets inelastic. If the demand for a visit to Disneyland had an elasticity of 1, the demand for tickets had an elasticity equal to 1 times the share of a trip represented by the ticket. So if that share was 10 percent, the elasticity for tickets was only .1, meaning that Disney could raise ticket prices substantially without reducing the number of visitors much at all.


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  1. A sensible article. I am a licensed firearms owner in Australia – for many years. The 1996 massacre by a lunatic in Port Arthur,Tasmania, provided an opening for the crazies in the gun control lobby and the Federal and State governments to introduce very stupid and draconian firearms laws. These are an imposition on law abiding shooters and have done nothing to reduce the use of illegal firearms. Only very strict import controls and better policing will do that and guess who doesn’t want to spend the money.

    I have a bit of advice (not that it is needed) for law abiding firearms owners in the USA – fight like hell any attempt to take away your right to bear arms.

    Comment by Podargus — December 10, 2015 @ 12:19 am

  2. Professor,

    Much of what you write is reasonable and gun control certainly isn’t a magical fix for all sorts of violent crime. However, I still take issue with the following:

    Those bent on mass mayhem, be they terrorists, or psychotics, or narcissists looking for fame, or racist losers looking to spark a race war, are also likely to be inelastic demanders. These acts are the productive of obsessions that will drive those in their grip to go to great lengths to circumvent any attempt to prevent them.

    I have already mentioned the case of Breivik in earlier comments; it was not lack of motivation and lack of crazed obsession that prevented him from acquiring the guns he wanted. Further refutation of the crazy people will find guns no matter what narrative is found with the chinese school slashers: they are, one has to assume, every bit as obsessively focused on their crimes as the school shooters, but they fail to find any more effective weapons than kitchen knives, thus greatly reducing the damage they manage to inflict.

    Regarding the terrorists in Paris and Copenhagen, who did use automatic weapons, it should be remembered that they operated out of an environment of organized crime (the Copenhagen perpetrator was a known gang member and serial offender who was just out of prison at the time of the attacks). These young men in european suburbs are a parallel to the young black men in failed american communities that you discuss. It is quite right that gun control will not magically take away places like Molenbeek or Ferguson, or even take away much of the guns illegally traded in them, the evidence however that it could prevent the psychotics and racist losers you mention from acquiring guns is overwhelming.

    Comment by mahmoud — December 10, 2015 @ 2:10 am

  3. @ mahmoud

    Isn’t the difference versus the Chinese situation that you outline that there are 300 million firearms extant in America?

    Laws to control gun ownership, in countries that have these, rely on restricting new owners. They are then quite effective. But in a country in which there are already a third of a billion such weapons in private hands, but no complete record of whose hands or where they are, a law that limits new ownership and/or criminalises undeclared continuing ownership also requires an amnesty, so the law abiding can hand them in.

    If 200 million are so handed in, does that materially improve the situation? The 100 million left will be those hung onto by criminals (leaving aside the point that anyone who keeps one illegally becomes a criminal).

    What percentage of guns in America are used to commit crimes compared, say, to the percentage of cars so used? Did the San Bernardino loonies turn up in a car, and if they did, is that an argument for outlawing all cars?

    Comment by Green As Grass — December 10, 2015 @ 6:56 am

  4. Prohibition of alcohol “could” eliminate DUI related deaths. Prohibition of drugs “could” eliminate addiction related health problems (in all honesty there does appear to be a correlation between psychopharmeceuticals and multiple killings). Prohibition of hateful speech “could” eliminate violence.

    Anyone that gladly outsources protection of their home and family to the government is a fool with a needlessly endangered family.

    Comment by pahoben — December 10, 2015 @ 9:58 am

  5. …but correlation doesn’t mean causation.

    Comment by pahoben — December 10, 2015 @ 10:02 am

  6. Green As Grass,

    I’m not at all convinced that the only important factor is the number of (legal and illegal) guns in circulation, considering again that Breivik failed to obtain any of the very large number of illegally circulating automatic weapons in Europe. As for the other part: the difficulty of implementing gun control in the US isn’t really an argument either way for the effectiveness of gun control (if properly implemented). (It might be an argument against trying to implement and enforce such laws, but that isn’t really the topic of the post.)

