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Bruce Schneier: Drawing the wrong lessons from horrific events (cnn.com)
153 points by bootload on Aug 1, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 157 comments

Even here in Germany, the overreaction to the event in Aurora can be witnessed:

I went to the cinema last sunday (for Batman), and they had signs all over the place saying something like "In reaction to repeated worried requests about security, we will not allow visitors to be costumed and may search bags."

I won't comment on the knee-jerk reactions of the customers. What more interesting to me is the decision made by the people in charge there, in reaction to those "worried customers". Was the cinema management panicking as well? Or were they just not courageous enough to stay calm and risk being deemed as "not doing something about it"?

That seems more like pandering to customers to me, which is a common thing for businesses to do. Customers keep asking about $foo, so you have to at least pretend to care about $foo.

Yes, but by doing this, you potentially scare all other customers off as well, and make them feel uncomfortable. I don't think that is a wise business decision.

An alternative would be to just give those worried ones a warm fuzzy feeling, without even informing the others. Or, if that doesn't suffice, just live with the fact that a few people won't go to the cinema for a month.

Of course, I don't know how many people were "worried" in this case. I hope there weren't to many of them, that would be a sign that my country is getting really paranoid.

" I don't know how many people were "worried" in this case."

I think that's the thing about irrationality. If the media hype is strong enough anyone's brain can be taken over.

I remember very clearly the anthrax scare. I remember consciously thinking about anthrax when receiving envelopes at the business when that happened. I knew it was irrational but it was nearly impossible to fight those thoughts until the media attention died down.

What better way to show you care then, as Schneier says, provide security theater?

Otoh, the chance of a copycat crime is much much higher probability wise in the aftermath of such an event. (Even if the chance is super slim you'd have to agree theoretically and from certain past events it is higher.)

My personal favorite is airport security. All those shops that are located behind the inspections points in the airport terminal? How hard would it be for someone to slip something into the inbound merchandise that is sold in those shops? Are they running all that through xray machines? What about all the liquids? Hard to believe that's not a entry point and not being monitored correctly.

Along the same lines there are multiple ways to get a weapon into a movie theater.

More thoroughly searching bags means keeping out more snacks you didn't buy at concessions - which is where theaters make the most money anyway.

At least, that's my understanding in the US; that it works the same in Germany is admittedly a big assumption.

A quick search says that 71 people were shot or killed in the massacre.

If a gunman were to go out every day and shoot up a movie theater of say, 110 people, for the next century; the death toll[2] would be:

(110 * 365) * 100 = 4015000

Which is a little more than 4/5ths of double the annual fatalities in 2009. [0]

[0]: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm

[1]: Of course, if our hypothetical gunman only targeted movie theaters, going to any single movie theater on a given day might be a risky proposition. If someone can find the number of people who see a movie every day in the US I'd love to know.

[2]: Actually, shot != death; so the death toll would be lower. Of course then you have to think about things like permanent debilitation and traumatic memories, not to mention healthcare costs.

According to this table:


There were 60 victims, and 38 have been released from the hospital. 8 are still in critical condition, so we can't know if they'll live or die.

I'm going to assume, just for the sake of being on the pessimistic side of estimations (I don't actually believe this.), that everyone in critical care dies.

So presumably that would mean:

60 - 38 = 22.

Depending on the lethality of the shooter and random chance, the death toll may be as much as 2/3rds lower than the total number of those injured.

EDIT: This post originally said:

Which is still lower than the amount of people killed by heart disease in a single year here in the US. [0][1]

At the first citation.

I don't know, these exercises seem pointless to me.

If you find that kids in a certain school district have a high rate of death by self-inflicted gun shot, you don't ignore it and say "Well, that's statistically insignificant compared to the number of people who die of cancer every year".

It's still a problem and still needs to be looked at and solved.

That's not what people are doing though. They aren't looking at a local issue and trying to figure out what to do to heal the community. They're looking at a shooting in Aurora and asking what to do about our national gun laws. And our national security infrastructure.

And the answer is, largely nothing. Because this is nationally statistical noise.

(And on the subject of noise, giving crazed gun men this level of attention I would think is probably one of, if not the; largest factor in causing these incidents to happen.)

I think a call for restrictions on gun ownership is a natural reaction to the fact that any lunatic can (and does) load up with military-style weaponry and can go on a killing spree.

It doesn't happen everyday, but there are without a doubt lots of people who are stocking up on guns. Many of them are at least a little wacky, and long-guns are nearly unregulated in most US jurisdictions.

You can call these events statistical noise, but the general public put you in the category where folks who claim that nuclear reactor meltdowns are no big deal are.

> military-style weaponry

Please stop.

All semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines are functionally identical.

The suspect had a rifle, shotgun and handgud. that is 'loaded up'?

Since when does 'requires federal background check' == 'nearly unregulated'?

All semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines are functionally identical.

I take your point. However, the cartridges fired by those guns may differ significantly in their effect, and the media persists in calling the killer's AR-15 a "high-powered assault rifle". This is demonstrably false. If anything, it's a "low-powered assault rifle".

The AR-15's 5.56mm NATO ammunition [1] is designed to be light and portable, and to injure rather than kill. Compare that to, say, the AK-47 and it's 7.62x39 ammunition [2]. The energy of the AR-15 ammo is about 1300J, while that of the AK's is 1500J or more.

The media is causing a certain degree of the fear here. I see three possible reasons:

A. They've got a specific agenda

B. They expect that sensationalism will get them better ratings

C. They're lazy. "High-powered assault rifle" is a hackneyed phrase that just springs to mind, and they don't care enough about accuracy to check it. (of course, the reason it's hackneyed is itself the media's overuse)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5.56x45mm_NATO

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7.62x39mm

The AR-15's 5.56mm NATO ammunition [1] is designed to be light and portable, and to injure rather than kill. Compare that to, say, the AK-47 and it's 7.62x39 ammunition [2]. The energy of the AR-15 ammo is about 1300J, while that of the AK's is 1500J or more.

7.62x39 is not a NATO round only because it's Russian in origin. It's generally the same is the 5.56 (basically a .223) in that it's a non-expanding bullet typically due to the FMJ (full metal jacket). The light and portable part is mostly due to history - the arms race of more shots equaling more kills, and mobile infantries. Compare that with say the .30-06 or 7.62x54 which are big rounds shot from big, heavy rifles (M1 Garand and Mosin-Nagant, respectively), a holdover from trench warfare.

You can purchase non-NATO 5.56/.223 ammo for hunting, and are typically required to use it when hunting game. The opposite of warfare, it's considered more humane to kill an animal than to injure it.

7.62x39 ... It's generally the same is the 5.56 (basically a .223) in that it's a non-expanding bullet typically due to the FMJ

The fact that they're typically jacketed is where the similarity starts and ends. They are loaded differently, spin at different rates, and so on. But most obviously, 7.62x39 is almost twice the diameter of 5.56.

7.62x39 is probably much more comparable to the .308 Winchester [1] typically used for hunting larger game. According to wikipedia, "the .308 Winchester has become the most popular short-action, big-game hunting cartridge worldwide".

Now, circling back to my original point about the AR-15 (or, really, the 5.56mm cartridge it shoots) being low-power, wikipedia lists the energy of the energy of the .308 bullet at 3600J-3900K, nearly triple the power of the 5.56mm.

So I stand by my claim that the AR-15 is a low-power rifle.

You can purchase non-NATO 5.56/.223 ammo for hunting, and are typically required to use it when hunting game.

This is absolutely false. 5.56mm ammunition is too small for hunting deer, bear, etc. You've got to be a very good shot to take down large animals with something bearing so little energy. That's why hunters tend to use rounds in the .30cal range -- like the .308 I mentioned, and also very commonly the 7.62x39 from the AK, but when hunting it's probably being shot out of an SKS [2]. Wikipedia verifies that "In the early 1990s, the Chinese SKS rapidly became the "poor man's deer rifle" in some Southern areas of the United States".

So there are a variety of larger cartridges used for hunting larger game, generally in the .30cal neighborhood or more, because the 5.56mm/.223 cartridge just doesn't carry enough energy to take down the big animals.

(looks like someone changed the wikipedia link on me! The new link for 7.62x39 is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7.62%C3%9739mm )

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.308_Winchester

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sks

You can purchase non-NATO 5.56/.223 ammo for hunting, and are typically required to use it when hunting game.

I re-read my sentence and it didn't come out quite right. I agree that 5.56/.223 isn't your typical hunting round. What I meant by my sentence is that you can hunt with it but it isn't generally legal to use non-expanding rounds for hunting.

So I stand by my claim that the AR-15 is a low-power rifle.

No need to move from your position, you are correct. It's an instrument of war and not utility.

There are slight ups and downs depending on the size of game but I agree that the .308 is probably the de-facto starting round for big game.

Shorter barrels are useful for hitting multiple targets rapidly at short ranges and less useful at long ones. Which has a lot to do with the design of military style weapons vs. a rifle used for hunting vs. target practice. If your attacking a target you want longer range accuracy and a large clip, if your defending yourself you want a hand gun. Which is a major reason why the police don't go around with swat style weapons.

if your defending yourself you want a hand gun

Disagree, at least depending on the situation.

