Econstudentlog

A look back in time

There are many ways to make people shut up, the legal system is but one of many and the others deserve attention too. Imagine anyone doing roughly the same sketch today, only replace the ‘confused old gasbag’ with a similar ‘confused old gasbag’ who also happens to be a middle aged muslim who didn’t like the show:

If I was the producer in question in a real world setting of the proposed ‘updated’ sketch, the main reason why I wouldn’t dare say what Fry says openly in this sketch would not be that I’d be afraid of a lawsuit; I wouldn’t say it because saying it would mean that somebody might attempt to break my legs or kill me. I think it’s fair to say that back then, it was easier and safer to simply ignore the nutters than it is today.

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March 10, 2010 - Posted by | freedom of speech

6 Comments »

  1. I know this is a view foreign to the European public, but the barbaric Americans have found a solution to that – an armed populace. I would have no problem saying this to a nutjob, because if any thugs have aspirations to breaking my legs, they have no recourse but to make a very explicit bet that they are better shots than I am, and also than my friendly neighbors are. And that is exactly the kind of bet thugs and bullies do not like – they prey on the weak. Furthermore, believe it or not, the fact that I own a firearm does not in any way endanger any law-abiding citizen, and I would argue that it makes them safer – I know I feel safer that my neighbor own a .357, and I can count on his help 24/7, as he can count on mine, albeit with a 9 mm. And finally, even people who choose not to be armed benefit from my being armed, as a thug has no way of knowing who is armed or not, unless the unarmed are stupid enough to advertise it – and, ironically, many actually are.

    Comment by Plamus | March 12, 2010 | Reply

  2. @Plamus:

    Always nice to get an ‘outside view’ of things. You probably don’t know this, but the above post was partly motivated by the recent arrest of 7 Muslims involved in a plot to murder the Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks (here’s an article in English about the arrests). Kurt Westergaard, a Danish cartoonist, was attempted murdered in his house earlier this year, despite being under constant protection by the Danish police.

    There’s a long and interesting debate about the pros and cons of different gun control regimes to be had – and I’ve had this debate with other Danes previously here on this blog. But regarding this particular subject, as far as I can see more guns won’t solve the problem. Speak like Fry and you risk some very nasty stuff, no matter how many guns you have. The guy who tried to kill Westergaard also tried to kill the policemen who tried to arrest him, and they had to shoot him more than once just to arrest him.

    Guns aren’t a deterrent if the guy you’re up against don’t care if he lives or dies. Guns also don’t work if you’re stabbed from behind with a knife. I could probably be convinced, if I saw some data confirming the thesis, that more guns would decrease random violence somewhat. But if you were to speak like Fry would do in the modified sketch, there would be nothing ‘random’ about the violence you’d be likely to suffer. It wouldn’t be random at all, both you and everybody else know by now that speaking like that can get you killed. The guy who attacked Westergaard was armed with an axe. Would he have been more or less likely to have brought a gun if guns were much easier to acquire?

    Comment by US | March 14, 2010 | Reply

  3. “Guns aren’t a deterrent if the guy you’re up against don’t care if he lives or dies.” – I am not sure I agree, even though I see where you are coming from. It’s true, if a determined suicidal assailant were told before embarking on their mission “Oh, by the way, your target has a gun.”, they probably would not balk. The likelihood that he/she will succeed, however, goes down a lot more than you can imagine*, and the uncertainty (variance) of the outcome goes up. People like the one who tried to murder Westergaard do not mind dying as long as they accomplish their mission, but they see the mission as having a realistic (probably most often high) chance of succeeding. If the chance drops a lot, that’s at least an added cost in terms of training for the assailant, but also more likely to make it more difficult for his puppet masters to recruit others.

    “I could probably be convinced, if I saw some data confirming the thesis, that more guns would decrease random violence somewhat.” – There are some natural experiments to support this, for example the rise in violent crime (home invasions, “knife culture”, etc.) in the UK after the “Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997″. Of course, the data, as with most social science research, are noisy, and many concurrent exogenous factors muddy the picture, such as changes in statutory treatment of self defense, i.e. obligation to retreat, and threat of prosecution for hurting and assailant even in self-defense. You may find this paper interesting: http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf

    “The guy who attacked Westergaard was armed with an axe. Would he have been more or less likely to have brought a gun if guns were much easier to acquire?” – But guns are easy to acquire, my friend. That’s the hard fact of life, even in Europe – I vaguely recall an article (cannot find it, but it was probably a good 5 years ago) by a Dutch journalist, who set out to try to acquire an illegal gun. It took him less than one day, and cost him about $100 equivalent to bribe some lowlife in a shady part of Amsterdam, and then roughly $1000 to the guy the first one connected him with, for a gun and 2 full clips of ammo. I hate to repeat cliches but… when guns are outlawed, only the outlaws have guns. The penalty for possession of an illegal firearm will not deter your assailant one bit, but will deter his/her law-abiding victim from defending themselves. That the guy brought an axe means he is an idiot, which is what most (not all) terrorists are – the “brains”, however, most often do not do the wetwork. But he did not bring a gun not because they are hard to obtain, but because to effectively use a firearm requires training.