    Your analogy with cars ignores one thing: there are plenty of (quite important) uses for a car besides transporting you during a crime, whereas there are no uses at all for (automatic) weapons besides violence.

    Comment by mahmoud — December 10, 2015 @ 11:06 am

  7. Mahmoud:

    Another of your (many) errors of assumption:

    “…there are no uses at all for (automatic) weapons besides violence.”

    The MAIN reason for ALL weapons, firearms in particular (pistols, shotguns, semi- or auto-), is SELF DEFENSE. FEW are utilized in violence & even then, rarely, compared to how many are owned. In that case, in the VAST MAJORITY, they are effective, even when ‘unused.’


    Comment by Vlad — December 10, 2015 @ 11:21 am

  8. Isn’t the difference versus the Chinese situation that you outline that there are 300 million firearms extant in America?

    Quite. Mahmoud seems to think they are biodegradeable.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 10, 2015 @ 12:39 pm

  9. To be able to kill more people with an automatic vs semiautomatic requires special circomstances so don’t accept your ever repeated thesis with respect to Breivik. It is certainly possible to kill as many people per unit of time with a semiauto.

    LOL Tim. If biodegradation resulted in carbon dioxide release what a quandry we would have.

    Exactly right Vlad unused they offer an effective deterrent. In my area in the US a criminal has to assume he will be met with armed force and it is a nice peaceful area.

    Comment by pahoben — December 10, 2015 @ 1:29 pm

  10. @mahmoud-I don’t know why you keep bringing up Breivik as an example. He obviously obtained enough weaponry to kill dozens. Maybe not the weaponry he wanted, but he persisted and got a weapon that was perfectly adequate for his task.

    The automatic/semi-automatic issue is a red herring. Untrained users of automatics often “spray and pray”, and end up wasting huge amounts of ammunition without hitting anything. The US military, the Marines in particular, emphasize aimed fire with weapons on semi-automatic. This is much more lethal. Those fighting Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan were unnerved by the ability of US troops to take out enemies at range with one or two shots. You can tell where the Americans are and where their enemies are by the nature of the firing. Americans fire single shots, their forces fire on automatic.

    Particularly if you are shooting at close range, especially in an enclosed space, automatic fire is unnecessary. Further, no mass shootings in the US have involved fully automatic weapons.

    And as several commenters have noted, outside of police states like China, the motivated can access firearms.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 10, 2015 @ 8:37 pm

  11. Professor,

    The case of Breivik shows that gun control works – he could not obtain the illegal guns he sought for – so if you are worried about the damage he managed to do with the guns he legally obtained the conclusion should be that those guns ought to be more strictly controlled as well. (So we completely agree that the (semi-)automatic issue is a red herring.)


    What was not mentioned in the post is that almost all of the young black men who carry out most of the gun violence in the US kill other black men with guns, your self-defense is thus more of self-deception; if you are worried about ending up as a victim of gun violence you should stay away from guns and those who own them.

    Comment by mahmoud — December 10, 2015 @ 11:20 pm

  12. Never happen in Texas so you have life long opportunities for righteous indignation. If you feel threatned by guns you shouldn’t visit Texas.

    For rural areas and significant portions of urban areas in the US the main service LE can provide is to draw chalk outlines on the floor. The response time for my house is 45 minutes to one hour and I live in an urban area.

    As a Police Chief in the Dallas area noted recently many people see guns as their last defense against an over reaching government. Statists hate guns because many people see them as their last defense against an over reaching government.

    The number of people killed by guns in the US is small compared to the number of people that die in traffic accidents. The number of people killed by guns in the US is miniscule compared to the number of people that die from heart disease. And from there the number of people killed by semiauto rifles is a very very small percentage of the number of people that are killed by guns. Semiauto rifles are nothing but a cause celebre for the statist ideologies of the Left. Smoke pot, don’t own guns, and be a good little ward of the state.

    Comment by pahoben — December 11, 2015 @ 2:54 am

  13. I do suspect that the strategy of not wasting any tragedy has been taken to a new level but readily admit I could be mistaken.