If you're defending yourself in your home, the most appropriate weapon is likely a short-barreled shotgun. The short barrel is advantageous for being able to quickly maneuver around corners, etc. And the shot requires less (but not zero) accuracy in aiming, and if you use the right size shot, is less dangerous to bystanders because of minimal risk of over-penetration.

While we're on the topic, the gun control people are irrational in trying to ban rifles with pistol-style grips. Such a grip gives no advantage to the bad guys: in Aurora, he was equally able to fire the AR-15 (which had such grips) and the shotgun (which probably didn't). However, pistol grips are useful to a home defender. It would allow the defender to hold the weapon covering the bad guy with one hand, while using the other hand to dial 911. Without the pistol grip, the defender couldn't do that.

Have to agree with CWuestefeld, for home defense you want a shotgun with a short barrel. You want to know how to shoot it and you want some safety and maintenance training. Also, do not choose ammo that is going to go through your walls.

Don't forget a lot of gun owners are shot with their own weapons. At a minimum you want a shoulder strap for larger weapons, and the ability to keep a hand free while aiming. Longer barrels also allow people to more easily grab them which is vary dangerous, and make it more obvious where they are in the home. As to penetrating issues, you can use shotgun ammo in handguns, but with a short enough barrel the difference becomes minimal as long as you have a reasonable clip size.

PS: Statistically gun owners are less safe. I expect that with reasonable precautions you can cross the threshold into overall safety. But, clearly you need to approach things from the perspective that owning a gun is a larger risk by default and then deal with the new risks.

Do you have the stats on "Don't forget a lot of gun owners are shot with their own weapons". I don't think I agree with the shoulder strap part, and I have never seen or heard of shotgun ammo in a hand gun.

Kellermann states that as an emergency room doctor, he noted that the number of gunowners injured by their own gun or that of a family member seemed to greatly outnumber the number of intruders shot by the gun of a homeowner, and therefore he determined to study whether or not this was in fact true. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Kellermann (I could quote from this, but it's IMO worth a read.)

When the team looked at shootings in which victims had a chance to defend themselves, their odds of getting shot were even higher.


EX: "owner that was armed with a shotgun got shot with his own gun" http://texasfred.net/archives/2671

PS: As to why you have not heard of this. The final appropriation language included the following statement: “[N]one of the funds made available for injury control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control”. These words appear in every CDC grant announcement to this day. [5]

Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Showing correlation doesn't show causation.

Consider, for example, that people who are more likely to be injured by a gun at the outset are probably more likely to own, and even to have to use, a gun themselves. A drug dealer, for example, is more likely to have a gun because of his line of work. But having the gun isn't what makes it more dangerous; rather, it's more dangerous, so he feels he needs a gun.

Thus, the gun owners have a higher Bayesian prior. It would be very wrong to interpret this to say that owning a gun causes your likelihood of it being used (maybe even accidentally) against you.

I suggest that many people who actually do such studies understand this, and that is a better reason for it not to be in the headlines.

I don't feel the need to defend the research. There is a lot of it and it does address your obvious concerns. My point about funding was demonstrating that like Abstinence only education the is that it's treated as a political issue where actual evidence is irrelevant. The proper result of a study that you disagree with is to look for flaws and then do more research or change your stance, not to cut funding.

Anyway, did you read the any of the studies or are you filtering new evidence though your basis in such a way that you don't need to reconsider your stance? In proper Bayesian reasoning you need to consider how much this information even if flawed adjusts your probability estimates. Deciding that the risks of some activity is worth it is one thing, deciding that some activity is good and therefore ignoring the risks is not. I just linked a specific case where someones owning a gun resulted in there being shot by that gun so the situation exists. The question becomes how common is it and how common is it to defend yourself with a gun and then compare them. And to do that you need actual evidence not a hunch.

Yes, being shot with your own gun is a rare event, so is using your gun to defend yourself. And at the level of paranoia where spending money on a gun so you can defend yourself becomes reasonable you need to consider other low probability events. The largest downside is how having a gun tends to escalate the violence of a situation, but when evaluating types of guns that takes a back seat to losing control of it.

PS: I am pro gun despite the expectation that it reduces safety. Arthur Kellermann overestimates the risks, but he is a good starting point for the research.

As you phrase it here, I'll buy your response.

But let me note that we're not just passengers on the probability bus. All those possibilities of accidents or otherwise being harmed by your own weapon are avoidable. I can mitigate all of those dangers by taking responsibility for myself (and imposing the same on my family) to be properly trained and practiced.

On the other hand, there isn't so much that I can do to mitigate the danger I'm in should I or my family find ourselves in the (admittedly very unlikely) situation of being attacked (yes, I can try to avoid some situations to begin with, but I claim that ordinary prudent behavior is the most that can be expected here without getting to diminishing returns).

If I'm under attack, there's little else I can do to protect myself. But ahead of time, I can prepare myself and family to defend ourselves, and at the same time ensure that we won't get ourselves into trouble. I much prefer being the one driving the outcome, rather than the bad guy.

I have never heard of shotgun ammo being used in a handgun. Your PS does not explain that. I am going to go with CWuestefeld's response until I see some actual stats on the issue.

There are handguns that shoot a .410 shotgun shell. The Taurus Judge[1] is one such gun.

However, I think the parent meant that owners either are shot by someone they know who is using their guns maliciously or non-maliciously, or have the gun somehow removed from their control by an assailant and then killed with it.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taurus_Judge

You want to know how to shoot it and you want some safety and maintenance training.

Absolutely! One needs to learn how to properly wield the weapon, and to do so safely. But "knowing" this stuff isn't sufficient to be able to do so successfully. You must train: practice at least until you can feel comfortable with the weapon: you know what the trigger pull and the recoil feels like, you are comfortable with the grip in your hand and smoothly bringing it up to position, etc.

For anyone crazy enough to believe what they see on television: you won't be able to just pick up a gun and shoot it properly without some experience. You just won't. Some of this is "book learning". But some of it is "you just need the practical experience". In particular, you will be very surprised at how difficult it is to use a handgun to hit a person-sized target in the far corner of your living room.

If you don't learn and practice with your gun, you're no more likely to be successful than you are at programming without actually doing a real project.

I do agree practice is a necessity but people often forget the other basics, particularly maintenance. To add, if you intend to own a firearm, go somewhere with some experience and get one that suits you personally. Think of it as the vi / emacs debate writ larger.

if you intend to own a firearm, go somewhere with some experience and get one that suits you personally

Good advice. In particular, it's too easy to view the gun's style. Do NOT consider that it looks cool, tough, etc. The fact that the .50 Desert Eagle looks menacing is not going to save you from the fact that you (or me, at least) just can't properly shoot a gun that's so big and powerful. Being able to use it properly is much more important.

Also, don't just assume that it's going to be an auto like a Glock, etc. IMHO a simple dual-action [1] revolver is probably a better choice for defensive situations, precisely because it is so simple. A revolver will never let you down: you can always just pull the trigger again to get to the next chamber. By contrast, autos are prone to jamming, not to mention a misfired bullet; either way, you're now at the mercy of the bad guy. Your primary concern in this area is dependability.

[1] "Dual action" means that you may cock it for better trigger pull, but if you don't, you can still fire it with just the trigger

The problem in the US is not rifles, it's handguns. The US gets ~17k murders per year. 13k of those are with firearms. 11k of those are with handguns. Shootings like Aurora are visible, but they're not common.

A much harder thing to do is decouple firearms from masculinity - that link is everywhere in the US, from Hollywood to patriotism to those 'defend your daughters against home invading gangbangers' ads.

Well, out here in the middle states its a tool and a lot of women shot just as well as men.

We don't teach people about actual risks, but we sure hit them with hysterics. We can do this because people feed off what breaks the pattern and then assume it is the pattern.

Statistically don't these things happen way more in the US than anywhere else though? Or is that just a media bias?

Correct. The us has a homicide rate over 400x (ie. not 400%, but 400 times) the gun related homicide rate of Australia, where there are far tougher gun laws in Australia. Some may consider that acceptable, or say that knifings in Australia are significantly higher (which is not true), but the fact is that the US has a poor record of gun related homicides.

One great thing about the US is that states can act like laboratories for testing different laws. Massachusetts has some of the toughest gun laws requiring someone to obtain a gun permit before they can own a gun.

Massachusetts also is second only to Hawaii in the lowest firearm death rate:


The firearm death rate in MA is 1/5 - 1/6 the rate of high death rate states.

I looked into what it takes to get a gun permit in MA and was surprised by how common sense it is. As long as you have a record of no violent felonies and no current restraining orders you must take a gun safety course. Then you need to submit a signed statement to the chief of police in your town from two adults saying you are an upstanding person. This way the police know who has a gun and they are probably best able to judge if you should have a gun.

On the other hand, if we interpret the right to keep and bear arms out of our Constitution because it is inconvenient, it will just make it easier to do the same with due process, which is already on its last legs in the US.

Because amending a constitution is a dangerous thing that should never be done!

Re-read what I said. If you amend the Constitution it's a highly deliberative and drawn-out process. If we just decide that the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in the US Constitution means what it does in the English Bill of Rights though that's not the same thing.

I think we clearly need to amend the 2nd amendment. The text says the government can't stop the guy down the block from having nukes, and that is obviously inappropriate.

