The Myth of Self-Defense


Strategy is the process of imagining possible futures and how they come about, then “pruning” back the lines of causality to try to infer what actions will get you there. It’s an active process that stresses a person’s creativity and analytic skills. The hardest part, I believe, is coming up with (and eliminating) endless hypotheticals of everything that could go wrong right now for any given now. This, however, is the essence of strategy.

When one is in a conflict situation, the enemy’s actions must be predicted and the enemy is defeated by responding decisively. If one is the aggressor, there is an additional gain because one has the initiative or the element of surprise: the enemy’s first moves must be in response to the aggressor’s first move.

I just gamed the situation by omitting two important elements, which are vitally important to any strategic problem: first off, is the question of “when does conflict begin?” and second is the assumption I snuck by you, that there is one opponent or aggressor. If you step back and look at grand strategy at a superpower level, you’ll see how they answered those questions: one, we are in a state of conflict whenever I damn well start fighting you and I will preempt you if I damn well feel like it. Two, I will treat all my potential enemies as a unit and orient toward attacking/defending against them as a unit because it simplifies my strategic process: “you are with us, or you’re against us.” More complex strategies are no fun, because then you have to allocate your forces and think about where you need to exert maximum effort, and that makes everyone’s head hurt – it’s easier to go all Hulk smash.

Since the atrocity in Las Vegas I’ve been encountering an uptick of defensive gun owners who are worried about their ability to defend themselves. I posted a link to my “From my Cold, Dead Hands” piece [stderr] and was variously peppered with comments to the effect of “without guns, then how will we defend ourselves?” I’ve gotten embroiled in a couple such discussions and it seems that the conversation peters out when I ask this question:

I started posting that question as a sort of an unfair bomb-lob, but there’s a serious question behind it, namely: strategically, do your weapons protect you that much?

Let’s go back to where I started with the argument from strategy: your job as a strategist, who expects enemy attack, is to be constantly prepared for it. That doesn’t mean that you walk around with a glock in your shoulder holster; it means you are constantly running your hypothetical scenario-generator and preparing to defeat surprise attack along any axis. If you’re worried about someone who’s aggressive enough to attack you in spite of the gun you’re carrying, why aren’t you worried about a sniper? The obvious answer is “well, if a sniper tracks me, my glock won’t help me very much, so I don’t worry about snipers” but that’s exactly why a strategist would send a sniper to kill a glock-carrying gomer.

Sword against arrows. Kuniyoshi illustrates “how not to samurai effectively.” (He also illustrates “how not to hold a katana”)

Guns are particularly bad for self-defense, for the simple reason that – in order to defend yourself with a gun, you have to attack the other guy first unless you’re willing to give up the tactical element of surprise. That is incredibly stupid. If someone really believed that they might come under attack at any moment, they’d have to constantly be ready to react, positively and skillfully. They’d be walking around on a hair trigger. In other words: they would have to become Incredibly Dangerous People. Yet, the vast majority of people who own guns for (presumed) self-defense are not Incredibly Dangerous People, they’re ordinary gomers who go numpty-numping around with a glock in a shoulder holster, practically begging for some Incredibly Dangerous Person to relieve them of it and their life along with it. I’ve talked to people who are sincere about self-defense and I troll them on strategy. Here are some questions:

 

  • Have you defined the kill-zones around your house?
  • Have you considered a perimeter motion alert system?
  • What about a night-time engagement, do you have night vision capability? (Because Incredibly Dangerous People do!)
  • Do you have a moat with frickin’ sharks with lasers on their heads?
  • Have you considered hiring a bodyguard?

A few years ago, I managed to actually annoy someone badly enough that they threatened to “come and confront me face-to-face.” My response was probably unexpected: “Please let me know when you’re coming – and be prompt – because if I go dig a foxhole and sit in it with a rifle all night, and you don’t show up, I’m going to begin to get angry with you.” I did not let him escape without a short lecture on strategy and advice that he maintain solid alibis for the next couple months in case I had some kind of accident and the FBI suspected foul play and he couldn’t explain his whereabouts.

Another self-defense strategist I encountered carried a gun in his car, in case someone tried to carjack him. I immediately asked him what the carjacking rate was in the area, and whether he should be more concerned about drunk drivers or cops. That was well before Philando Castille, who was legally carrying a gun in his car, was gunned down by Incredibly Dangerous People; his gun didn’t help him at all. But the guy I was talking to drove a great big Chevy Tahoe and he was shocked by my suggestion that if anyone threatened him he could park the Tahoe on top of them, that a Chevy Tahoe in the hands of a moderately competent driver was a better defensive weapon than a gun being toted by an ignoramus with no sense of strategy. Besides, a big SUV is practically an armored vehicle.

I should photoshop a Glock into his hand instead of the sword… You’ll have to use your imagination.

That brings up another point: people talk a lot about guns for self-defense but why don’t they wear body armor everywhere? Body armor being a defensive technology is vastly superior for defense than a gun, which is an offensive technology. Or, what about shields? A nice kevlar-backed scutum would work wonders for a man’s upper body strength and anyone who is attacked can take a knee and basically have their very own firebase. (By the way, that’s why I am particularly contemptuous of the people showing up at riots carrying riot shields instead of bullet-proof Roman shields; they’re just not Serious People) The only thing that would be better would be the Bulwark of Azzinoth, which is sort of like the hood of a GMC Suburban with great big spikes on it, only bigger.

Lastly, if someone wants a gun for self-defense, they’ll only want one gun and they’ll carry it everywhere even in the shower. Like the samurai of the Sengoku period carried a wakizashi everywhere. Because, actually, there are people out to get you if you’re a samurai of that period. But if you’re reading this: you’re not. If you’re expecting to get in a sudden gun-fight (remember: that’s the premise here!) you are not going to want to be hauling around a brace of pistols in various calibers and a rifle or two. Yet, the folks who talk about self-defense seem to be the ones who own dozens of guns; guns which, by their own premise, they could not possibly use effectively for the reason they allegedly have them.

So I spent a fair amount of time asking people who complain that they won’t be able to defend themselves without guns how often they’ve had to defend themselves with their guns. Because, see, if they haven’t – then there’s a pretty good chance they won’t. Ever. Worse, if they are not Incredibly Dangerous People if they ever do have to defend their home or their car (or, less importantly, their life) with a gun, they’ll do it semi-competently at best. But the reality of the situation is that you don’t gain any defensive benefit from that, at all. I do know a few gun owners who try to learn to use their guns competently, and diligently practice at the range. Usually I ask them, “how is your gun going to help you if someone shoots you in the back?” An Incredibly Dangerous Person lives their life so that nobody ever walks up behind them; it sounds like a stressful way to live if you are someplace that’s more or less so safe that you don’t need to carry a gun at all.