    Comment by pahoben — December 11, 2015 @ 3:32 am

  14. @ mahmoud

    “the difficulty of implementing gun control in the US isn’t really an argument either way for the effectiveness of gun control”

    In general terms I suppose that’s true – but we aren’t talking in general terms. We’re talking (or rather the usual suspects are talking) about gun control in the US; a country with 300 million guns in it. Until those are accounted for, you still have a gun problem, gun control or no, so any proposals need to take them into account.

    I am not sure what Breivik proves, really. If you’re an Islamofascist loony in France, you have quite good network connections to Bosnian Muslims with weapon stashes left over from their early 1990s war, and no borders to cross bringing them to Paris, hence November 13. If you’re a Norwegian neo-Nazi, not so much. Norway is not in the EU, so for him to “obtain any of the very large number of illegally circulating automatic weapons in Europe”, he’d still have needed to cross a national border carrying it. That remains quite hard. And that’s without considering how someone like him makes contact in the first place with the type of Balkan criminal who’s likeliest to be able to source such ex-Warsaw Pact weaponry.

    I think all one can say is that if there are few weapons in circulation to begin with, gun control may indeed get the number down to almost zero. If there are 300 million in circulation, however, then you’re starting from somewhere else.

    That’s before considering that Switzerland and Israel have no gun control either, have loads of firearms in private hands and don’t generally have spree killers.

    Comment by Green As Grass — December 11, 2015 @ 3:57 am

  15. Green As Grass,

    The proper order in which to consider this would be: (i) What can gun control accomplish? (ii) How would you go about getting control of the 300 million guns in the US?

    The EU border between Norway and Sweden is even easier to cross than the borders between EU countries (Norway is part of Schengen, so there isn’t even any legal difference) and Breivik wouldn’t have any more problems getting a bosnian gun into Norway than getting it into France. The problem as you say is contacts, by Breivik’s own account his attempted way was to walk into a brothel in Prague and politely ask if someone had a kalashnikov to sell him (no, you can’t make this stuff up). This apparently didn’t meet with much success (but probably quite a few good laughs).

    Switzerland really doesn’t have anything like the american way of open-for-all gunshops, they do have a large number of weapons in private hands but those are army weapons kept in the home as a part of their decentralized home guard military system. This does have its backsides too: look up the case of Corinne Rey-Bellet who was murdered along with her brother by her ex-husband using his military weapon, prompting some to question the wisdom of the each-man-with-a-rifle defense.

    Comment by mahmoud — December 11, 2015 @ 5:41 am

  16. The proper order in which to consider this would be: (i) What can gun control accomplish? (ii) How would you go about getting control of the 300 million guns in the US?

    This sounds like something from the Soviet Union: (i) What can socialism accomplish? (ii) How would you go about getting control of 300 million people?

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 11, 2015 @ 7:52 am

  17. Mahmoud starts from the premise that guns need to go, regardless of whether or not that is a good idea or not. He repeatedly ignores the fact that merely owning & possessing a weapon can make a 120 pound woman deter an attack from a group of larger thugs, merely by the confidence she displays because of what she carries in her purse. There are no statistics for that. And he is unable to concede that the main reason for an armed populace is to deter the state from tyranny. Mahmoud is driving his cart in front of his horse.

    In his defense, unlike most gun-grabbers, he does argue politely, and occasionally does concede invalid points.

    Comment by Vlad — December 11, 2015 @ 8:46 am

  18. I see that I should have inserted the qualification that one, upon deciding that the answer to (i) is “not much”, might decide that implementing any such thing is a bad idea. What one should not do is to ignore (i) entirely (or merely decide, ignoring most facts, that the answer must be “nothing all”) and go on detailing all the problems related to (ii).

    Vlad, fortunately we do have quite a lot of statistics on the point of “deter the state from tyranny” and it isn’t very good: consider how it went for the libyans, yemenites and syrians when the local powerman decided to turn the army on a populace armed with rifles. This does bring another odd point to attention: Why is ownership of handguns a divine right, whereas you seldom hear people passionately argue for privately owned tanks and RPGs? Or Elon Musk’s right to put some nuclear warheads on the SpaceX rockets to protect his investments?

