Dilbert and Gun Control

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, took some time away from praising Donald Trump’s abilities at persuasion to explain why “commonsense gun control” isn’t getting anywhere in America.

On average, Democrats (that’s my team*) use guns for shooting the innocent. We call that crime.

On average, Republicans use guns for sporting purposes and self-defense.

If you don’t believe me, you can check the statistics on the Internet that don’t exist. At least I couldn’t find any that looked credible.

But we do know that race and poverty are correlated. And we know that poverty and crime are correlated. And we know that race and political affiliation are correlated. Therefore, my team (Clinton) is more likely to use guns to shoot innocent people, whereas the other team (Trump) is more likely to use guns for sporting and defense.

That’s a gross generalization. Obviously. Your town might be totally different.

So it seems to me that gun control can’t be solved because Democrats are using guns to kill each other – and want it to stop – whereas Republicans are using guns to defend against Democrats. Psychologically, those are different risk profiles. And you can’t reconcile those interests, except on the margins. For example, both sides might agree that rocket launchers are a step too far. But Democrats are unlikely to talk Republicans out of gun ownership because it comes off as “Put down your gun so I can shoot you.”

Scott Adams is being humorous but his observations are essentially correct. Gun control has become yet another one of those intractable culture war issues. People’s opinions on this matter are a reflection of their own values and experiences and since different people have different values, this is not an issue that it is easy, or even possible, to come to any sort of national consensus on policy.

The people who support stricter gun control laws tend to live in urban areas. For them, guns are weapons wielded by the bad guys to commit violent crimes. They probably do not own any guns and have only seen guns used in the movies and on television. Gun use is not a part of their lives and guns are strange and alien to them. For some of the better educated, guns may symbolize the violence which they believe that they believe that they have evolved beyond, forgetting perhaps that they are protected from violence by armed policemen and soldiers and maybe even private security. Guns are “icky” for them and we would all be better off if they would all go away.

The people who oppose stricter gun control laws often live in rural areas and small towns. For them, guns are essential tools for self defense and recreation. In place where response time to emergencies may be many minutes or even hours, it seems foolish not be able to take care of yourself. They may have grown up around guns or may have a military or law enforcement background so guns are familiar to them. For many, guns may symbolize freedom and self-reliance and they reinforce their self image as rugged individuals descended from frontiersmen. They may have an instinctive feel for the medieval concept that a free man is an armed man so when someone says, “we must control guns to prevent crimes”, they hear, “we must take away your guns to take away your freedom”.

When two sides are talking past one another, speaking practically different languages, it is almost impossible to come to any solution that satisfies both sides. As Scott Adams puts it.

Let’s all take a deep breath and shake off the mental discomfort I just induced in half of my readers. You can quibble with my unsupported assumptions about gun use, but keep in mind that my point is about psychology and about big group averages. If Republicans think they need guns to protect against Democrats, that’s their reality. And if Democrats believe guns make the world more dangerous for themselves, that is their reality. And they can both be right. Your risk profile is different from mine.

So let’s stop acting as if there is something like “common sense” gun control to be had if we all act reasonably. That’s not an option in this case because we all have different risk profiles when it comes to guns. My gun probably makes me safer, but perhaps yours makes you less safe. You can’t reconcile those interests.

Our situation in the United States is that people with different risk profiles are voting for their self-interests as they see it. There is no compromise to be had in this situation unless you brainwash one side or the other to see their self-interest differently. And I don’t see anyone with persuasion skills trying to do that on either side.

If we had a real government – the kind that works – we would acknowledge that gun violence is not one big problem with one big solution. It is millions of people with different risk profiles voting their self-interest as they see it.

In fact, it is very difficult to come to a consensus on almost any really divisive issue in a diverse country that spans a continent and has a population of more than three hundred million. All of those culture war issues; abortion, gay marriage, gun control, etc might be more easily resolved if the people in each state or region were permitted to find their own solutions to these controversial issues. If California were permitted to enact strict gun control laws and Utah could ban abortion, while Massachusetts encouraged gay marriage and Tennessee forbade it than the residents of California, Utah, Massachusetts, and Tennessee might be happy with the outcomes, even if the people of other states might not. At least if such decisions were made democratically on the state and local level, people would feel that they had some say in whatever compromises were adopted. As it is, with the left insisting that every problem must have a national, one size fits all solution, enacted by the court if the legislature is not cooperative, people feel as if policies are imposed on them by a distant and unresponsive federal government.

If we had a government that works, it would leave people alone to live their lives as they see fit. It would allow us to cling to our guns and our religion.

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