Then, there are the purely bizzare fear-sales. You have to ponder this one a bit:

What is the threat-model here? Is the scenario that you will be out camping when your travelling companions and yourself are set upon by orcs? Is the scenario that you’ll be in your back yard, hibachiing some weenies, when a bunch of Bad Dudes vault over the fence and demand your mustard? First off, if you’re in your back yard with your hibachi, why don’t you have your glock in your shoulder holster, and just gun them down? Oh, right, it’s because they saw you had a gun and their top-cover drilled your brainpan from 300 meters out. Or are you going to lure them in, “Yeah, go ahead, take the mustard… But please, leave me some of the relish..” and then when their guard drops you pop the knife out of the combat spork and suddenly you’re Rambo and Conan the Barbarian and they expire in a welter of mustard, relish, and baked beans?

Here is the strategic problem: you have a red-hot hibachi, a pack of weiners, buns, mustard, relish, and catsup. You have a long weiner-fork, lighter fluid, and a lighter. You have a combat spork. Suddenly, you are attacked by Bad People who want to take your relish. What do you do?

  • Kill them with your combat spork
  • Squirt lighter fluid on them, hold out your lighter, and propose to negotiate
  • Kick the hibachi at them and run like hell, then call 911
  • Quote Kipling’s Ballad of East and West to them, then lower your hand that is holding the weenie-fork; your sniper top-cover that’s on the grassy knoll 400m out obliterates their sniper top-cover and then them. Bad Guys are bad strategists; they walked into your mustard-baited Bad Guy Trap.
  • You say, “do you know why I am smiling?” and slip your weenie fork into your left hand, “it is because I am the Master of Left-Hand Weenie Fork Fencing. Prepare to die.”
  • Run like hell and make an escape while they are gorging on your weenies

As you can imagine, I was there on that thread, too, asking: “How many times have you had to use a knife to defend your campfire baked beans?”

Summary: Some people buy tactical sporks, but what they really need are strategic sporks.

------ divider ------

Sengoku Japan: Oda Nobunaga, one of Japan’s great Daimyo was attacked while enjoying a soak in the bathtub. He only had his short-sword (wakizashi) with him, but put up a credible fight until someone came and sorted him out with a spear. Nobunaga’s death opened the political landscape of Japan to reunification under the dictatorship of Tokugawa Ieyasu. So, Oda Nobunaga was an Incredibly Dangerous Person but Tokugawa Ieyasu was an Incredibly Strategic Dangerous Person.

“‘Twas only by favor of mine,” quoth he, “ye rode so long alive;
There was not a rock for twenty mile, there was not a clump of tree,
But covered a man of my own men with his rifle cocked on his knee.
If I had raised my bridle-hand, as I have held it low,
The little jackals that flee so fast were feasting all in a row.
If I had bowed my head upon by breast, as I have held it high,
The kite that whistles above us now were gorged till she could not fly.”
– Rudyard Kipling (The Ballad of East and West)

Sadly, I cannot find any screenshots of my tauren tank Iron Badger, with his Bulwark of Azzinoth. It’s a semi-rare drop from the Black Temple, and I solo’d that run once a day for about 5 weeks until I finally got it. It’s overwhelming-looking but if you’re tanking, and you want to tank-style, there’s nothing else for it.

-- divider --

It is unknown whether the Vegas shooter had any tactical sporks:

Comments

  1. cartomancer says

    The obvious defence against a sudden barbecue attack is to keep a barbecue sauce bottle filled with deadly poison close to hand. When you spot the attackers simply coat your sausages in poison and let them eat as many as they want.

  2. Dunc says

    Here is the strategic problem: you have a red-hot hibachi, a pack of weiners, buns, mustard, relish, and catsup. You have a long weiner-fork, lighter fluid, and a lighter. You have a combat spork. Suddenly, you are attacked by Bad People who want to take your relish. What do you do?

    I probably just give ’em the fuckin’ relish.

  3. Brian English says

    Guns are particularly bad for self-defense, for the simple reason that – in order to defend yourself with a gun, you have to attack the other guy first

    Scenario: You here a noise outside your window at 2am, see a shadow walking around with a gun ready. You have a gun and go ablazing. Yeah-hah!. Does that count as attacking other guy first? It’d probably be your kid holding his beer bottle trying to sneak back in after a bender with mates that he wasn’t allowed to be at…But I’m more interested in when you declare the battle starts. A lot of self-defense types seem to posit this as a valid threat-self-defense scenario.

    @Carto:

    When you spot the attackers simply coat your sausages in poison and let them eat as many as they want.

    The experienced bbq assasin makes his hostage eat the first ensauced sausage because of this particular strategy/tactic (I really don’t grok the distinction between strategy and tactics, except strategy seems to be what I want, and tactics seems to be what tools do I have to get what I want).

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    Say “I’ll be Bach” in your best Arnold, and run away singing Sheep May Safely Graze.

  5. says

    Dunc@#1:
    I probably just give ’em the fuckin’ relish.

    What if they are North Koreans? They cannot be allowed to have relish; they’ll just want more. And then the free world will be irrevocably pooched! It’s unamerican to let them have the relish!

    Wait… You’re not American are you?

  6. says

    cartomancer@#1:
    The obvious defence against a sudden barbecue attack is to keep a barbecue sauce bottle filled with deadly poison close to hand. When you spot the attackers simply coat your sausages in poison and let them eat as many as they want.

    Uh, was it the funny green bottle? Because I … don’t feel so good. Better sit down.

  7. says

    Brian English@#3:
    The experienced bbq assasin makes his hostage eat the first ensauced sausage because of this particular strategy/tactic

    Yeah, see? Shoulda been packing that glock.

    But:

    The master BBQ assassin would have been in your yard days ago, and you would have briefly thought, “why is there a poison-covered spork sticking out of my bare… foot….” and expired.

  8. says

    Brian English@#3:
    But I’m more interested in when you declare the battle starts. A lot of self-defense types seem to posit this as a valid threat-self-defense scenario.

    OK, a more serious response: yes, that’s the problem.

    You have a gun and go ablazing. Yeah-hah!. Does that count as attacking other guy first?

    To me, I’d say that was an attack. Specifically, a preemptive strike.

    Self-defense scenarios involve making sure the attacker has bad intentions before you begin to defend yourself. The only people who are allowed to attack preemptively are nation-states like Israel and the US, or American cops. If you’re an American cop and someone is scary you can shoot them in self-defense, apparently. Unfortunately, I’m not being funny anymore.

    If you’re a ‘normal’ homeowner (though I don’t think ‘normal’ people respond in this manner) you’d be expected to prepare your glock, sneak into a good position and observe the possible threat and then decide if they were an actual threat or just a drunk fratboy peeing against your wall. Then if you’re from Texas you’d shoot them anyway.

    (I really don’t grok the distinction between strategy and tactics, except strategy seems to be what I want, and tactics seems to be what tools do I have to get what I want).

    That’s a pretty good characterization. I’d also explain it as “strategy is planning, tactics is implementation.” Though implementation also involves planning. So it’s a continuum of planning all the way down, with the distinction being that increasingly “big picture” planning is “strategy” and detailed planning is “tactics.”

    If you’re ever arguing about this you can always annoy the hell out of your opponent by saying “pffff! you think small – you’re talking tactics! I’m discussing grand strategy!” You can elevate your grand strategy to geologic time-scales if you want.