    Comment by mahmoud — December 11, 2015 @ 9:11 am

  19. Mahmoud:

    1) You again prove Vlad’s point. Had MORE (in Syria, Libya or Yemen) citizens (INSTEAD of only strongmen), NOT less, had MORE weapons, the radicals never could have taken over. The unarmed merely cease opposition & follow whoever is in charge. They are sheep. Sheep can depend on sheepdogs or guard dogs as long as the sheepdogs are not outnumbered or co-opted by the wolves.

    2) No arguments are made against the gov’t confiscating tanks, RPGs or nukes, b/c the gov’t hasn’t proposed it. Vlad trusts the majority of citizens w/ these weapons far more than some of the folks who currently possess them. It’s a countervailing force type of thing. But a different [straw man] argument.

    Some excellent stats here:

    Also confirmed by Gary Kleck @ FSU College of Criminology, a man who once felt EXACTLY as YOU do now, did research, & with an open mind, realized he was wrong. Mahmoud, check the citations. Review them. And YOU be the judge.

    It seems pretty obvious, does it not?


    Comment by Vlad — December 11, 2015 @ 10:23 am

  20. Vlad stands corrected. Elon Musk should not be trusted w/ gov’t money. … or nukes.


    Comment by Vlad — December 11, 2015 @ 10:24 am

  21. @Tim Newman

    I’m glad someone finally mentioned the sovok union

    when the Bolsheviks came – and they were simply thugs – the first thing they did was to conduct sweeps of the village and confiscate anything that could be used as a weapon against them

    they did it not once, but repeatedly, five, six, seven times

    the farms were then collectivized by force

    and people were then murdered – by the government


    In Switzerland, people go through firearm training, I believe

    Comment by elmer — December 11, 2015 @ 10:36 am

  22. If they can’t keep millions upon millions of illegal immigrants out of the US, how on earth would they keep illegal guns out?

    If they can’t keep drugs out of the prisons, how on earth can they keep them out of the rest of the country?

    Speaking as a foreigner who sold his gun decades ago, I think that the American gun-banning talk I see seems to be dishonest or stupid. And, when it comes from people who are surrounded by armed guards whenever they venture out, risibly hypocritical.

    Comment by dearieme — December 11, 2015 @ 10:42 am

  23. Thermonuclear warheads are designed specifically for their individual carrier missiles. In order for Musk to have sufficient targeting accuracy would require complete redesign of the warhead for the Falcon carrier system. It is evident Musk will not foot the bill for this and so it will not be done unless some government agency pays for the redesign with taxpayer dollars. The redesign will not result in more carbon credits for Musk so really a non starter.

    Comment by pahoben — December 11, 2015 @ 11:13 am

  24. I guess he could make the case that he intends to stop global warming with nuclear winter and thereby obtain the support of the panting Left breathlessly pointing to another indication of his genius.

    Comment by pahoben — December 11, 2015 @ 11:17 am

  25. @elmer & @Tim-Russia is another interesting case. It has very strict gun laws (Obama and the NYT could only dream about getting anything so strict passed here), but a murder rate about double that of the US.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 11, 2015 @ 11:44 pm

  26. Vlad,

    I’m not sure you are aware of the situation in Yemen: it has the second highest guns/capita in the world (after the US) and it’s a place where RPGs are actually for sale in market places and where local militas have enough firepower that they in 2011 staged an artillery attack on the presidential palace, severely injuring the president and making him flee the country. You then confidently assert that the obvious problem in Yemen is that the populace is not sufficiently armed? I fail to see how you could arm them anymore, save by the US donating a davy crockett gun to every able-bodied man in the country. (Your implication that “radicals” will not arm themselves if guns are freely available also puzzles me.)


    You might wish to look at this WHO report that contains the following:

    Among individuals arrested for homicide during 1995 [when homicide rates peaked in Russia], about three quarters were under the influence of alcohol[…]in eastern regions, where alcohol sales were only permitted on
    Saturdays, homicides increased sharply on Sundays.

    One can then reflect on the similarities between an unhealthy russian obsession with vodka, and a similarly unhealthy american obsession with handguns. (I suspect that calls to limit the sale of vodka in russia are met with similar responses as the above, along the lines of “good luck controlling 20 million alcoholics”.)

    Comment by mahmoud — December 12, 2015 @ 2:53 am

  27. @Green as Grass,

    you got it all wrong re Norway and borders. Norway, though not in the EU, is part of Schengen area (and was at the time of Breivik massacre), hence no borders. Bosnia, on the other hand, is outside.