I dunno. The definition of a militia is a volunteer organization where people furnish their own weapons. I think it would be hard to argue that personal ownership of nukes serves either self-defence or the militia interest. I do think the machine gun ban is questionable though.

If it said, "the right of the people to bear arms for this purpose shall not be infringed" then I would agree. But it doesn't, it says "[This amendment is important because of militias;] the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." ... with some extra commas that are incorrect now based on how grammar has shifted.

One canon of construction of legal documents is to treat every word as necessary to the meaning. The history and text of the 2nd Amendment suggest that the right to keep and bear arms is allowed for two basic purposes: self-defence (as a pre-existing right and the fact that this is largely copied from the English Bill of Rights where this was more explicit), and the militia interest (again found in both the English Bill of Rights, limiting an individual RKBA to Protestants) and the text itself (which mentions a militia).

The Supreme Court has always said (even in cases where they held a collective right, like Presser v. Illinois) that an attempt at elimination of gun ownership by a state would run afoul with the militia interest by the federal government. This is because the militia interest can only be served by an individual right. You have to be able to bring your gun when you join a militia so you must be able to own one outside this, and so the right has to be broader than the mere militia interest. And I disagree with groups like the NRA here but I think that if the state put forth an inexpensive program for people to learn and be certified regarding gun safety, they could probably require such certification before allowing them to own guns.

Again, I don't see anything in the text or history of the second amendment that would preclude eliminating nuclear weapons ownership. Now, big guns on private warships? That's a more interesting question ;-)

You still need to demonstrate causation. Simply saying 'the US has the highest gun related deaths and the loosest gun regulations' only establishes corralation.

Contrast with Brazil, which has far stricter gun laws than the U.S. and far more gun deaths.

Here's the wikipedia page on gun-related deaths statistics since some people are writing "where's the beef?" comments:


   US has a score of 10.27 per 100,000

   Canada has a score of 4.78 per 100,000

   Australia has a score of 2.94 per 100,000

   England/Wales has a score of 0.46 per 100,000

   Japan has a score of 0.07 per 100,000
(edit: formatting)

Now you have introduced suicides into the mix. The great majority of gun related deaths in Australia are suicides. More than half of them in the United States are suicides.

Also, the grandparent claim of 400x does not stand up to scrutiny. The rate of gun related homicide in the U.S. is approximately 4 or 5 / 100,000. In Australia, it is about 0.5 / 100,000. That's 10x. Which is still quite a difference.

That's not what statistically insignificant means.

Sorry? I didn't understand. What's not what statistically insignificant means?

That's a creepy username in the context of your post!

(BTW, your century of gunmen racks up four million. Heart disease in one US year gets to about 600k.)

>(BTW, your century of gunmen racks up four million. Heart disease in one US year gets to about 600k.)

Oh, my eyes missed a zero.

You're only making half an argument there. Yes, heart disease is a bigger cause of death than crazed gunmen ever could be in a functioning society. Ergo... what?

>You're only making half an argument there. Yes, heart disease is a bigger cause of death than crazed gunmen ever could in a functioning society.

Actually that was a mistake, see edit above. And post below.

> Ergo... what?

At the rate that this actually happens, you shouldn't worry about it. Is it scary? Yes. Is it tragic? Yes. Is it a probable threat to you or your loved ones? Not really.

Ah. So your argument is, we should only be looking to prevent probable threats -- whatever that means, exactly. I think that's pretty silly.

If there was a cause X that randomly killed 5 people in the US every year, and there was countermeasure Y that prevented those deaths, you wouldn't implement Y because X isn't a meaningful threat to any single person?

I think the answer should be: it depends. It depends on the costs associated with Y (not just the monetary ones). If it costs multiple billions that would otherwise have gone to, say, cancer research it's probably not worth it. If implementing Y involves installing a 10 PM mandatory curfew for everyone, it's probably not worth it. On the other extreme, if it costs nothing, you'd be negligent to not implement Y.

The point is, your argument is not valid if you don't consider the downsides. Arguably, there is a minimum threshold that needs to be exceeded in order to even make these evaluations, ie. if X only caused 1 death per decade, it might not be worth talking about it, even if it'd cost us almost nothing to implement Y. But I think that threshold should be really low and it really does not apply here.

Arguably, there is a minimum threshold that needs to be exceeded in order to even make these evaluation

Arguably? How many separate things are there in the world that kill 5 or more people in the US each year? An awful lot. IIRC the number of people killed in newspaper related accidents in the UK is about that high.

Society only has so much attention, people only spend so much time learning about the world every day, and people only have so much capacity for worry. To the extent that we use up our worry on things that aren't important we lose the ability to worry about the things that are. I don't expect all the ink spilled on this shooting to save a single life, but if a similar amount of popular attention was devoted to teaching people what drowning really looked like it would probably save about 50 lives every year[1].

If you're going to cross the street it doesn't make sense to split your attention between looking to either side for oncoming cars and looking up for falling objects. Falling objects are very rare, and to the extent that you waste time worrying about them you're more likely to get run over.


That's the kind of argument I had in mind but I didn't want to elaborate on yet another incidental issue. Societal attention is a finite resource (which goes largely wasted). On the other hand, many of these questions don't rise to the level of public discussion, just think of all the safety regulations involved in engineering and manufacturing.

>If there was a cause X that randomly killed 5 people in the US every year, and there was countermeasure Y that prevented those deaths, you wouldn't implement Y because X isn't a meaningful threat to any single person?

Well that's a hard question to answer, we still don't know how to evaluate the value of a human life. So in the general case I would say no I would, if it wasn't prohibitively expensive. (Relative to the number of actual damages caused.)

> I think the answer should be: it depends.

Okay. I didn't cover the kinds of issues you talk about in the following paragraph because in context everyone reading should know about them by this point. I could go on about the civil costs of gun control, the material costs, weighed alternative options like better mental health treatment, or not naming the shooter on national TV; etc.

But all that stuff could fit into a form letter. [0]

[0]: http://craphound.com/spamsolutions.txt

EDIT: I accidentally said "yes" when I meant "no" in the first response paragraph. That is, in the general case; no I would implement countermeasure Y to prevent 5 annual deaths.

I think a better comparison is to another major risk we take every day, which is getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, something which kills 35-40k people in the US annually. In fact, 3600 Americans lost their lives in car accidents in September, 2001, about 20% more than were killed in terrorist attacks in the US at that time.

Assuming a nuclear attack kills half a million people (small nuclear warhead detonated, for example, in a port), you'd have to have one of those in the US ever decade before it would be significantly more of a risk than being behind the wheel of a car.

And Anthrax? How many people died as a result of the Anthrax attacks in 2001? How scared are people of that? Heck how many people died when the USSR released weaponized anthrax over a small population repeatedly?

There are many risks which aren't worth worrying about.

Just as a note, tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of people were exposed to weaponized anthrax in the Sverdlosk accidents. While the exact death toll is unknown current counts are at most in the hundreds. We will probably never know the death toll in part due to coverups in part orchestrated by none other than Boris Yeltsin. However based on available data, weaponized anthrax just isn't that dangerous.

I stopped reading as soon as you said "4/5th of double."

Thank you for letting me know you have no idea what you're talking about.

Um, yes it is? [0]

If it's not, I would love for you to correct me.

[0]: https://office.microsoft.com/en-us/excel-help/calculate-perc...

total = 4874326

amount = 4015000

4015000 ÷ 4874326 = 0.823703626

1/5 = 0.2

4/5 = 0.8

Unless you mean it's an awkward phrasing, in which case you would be right.

(No, I haven't taken a statistics course, but the percentage algorithm is taught in like 5th grade, and I don't really need anything more complex than that here.)

(I would also like to note that if I have said something stupid/I said what I wanted to say in a stupid way, theres no way to fix it now even if I wanted to.)

I didn't care for the phrasing at all. By using 4/5, that implies lower, and stands out far more than the word double. The conclusion drawn by most would be "less than", which is quite misleading from the actual data of "almost double".

Edit: There is also an edit button if you wanted to fix your wording.

>I didn't care for the phrasing at all. By using 4/5, that implies lower, and stands out far more than the word double. The conclusion drawn by most would be "less than", which is quite misleading from the actual data of "almost double".

That's understandable.

>Edit: There is also an edit button if you wanted to fix your wording.

You can't edit a post after it's been unchanged for more than an hour. (Or somewhere in that vicinity.)

Daniel Kahneman wrote about this:


and is a concept called the Focusing Illusion or Anchoring:


In his tests, Kahneman showed that people assign too much "utility" to painful events, even though a simliar event with less heuristics for pain was statistically the same.

Great read for anyone interested:


I just finished Thinking, Fast And Slow a couple of days ago, and it's the most thought-provoking, moving work of non-fiction I've read in years.

Absolutely. I can't recommend it enough.

I wrote Bruce an email after reading this article on my phone this morning:


Mr. Schneier,

I read your piece on CNN this morning (Drawing the wrong lessons from horrific events) on my phone.

I thought you'd like to know that when viewed on a phone, the (utterly ridiculous and annoying) links that CNN inserts in their articles are no longer distinguishable from the content of the article, as all formatting is stripped. Consequently, it appears as though on the second page of the article, you wrote "Opinion: Average Americans don't need assault weapons", when that is not the case (as far as I can tell). I've included a screen shot from my phone for your convenience (also viewable here: http://d.pr/i/MTOx).