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    Sadly, I cannot find any screenshots of my tauren tank Iron Badger, with his Bulwark of Azzinoth. It’s a semi-rare drop from the Black Temple, and I solo’d that run once a day for about 5 weeks until I finally got it. It’s overwhelming-looking but if you’re tanking, and you want to tank-style, there’s nothing else for it.

    I’m just not understanding tank banter at all well today, but maybe you’d like the weaponized armadillo on the cover of ELP’s Tarkus.

  10. polishsalami says

    When the ‘good guy with a gun’-type arguments started to emerge after Las Vegas, someone on social media made this point:
    What if 20,000 people at the concert pulled out guns, and started firing randomly at the Mandalay Bay hotel?

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    How often have you effectively used a gun against armed criminals?

    I asked that of a gun-nut friend, who responded with a story of a neighbor who called him because of a prowler. It ended up with the friend and the trespasser in a face-to-face point-blank stand-off, with my friend (a USMC Vietnam vet with a 3-digit personal body count) calmly discussing how the other guy’s .32 would hurt him, whereas his .45 …

    No shots were fired, and the nice deputy who finally showed up took the visitor away for free room ‘n’ board. I propose my friend’s sang-froid had as much to do with the satisfactory outcome as his superior armament.

    Usually I ask them, “how is your gun going to help you if someone shoots you in the back?”

    Aw c’mon, it never happens that way! Bad Guyz® always go for a face-to-face confrontation and a smart-ass little speech – I seen it a hunnert times!

  12. says

    Your FB correspondent doesn’t know much about drugs, either, with the attempt at cleverness about banning drugs. Most drugs are made illegal, not banned. When drugs have been banned from this country, it’s incredibly effective. People flipped out about Quaaludes back in the day, “they are everywhere!”, and they were. I couldn’t go anywhere without 5 people offering me a lude from a pocketful. So, the decision was made to ban them. No one has seen one since.

  13. says

    Rob Grigjanis@#9:
    The weaponized armadillo on the cover of ELP’s Tarkus.

    That is so lovely! Why is there not a National Tank Association?

    (In multiplayer games, a “tank” is one of the roles in a party. Variously they are broken down into:
    tank
    healers
    DPS
    The tank’s job is to be damage resistant and an attractive nuisance. Tanks run ahead of the party and “pull” “mobs” of monsters or bosses, and then make enough splash and fury – sometimes known as “aggro” – to keep the mobs and bosses oriented on them. The support characters, the healers’, job is to primarily keep the tank from dropping, and secondarily to heal the rest of the party, maintain protective barriers and modifiers – “buffs” – resurrect people who drop, etc. The DPS – “damage per second” – are characters that take advantage of the tank pulling aggro to attack the bosses and mobs without having to worry as much about defending themselves. The way this looks in a World of Warcraft raid is the tank charges the boss and “pulls” them, then the healers start dropping shields and heals on the tank, while the mages and rogues take up positions on the side of the battle and pour lethal damage in on the target which, stupidly, keeps attacking the tank and ignoring everything else. A good tank is responsible for knowing the timing of the battle and staying alive with the help of the healers. If the tank cannot maintain “aggro” and the boss gets distracted, it may do something like attack the healers, who are generally pretty squishy, and then the whole fight is over in short order. About the worst thing you can say about a tank is that they don’t know the fight, or they can’t pull aggro, or they pull too soon. If you’re a good tank, it’s a lot of fun – you get to stand there in the middle of massive walls of flame and goo and meteors falling on you, or whatever, and hop up and down yelling curses at a dragon while it swipes futilely at you. If you’re a bad tank, it’s horribly miserable because you are directly responsible for your party getting “wiped” over and over again and pretty soon you’re a fairly lonely player.)

    The meta-banter sketch – I’d never heard of that before. It’s brilliant (of course!) Thank you for sharing that one. It’s up ho ho over the tawp tit tit tally ho!

  14. says

    polishsalami@#10:
    What if 20,000 people at the concert pulled out guns, and started firing randomly at the Mandalay Bay hotel?

    Well, if there had been one moderately competent sniper with proper gear at the concert, the whole incident would have ended in about 10 seconds. Of course, people would probably be uncomfortable having someone wandering around with “proper gear” and a thousand-yard stare.

    I don’t think “the way to deal with bad snipers is with good snipers” – it’s been tried before.

    20,000 people spraying fire at Mandalay Bay .. well, I hate that hotel, so …

  15. says

    Isn’t a riot shield essentially bullet resistant scutum? Or am I missing something here.

    Marcus, I have noticed you have a wiki page and that has led me to this site: http://www.a-human-right.com/ for which you wrote an essay once. In the openning page on that site I clicked the “liability” option, which has led me to the most ridiculous, leading-questions packed questionaire I have ever seen. Which I wrote to the authors in the last question where there was a write-in field.
    After that I found your essay http://www.a-human-right.com/looks.html and to be honest, I was underwhelmed although there is a kern of truth in there – for example the way Germany (and US and UK) bans some types of knives really is more along the lines how badass said knife looks than how dangerous it is (balisongs banned? why?).
    If you were to rewrite that essay today, would you change it much?

  16. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#12:
    I asked that of a gun-nut friend, who responded with a story of a neighbor who called him because of a prowler. It ended up with the friend and the trespasser in a face-to-face point-blank stand-off, with my friend (a USMC Vietnam vet with a 3-digit personal body count) calmly discussing how the other guy’s .32 would hurt him, whereas his .45 …

    If you wind up in a face-to-face point-blank stand-off you’ve probably made a strategic blunder somewhere, but I applaud his tactical sense at being able to handle the situation without anyone getting hurt.
    (“If you notice where mine says ‘Desert Eagle point five-oh AE’ on the side, and yours is a 6mm airsoft…”)

    I propose my friend’s sang-froid had as much to do with the satisfactory outcome as his superior armament.

    Know yourself and know your enemy and in a thousand battles you will prevail. Etc.

    Bad Guyz® always go for a face-to-face confrontation and a smart-ass little speech – I seen it a hunnert times!

    I absolutely loved The Incredibles… The meta-commentary about “you’ve got me monologuing!” was so brilliant.

  17. says

    Charly@#17:
    Isn’t a riot shield essentially bullet resistant scutum? Or am I missing something here.

    Riot shields are usually thin polycarbonate. They’ll take a rock or a club, but a bullet would go through it like it was cheese. Also, they are much smaller than a scutum – they go from shoulder to knee, whereas a scutum covers you practically from neck to ankle. A Bulwark of Azzinoth covers you from the top of your head to the ground, or from Stormwind to Orgrimmar, whichever is larger.

    Marcus, I have noticed you have a wiki page and that has led me to this site: http://www.a-human-right.com/ for which you wrote an essay once. In the openning page on that site I clicked the “liability” option, which has led me to the most ridiculous, leading-questions packed questionaire I have ever seen. Which I wrote to the authors in the last question where there was a write-in field.

    Aaaaaah, yes. That’s an interesting thing. Oleg V., who runs the site, is the very embodiment of the caricatured “gun nut.” You know those people who have more guns than places to put them? He’s one of those. I haven’t had much to do with him in a decade or so, but he’s an OK guy and I doubt he’s dangerous. I asked him, once, why he had so many guns and he said, “Russian jew” as if that explained everything. Maybe it did.