    Comment by Ivan — December 12, 2015 @ 8:35 am

  28. I suspect that calls to limit the sale of vodka in russia are met with similar responses as the above, along the lines of “good luck controlling 20 million alcoholics”.)

    Yes, they were: Gorbachev’s prohibition was a disaster. Keep digging.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 12, 2015 @ 8:47 pm

  29. Tim,

    I wonder how you came to the conclusion that “Gorbachev’s prohibition was a disaster”, a quick googling turned up this paper concluding:

    Alcohol consumption declined markedly, and Russia’s crude death rate fell by an average of 24% per year, implying roughly 1.61 million fewer deaths during the latter 1980s. However, the campaign’s unpopularity and public finance impact led to its repeal shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Russian death rate subsequently climbed rapidly – and the increase associated with the campaign’s end explains a large share of the Russia’s Mortality Crisis (roughly 2.15 million deaths).

    Comment by mahmoud — December 13, 2015 @ 3:27 am

  30. I wonder how you came to the conclusion that “Gorbachev’s prohibition was a disaster”

    Oh, I spoke to many, many people who were living through it. The stories of how the population switched to homemade samagon</em – bathtub vodka – and poisoned themselves on it and other highly dangerous substitutes are worth listening to. And in all the books I've read on Soviet Russia and the effects of the collapse – particularly Catherine Merridale's Night of Stone – nowhere does it cite the repeal of the alcohol ban as being contributory to an increase in Russia’s death rate. The paper you cite appears to be well-intentioned, but the their analysis seems to be rather subjective as do their conclusions – as they admit, the data is not complete and they’ve had to make assumptions.

    Note also the reason why the ban was lifted – it was deeply unpopular. Given how much shit the Soviet citizens were expected to put up with, and did put up with, one appreciates how bad things must have been for the ban to be lifted due to its unpopularity – health figures be damned. It was a disaster, which is still talked about today by those – like my wife – who lived through it.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 13, 2015 @ 4:21 am

  31. Tim,

    I would say a refereed paper using actual (although necessarily incomplete) data trumps “stories I have heard”. Note that no one is denying people switched to moonshine, but the benefits of the decrease in overall consumption apparently saved over a million lives anyway. I find it difficult to call that “disaster”.

    The reversal of (or failure to even attempt) a “deeply unpopular” policy, with enormous positive effects, was exactly what I was referring to above…and why it might be a good idea to go on with it anyway.

    Comment by mahmoud — December 13, 2015 @ 4:41 am

  32. @Tim, who are you going to believe, Soviet statistics or you lying eyes?

    Comment by Ivan — December 13, 2015 @ 7:20 am

  33. But there is another reason why the Soviet prohibition is a good analogy:

    no matter how big a disaster any hypothetical prohibition is going to be, the marxists are certain to find some statistic or other “proving” it was for the greater good, the great unwashed not appreciating their newly found happiness be damned.

    Comment by Ivan — December 13, 2015 @ 7:38 am

  34. I heard stories of people shaving their heads and spraying their scalp with some type of bug spray during the prohibition.

    You over generalize about samagon-some is quite tasty. I always wondered about Ukrainian pervak (first drops) that is represented to be the highest quality samagon because the first drops from the still are high in methanol and acetone. If you drink samagon the best advice is to drink only from a trusted supplier and don’t ever try flaming shots with the stuff unless you intend to burn your house down.

    The stats were bollix as Ivan suggests.

    Comment by pahoben — December 13, 2015 @ 9:59 am

  35. Ted Cruz is the front runner in Iowa according to the latest poll.

    For those that haven’t seen it please watch Making Machine Gun Bacon With Ted Cruz on YouTube. He provides a recipe suitable for use with semi autos. Granted a full auto would speed preparation time but very slightly.

