Don’t play the Derive-Ideological-Lessons-From-A-Deranged-Shooting Game

January 12th, 2011

Rick Hills has a very thoughtful post at PrawfsBlawg, questioning what the ideological lesson of the Arizona Massacre is. Rick notes that generally speaking no lessons can be derived as the shooters are isolated whackjobs with no discernible political ideology. Nor should we try to find one.

After every deranged shooting, opinion elites engage in a game of Derive-Ideological-Lessons-From-A-Deranged-Shooting Game. The Arizona Massacre was no exception from the DILFADS ritual, and the usual gambits — more gun control, less political polarization — were played. If I were inclined to play DILFADs, I’d offer two other plays for the DILFADS playbook — namely, that the “lesson” of the shooting is that (a) it should be easier to civilly commit apparently deranged people (catering to my Red State readers) or (b) we need more spending on social services for the mentally disturbed (taking care of those Blue State lurkers out there).

Rick argues that trying to reform the law to address the idiosyncratic problems of the Arizona shooter is misguided:

The problem with DILFADS and, more generally, the Fallacy of Identity, is not so much that they lead to embarrassing op-ed pop sociology. Rather, the problem is that the Fallacy of Identity corrupts our agenda-setting process by causing us obsessively to focus on statistically unimportant problems with excessively costly solutions. The more the reform is tailored to the particulars of the tragedy, the more likely it is that the reform will misfire, because the particulars of the salient tragedy were actually not major causes of the evil that we seek to avert.
After Columbine, for instance, we got horse doctors’ doses of state laws mandating Zero Tolerance for weapons in schools, even though weapons in school are not, in fact, a major cause of school injury. This host of badly drafted laws wreaked havoc as kids were thrown out of school for bringing tweezers to school, and toy soldiers were banned from classrooms. After Megan Kanka’s murder, we got waves of ever-tougher >sex registration laws, even though inability to identify the address of sex offenders is not, in fact, a major cause of children’s sexual abuse. These laws now impose extraordinary costs to little apparent effect in reducing the evil to which they were addressed. . . . It is irrational that our policy-making apparatus should be distorted into addressing such a statistical anomaly at the expense of more important goals.

I agree with Rick. As I noted in this post, the shooting, as horrific as it is, is quite isolated. Efforts to remedy this specific problem will almost certainly not be able to prevent the next nutjob from taking such a costly toll on life. I differ from Rick on one count–these laws are not costless. Laws, especially those that aim to prevent danger, limit liberty. For example, Rick thinks that limiting high-capacity magazines would be a “decent legal reform.”

A brief note on  high-capacity magazines. The shooter used a Glock 19 9mm. I own a Glock 19. I read somewhere that Rep. Giffords owned a Glock 9mm. The Glock 19 holds 15 rounds plus one in the chamber. The magazine the shooter used holds, I think, about 30 or 31 rounds. When I conceal carry, I usually carry three magazines, each containing 15 rounds. That’s a total of 45 rounds. It takes me about 1 second to reload (drop the magazine, insert another magazine, pull back the slide, and fire). Even if a high-capacity magazine was banned (assuming that would make them impossible to obtain illegally, a dubious proposition), a semi-automatic pistol can still be used to quickly fire 30 rounds.

Back to the point at hand. Maybe the high-capacity ban would be a “decent legal reform,” maybe not.  But there is a liberty interest at stake. Many of our rights are quite dangerous. As I’ve written, the Courts take a much different approach to limiting other dangerous rights, such as criminal procedure protections, then they do with the Second Amendment. This proposed “decent legal reform” must be considered through the prism of the constitutionality of social cost.