    Anyway, Oleg and I had a few interesting conversations about guns, which were the beginning of my forming my current opinions on the topic. I’d say that article represents my views at the time, which was maybe around 1997 or so. The site as a whole represents Oleg’s views, which are much more pro-gun than mine. I think my article there still mostly represents my views (though now I steer away from ableist terms like ‘crazy’) – we do have a problem that gun control is being gamed along aesthetic lines, which is – I still believe – an error. Guns are all extremely deadly and the kind of pieces/parts controls the US has been putting in place are absurd, as the Vegas shooter’s “bump stock” illustrates. Laws like bans on magazine capacity but “grandfathering” things like old 30-round clips as OK – just drives up the price of the old clips.

    It was some time after that that I evolved toward the belief that we should have a national referendum and just be done with the damn things, though now I realize that we have been having a monthly series of national referendums every time there is a mass shooting incident and the public is voting with the mute button. That is why my attitude toward the problem has changed toward supporting an outright ban (screw “democracy”, US “democracy” is a lie anyway) and pursuing a strategy of disarmament.

    If you were to rewrite that essay today, would you change it much?

    I think I would add a bit to it, saying something like:

    I support and encourage a nation-wide ban on guns, and a disarmament of the police force and private security guards. As you can see from the opinions I express here, I do not think that legislative approaches oriented toward gun aesthetics, or “grandfathering” this configuration or the other, are at all helpful – in fact they simply serve to defer dealing with the problem, which is that we are a violent society that actively promotes the use of weapons, and have a political leadership that is all-too susceptible to lobbying. The problem of mass killings in the US is a deeper issue than simply banning guns that are black and nasty-looking, we need to approach it as an issue of cultural change, political change, and a matter of public health. I suggest you read “From My Cold, Dead Hands” [link] for my proposal for how the US could disarm itself.

    In fact, I’ve just sent that to Oleg and asked him to add that to the bottom of the article, and to add the date when it was published. I wonder if he’ll leave it up or take it down.

    The part about the article that I most regret is the gender-stereotyping regarding pinkness, and the possibility that someone might interpret that as me saying there’s something wrong with pink stuff. I think that there are some macho hetero-normative gun-toters who might be bothered by pink guns (the point of the article) but I don’t think I added anything to the dialogue on gun control by using that axis for my analysis. I think that the gist of the article, that legislation about gun aesthetics is stupid, is legitimate – though perhaps not valuable – but obvious enough I probably didn’t need to hang it on that particular hook.

    balisongs banned? why?

    Exactly. Switchblades, too.
    What probably happened is someone got cut with a balisong and some law-maker decided to show their moral resolve and whatnot by banning balisongs.

    Just wait till someone gets stabbed with a tactical spork(tm) and lawmakers decide to outlaw sporks, as long as they are black and ‘tactical’ but they’re OK as long as they’re white or titanium.

  18. says

    Caine@#13:
    Your FB correspondent doesn’t know much about drugs, either, with the attempt at cleverness about banning drugs. Most drugs are made illegal, not banned. When drugs have been banned from this country, it’s incredibly effective. People flipped out about Quaaludes back in the day, “they are everywhere!”, and they were. I couldn’t go anywhere without 5 people offering me a lude from a pocketful. So, the decision was made to ban them. No one has seen one since.

    Exactly!

    My big breakthrough (I’m slow!) on the gun issue was realizing that the value of a total ban is that it makes it incredibly easy to discriminate who’s the Bad Guy and who’s not. Got a gun: Bad Guy, call cops. In computer security, this is called the “targeting problem” – how do you discriminate hostile data from good data, when the two are intermixed and there’s a value for the bad data to try to make itself look good? Well, the only answer that works is to come up with a distinguishing factor that can be easily and accurately applied. My “From my Cold, Dead Hands” proposal is as close as I can get to solving the problem along that axis: it would be easy to teach everyone “if you see someone under the age of 40 with a gun, run away and call the cops from someplace safe.” It’s just like when you ban Quaaludes: if someone’s got Quaaludes, they’re a criminal. Q.E.D.

    With regard to public policy on harmful drugs – the US is doing exactly the same fail-strategy as with guns: they’re squishing jell-o. Make certain opiates illegal, you’ve just made Fentanyl popular. Make Fentanyl illegal? Here’s a prediction: benzodiazapenes like Valium are going to be the next hot killer of rock’n’rollers. I have a friend with anxiety disorders who has an open scrip for Valium. You get raked over the coals to get Oxycodone but if you have the right doctor you can get 10 refills of 60-count Valium! WTF! (BTW, Valium and a glass of white wine is just as nice as Oxycodone and a glass of white wine, and you don’t get constipated AND it sure as hell cures your anxiety for a couple hours.)

  19. Dunc says

    balisongs banned? why?

    They were really fashionable with the sort of idiots who like to cause trouble at the time. Of course, after that, the knife that became really fashionable with those sorts of idiots was the Stanley knife…

    There’s a general presumption in British law against carrying weapons, so in general, anything that’s specifically designed as a weapon is out. As far as I know, balisongs and switchblades make pretty lousy utility knives.

  20. Dunc says

    Here’s a prediction: benzodiazapenes like Valium are going to be the next hot killer of rock’n’rollers.

    Everything old is new again.

  21. says

    Marcus:

    I have a friend with anxiety disorders who has an open scrip for Valium. You get raked over the coals to get Oxycodone but if you have the right doctor you can get 10 refills of 60-count Valium! WTF! (BTW, Valium and a glass of white wine is just as nice as Oxycodone and a glass of white wine, and you don’t get constipated AND it sure as hell cures your anxiety for a couple hours.)

    I have an open scrip for cyclobenzaprine, which for me is meh. Same goes with valium. The times I’ve had it, it doesn’t have much of an effect on me. The only downer that ever knocked me on my ass was Seconal, and I didn’t have those in a legal fashion.

  22. says

    @Dunc

    As far as I know, balisongs and switchblades make pretty lousy utility knives.

    IMO they make for lousier weapons than utility tools. Sure, you can stab someone to death with them, but the blade is short to fit into the handle so a thick jacket is a good protection already and the knife has no significant guard so if you struck bone your hand is very likely to slid on the blade.
    However when you need open a box, cut tangled rope or similar, a knife that you can open with one hand can come in handy.

    But my main problem with banning any sort of knife is that it is essentially useless policy. Knives are trivially easy to make even if they were not common utensils in every household. Banning arbitrarily certain types of knives is therefore useless as a prevention against crime – because criminals will either change over to a non-banned knife, or tool, or simply ignore the ban. It only criminalizes people who carry / own that particular knife for legitimate reasons – a balisong or a switchblade are as good a pocket knife for camping or mushroom hunting as any other. I carry a pocket multi-tool knife my whole adult life and it is useful on almost daily basis for one small task or another – and the tool I use the most is actually the blade. If I preferred to carry a balisong for aesthetic reasons, I would be commiting a crime in some countries.