    Comment by pahoben — December 13, 2015 @ 10:20 am

  36. I would say a refereed paper using actual (although necessarily incomplete) data trumps “stories I have heard”.

    Well, I would say that the success of a policy is better measured by asking the opinion of those on whose behalf it is supposedly being implemented than consulting a paper written years later by people on another continent. As others have pointed out 1) the stats are likely bullshit (as the authors don’t quite imply) and 2) how many times have we seen papers justifying brutal Communist policies on the grounds that, statistically, things “improved” but only at a terrible human cost? Rather too often, I’d say.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 14, 2015 @ 12:42 am

  37. Well, I would say that the success of a policy is better measured by asking the opinion of those on whose behalf it is supposedly being implemented

    If this had been how we chose which medical treatments to provide, we would all still be “treated” by bloodletters and magical crystals….

    Also, the claim that data on russian death rates are “bullshit” should come with some support (and not in the form of “stories I have heard…and no russian ever saw a million dead people”), as it stands now it falls within crazy conspiracy theory.

    Comment by mahmoud — December 14, 2015 @ 1:25 am

  38. If this had been how we chose which medical treatments to provide, we would all still be “treated” by bloodletters and magical crystals….

    Well, not really. Note that, for the most part, people being treated by modern medicine still have the choice of whether to accept it or not: it is not forced on them “for the greater good”, with the exception of vaccines (for the simple reason that refusing to be vaccinated has an impact on others).

    Also, the claim that data on russian death rates are “bullshit” should come with some support

    Oh, you mean like I said before? That the data is incomplete and the paper’s authors had to resort to assumptions to fill the gaps? But hey, if you want to believe Soviet statistics then knock yourself out. Just don’t expect to be taken seriously when you invoke them in support of disastrous policies.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 14, 2015 @ 1:59 am

  39. Oh, you mean like I said before?

    No, like you providing an alternative source for russian mortality statistics that backs up your claim that the huge slump seen to coincide with gorbachevian prohibition is somehow a result of soviet statisticians covering up millions of deaths in the late 1980s.

    And no, whereas there are some rights to refuse medical treatment, there are laws against quackery that prohibits the administration of pseudo-treatments.

    Comment by mahmoud — December 14, 2015 @ 2:12 pm

  40. Oh the great things they would achieve, if only marxist theorists in the West were able to unrestrainedly trample over people’s lives the way their Russian brethren did and still do … The Constitution, the rule of law, so annoying this.

    Comment by Ivan — December 14, 2015 @ 3:32 pm

  41. your claim that the huge slump seen to coincide with gorbachevian prohibition is somehow a result of soviet statisticians covering up millions of deaths in the late 1980s.

    Not covering them up, no. Just blatantly lying. After all, this is what the Soviets did as a matter of routine on practically everything, and there was no need for a cover up as nobody cared what the citizens thought and useful idiots in the west would believe their bumper harvest and record tractor production figures regardless. Even today, 25 years after the fall of the USSR, we have those same idiots, or others just like them, believing that Cuba has a world class healthcare system (which its leaders don’t use) and swallowing wholesale Chinese emission figures and financial numbers.

    Still, as I said, feel free to invoke Soviet statistics if you think it helps your cause. At least it saves the rest of us having to take you seriously.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 15, 2015 @ 12:44 am

  42. Here is a glimpse of how the Russkis do it today: . And those are but JV compared to Soviet times.

    Comment by Ivan — December 15, 2015 @ 5:29 am

  43. Mahmoud:

    “The case of Breivik shows that gun control works.”

    Then what are we discussing here? You seem to be saying that the Norway shootings prove BOTH a success & a failure.

    “What was not mentioned in the post is that almost all of the young black men who carry out most of the gun violence in the US kill other black men with guns, your self-defense is thus more of self-deception; if you are worried about ending up as a victim of gun violence you should stay away from guns and those who own them.”

    The simple fact is that most guns are never used outside the target range. When ‘used’ they only need to be brandished to be effective, not even aimed or fired. Your contention proves the EXACT OPPOSITE or your point. Black men are slaughtering black men mostly in cities w/ the most restrictive gun laws.

    You obviously failed to review the sources previously provided which refute all of your erroneous assumptions.


    Comment by Vlad — December 15, 2015 @ 6:12 pm

  44. would love to see this studied using game theory. would you use your gun as a weapon if you knew there was a high probability of getting shot? Would crazies, terrorists etc also think differently about using guns as their method of choice versus other means of destruction?

    Comment by pointsnfigures — December 16, 2015 @ 2:13 pm

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