    My broader point is that nowadays many governments actively try do prevent their constituents from self-defense, but utterly fail to provide effective protection in return (example: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/world-news/mumbai-photographer-i-wish-id-had-a-gun-not-a-camera-armed-police-would-not-fire-back-14086308.html). The failure is so common and profound that many countries (certainly the US) have statutes (in the US case, Supreme Court ruling) stating that police have no obligation to protect you – in order to prevent lawsuits. That’s immoral any way you look at it.

    *I would estimate the probability that an assailant with a bladed weapon (axe, knife) succeeds in killing an unarmed victim at 80-90%; the probability against a victim with a firearm and 50 hours of practice – 10-20%, and the bulk of those 10-20% would be attack initiated from very close proximity, before a gun can be drawn and aimed; hence, if in addition to practice the victim had situational awareness – I would estimate 5%, give or take. In a situation of home invasion, where the assailant has to break through a door or window, find the victim inside, etc. – he’s a dead man. Contrast this with Lars Vilks’ panic room (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article7057180.ece): “… and an axe which will allow him “to chop down” anyone breaking in through his windows.” It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. And you cannot carry the panic room with you outside…

    Comment by Plamus | March 15, 2010 | Reply

  4. Hi Plamus

    First, just so you know, it was wordpress that put your comment in the moderation queue, not me (it was surely because of the many links).

    Second, even if it’s easy to get a hold of an illegal gun, the point stands that the homicidal maniac who paid Westergaard a visit didn’t bring one. I’m not saying he wasn’t stupid. I’m saying that if it had been even easier to get a gun, say if everybody had a gun lying around in a desk drawer, the likelihood that he’d have brought a gun would have been higher – and also that the likelihood that Westergaard had been killed would have been higher. Please don’t tell me there aren’t marginal effects at play here. Also, if a criminal like that guy don’t use a gun, you could just as easily conclude that it’s probably because guns are somewhat difficult to acquire (you might add: “for a stupid guy” – but that’s not a good counterargument, since a lot of violent criminals are pretty damn stupid) as you could conclude that it’s because he hasn’t learned how to use the weapon properly. I know we’re talking anecdotes here, but the data is very messy.

    Third, we completely agree about how insane it is when governments a) rob people of their right to defend themselves and then b) don’t do the job they’re supposed to do either. This is without a doubt going on in Denmark, and I’ve criticized it multiple times both on this blog and elsewhere, because I consider it a very frightening development. Many criminals simply have no respect for the Danish police any more, and one of the reasons (not the only one, there are many…) is that Danish policemen apparently think the guns they are walking around with are just for show. As we’re no longer allowed to shoot at criminals, I’d sure like to see the police do it once in a while, but a) it almost never happens and b) when it does happen, apparently almost everybody seem to think in a great majority of the cases that what happened was a horrible thing that should never happen again, instead of a necessary use of force.

    Fourth, I’d like to remind you and other readers that the main point of this post was to argue that it’s become a lot more dangerous to behave in a ‘respectless’ manner like the one Fry did in the video than it used to be, because it’s becoming a lot more difficult and dangerous to simply ignore the nutters. Today, we still have morons like the ‘disgusting’ lady around, but now we also have morons walking around who’ll send you death threats and physically attack you if you behave in a way that the morons consider ‘disrespectfull’. That is, what many people seem to consider ‘indirect’, non-judicial threats against freedom of speech have, when it comes to certain specific areas of public debate, increased greatly during the period in question. I don’t think there can be any doubt about this development, and I consider it very troubling.

    Comment by US | March 17, 2010 | Reply

  5. Thanks for your reply, US.

    On your first point – no worries about the moderation, it’s to be expected, but thanks.

    On the other points, it seems we are in pretty close agreement.

    The main point of your post, as you describe it, is well taken. My digression into gun control was to outline one potential policy that can mitigate it, no to detract from the merits of the argument. The assault on free speech is very real; I would add that I am no less worried by governments’ stifling of free speech in order to maintain an uneasy faux “social peace”. Our whole culture has moved quite far towards embracing a “right not to be offended”, which I personally loathe. Tolerance, which I am all for, does not equate respect. Tolerance is owed, but respect must be earned. If you have a view I do not like, I do not claim a right to silence you. I do claim a right to denounce and mock your view any way I please, short of (threat of) physical coercion on your self and/or property. The marketplace of ideas is under assault. And it’s working, as the cases of Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (among many others) demonstrate.

    Comment by Plamus | March 18, 2010 | Reply

  6. @Plamus

    We are indeed in close agreement.

    Comment by US | March 18, 2010 | Reply


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