  23. says

    Charly@#24:
    But my main problem with banning any sort of knife is that it is essentially useless policy.

    After 9/11 box-cutters were a big no-no. Which made no sense to me at all because nobody actually knew if box-cutters were what the hijackers used.

    Thank goodness there haven’t been any wakizashi killings, or I’d be in trouble if I took my new blade out to polish it.

  24. says

    Defence may require preparation and sometimes sacrifices mobility or portability, but it will usually be more effective than hand held firearms. Locked doors on airplane cockpits make more sense than arming pilots, as do these:

  25. says

    Intransitive@#26:
    Defence may require preparation and sometimes sacrifices mobility or portability, but it will usually be more effective than hand held firearms

    Yes, and here’s why: armored doors defend against a wide variety of attacks from all attackers. A firearm in the cockpit ‘defends’ against a single attacker who has already been fairly successful. It ought to be a no-brainer but Americans are not generally strategic geniuses.

    I think the flight crew should be equipped with Bulwarks of Azzinoth. In fact, I may 1) start a company that makes Bulwarks of Azzinoth, hire a couple lobbyists, give an ex-general or two some stock options, and get them mandated as required cabin equipment. 2) ??. 3) PROFIT!

  26. Reginald Selkirk says

    Marcus Ranum #15: Well, if there had been one moderately competent sniper with proper gear at the concert, the whole incident would have ended in about 10 seconds.

    It seems to me that was exactly what happened. Probably you meant “If there had been a second moderately competent sniper at the concert…”
    ———————-

    cartomancer #1: When you spot the attackers simply coat your sausages in poison and let them eat as many as they want.

    Brian English #3: The experienced bbq assasin makes his hostage eat the first ensauced sausage because of this particular strategy/tactic

    The prepared strategic griller uses a binary poison, coating each sausage in just one of the ingredients. Then, when captured, he eats only one sausage.

  27. sezit says

    Wow, this POV is so different than anything I have ever heard before! I just chanced on your blog, wandering around. Thank you for this really reasonable point of view.

    The gun lobby saturates the air with the talking points, to the point where everyone just parrots them.. This post was a great wake-up.

  28. Brian English says

    The prepared strategic griller uses a binary poison, coating each sausage in just one of the ingredients. Then, when captured, he eats only one sausage.

    This tactic is not effective against the lithe bbq attackers, who only eat 1 sausage each to ensure they can fit into crawl spaces, etc. Non-lithe bbq attackers were the victims of natural selection, they ate too many sausages with binary poison/trans fats.

  29. Rob Grigjanis says

    Reginald Selkirk @28: Hah! The prepared strategic griller has spent several years building up an immunity to [insert poison of choice]. They also know not to bbq anywhere in Asia, in case confrontation escalates to a land war.

  30. jazzlet says

    The ban on the carrying of knives in the UK has led to the use of various strong acids or alkalis to attack people. It is claimed that these liquids have become the weapon of choice among London gangs, and so of course there are moves to ban the sale of them.

  31. AndrewD says

    Jazzlet @31
    This just proves the idiocy of politicians.
    Lets ban the sale of Sulphuric acid, it will stop acid attacks. Oh why are people stealing car batteries all of a sudden?

  32. consciousness razor says

    He also illustrates “how not to hold a katana”

    That might be how you do it when you’re riddled with arrows. At that point, as far as I know, there aren’t really any standard recommendations given, so you can be sort of creative about it.

    The edge of the blade is eaten away like the dude was trying to use it for carving granite. I can’t read it — maybe that company of archers at stage left didn’t want him messing with their granite?

    I should photoshop a Glock into his hand instead of the sword… You’ll have to use your imagination.

    Nah. You’re joking here, but the gladius would probably be a lot more useful, if you’ve got the super-shield. (That is, assuming it’s bullet-proof and you’re essentially alone — not locked together in a giant formation with a legion you don’t have. But if they had Glocks against the Parthians or Huns or whoever, then maybe the Romans would’ve had less trouble dealing with their superior range and mobility.)

    What I mean to say is that reloading would be a real pain, even with a handgun. I guess you could try to prop the shield on the ground while doing it, but once it falls over, you’re probably going to wish you never troubled with it. You could run for cover — that’s a defensive strategy you could’ve used all along, of course — but in this case you’d be doing it because of your chosen weapon, since it created the vulnerability and invalidated what you thought was your defense. Your gladius would just be ready for jabbing when The Enemy™ is close … maybe hit them with your kevlar-scutum too if you like, but it’s basically done its job.

    And seriously …. $20 for a “tactical spork,” regularly $59.99???

  33. brucegee1962 says

    What I would say to a self-defense justifying gun owner was, “I’ve never been afraid enough to feel I needed a gun. If you feel like you need a gun for self defense, you must be a very, very frightened person. I’m sorry.”

    Seriously, I wonder what kinds of lives these people live — or think they are likely to live. The last time I got into a threatening physical altercation with somebody was on the playground in second grade, back in the early 70s. Is everyone else seriously getting that much more violence than I am?

  34. chigau (違う) says

    I have a set of plastic “chopsticks”; intended for light-weight camping gear
    one has a ‘spork’ on one end, the other end tapers to the chopstick
    the other has a knife-like, serrated thingy on one end, the other end tapers to ditto
    .
    20cm long and the chopstick end of these things are damn-near a point
    if I had bad intentions, I could stab … anything
    .
    what would airport security make of this in my carry-on?

  35. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    As for Strategy vs. Tactics, I have heard the distinction rendered:

    Tactics are strategy constrained by time.

    With the idea implicit that strategy is unconstrained by time. If you want to defend against a sniper, but the sniper isn’t here now and won’t be for some time, you can order replacement windows for your home that are bullet resistant and have them installed next summer. Reinforcing your home is thus a strategy. If you want to defend against a sniper who is within sight of your home right now, up-armoring your home is useless, but you might retreat to your basement where concrete and lack of visibility to the outside will force any offense-minded sniper to gather up their gear and come within a much closer range, thus losing the natural advantages of a sniper. This would be a tactic.

    As you say, this is of course a continuum and not a dichotomy. Presumably if you’re worried about a sniper you’re worried about a sniper in your lifetime. Thus funding basic research with no known timescale for development into practical technology might appear to fit the definition of a strategy if there’s even a possibility of eventually generating defenses against snipers, but we would not traditionally think of it this way.

    There are even actions that can change the environment such that a tactical situation becomes a strategic one: a panic room is designed for exactly that. Someone coming to kill you forces you into a tactical situation where you must take action right now in order to defend against the attack. But if the action you take is to lock yourself in a panic room that allows you to stay safe longer than the attacker can remain within range of attacking you, the tactic of locking oneself in ends the tactical situation but without defeating the threat. Thus you’re aware that a threat will exist for the foreseeable future, and must make new choices about how to respond to that threat over a longer time.

    Obviously, it’s quite easy to turn a strategic situation into a tactical one as well – simply launch an attack at a perceived threat. The strategy is to end the threat via killing those who might threaten, but as soon as the attack is launched you’ve entered the realm of the tactical.