Cheers, -- Travis Northcutt

Even if we assume that such crazy shooting attacks could be frequent, it's still not obvious what should we do about them.

Should we ban the weapons or should we allow carry weapons, so law-abiding citizens could protect themselves? After all, that movie theater was in a gun-free zone.

The traditional wisdom is that carrying a gun for safety doesn't help in such sudden events, as the "bad guys" are generally more prepared, have the initiative, etc.

This is obviously different for instance in a war, where both parties are more-or-less prepared to use a gun at any given time.

Now, I've had military training (somewhat mandatory in my country), and do own a gun. But that is because I find target practice and hunting trips interesting, not because I would find any safety application to owning one.

For instance, I went motorcycling through Caucasus right after the revolution in Georgia. This was a time when gas station attendants carried Kalashnikovs and people customarily brought guns to bar, but still I would have never considered taking any weapons there, as those would have only escalated any problem situation in a bad way. And obviously in the end there were no problems. Nice and hospitable people there, and a beautiful country to visit :-)

In particular in crowded events: one worry is that civilians playing hero will just end up shooting more innocent people, as they try to shoot at this guy in a crowded theatre and hit someone else.

Shooters of this sort being confronted by citizens who carry guns has happened several times in the past, and in no cases I'm aware of has anything even remotely similar to this super hypothetical come to pass.

In more general incidents, the numbers I can find suggest that about 2% of armed-citizen-response-to-crime shootings shoot an innocent person. Mostly it seems actually pro-gun advocates quote this, as 2% is supposed to be a lower figure than the police's error rate.

For high-profile ones, the only example of a quasi-successful confrontation I can think of only through sheer luck avoided an innocent person being shot: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_natur...

This article is heavily slanted and calling the sound judgment of Zamudio in the events described nothing more than "sheer luck" is patently insulting at best and fear mongering at worst.

Also, your second paragraph is somewhat ambiguous, I'm not sure if you mean to imply that the incident described is the only incidence of a confrontation with a deranged shooter. That is most definitely not the case. There are many examples of this happening:






The characterization of it as "luck" is Zamudio's, who referred to it as such repeatedly, in multiple interviews on multiple occasions, not my own, so I fail to see how it could possibly be insulting to call it "luck". He seems to believe that only luck kept him from making a significant mistake, and he can imagine it just as easily having come out the other way in a split-second wrong reaction.

> 2% is supposed to be a lower figure than the police's error rate.

That's not very surprising. Many police officers only practice with their weapons once a year when it's time to qualify.

The average concealed carry permit holder shoots for fun, thus practices often.

Also, an armed citizen if far more likely to suffer consequences if they shoot the wrong person by mistake. And the training they get is going to be much more "Don't shoot unless you're really sure" rather than "shoot first to protect yourself".

And I would expect thee preparedness of the average concealed carry permit holder to decline if we do more to reshape the US around the notion that an armed society is a polite society.

You are relying on anecdotes. However, given that shooters of this sort are quite rare, is there even enough data to reach statistically significant conclusions about the risks from people returning fire?

In any case, if we were to follow this argument further, we would expect that many more citizens would be armed, which would likely change things. Given the inherent confusion of such a situation, I would expect we would start seeing armed citizens accidentally shooting other armed citizens because they misread the situation.

Even trained, battle seasoned soldiers make mistakes.

I'm much more concerned about the impact higher carry rates would have in relatively more common situations, like disagreements between motorists, etc.

Many people with guns feel empowered to double down in situations they would otherwise walk away from, and the involvement of a gun adds to the opportunities for a deadly outcome. Some gun advocates argue that an armed society is a polite society. I have my doubts about that, but I don't doubt that the consequences of impoliteness would be much more extreme.

Interesting discussion/analysis over here http://www.quora.com/Aurora-Colorado-Shooting-July-20-2012/I...

It was dark. It was crowded. The guy set off a smoke grenade. Everyone was panicking.

Firing a gun in those conditions, you could hit anyone -- by sheer force of numbers, you'd be far more likely to wound a hapless bystander than the shooter. Especially as he was wearing body armour.

As such, I hold that the death toll would have been considerably higher if some of the cinema-goers had been packing heat and decided to shoot back. There's no way this incident is a valid argument for more guns.

>It was dark.

Hmmm... Which person do I engage? Maybe the guy with the rifle, down in front of the screen, who is facing the audience, shooting everyone, with a clearing around him?

>Everyone was panicking

Not everyone panics in emergency situations.

>I hold that the death toll would have been considerably higher if some of the cinema-goers had been packing heat and decided to shoot back.

He shot about 60 people in about 90 seconds. Anything to trip him up would have lowered the death toll.

  > Hmmm... Which person do I engage? Maybe the guy with
  > the rifle, down in front of the screen, who is facing
  > the audience, shooting everyone, with a clearing around
  > him?
Imagine every person in the theater was packing. They all pull out their weapons. Through the smoke and the dark, which is the good guy, which is the bad guy? Just shoot everyone that has a gun?

You may be assuming that 'guns' are the only added factor.

What appears to happen is that people who carry on a routine basis are more aware that they _are_ carrying and act accordingly.

It's a theater. The good guys are in stadium seating, the bad guy is in front.

It's a perfect setup for that kind of a thing - everyone is carrying a weapon, everyone keeps their seat, fires over the heads of the row in front. Problem solved.

But in reality, guys like this never pick an armed crowd of people. They never show up at the police station, never at a gun show, at an NRA convention, never at a shooting range.

I submit if everyone were armed at the theater he would have gone somewhere else.

Right now most of the people that are packing legally concealed weapons are generally people that are obsessive about their guns and practice a lot (and generally take them seriously).

If everyone started carrying concealed weapons, that would be another story.

Consider cars.

Everyone drives. Yet only a small minority truly panic when something bad happens on the road. Most of us turn into a skid, slow down in wet conditions.

Any road - absent something mind-bendingly drastic, I don't see more than a small minority of people carrying daily.

The shooter did not confront police and surrendered immediately. People who shoot up bunches of unarmed people seem to stop right away in the face of any resistance.

(As a counterpoint to me, you could point out that he was wearing body armor, as if he were expecting resistance. I'd say it was more like he was acting out some costume in his head.)

An armed moviegoer wouldn't need to shoot the gunman to stop him. Even just firing in the air would have let the gunman know "someone else in here is armed and maybe shooting at me, I need to seek cover" and have significantly slowed him down.

(Note that "firing in the air" is of course dangerous, since the bullets will hit stuff and stuff will fall on people. However, since we're talking about a gunman purposefully targeting unarmed people, that risk is much much less than the original risk being mitigated.)

Further, let's imagine there were 2 "good guys" in that theater with guns. Good Guy #1 shoots at the lone "bad guy". Good Guy #2, with heightened adrenaline and compromised senses, thinks GG #1 is another bad guy and shoots at them. GG #1, if they weren't hit, now is being shot at by someone else.

Now add more good guys with guns to this scenario.

There's no way the whole thing would've worked out better with more armed people.

Two to five "goodguys" exchanging fire is still a vastly better outcome than the one that occurred.

That's an unverifiable statement and it would depend heavily on the shooters involved. It's as much conjecture as if I were to say that each bullet fired from each shooter's gun would only hit people without weapons.

Huh? I'm not sure how you can construct a plausible scenario where you're actually worse off with five armed citizens in the theater. Even if they each manage to accidentally shoot two additional people besides each other and even if the madman is half finished before one manages to take him down you still have many fewer people ending up getting shot.

You're assuming that they take him down at all. He had body armor and the element of surprise.

Oh, do tell.

Here's one example of what can be done, from Australia:

Gun laws in Australia were tightened in 1996 and again in 2002. There's an informative overview on wikipedia which might be worth a read [1]. It doesn't sound like there is much evidence for a significant drop in firearm related homicides due to the change in laws.

However, a few studies argue that there has been a drop in firearm related suicides, although some also argue that the drop in firearm suicides began before the gun control legislation was put in place. The drop in firearm related suicides apparently wasn't just a transfer into other methods of suicide either, which is positive, regardless of what led to it.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_politics_in_Australia

Shameless plug for an essay I posted yesterday, but I'd also like to get reactions from HN denizens: What if moviegoers, out of a sense of civic duty, had rushed the shooter, together, despite the obvious risk, because "that's what we do" for each other? [1]

[1] http://www.questioningchristian.com/2012/07/what-if-aurora-m...

I shudder to think what would happen if the "concealed carry for everyone!" folks got their way and you had an incident in a cluttered setting with lots of people. All it takes is one bang and someone screaming, and you have 50 scared people shooting at each other.

Quick google search shows me that in my state (Georgia), about 6% of the population are licensed to carry concealed weapons.

So far I've yet to read a single news story about a group of scared permit holders shooting at each other.

If you look at the crime statistics for permit holders, and the number of permits revoked you'll find that concealed carry holders are extremely unlikely to engage in the kind of behavior you assume.

Sure, but you could turn that argument around the other way. With 6% having licenses, how many have been able to stop a mass shooting? Is there a correlation between low mass shooting rates and concealed carry laws?

>Sure, but you could turn that argument around the other way.

The average number of people killed in a mass shooting stopped by a civilian ccw holder is much lower than those killed in a mass shooting involving police simply because of response time.