    As individuals, tactics are fairly short term. But when talking about large operations logistical concerns can become so significant that time can constrain actions quite severely, if one wishes one’s strategy to be effective. Napoleon might have wished to summon more resources or more reinforcements to aid him in Russia, but he was weeks away from any potential source of those. So the decision to call up resources or reinforcements transitions from strategic to tactical on a timescale of weeks, while choosing to enter a panic room is a strategy when there is no immediate threat, but becomes a tactic when the timescale of a present threat gets close to the amount of time it will take to reach your panic room from whatever location you currently occupy – which might be only seconds in some cases.

    Thus in theory these definitions permit you to discuss a rich person with a large house and a panic room and violent enemies can find as contemplating the strategy of retreating to a panic room as gunfire breaks out several hundred meters away at the edge of her property, but so long as the arms used can’t penetrate to her current location, she has some amount of time before one would define the decision as tactical.

    In practice, I think people are unlikely to split hairs this finely. But it’s useful to contrast this thought experiment with the Napoleonic example if one is interested in getting a better understanding of the distinctions between strategy and tactics. There is no set time constraint that renders something tactics, nor any particular time reserve that guarantees something is non-tactical strategy. Additionally, if your goal is (for example) to conquer Russia, contemplating stealing food from villagers as needed would seem to be a strategy that might be considered against calling up reserves and resources which, given large lead times, would be a tactic that must be executed right away. So is a Napoleonic commander in Russia who worries about food making tactical decisions or strategic ones? It turns out the answer may be both.

    Thus the muddle that is the attempt to make any solid and reliable distinctions between tactics and strategy.

  36. Owlmirror says

    TBH, looking at the tactical spork+knife, I kinda get the sense that the knife was and is intended to cut through food that’s maybe a little tough. And that’s it. Which is why it’s perfect for a BBQ. No bad guys, just recalcitrant food.

    Now, you might have a discussion about the tactics and strategy of proper cooking and tenderizing methods. . .

  37. says

    Owlmirror@#40:
    TBH, looking at the tactical spork+knife, I kinda get the sense that the knife was and is intended to cut through food that’s maybe a little tough. And that’s it. Which is why it’s perfect for a BBQ. No bad guys, just recalcitrant food.

    You raise a good point, except that otherwise it’d be a “spork and knife set” not a tactical spork. There are plenty of knife and fork sets at any camping store, but this one is black, ruggedized for gripping the spork even when your enemy’s hot blood is coursing down your hand, and has a concealed knife. I don’t know what makes a spork “tactical” (which is kind of what this posting is about) but … Rambo didn’t eat his beans with an ordinary spork, I suspect. This is the spork of a man-killer; it’s a serious spork, for serious people. One does not eat quiche with this spork, though maybe one kills and hacks apart a deer with the knife hidden in its handle.

  38. says

    conciousness razor@#34:
    That might be how you do it when you’re riddled with arrows. At that point, as far as I know, there aren’t really any standard recommendations given, so you can be sort of creative about it.

    True. I can’t imagine the shock and impact (especially if you’ve seem the sort of arrow-heads the samurai used)

    In normal conditions, though, he’s choking up a bit much on his guard-hand. For best cutting-power, he should flow freely from his shoulders. My sensei taught me that the cut comes from the lead-hand with power from the left hand, i.e: lead with the right cut from the left. I was never a very strong cutter, though.

    That might be how you do it when you’re riddled with arrows. At that point, as far as I know, there aren’t really any standard recommendations given, so you can be sort of creative about it.

    If you have not read John Keegan’s “The Face of Battle” it’s pretty sobering – it sounds like a lot of humans’ experience of warfare was being compressed into a shouting mob that became a screaming mob or a cheering mob.

    And seriously …. $20 for a “tactical spork,” regularly $59.99???

    My life is worth $99.99!

  39. says

    Crip Dyke@#38:
    s for Strategy vs. Tactics, I have heard the distinction rendered:
    Tactics are strategy constrained by time.

    That’s a great way to put it. I’m going to steal that, internalize it, and write it inside the cover of my copy of Sun Tzu in ink.

    Seriously, yes. The “size” of the strategic versus tactical is an effect of the maneuver-space and time-to-maneuver in any particular engagement. I don’t think it’s just time but that’s one way of distilling a lot of the problem down into a single axis (and a very important one) – in Bonaparte’s writings about fortifications and river-crossing he neatly encapsulates the time-to-maneuver aspect; in your terms, the reaction distance of a maneuver element would determine whether it’s significant strategically or tactically. I really like that distinction.

    If you want to defend against a sniper, but the sniper isn’t here now and won’t be for some time, you can order replacement windows for your home that are bullet resistant and have them installed next summer. Reinforcing your home is thus a strategy. If you want to defend against a sniper who is within sight of your home right now, up-armoring your home is useless, but you might retreat to your basement where concrete and lack of visibility to the outside will force any offense-minded sniper to gather up their gear and come within a much closer range, thus losing the natural advantages of a sniper. This would be a tactic.

    Yes!

    In practice, I think people are unlikely to split hairs this finely.

    Probably not. And that’s what makes a Bonaparte a Bonaparte (not that he always got it right!) Had Grouchy been directed slightly better, and appeared 2 hours earlier at Waterloo, it would have been a crushing victory. In your terms, once Bonaparte let Grouchy maneuver out of the time-horizon in which he could be a tactical element in the battle, Bonaparte had made a strategic mistake. (Same reasoning for Lee at Gettysburg) For something to be relevant tactically it has to be able to be relevant within the time-span of the tactical situation (which the commanders can only estimate because it changes).
    Togo at Tsushima split those hairs finely enough to realize that he could maneuver so as to always range the Russians, and make the Russians completely helpless. Bonaparte did the same thing at Austerlitz. It’s splitting it fine but it’s what won or lost many great battles.

    Thus the muddle that is the attempt to make any solid and reliable distinctions between tactics and strategy.

    Yes. There’s no concept I am aware of that equates to “relevant time” but that’s what comes to mind with regard your point: strategy is at the time-scale within which the forces’ time to react and maneuver allows them all to be relevant (or the selected ones to be relevant) and when you’re focused to the level where little more can become relevant, you’re into the tactics of dealing with what you’ve got.

    I haven’t posted it yet (too busy) but I have been meaning for ages to write a piece about Lee and Stewart at Gettysburg and why Lee was not a great strategist, and thinking about time as the missing axis of strategy really helps crystallize a lot of that for me. Thank you. It’ll be a useful way of explaining things if I ever get around to it.

  40. says

    brucegee1962@#35:
    Seriously, I wonder what kinds of lives these people live — or think they are likely to live. The last time I got into a threatening physical altercation with somebody was on the playground in second grade, back in the early 70s. Is everyone else seriously getting that much more violence than I am?

    Some of them are, but most of them aren’t. They are living in a fantasy-land of fear, whipped up as part of selling militarism and nationalism.

    I hadn’t expected this topic to encourage such a response from so many people; it’s fascinating to me, so I’m going to do more.

  41. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Marcus, I have a few questions. I suspect you didn’t mean to do a thorough analysis of the argument, but I’m wondering how you would respond to the proverbial devil’s advocate. Succinct answers are fine.

    You insinuated that very few people use guns successfully in self defense against criminals. I’d love to have stats on that. I haven’t spent too much time on looking for stats on this – just enough time to realize that there’s only a few sources, and both say that the others are basically liars. I should try again.

    The next argument of the devil’s advocate is: You ignored a possible decrease in crime that can be caused by the general knowledge that many potential victims and bystanders are armed. In principle, this should be a scientific question, but I suspect that it would be extremely hard to find data.

    For a serious and consistent gun nut who is afraid of tyranny, they ought to support mandatory military training for the whole population, aka militia training. I’ve recently heard it said that the difference between Afghanistan and the US is that Afghanistan has a culture where every young man receives something like proper military training, and every household has an arsenal of military equipment i.e. AKMs. Do you think that there’s any value to this?

    There’s another variation which you partially already defeated, is that I don’t want to live in a police state, in martial law. I don’t want military to be used in the civilian arena as law enforcement. I really don’t want police to be armed, and no one else to be armed. Again, I could just be silly regarding my fears of tyranny, and/or the effectiveness of an armed population to counter it.

    The argument that I think is perhaps the most compelling is that forbidding people from owning guns is “altering” the relationship between people and state. Sorry – but I still really like the idea that people should not be afraid of their governments, and governments should be afraid of their people. The argument is entirely cultural. Permitting gun ownership maintains a sense in the culture that the people are not subservient to government police, and one can get this without any guns being fired. Nowadays, I think that this argument is weak at best, but I still like it.

    PS: I’m becoming quite undecided on whether we should have gun rights. I think I’m still weakly yes, but I would like a serious mandatory training and licensing.

    PPS:
    If you got this far, thanks for your time Marcus!

  42. Dunc says

    Further thoughts on this… How much is it down to genuine fears, and how much is it down to the fairly normal human tendency to want to emulate the heroes of your favourite stories? I think it’s fairly likely that at least some of this stuff is basically just elaborate cosplay fantasies, and not, at root, really much different from your average Star Trek cosplayer. However, because of another weird pathology of contemporary American culture which makes it unacceptable to do stuff just for fun (particularly for manly men), people have a hard time admitting to themselves that they just want to dress up like movie badasses, and so lard on all these culturally-sanctioned justifications about self-defence.

    How many swords did you say you own again? ;)

  43. says

    EnlightenmentLiberal@#47:
    You insinuated that very few people use guns successfully in self defense against criminals. I’d love to have stats on that.

    Not quite – it was more that I insinuated that an individual’s probability of having used guns successfully in self-defense appears to be low. So, across the entire population, there may be thousands of incidents annually, yet, when you divide that across the population, it’s not significant. I didn’t dig through a bunch of numbers because I suspect that there are a lot of lies being told. I remember back in the day when some NRA guy even tried to argue that the unknown threat of guns had a significant part in crime-reduction. (so, then, does the unknown threat of dogs!)

    Lots of people seem to know someone who knows someone, or even to know someone who has used a gun successfully for self-defense. If we assume everyone knows 500 people, then that’d work out (per capita) to between 1 in 300,000 and 1 in 600. It sounds like there’s not much benefit to carrying a gun, in other words. Of course a huge amount of it is class- and race-based, depending on where you live and how you live, etc. I don’t know how to apply the statistics, or what statistics to use but there’s probably a decent argument to be made that if you’re a gang member or a drug dealer, you might want to actually carry a gun. Like you, I’d be interested in a numerical breakdown, if plausible numbers were available.

    Back when I was researching for my book on homeland security I started polling people about the impact of terrorism. “How many of you know someone who has been killed by a terrorist?” After 9/11, I do know a few people who know people who were killed by terrorists. But there has to be a sort of “New York Network effect” at play there similar to a gangster/gun network effect. Then, you ask, “how many of you have been in an automobile accident?”

    I’m skeptical about risk management, which is basically what a gun carried for self-defense is, because I don’t think we have good metrics that allow us to make a reasonable assessment of likelihood. That’s also suspicious to me; I would expect that if something were so important, there would be good metrics about it.

    You ignored a possible decrease in crime that can be caused by the general knowledge that many potential victims and bystanders are armed.

    I sort of addressed that above. But, again, it’s an unknown and I strongly suspect it’s largely irrelevant. A person who lives in a neighborhood with decent police service (i.e.: they’re rich) probably experiences more deterrent effect from having cops around than having a gun. A person who lives a dangerous lifestyle in a dangerous neighborhood – maybe – but how much of the deterrent in that case is the gun, or general lawlessness? I don’t know how to make that argument either way.

    There may also be a counter-effect: I may be more likely to break into someone’s house if they have a nifty expensive gun to steal.

    What I can say is that I’ve seen measures that indicate that leaving your TV on reduces the likelihood of a home invasion. But what really reduces it is owning a dog.

    I would probably doubt the honesty of any metrics regarding which is better: a more effective and professional police force, or a firearm in the home. That factors into the “bad neighborhood” question and inevitably policing brings in the fact that policing appears to always be biased by class; the police know who they serve.

    For a serious and consistent gun nut who is afraid of tyranny, they ought to support mandatory military training for the whole population, aka militia training. I’ve recently heard it said that the difference between Afghanistan and the US is that Afghanistan has a culture where every young man receives something like proper military training, and every household has an arsenal of military equipment i.e. AKMs. Do you think that there’s any value to this?

    I kind of made that argument obliquely, in the form of that a truly dangerous person probably wouldn’t want a dozen guns; they’d want 2 or maybe 3 that they were intimately familiar with. If someone really wanted to be able to resist oppression, the most important thing they could do would be to study small unit fire and maneuver, and work on their command/control and study how the enemy fights. I don’t take seriously anyone who says they have their guns to prevent oppression, unless they are forming and training units that are capable of mousetrapping and destroying special forces. Which is another way of saying I don’t take any of those guys very seriously. If they’re worried about being oppressed, they should figure that they’ll be handled about like the Weavers or Branch Davidians – at the very least they should be developing plans that would be effective against what is most likely to come against them. That’s a problem: if someone wants to resist oppression, I’d like to hear about their anti-surveillance and anti-drone strategy. The stereotypical gun nut who has a mental image of standing their ground in their house, against the forces of oppression, is an ignoramus. We’ve already seen how the US fights: they blow your house apart and you along with it. Next.

    There’s another variation which you partially already defeated, is that I don’t want to live in a police state, in martial law. I don’t want military to be used in the civilian arena as law enforcement. I really don’t want police to be armed, and no one else to be armed. Again, I could just be silly regarding my fears of tyranny, and/or the effectiveness of an armed population to counter it.

    You probably already know what I’m going to say, but I’ll say it anway: you already do live under martial law, in a police state, with paramilitary police. The good news is that they are mostly incompetent. The military is already used as law enforcement – what was about the 3rd thing that happened in Ferguson – it was, what, 20 hours before they started yelling for the National Guard?