If an armed civilian is present and is able to stop it, it's usually done before the gunman kills more than a few people, and not end up on the news because of the lack of a 10+ person death toll.

That's not to say an armed civilian could stop a mass shooting in all cases, just that when they do it happens faster.

Additionally, most mass shootings take place in locations where ccw permit holders are banned from having guns.

High schools, colleges, churches, the theater in Colorado.

In fact almost every single mass shooting in recent memory has taken place in a gun free zone, and in many states there are very few places left that are gun free zones.

During the Texas Belltower sniper mass shooting, civilians returning fire saved many lives because they pinned down the sniper and prevented him from acquiring targets.

What kind of behaviour is that? And 6% is pretty low, especially since I doubt most permit holders actually carry a gun most of the time.

What do you think would happen if there was a credible threat of a gunman running amok in an environment like a university campus (many people but not crowded, lots of cover) where a large percentage of people is armed? Someone gets shot. Everyone draws their guns. How do they identify the killer? What happens to the first person who correctly identifies them and shoots at them?

Maybe in your imagination people with concealed-carry permits are a bunch of nuts looking for any excuse to open fire. But that's your imagination.

Walking around with a gun drawn is stupid. They aren't going to go "hunting down the gunman." They know that they are a totally legitimate target for the police in that situation.

There was a mall rampage where exactly this scenario played out. A civilian with a concealed pistol identified the real attacker but hesitated too long to take the shot and was gunned down (by the rampage attacker). In general civilian gun carriers are very hesitant to take even clear shots.

I'm actually a lot more concerned with how we handle people with mental illness in the USA. If it wasn't a gun, it would have been a backpacked filled with explosives, but the common factor is a sick mind that had multiple interactions with people who could have helped. It seems like we need to spend some money on figuring out why our systems and processes in this area are failing.

for the people who are arguing "but what about the right to bear arms"?

The wikipedia page has some interesting discussions about the history and analysis of the 2nd amendment.


Downvoted: simply saying "there's another page that has something interesting; go read it" isn't adding anything. At least summarize, or point us to something there that you think is salient.

They're simply linking to a page related to the topic. It's adding historical context to the "right to bear arms" issue, and that's valuable when debating such a thing.

> People tend to base risk analysis more on stories than on data.

People base all decisions on stories rather than data. It's marketing 101 -- don't sell features, sell stories.

Comments under the CNN article are universally positive. You basically never see that on news site comments -- seems like there is broad public support for ratcheting down security theater. I don't really understand what stands it up now.

I don't really understand what stands it up now.

American politics has nothing to do with reality anymore.

This morning in the car there was a news bit about a guy who had just been arrested, and it was found that he'd posed with the Governor for a photo a couple of weeks ago. Clearly the Gov poses for scores of photos every day, most of which are with people whose names he doesn't even know. But it appears that someone thought that we needed to know about this photograph, and I can't imagine any reason for that.

The political system seems to be a perpetual motion machine. It sustains itself independent of the rest of the world by producing unfounded hype that creates hysteria.

> If a friend tells you about getting mugged in a foreign country, that story is more likely to affect how safe you feel traveling to that country than reading a page of abstract crime statistics will.

One can make an argument that this is reasonable. I share many common interests with my friends, and so if I were to visit that foreign country I'd probably be interested in the same things in that country that my friend was interested in, and so would likely be traveling to the same places my friend visited. Accordingly, it seems reasonable to weigh my friend's experiences in that country higher than statistics derived from the combined experiences of everyone who goes to that country.

If you're not the norm. If you're the norm and average mundane person, then statistics is more relevant for you.

If you're going to a local death metal concert, then that might be relevant.

If non-striaght and going to local LGBT clubs, that might be relevant.

If you're part of the "great masses" going to common accomodation, common tourist attractions, then statistics should be more relevant.

Ok, well, feel free to not understand statistics.

Same back at you - tzs's comment is entirely reasonable. The point is that statistics collected from a situation with a higher similarity to the one you're trying to predict can provide a better indicator than general statistics, even if the sample size is smaller.

John Kay's piece today about the same issue is quite pertinent: http://www.johnkay.com/2012/08/01/8684

He's looking at how a media frenzy affects perception and laws disproportionally.

As someone not living in the US, my takeaway from this article was that citizens and visitors should all wear bullet-proof vests in public places similar to the way everyone wears car seat belts for safety. Since one shouldn't over-react and take away the freedom of toting around assault-rifles.

Body Armour companies would LOVE this.

Gun debates are about as hacker newsy as abortion or gay marriage or other controversial subjects. In other words: not very.

The article isn't about guns[1], but about evaluation of risks.

[1] Or if it is, I totally missed the point.

You wouldn't know that from looking at the discussion here. I think a more hacker newsy kind of thing would be an actual discussion of risks with some mathematical modeling, not a discussion of current events from cnn.com, with statements that are bound to set certain people off.

Guilty as charged. It's too tempting to slide into "pro-gun vs gun control" discussion even if the topic is "overreaction to extremely low probability events".

While I can sort of see where you are coming from, I think there is something else worth pointing out that does make this at least somewhat Hacker News worthy. Bruce Schneier is a world leader in cryptographic analysis[1]. He is very much a part of the hacker community. He is well known for being quite analytical and to the point in a fashion that other "reporters" are without. I, for one, very much appreciate when he talks about issues of this magnitude, for that very reason, and I don't think I am alone here.

[1] - http://schneier.com

Another attempt to blame guns for what people do.

I don't own any guns of any type. I've fired quite a few of them, of all kinds. I don't feel the need to own one for personal protection or as a hobby. I know plenty of people who do. Without fault, these guns spend more time locked-away in a safe than being fired for any reason. Yes, even the "assault rifles" (do rifles assault without a person holding them?).

Every time something happens liberal-leaning media rushes to blame guns. It's never people, is it?

A gun doesn't kill any more than a car. It's the people using them that sometimes, intentionally or not, harm others.

None of these articles are backed by any data. Yet they are quick to blame "assault rifles" and proclaim all manner of remedies.

I wanted data. A quick Google search for "homicides by weapon type" produced a bunch of links. The top link comes right out of the US Department of Justice:


The very first chart shows very clearly that the vast majority --by a factor of 3 to 5 or more-- of homicides are committed with handguns. Not "assault rifles".

I'm assuming that "assault rifles" falls under the "other gun" category in the chart.

What's even more interesting is that homicides using a Knives exceeded "other gun" by a good margin from 1976 to about 1994 and then run about even. That's interesting data. It seems that knives are just as dangerous today as "other gun".

Far more detailed data is available here:


I really didn't have the time to dive into it, but I suspect I would learn exactly the same thing: "assault rifles" represent less than about 3% of total homicides. Put another way, more people --like TEN TIMES MORE-- are killed with knives every year than with "assault rifles". This is data from the DOJ and FBI so one can hardly put any kind of spin on it.

All of this anti-gun talk after some crazy nutcase goes and does something stupid is absolute nonsense. The claims are not backed by data and those making the claims, for some reason, never choose to present any data (or confuse people by lumping "guns" with "other guns").

I am more of a libertarian who leans left on some issues and right on others. I'd like to believe that I think things through rather than follow like sheep.

I happen to find the way the left constantly bitches about and vilifies guns to be disgusting pandering. They never discuss what the actual data shows: That young blacks are killing each other en-masse for drugs and other bullshit. And that our first black president has done virtually nothing to materially change the reality of millions of black kids who I am sure would be wonderful assets to our society given the right ecosystem.

It's far easier to sling distorted statistics, vilify the NRA and rally idiot voters to try to take away gun rights. In the meantime the real victims of violent crimes, which --by far-- statistics show are hispanic and black youngsters, don't see anything of real value change in their environment.



And, of course, let's not forget that the 9/11 attacks where carried out using knives. They killed thousands.

The penalties for using guns criminally should be brutally severe. Automatic life in prison or some such thing. Criminals need to know that choosing a gun is the worst possible idea. I'm all for that. As far as your average Joe, leave him alone.

Did you even read the article?

Schneier is talking about human reactions to tragic events e.g. Aurora, 9/11; and stating that we should use these events to discuss the wider issues surrounding such events, instead of focusing on the detail.

I did read it. And I even read the other articles he linked to. You know the one titled "Average Americans don't need assault weapons". He takes the classic approach of sounding very reasonable while on this other side gently guiding people into where the ideological articles are.

Of course jumping at conclusions is dumb. We do that all the time. It's human nature. Those down-voting my post are probably jumping at conclusions without even stopping to think for a moment.

All I am saying is that the media is too quick to place blame without looking at or presenting any supporting data.

Once you look at the real data --not made-up or massaged data-- it is very obvious where the problems lie. Civilian-grade "assault rifles" are far from being the issue. Knives are responsible for far more homicides.

The data also shows the tragedy that the media (both liberal and right wing) choose not to focus on: Hispanic and black young males are killing each other en-masse. Nobody focuses on this. The left doesn't want to offend potential voters and the right doesn't want to risk being labeled as racists.

Everyone wants to take Joe Blow's guns away when they spend most of their lives locked away in a safe. I have yet to see a politician take on the real problem we have in inner cities with thousands-upon-thousands of kids killing each other. Want to focus on a problem, that's the problem.

The theater massacre was a horrific event. Very sad. Twelve people died. According to FBI data ONE THOUSAND TIMES MORE PEOPLE where murdered in 2010. Nearly 13,000 people. Where is the righteous indignation there? Where is the "thinking about the broader issues"?

The broader issues are political and societal. Guns have very little to do with it.

Surely you have seen the graphs comparing america to other stable democracies. Americans kill each other using guns way more often than the citizens of any remotely comparable country.

You can't kill people using a gun if you don't have a gun. If it isn't guns that is the problem, then what is it? Something in the water? The air? Genetic? Americans just love killing each other and would happily do it with their hands or knives or cars or pillows or whatever if they couldn't legally buy guns? Maybe, but what does that say about American society? I don't think there's much wrong with society apart from your interpretation of your constitutional rights.

This guy who everyone on the left and right labelled a coward is such a coward but would have crossed the border to illegally buy a gun from (presumably) some drug-cartel gangsters and committed the crime anyway if he couldn't easily buy it legally over the internet? I don't buy it.

Guns have everything to do with it. Assault rifles have everything to do with it. He wouldn't be able to kill and maim that many people using a six shooter or a knife or a truck. End of story.

And the guy is crazy. How is that a political or societal issue? Something unique about America made him crazy? America has a higher percentage of crazy people? Again, no one believes that. There are crazy people everywhere and in all countries yet we don't see crazy people in other countries that aren't currently in civil war killing each other at this scale all the time.

You can't stop crazy people but you can at least try to limit the damage.

I live in South Africa. We have notoriously porous borders. Most of the rest of africa is flooded with assault rifles and other illegal weapons, so if you want to get a gun illegally it should be easy. Legal gun sales, gun licenses, etc are tightly regulated not unlike Australia. Whatever political or societal or cultural problem you can point out in America, we have that too. Probably worse. Yet we don't have these massacres. We have a high crime rate, yes, but we don't have this sort of thing.

You say we're jumping to conclusions, fine. What other realistic interpretation do have to offer? How do you propose America deals with the "black or hispanic inner city" problem? Make laws to take away their guns, but allow the rural whites to keep theirs? Good luck with that. I suppose you would argue that those black and hispanic youths have illegal weapons. Fine. Maybe. But where would you even find illegal weapons if there are hardly any unaccounted for legal ones to begin with?

>I live in South Africa.

Your homicide rate is 7 times ours.

>Legal gun sales, gun licenses, etc are tightly regulated not unlike Australia.

Yet you have 7 times the murder rate.

>If it isn't guns that is the problem, then what is it?

Obviously it's not the guns. America has 7 times the guns (per capita), but 7 times less murders (per capita).

Going by your example there is an inverse linear relationship between guns ownership and homicides.

>Maybe. But where would you even find illegal weapons if there are hardly any unaccounted for legal ones to begin with?

We have 300 million guns in America, they are nearly all unregistered. There is simply no way to remove them.

Furthermore if you tried to confiscate them, there are literally tens of thousands of heavily armed people just waiting for the government to try to take away their guns.

The death toll would dwarf any killings you could prevent.

If you banned all guns the black market price would skyrocket and many of those 300 million guns that are currently just sitting unused in basements would end up on the streets.

The only possible outcome is that after the initial carnage, chaos and insurrection, law abiding citizens give up their guns, while hundreds of millions of guns are still circulating in the hands of criminals.

Then once the violence stops, thousands of gun enthusiasts will start manufacturing more firearms. You cannot possibly understand how seriously many American's believe in our right to own firearms.

Discussing banning, or Australian style restrictions is a moot point--it cannot happen in the foreseeable future.

We had very many guns per capita by the end of apartheid and people were predicting exactly what you're predicting. Nothing like that happened. The guns were largely destroyed. Now I don't even know anyone that owns one. I don't even know anyone that would argue that a gun would make them safer. But are we at least on the same page that your 300 million guns IS the problem? Potential civil war and all.

There are frequent stories of people being killed using their own guns. Guns just escalate situations and they aren't very helpful when your attackers have the initiative. I have been mugged by someone carrying a pistol and I am absolutely sure that the situation wouldn't have played out any different even if I could replay it 100 times and even if I had years of training and even if I carried my own concealed weapon: Walk home in the dark in a bad neighborhood, guy jumps out of nowhere and sticks a pistol in your face, you hand him your wallet that has no cash in it anyway, everyone walks away. Oh I suppose afterwards I could have shot him in the back (if he didn't find my hypothetical concealed weapon) and go to jail for the rest of my life. Yes I agree - it would play out exactly the same if he held a knife against my throat.

The "potential civil war and all" is exactly the point. Private gun ownership is a constitutional right in America because we believe that government is legitimate only with the consent of the governed--and that the people deserve the power to revoke that consent by any means necessary.

Historically, the impetus for gun control, and the turning point in the civil rights movement, can both be traced back to the awkward moment in history when American blacks came to this realization. Malcolm X and the founders of the Black Panthers were outspoken about the right to bear arms. Since then, largely by historical accident, the supposed "liberals" in America started caring about every civil right except for gun ownership, and the supposed "conservatives" started caring about guns. But make no mistake--the Second Amendment was, in the 18th, 20th, and 21st century alike, a radical liberal notion.

>We had very many guns per capita by the end of apartheid and people were predicting exactly what you're predicting. Nothing like that happened. The guns were largely destroyed.

There would be violence if guns were confiscated. South Africa had nowhere near the guns, and you had nowhere near the gun culture if all of your countrymen allowed their guns to be taken without serious resistance.

I don't really care to get into a debate about the merits of owning a gun, I'm just trying to point out the * impossibility* in our current culture of banning firearms.

However, I will point out that it's not as clearcut as you say. The statistics for either side are hotly debated. For example the deterrent effect of criminals knowing that citizens are likely to be armed is very hard to quantify.

And yes if someone takes you by surprise a gun will be of little use, but being mugged is not the only way to be attacked. Thousands of homeowners have successfully defended themselves with firearms, and thousands of women have successfully defended themselves from sexual assaults with firearms.

Look closer at the statistics. Just like most other countries it is mostly people killing people they know within their own communities. Typically relatives. Look at what they use to kill each other, how many people they kill per incident, the demographics of the people doing the killing and being killed, etc. A crazy high percentage is things like off-duty cops using their service pistols to kill their own families, for example. We're a messed up country for all sorts of other reasons that are obviously too long to go into here. But we don't have people regularly shooting up schools, malls and cinemas.

(And South Africa as an example made up maybe 10% of my comment.)

>But we don't have people regularly shooting up schools, malls and cinemas.

That's the point--we don't either. The number of American's killed in mass shootings is statistically insignificant. You don't base public policy on a few dozen people killed per year.

There has to be some threshold before you start banning things. If for instance banning M rated video games would save 20 people per year should we do it?

If you want to talk about gun control a mass shooting that killed a dozen people is completely insignificant. No one would even bat an eyelash if 3 gangbangers killed 5 people each that same day.

Perhaps. The fact still stands that with less guns you'll have less gun-related violence. If you have 300 million guns now, how many will you have in a generation? No one can argue against there being a correlation between number of guns and number of gun related crimes. America obviously needs gun control and I don't particularly care if it takes talking about massacres or gangbangers to get there. Clearly people don't care as much about dead gangbangers..

>America obviously needs gun control and I don't particularly care if it takes talking about massacres or gangbangers to get there.

What is it about American gun control in particular that causes Europeans/South Africans/Canadians/Australians to care so much about what goes on in another country?

If it were just about saving lives you should get much more upset about the smoking rate in china, or parts of europe for that matter.

For instance you won't find me insisting that Switzerland pass harsh anti-smoking laws because I think they should, regardless of what their citizens want, just because they have more smoking related deaths than we do.

>No one can argue against there being a correlation between number of guns and number of gun related crimes.

Actually there are plenty of examples of countries where that doesn't hold.

For example our gun ownership is much higher than any country in the top 20 for intentional homicides.

And Canada, Switzerland, France, Sweden and Norway have a very large amount of guns, but very low homicide rates.

Should Canada get rid of their guns as well? They have half the guns, but far less than half the murders. If guns were causing homicides what explains all of these anomalies?

In fact from comparing the wikipedia list of countries by intentional homicide rate to countries by gun ownership, I can see no obvious correlation between the two.

> What is it about American gun control in particular that causes Europeans/South Africans/Canadians/Australians to care so much about what goes on in another country?

I guess a lot of people (me included) would sleep better in a world that had less guns. America is a large market for guns, which cause them to be developed and manufactured, which makes guns available and cheap. If America stopped buying guns many (most?) arms manufacturers would probably go away. Countries like America, Russia and China sell or give these guns to "problem" countries which are often our neighbors and then the guns are in the system and coming across the border (and no we don't think that us arming ourselves in turn is a good or desireable solution) and before long there are hundreds of millions of guns all over the world. Which many of us consider a problem.

Sortof like if America didn't buy lots of iPads and if China didn't manufacture them cheaply then they might never exist in the first place. So people smoking in China is perhaps not a perfect analogy as it doesn't affect us much. (Please don't stop buying gadgets ;)

America isn't isolated. What you do affects the whole world. What every country does affects the whole world. We're all very aware of what happens in America because it has a disproportionately large affect on us as opposed to what happens in Myanmar. But I agree that we care maybe a little too much :) I suspect you sometimes appear weird and alien and therefore interesting to us. Most civilized country in world in some ways, most uncivilized in others..