    The effectiveness of an armed, untrained population against the national guard is zilch. Let alone against a bunch of special forces. If elements of the population want to be able to resist oppression, their problem is not getting more guns, their problem is dealing with the first round of drones and special forces. In that sense, we are well and truly screwed – the hallmark characteristic of those guys is that they are very expensive (notice how militaries tend to evolve toward “increasingly expensive” in some kind of weird teleology?) The Vietcong were able to do considerable damage to the US military but it looks like they were taking about 5:1 to 10:1 casualty rates. That’s sobering, but plausible. I am of the opinion that the US regime, should it become oppressive, could be resisted – but the cost would be horrific bloodshed and guns wouldn’t make much difference in the balance; they would only influence the first few encounters.

    My other snappy comeback, when someone talks about being concerned that the government will turn on the people, is to ask why they don’t work for the government and aren’t embedding themselves in a position of responsibility where they can do their best for the resistance when the revolution comes. Having another gun won’t make a whit of difference; having the cryptokeys for miltiary GPS would make a rather huge difference. Being a drone pilot with control over a hellfire missile-equipped drone is worth a squad of special forces or a company of regular troops.

    I used to worry about this stuff a lot until I realized that these situations are governed by really dangerous people, and the main determinant of outcome is good command, effective tactics, and really dangerous people. Really dangerous people will win wars if all you give them is a tactical spork and a tactical flashlight or two.

    The argument that I think is perhaps the most compelling is that forbidding people from owning guns is “altering” the relationship between people and state. Sorry – but I still really like the idea that people should not be afraid of their governments, and governments should be afraid of their people.

    I believe that the relationship between the people and the state has never been close to equal or fair, and that the state does whatever it wants, anyway. It doesn’t need to march jackbooted thugs up people’s doors because – for now – they are willing to comply. If you read about the American history of labor relations, “race riots” and civil suppression (e.g.: stomping the Bonus Army flat, hunting the Mormons, or the genocide of the Indigenous People) I think that the state has a very accurate idea of that relationship and none of our opinions are even on the radar screen.

    Granted, my views of this may be wrong; that’s partly why I have blogged a series of postings about the inner dynamics of revolutions and insurgencies. I think the US is hugely unlikely to have a revolution any time soon, and if it did, it would be a shambles (like the Whisky Rebellion) Signs that a serious revolution was likely would be when Vietcong-like insurgent groups begin training and organizing and setting up 5th columns. There is nothing remotely like that.

    I do think we are at risk for an authoritarian coup, led by a mixture of the military, police, and big money. Basically, the scenario Smedley Butler outlined. Such a coup might be followed by the emergence of a serious revolutionary resistance or insurgency but (for reasons I outlined elsewhere) it would almost be doomed to collapse into a dictatorship, anyway.

    In other words, we are fucked already. Even now, Sithrak oils the spit. Until I was able to get my hands on a substantial quantity of “happy exit drugs” the main reason I wanted to have guns was in case I felt the need to empty my skull for some reason.

    PS: I’m becoming quite undecided on whether we should have gun rights. I think I’m still weakly yes, but I would like a serious mandatory training and licensing.

    I am concerned about that, though in principle I agree. The training, licensing, and cost-regulation of weapons would tend to make being armed a purview of the wealthy members of the establishment; if we’re thinking that guns are in the service of democracy, it would make more sense to arm and train the poor. Imagine that: “Today, we will teach you how to shoot cops. Tomorrow, we will discuss how special forces room entry teams operate, and how to set up traps for them. Thursday, we will practice setting up interlocking sniper teams and how to time incoming artillery so that you can get away before the enemy can respond.” It sounds like an interesting intellectual problem, but, honestly, I got out of the army because I didn’t want to deal with that sort of lifestyle and I think very few citizens do.

  44. says

    Dunc@#48:
    How much is it down to genuine fears, and how much is it down to the fairly normal human tendency to want to emulate the heroes of your favourite stories?

    I really think you are on to something there. Seriously. We are socialized with norms based on stories that are essentially propaganda for “what worked in the past.” In the past, perhaps it worked for Roland to die honorably at Roncevaux, or for Arthur to soak off against Mordred. In a way, those stories tell us “this is how it’s done.” When we see through the propaganda and start to actually figure out what to do, it gets complicated. Mythical structures are a simplifying propaganda for how society operates.

    It also would go some way toward explaining why Americans are particularly violent: we have a huge mass of legends (e.g: “Dirty Harry”, “Reservoir Dogs”, and “The Outlaw Josey Wales” or “ALIENS”) that show that the ‘right thing to do’ when backed against a wall is to come out fighting. I believe a lot of the reason why Americans are so afraid is not only are we fed fear by our political system that wants to manipulate us, but we’re relentlessly propagandized with the idea that it’s not at all uncommon for your accountant to be an assassin, or for a patient with a head injury to realize they are a CIA assassin, or for there to be a massive gun-battle in the street at lunchtime. I remember when I saw Heat and thought it was absurd – and it is – but how many people think that sort of thing happens?

    How many swords did you say you own again? ;)

    More than I can carry. It’s hard to know how to even count them, since some of them are not what I could consider “practical” or reliable enough. Let’s say…. 20 that I’d be willing to try to actually use. No, make that 21 – I just made that wakizashi (though it’s not mounted, give me a roll of duct tape and I’d be able to use it effectively in a few minutes)… I have a lot of studio prop swords like the claymore I was carrying in my nazgul costume; it’s chromed pot-metal but I wouldn’t want to be beaten with the pommel. If you add the various props, maybe 40. Should I count the naginata? It’s sword-like but it’s not suitable for “home defense” since it’s kind of long, though I reckon I could hold the stair-head against an army of zombies with that thing.

  45. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    The training, licensing, and cost-regulation of weapons would tend to make being armed a purview of the wealthy members of the establishment; if we’re thinking that guns are in the service of democracy, it would make more sense to arm and train the poor.

    Of course, I would argue that the training and licensing should be government-paid and free for the citizen / civilian, for precisely the reasons that you laid out. Again, for the serious gun nut, they should be advocating compulsory militia training and/or full military service for a few years, like what they have in some other countries. I don’t know, but I think it might be a good idea to do so.

  46. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    You probably already know what I’m going to say, but I’ll say it anway: you already do live under martial law, in a police state, with paramilitary police. The good news is that they are mostly incompetent. The military is already used as law enforcement – what was about the 3rd thing that happened in Ferguson – it was, what, 20 hours before they started yelling for the National Guard?

    I agree we live under martial law. I’ll one-up what you wrote and say that for proper originalist constitutional purposes, our police should be considered military. Our modern police embody most – if not all – of the complaints of the founders concerning a “standing army”. Our modern police are a standing army. Membership is at the discretion of the government. They have special rights to carry and use weapons. They have special powers concerning the use of those weapons. They are not subject to the same trials that the rest of us are for misdeeds due to show and mock trials, in addition to written special rules that grant wide-ranging immunity for misdeeds. Read the Declaration Of Independence, and they might as well be describing our modern police where they use the phrase “standing army”. Back in ye olden days circa 1800, the police had very little to no special powers, privileges, immunities, and rights. It used to be that everyone was equal before the law. But I suspect that I’m preaching to the choir here.

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