Edit: I guess in a way whatever you spend your money on affects the whole world just because you're the biggest economy. If you slash NASA's budget it "affects" me. If WebOS is beaten by Android it "affects" me. If you prioritize spending money on guns over something else it "affects" me indirectly just because you're such a big market. In some ways Americans control the budget, priorities and direction of the free world;)

If there is a demand for guns, manufacturers will make them, they aren't very hard to produce.

The iPad analogy doesn't work because there isn't much a of a demand in poorer countries for iPads. There is a huge demand in these countries for guns, which again, aren't very hard to make.

Look at the kind of guns found in the third world (that could find there way into your country). When is the last time you saw a warlord running around with an M-16. They all have AK-47s for a reason, they are cheap. The AK-47s you still see running around weren't manufactured for the American market they were manufactured for war and no American gun control measures will help.

If America banned guns, at best you might see a reduction in expensive American market guns, but again those aren't the guns used in poorer countries--they would still be made.

>I guess a lot of people (me included) would sleep better in a world that had less guns.

Guns are what enabled the radical equality of the modern age? The reason that we don't have a dominant warrior class controlling everything.

A gun allows a 110 pound woman to stand up to a 200 pound man, a poorly trained peasant to stand up to a feudal knight, an old man to a young one.

Without guns modern society wouldn't have been possible. If you could magically wish away all the guns, how long do you think it would take for our society to stratify around a martial class again?

I suppose you have a point. "How do you stop bad people from obtaining guns?" doesn't really sound like a solvable or even definable problem. (Who decides? How do you decide? How could you know what this person will do with it in future, how do you stop someone else from taking/stealing the gun.. Guns don't exactly expire by themselves afterall..)

I don't think all guns have to go away. I don't think revolutions or changes in government have to be violent. (South Africa being a shining example). I don't think you need a right to bear arms to even violently remove the people in power either. (America gained independence without an existing inalienable right to bear arms, afterall.)

Guns or no guns, gun rights or no gun rights, democracy or not - all systems ultimately rely on there not being too many "bad people" or the government behaving properly, etc. As you hinted yourself - America could have a civil war tomorrow if the government did something the people didn't want. And that's with Democracy. Terrorism proves that you don't even need guns. The arab spring proves you don't need many guns.

Civilisation doesn't require guns - it requires civilized people. Everyone owning guns (like America) also only works when you have civilized people.

I guess a lot of people (me included) would sleep better in a world that had less guns.

Suggestion. It is not 'less guns' that should bother you, but the intent of the people who use them.

Good guys with guns are not the problem - bad men are. And no matter what happens to the civilian fire-arms market in the US, they'll find a way to get what they want.

Most civilized country in world in some ways, most uncivilized in others..

Most of what you are calling uncivilized may just be weird and foreign.

> It is not 'less guns' that should bother you, but the intent of the people who use them.

I agree, but what politically viable solutions do you propose there? Clearly this implies regulation and clearly very few Americans want that. More difficult to get and maintain a license to drive a car and all that. Even proposals to stop people from selling guns to verifiably crazy or unstable people or convicted felons are seen as a slippery slope that should be avoided, etc. Your driver's license can be taken away but the right to own a gun is inalienable. Militia vs well regulated and properly trained militia, I guess.

I agree, but what politically viable solutions do you propose there?

Note I was not speaking not just of American bad people but people everywhere. The intent of a thug in Boston isn't much concern to you, the intent of a Jo'berg (guessing) thug is.

And has been said elsewhere - guns are stupid easy to make. Succeed in shutting down Remington Arms, guys will just buy guns (illegal or not) made elsewhere.

Anyway. You want to change intent of bad people? You can't do it.

The optimal solution is for the good guys to own the means of self-defense, and have the will to use it.

Even proposals to stop people from selling guns to verifiably crazy or unstable people or convicted felons

In the US none of these people can legally purchase firearms. Fines are steep, prison is likely, licenses will be revoked, lives will be ruined if a firearms dealer does this.

Your driver's license can be taken away but the right to own a gun is inalienable.

It is written into the Constitution. Debate is lively about the meaning of 'militia', but that's a sign of a healthy democracy, I think.

But that amendment, in turn, is based not on a right the government gives it's citizens, but acknowledgment of already existing natural laws.

That is, everyone has the right to self-defense. Firearms are the means to accomplish that.

I don't have all the answers and can't really spend the time digging into this (have to work). But here are a few thoughts.

My argument here is isolated from data from other countries. Each country/culture has its own issues.

The data from our own Department of Justice and FBI shows that the so-called "assault rifle" is responsible for --depending on the year-- maybe 1/10 of the murders caused by knives. This, to me, means that if we are talking about the reality in the USA, knives are far more dangerous than rifles. That's a fact backed by real crime data from the FBI. Handguns are a different story. They are responsible for the bulk of homicides.

With that understood the next task is to try to understand why this is so. The data points that, by far, most of the homicides take place in the inner city and affect hispanic and black youngsters. I am not passing judgement here, just mirroring what the data shows. I don't know why it is so. I can only speculate.

As far as your comparison with South Africa, here are some thoughts, again, backed-up by data:

US Population: 300+ million (http://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=kf7tgg1uo9ude_&#...)

South Africa: 50 million (http://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&#...)

6x more people in the US could mean more total murders (by any means) than in S.A.

Homicide rate:

US, about 5 per 100K population

SA, about 32 per 100K population


So, with 1/6 the population of the USA and very restrictive gun ownership laws SA manages to have SIX TIMES the homicide rate of the US. Isn't this further support for the idea that guns are not necessarily the root cause, but rather that people and other factors might be?

As far as solutions. Look, I'm an engineer. I have some thoughts on these issues but I have never claimed to have THE solution. I would like to think that it is a combination of education, illegal drug control, economic opportunity and other factors.

So, that's the data, please tell me what you think it means.

I have some ideas about why your post is being downmodded. You say that, for instance, those who disagree with you...

"[talk] absolute nonsense"

"[don't] think things through rather than follow like sheep"

"constantly bitch"

"sling distorted statistics [...] and rally idiot voters"

"jump at conclusions without even stopping to think for a moment"

etc etc.

You're not "[only] saying is that the media is too quick to place blame". You're also insulting and pre-emptively dismissing anyone who might disagree with you. That makes it pretty apparent that you're not interested in reasonable debate on this issue, you just want to soapbox.

That might have something to do with the downmods.

Of course, taking those little bits of text out of context makes it sound pretty nasty. Thankfully I am not here for a popularity contest.

My experience in discussing the gun issue with people in person is that most anti-gun folks --not all-- tend to operate based on emotion and/or bad data pushed at them by, primarily, liberal-leaning media outlets.

HN, like it or not, does have a good liberal-leaning population. I would have been surprised if I didn't get a bunch of down-mods. It's not a matter of language. It's enough to voice opinion supporting gun ownership. It's almost the same if you say anything against Apple.

Look, I am not even a gun owner. I might go to the shooting range once or twice a year with friends. It's great fun. That's it. But I really dislike the media making generalization and accusations based on bullshit or not data at all. And, the sad reality of things is that the vast majority of the public takes what the media shovels as fact without question. Few people think of the idea of actually verifying what they are being told before forming an opinion.

It saddens me that no argument is being made based on the actual data, which is, if you read carefully, the only thing I am pushing here. That transcends socio-political beliefs and emotion. The FBI data I looked at is produced by compiling standardized crime reports across the country. Look at it and tell me that I am wrong. I'd be happy to learn so if reliable and reputable data supports it.

Look at the data. Tell me where and why I am wrong. So far nobody has offered critique of the data, just blind down-votes. That doesn't change the truth, does it?

Frankly, I personally have absolutely no intention to answer your data. I don't have the expertise, nor the patience to gain it.

But I can still take issue with your manner. Not because it offends me (it doesn't), not because of some imaginary "popularity contest" -- but because your arrogant tone, and your visible scorn of those who disagree with you, is going to achieve nothing but damage the quality of debate. You can't complain about getting naught but emotive responses when your posts seem structured to provoke exactly that.

State your claims, show your data, that's great. If you want people to answer your case, stop there -- dressing it up in antagonism only gives respondents the option of answering your attitude instead of your argument. Don't give them that chance if you don't want them to take it.

If they get distracted by emotion anyway, then, well, at least you tried.

I think you are trying to read more into my post that I actually say. Scorn means contempt. I don't have contempt for anyone on HN. How could I? Most are probably far smarter than I am.

What I could have contempt for is the act of arguing a matter from an ideological or emotional perspective while choosing to ignore the data and the facts. Note that I didn't say that I have contempt for the people who do this but for the "act" or process itself.

BTW, it's not "my" data, it's the FBI's and the US Department of Justice, both far more reputable than I am in these matters.

I have yet to see one post truly address the facts as reflected by the data.

"I didn't say that I have contempt for the people who do this but for the "act" or process itself."

So what? Showing contempt for your opposition's behaviour is hardly going to be any more conducive to reasoned debate than showing contempt for them as individuals. The difference would be scarcely noticeable to your readers.

Either way, a scornful tone does not foster the impression that you're interested in having a reasonable discussion, and no amount of protestation to the contrary ("address the facts!", "critique the data!", etc) will change that. Why bother even trying to offer a high-quality counterargument to someone who thinks you're a "sheep"?

My point remains:

If you want people to "address the facts as reflected by the data", then, yes, present the facts, as you believe them to be, and present the best data you can find to support your position -- you've got those parts down -- but stop there, so those replying can only address what you want addressed. Leave nothing else for them to reply to.

In particular, keep your own emotions out of it if you want others to do the same.

  I did read it. And I even read the other articles he linked to. 
  You know the one titled _Average Americans don't need assault weapons_ 
Just to clarify: I don't think Schneier is linking to that article. It looks like it is inserted automagically by CNN's publishing platform in the middle of the articles (I assume to try and increase page views and ad impressions.)

Here's what I find interesting many hours after my original post: Not one person --NOT ONE-- posted a reply that made any attempt to address the data. Most replies have consisted of thinly veiled personal attacks or, failing that, simply ignored the data and chose to go off on a tangent where an alternate reality is used instead.

And of course, there's the downvote "campaign" by liberal-trending HN'ers who seem to have no interest in the facts.

I am personally scared of the idea of having people in media, government and law-making that actually think and behave this way. Ignore the facts and come-up with an alternate reality that fits the ideology being promoted. That's wrong.

I live in a country with tight weapon control, so I'm genuinely curious. What do you need an assault rifle for?

>What do you need an assault rifle for?

Very few people actually own assault rifles (you need a tax stamp and it has to have been registered before 1986). The weapon the shooter in Colorado used wasn't an assault rifle because it was semi-automatic.

Whether you agree with it our not our constitution gives us the right to bear arms as a check against government oppression.

The second amendment clearly wasn't written to protect hunter's rights.

That being said an AR-15 can be used for hunting, target shooting, or home defense. Its not fundamentally different from any semi-automatic hunting rifle.

Previous "Assault Weapons" restrictions in the US targeted guns based on how "scary" they looked (guns with barrel shrouds, collapsible stocks etc...). Since statically these kinds of guns are almost never used in crimes, regulating them would have almost no impact on overall death rate.

The term assault rifle is laden with emotional and legal baggage in the US. Better to say 'rifle'. Which is what the shooter in Aurora had.

What do I need a rifle for? Just because. They're fun to shoot. Because I like owning a few of them.

But the list of things one doesn't 'need' are long.

Don't need a computer. Don't need a cell phone. Don't need a nice set of dishes for special occasions. Don't need a bread machine. Don't need a microwave. Don't need a car.

Etc. I have those things not for any particular economic justification but because I _like_ having nice things.

A rifle (or two, or three) is one of those things.

I don't personally own any guns. I have shot many at the gun range. They are fun to shoot. If I was into guns I'd probably buy one. Target shooting is interesting and fun. Also, as and engineer, I can see guns having an appeal for the mechanically inclined. Learning about how they work, how to make them more accurate, maintaining them, etc. is as interesting a hobby as, perhaps, working on cars, if one is so inclined.

That's my only answer really. They are great fun at the range and neat to own.

I can't seen any other scenario unless someone is crazy and has other motives. Those corner cases will find ways to cause death and destruction by whatever means necessary. The 9/11 hijackers used common knives to kill thousands of people. Tim McVeigh used fertilizer and a rented truck to kill hundreds and destroy a building.

This, and the underlying data is why I don't subscribe to the idea of "assault rifles" being the root cause of our problems. I think the data shows that the problems are far more related to drugs, education, social and economic root causes than anything else.

I can understand wanting one for sports and leisure.

I too live in a country with tight weapon control; if I went on holiday to America and had a chance to go to a gun range and fire an AK-47 you bet I'd do it.

Of course, I'd also like to fire one of those stinger missiles, and the deck guns on a battleship. I can understand there being other considerations that conflict with my desires.

> What do you need an assault rifle for?

Nothing particularly useful. It's just that most people like feeling powerful (evolution at work), and guns are a means to that end. Personally, I prefer fiction.

I grew up in a rural area AR-15s are very popular for varmint hunting. Predators like coyotes are a real problem for farmers. Some states go as far as to offer bounties for the purpose of population control.


To your original question, do you "need" a semi-automatic rifle for varmint hunting? No, but they are very well suited for that purpose.

How many people can you shoot with an assault rifle? How many people can you shoot with a pistol?

Wrong questions.

How many people are killed per year with a rifle?

How many people are killed per year with a handgun?

For control: How many people are killed per year with a knife?

It turns out to be that a lot more people per year are killed with knives than with assault rifles. I saw a number somewhere less than 3% in the FBI database for rifles, whereas knives make up something in the order of 20% to 25% of homicides.

Yes, HANDGUNS are, by far, the weapon most used to commit homicides.

And, yes, the data shows that most homicides seem to affect 18 to 24 year old males.

And, yes, the data shows that hispanic and black kids in inner cities are at most risk.

All I am proposing is that we ought to look at the actual data and act accordingly. I would spend time and money to try to understand and prevent the mass killings of youngsters in the inner cities. That's where the tragedies, to the tunes of thousands of kids per year, are taking place on a daily basis.

The white guy in the suburbs who owns a couple of handguns, a couple of shotguns and a couple of "assault rifles" is not the problem.

I am more than ready to see it differently. If you have reputable data to support the idea that so-called "assault rifles" are responsible for a sizable number of murders please let me know where to find it. I'll read it. The data I looked at was from the US Department of Justice and FBI. Not sure where one would find more accurate data.

My motivation here isn't political. Let's look at the data and see what is REALLY happening as opposed to following media spokes-holes like sheep. I hope intelligent HN readers --who tend to be more analytical-- agree with this approach. We might like to believe that big-scary "assault rifles" are the culprit (and, therefore, what we should focus on) but I have found no data to support this idea. Again, feel free to uncover such data if it exists.

Now, one can always do as on of the Mythbuster guys once said when he didn't like the data: "I reject your reality and substitute my own". That's all well and fine, but it doesn't change the real and valid underlying data, does it?

In other words, you can believe whatever you want, but the truth is immutable.

(I have string opinions on gun law, but have tried to keep this post only based upon reasoning, without conclusions.)

"Should <killer item> be banned" should be calculated against benefit of item, not only the lives ended.

Even fewer people are killed with nuclear weapons, but they're not 'legal'. The issue of knifes vs handguns vs assault rifles also considers other uses and whether banning them encroaches on personal liberties (of the murderer).

A knife has many other purposes e.g. carving a roast chicken. In many countries it's not legal to carry round a blade most of the time - in the UK you need a good reason, such as being a chef going to a new restaurant, and you can carry a non-locking folding blade of three inches or less in length.

A gun is only used for shooting. It limits my freedoms less to say "You can't hunt game or take a handgun to a shooting range" than it does to say "You cannot buy knives to eat your dinner with".

It's true that a lot of people in the USA own handguns for "self-protection" in the home. Perhaps the best questions are not "How many people are killed per year with a rifle?" etc, but "How many people are killed per rifle?", in which case I think knives would be vastly lower than firearms.

It also raises the point that even though there are fewer assault rifle deaths, maybe it is more often a murder weapon among its owners - there are perhaps many more people who own handguns who have never hurt anyone with them. Why? One reason is that an assault rifle is a greater upgrade over a handgun when you're on a shooting spree than when you are trying to repel an intruder from your house. After all, one intruder only need a few bullets to repel, whereas in a shooting spree even an assault rifle could often do with more bullets in a magazine (from the attacker's perspective).

>How many people are killed per year with a rifle?

>How many people are killed per year with a handgun?

I don't think these are interesting questions in this context at all. Can a crazy shooter (ok, not you ;) kill more effectively with an assault rifle? Absolutely. That is the only important question, I think.

And if you want to ask these particular questions, it would be also interesting to know how many assault rifles are out there? How many handguns and knives? Perhaps there are fewer people killed by rifles because there are much less rifles?

Look if the question of the day was "What should be ban?". Based on the data I'd have to say: handguns. They are being used in homicides four to six times more than anything else. This, regardless of how effective or not a specific weapon might be or how many there might exist across the US. Those are the facts.

Even though these are the wrong questions, I decided to answer them directly.

Option 1:

None. I don't shoot people and don't own any guns.

Option 2:

Just as many, particularly if they are confined and unarmed.

Option 3:

It depends, if it's a Glock the fucking thing might jam half-way through a clip (had it happen at the gun range with a rental).

These are dumb questions because you can shoot a gun almost just as fast as a rifle and switching magazines takes no time at all. Spend some time at a gun range, will ya? Anyone who's done so would probably laugh at these arguments and questions. All guns are deadly and, in the wrong hands, and, in the wrong circumstances, any shooter can kill dozens of people with handguns or rifles.

But the real reason these questions are dumb is that the data shows that far more people are killed with handguns than with rifles. So your perception that a rifle might allow someone to just strafe a crowd and do more damage doesn't seem to jive with the reality of published DOJ and FBI crime statistics.

I know that someone is going to bring up machine guns next. Fuck it! Let's also introduce gattling guns. The fact remains: More homicides are committed with knives than with rifles every year. I don't think you'll find machine-gun-caused homicides in FBI data. This, despite how scary they might be. Show me reputable data to refute that and we can have a different conversation.

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